Manfred Rommel “My dad told me, I will be dead by sunset”
Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel the most famous German Officer of the Third Reich won his popularity during the Second World War during the African Campaign when he was the general in command of the Deutsches Afrikakorps.
Born on November 15th, 1881 at Heidenheim an der Brenz in Germany, Erwin was the third child of the siblings: Manfred, Helena, Erwin, Paul and Gerhard.
His father (also named Erwin) was a mathematic teacher who married Elena von Luz in 1886, the daughter of Karl von Luz, president of the Württemberg government (Württemberg kingdom 1806 -1918).
Helena, his sister described him as “a nice child who looks like our mother”. He was passioned by History but not in the other subjects and struggled to accept authority. At the age of 14 his behavior completely changed, he became good in mathematic, started to love sports such as skying, rowing and tennis. Erwin had a revelation when he was 15 years old, he wanted to fly! He wanted to work for the Zeppelin factories but his father wanted him in the Army.
Erwin Rommel joined the 6th Battalion of the 124th Infantry Regiment based at Weingarten in 1910, there he would be soon promoted as Corporal (October 1910) then Sergeant two months later in December. In March 1911 Rommel joined the military school of Dantzig, 10 months later he graduated and was promoted Second-Lieutenant with excellent results. At the end of his military studies he went back in the 124th Infantry Regiment’s ranks. On the 31st of July 1914 he took command of one section of the 7th Company.
When Erwin came back to Weingarten in January 1912, he met Walburga Stemmer. Erwin and Walburga became parents of a daughter “Gertrud” in December 1913. As they were not married, Rommel's parents and his army comrades were opposed to the birth of this new born baby. Due to the pressure, Erwin decided not to marry Walburga and abandoned her.
Finally Erwin will marry the girl he had met a few years ago in April 1911 at Dantzig, Lucia Maria Mollin (6th of June 1894 – 26th of September 1971)
(Note: Rommel kept contact with his illegitimate daughter Gertrud whom he presented as his niece.)
First World War
Erwin Rommel fought in the first days of World War One with his Regiment in Belgium near the village of Bleid on the 22nd of August 1914. The future Field Marshal showed his abilities of fighting as he took the village without reinforcement and made around fifty prisoners of war.
On September 24th, 1914 Rommel fought in the Meuse county, precisely close to the village of Varennes. He was wounded, pushed by his need and spirit of conquest! Nevertheless, he was honored with 2nd Class German Iron Cross for his actions. Staying in the hospital was not for him, his scars not completely healed he decided to go back in battle in January 1915.
Once again, his need and spirit of conquest allowed him to take four French strongpoints, lost by the Germans the previous day, losing only ten men. His actions allowed him to receive this time the 1st Class German Iron Cross .
Was he predestined to become a chief of war?
In the early months of 1915 panic settled in the French ranks, Rommel with couple of his men attacked by small groups the French positions. He will be then promoted as Lieutenant and wounded again.
During the rest of the First World War, Erwin Rommel was transferred to the Mountain Troops where he showed again his skills in fighting, on the Eastern Front as in January 1917.
The young Lieutenant had the mission to seize the village of Gagesti in Romania held by Romanian troops. Rommel waited until late in the evening to seize it. Around 400 prisoners of war were made and no casualties were encountered among the German troops. His Battalion will then be cited by the German Headquarters during meetings and reports.
In November 1917, Rommel’s battalion was ordered to help one Austrian Division pinned down by the Italians. Rommel and his men succeeded in taking the village of Longarone on November 9th, 1917 by crossing with ropes the frozen lake of Piave. The young Lieutenant was rewarded of the German medal of merit and promoted Captain.
(Note: Lieutenant Erwin Rommel was the youngest German officer to be rewarded of the German Medal of Merit)
For him the German defeat was a treason of the German government because the German Army didn’t loose the war on the battlefield. The Versailles treaty was a humiliation!
Between Two Wars
At the end of the First World War, Rommel was in charge to transform political opponents into soldiers. He took the command of one company of security at Friedrichshafen on July 1st, 1919. He succeeded and was congratulated by the chief of security of Stuttgart Paul Gustav Hahn. Rommel was also at the origin of the creation of an association of “Former soldiers” which had the purpose to find out his band of brothers.
Head teacher of the Infantry school of Dresde during four years (1st October 1929 – 1933), Rommel wrote and published a book “Infanterie greift an” (Infantry is attacking).
It will be thanks to this book that Adolf Hitler will fall under Rommel’s military charm.
Erwin Rommel and Lucia Maria Mollin became parents on December 28th ,1928. Lucia Maria gave birth to their single child Manfred Rommel.
Erwin Rommel with Adolf Hitler - Poland 1939
Rommel and the Nazis
As the German people, Erwin Rommel wanted to avenge the humiliation done to his country, as the German people he believed in Adolf Hitler. The Führer made Rommel a privileged officer. Indeed Hitler was impressed by Rommel’s book published a few years ago “Infanterie greift an” and saw an opportunity to use Rommel as a tool of the Nazi Regime. To do so, the future Field Marshal was allowed to participate and attend his private meetings. This created a feeling of happiness and gratefulness of Rommel for Hitler. To strengthen Rommel’s admiration and dedication Hitler invited him to dinner with his closed circle twice a day. Rommel was also granted the honor to be the personal body guard of Adolf Hitler in 1931.
On the 8th of November 1939 Hitler escaped a terrorist attack which strengthened Rommel’s belief that Hitler was sent by God.
In one of his letters to his wife Rommel wrote: “The attack has strengthen his determination, we are all happy to see it, I’m completely shocked to believe that this attack could have been successful”.
Hitler used his strategy to the end asking Rommel what he wanted the most in the Army.
Manfred Rommel: “Hitler asked my father what he wanted and father replied” “I want an Armored Division!”.
The wish of Rommel was fulfilled, Hitler names him General of the 7th Panzer Division in February 1940. In less than two months the 7th Panzer Division was nicknamed the “Ghost Division” due to its rapidity of movement which didn’t allow the enemy to locate it as well as for the German Headquarters!
According to Erwin Rommel, it was important for a General as well as the other officers to fight with the enlisted men. This was an essential point even if communication lines between the front and the headquarters were cut off.
Erwin Rommel with British soldiers captured in Cherbourg - France
During the French campaign Rommel and his Division went behind the enemy lines thanks to its rapidity of movement. In less than a month and a half, the 7th Panzer Division went from Belgium to Cherbourg.
Some of his former soldiers testified two decades ago.
Private Meinhard Glanz: “Rommel was a leader and always the first in frontlines. Us, the young soldiers looked at him as the perfect military leader!”
Second-Lieutenant Heinrich von Einsiedel: “He was a charismatic leader, he knew how to motivate his troops, he was an imaginative strategist!
The Nazi regime made Rommel a military figure of the party thanks to his victory during the campaign of France. Joseph Goebbels leader of the Nazi propaganda made sure that soldiers wanting to become officer took Rommel as an example
Rommel to his wife:“I went to see the Commander chief of the army and he explained me my new mission. Then the Führer himself explained it to me!”
Erwin Rommel was sent to North Africa to help the Italian Army who failed against the British in February 1941. Rommel was smart and a great strategist, he knew the British troops were in higher numbers so he decided to used a cunning approach.
12 February 1941 in Tripoli, Erwin Rommel and Governor-General Gariboldi
Upon his arrival he organized a military parade in the streets of Tripoli. Tanks were ordered to drive many times in the same streets of the city to show the power of the Division and deceive the enemy too.
On their way to battle in the middle of the desert, he ordered his men to create clouds of smoke! Thanks to the dust, the Royal Air Force thought that the Afrikakorps was unstoppable.
The commander of the Afrikakorps used the same tactic as for France, rapidity of movement. In less than two months, he reached the Egyptian border. He was advancing so fast that the German officers in charge of the logistic and the rest of the German headquarters started to complain about him.
His detractors were waiting for the first mistake he would make. Rommel failed to take Tobruk from the 8th British Army.
An unknown German Officer testified: “Rommel doesn’t have the shoulders for the job, we have to stop this fool.” “He doesn’t care about the life of his own men”.
Even nowadays some soldiers who knew him are still arguing about the decisions he took in battle.
Private Meinhard Glanz: “Rommel knew that the death of a soldier was a terrible suffering for his family, he tried to saved many lives. His motto was “Sweat but not blood”.
Private Ludwig Baumann: “He was ready to sacrifice lives for his own career”.
But seven months later on the 21st of June 1942 Tobruk fell in the hands of the Afrikakorps. 33,000 British and Allies Soldiers were made prisoners of war.
Second-Lieutenant Samuel Bradshaw English soldier in the 8th British Army: "You can't always give a nice meal to prisoners but the Germans treated us very well, the best they could do. We always respected them for that. Afrikakorps's men and Rommel honored Germany in doing this at one moment of their history where many people were doing terrible things".
The taking of Tobruk was the biggest victory of Rommel but also his last.
To thank Rommel for his success, Adolf Hitler sent him a telegram “Dear Rommel, to thank you for your exemplary command and for your role in this victory I promote you as Field Marshal.”
The Nazi propaganda used Rommel’s exploits to hide the German defeats on the Eastern front against the Soviet Union.
Jewish of Europe started to worry about the Jewish of Palestine as the Desert Fox was not far away of their land. Only 150 miles separated Alexandria from the German Panzer Division.
Inge Deutschkron: “When Rommel went forward to El-Alamein and Cairo, we really started to be worried about Palestine. He won battles after battles”.
The last place where the British could potentially stop the Desert Fox was El Alamein. If Rommel would have taken El Alamein, the city of Cairo would have fallen.
It was not about defeating the German Army in Africa anymore but to defeat Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. His popularity gained the Allies ranks.
The will to defeat Rommel was so high that the British succeeded.
Mitchell B026 bombers of the USAAF and Baltimore bombers of the South African air forces
flying together in formation on their way to attack Rommel's position in North Africa
Bernard Law Montgomery took command of the 8th British Army in 1942, his plan was to stop the Afrikakorps with the use of bombers and planes to destroy the tanks but also to have a higher number of men on the ground.
Erwin Rommel whom was in Berlin decided to go back in Africa as quickly as he could. For him the only solution was to withdraw but Adolf Hitler's order was clear “No fallback possible, you have to hold and to fight until the last soldier”.
From this moment on, Erwin Rommel, the Field Marshal, the favorite of Hitler and of the Nazi propaganda lost, his faith in his Führer. Rommel was first a soldier and the lives of his men mattered to him.
Rolf Muninger, Rommel's secretary: “Hitler’s order to continue to fight to the last one was a big shock to Rommel, it was from this moment he stopped believing in him, because he realized he didn’t give a damn about his troops and Rommel had the strength to disobey”.
Rommel’s decision to leave El-Alamein was so much more important than his previous victories. He succeeded in protecting his entire army in Tunisia. As Rommel was a tool of the Nazi propaganda, Rommel was removed of command of the Afrikakorps in March 1943 because he was not to lose!
Manfred Rommel: “My father jumped in a plane to Berlin to ask if the Afrikakorps could withdraw to Italy. Hitler and my father argued for many minutes, then Hitler kicked him out. As he needed him, Hitler decided to catch up my father.”
(Note: Afrikakorps capitulated two months later in May 1943)
Enemy air equipment and installations took a heavy pounding from bombers of the USAAF as they pursued
Marshal Erwin Rommel's retreating AfrikaKorps through Libya and Tripoli to the Tunisian coast
Between Two Fronts
When Rommel came back to Germany in March 1943, thanks to his experience in combat he understood clearly that Germany didn’t have any chance to win the war “We have no chance now to win this war. We are ruled by fanatics….”: Rommel to his wife.
By the fall of 1943, Rommel knew what was happening in the concentration camps, he realized then the monstrosity done by the Nazis against the Jewish. But what could the Field Marshal do? Manfred Rommel: “My father knew! But what he could do when it was the government itself responsible of these war crimes?”
The Atlantic Wall and the Western Front
On the 5th of November 1943, Adolf Hitler named Erwin Rommel responsible of the line of defenses of the western front, precisely in charge of the Atlantic Wall to prevent the Allied Forces to land.
Rommel set up his headquarters at the Castle of La Roche Guyon in the Val d’Oise county. According to him it was not possible for the Germany to take part in battle on two different fronts.
When Rommel inspected the Normandy coast, he found out that half of the beaches were properly defended. He ordered to increase the beach obstacles and built thousands of additional bunkers. He knew that if the Germany wanted to have a chance to beat the Allied Forces it would have to be at sea, not inland.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel inspecting the Atlantic Wall in Normandy
The German headquarters were expecting a landing in the North of France at Calais. Why? It was the shortest route from England to France and Calais had a harbor in deep water.
Erwin Rommel, now in charge to defend the Atlantic Wall in Normandy, was the only German officer who believed that the Allies would land as far as possible. How so? Rommel fought against them in North Africa and knew their tactics. The Allies landed in Italy on beaches made of sands and not made of shingles!
"If you think that the Allies will arrive with the sunny weather, taking the shortest route and telling you when they will land…. You are wrong! The Allied Forces will land with a cloudy and rainy weather, choosing the farthest landing spot. The landing will take place here in Normandy and it will be The Longest Day." Erwin Rommel to his men in April 1944.
On the 5th of June 1944, after having received the weather report from the German meteorologists who announced a storm in Normandy, Rommel decided to go back home at Herrlingen in Germany to celebrate the birthday of his wife born on the 6th of June.
On the early hours of the 6th of June 1944, Erwin Rommel who was in Germany, received a phone call from his friend General Hans Speidel telling him that the Allied Forces had started to land their troops in Normandy.
As in North Africa, the Field Marshal was not on the spot, and the Americans and British succeeded in securing a beachhead.
Eleven days after D-Day, Rommel was ordered by the Führer himself to go to the Wolf Lair W2 near the city of Soissons to plan the German counterattack in Normandy. This meeting was without interest because the decisions taken by Hitler were against all military logic!
During the months of June and July, the German forces were completely pinned down by the Allies.
In the meantime, some German officers as Hans Speidel tried to convince Rommel to join them for Operation Valkyrie with the purpose to eliminate Hitler.
Adjutant Winrich Behr: “Rommel was always against an assassination but agreed that Hitler had to disappear from the political world and he was ready to help us do it.”
The main concern for Rommel was the lives of his soldiers, he decided to visit all the Division Commanders to find out how it would be possible to stop the war on the Western front.
On the 17th of July 1944, Field Marshal Rommel was on his way to the city of Saint Lô to be on the frontline and probably plan a counterattack against the 29th Infantry Division? Only God knows.
When Rommel and his Aide de Camp Helmut Lang arrived in the little village of Sainte-Foie-de-Montgomery an Allied plane machine gunned the car in which Rommel was, wounding him badly.
Helmut Lang: “I was sitting in the back of the car and around 18:00 hours, me and the Field Marshal saw eight fighter bombers in the sky. Then our observers told us that two of them were coming on us. The driver, the Second-Lieutenant Daniel accelerated to find some cover but it was too late, the first plane opened fire”.
Three days later, on the 20th of July 1944, Operation Valkyrie was triggered. The attack on Hitler failed and the conspirators were unmasked one by one.
Since the beginning of the war, Erwin Rommel had a special place alongside Hitler who made some German officers jealous as the infamous Martin Bormann, Rommel’s sworn enemy! When Bormann wrote his report about Operation Valkyrie, the name of Erwin Rommel was among the conspirators.
Victims of the Nazi Regime
When Hitler read the Bormann's report he couldn't believe that Rommel had taken part in Operation Valkyrie, but he believed that Rommel knew about it. Therefore, it was a treason against the Nazis, against the Third Reich, but most of all against Adolf Hitler.
Manfred Rommel: “Gestapo Officers were on guard in front of our house days and night. Father told us he would not give them the chance to destroy me and my mum. As such, a military guard of my father came to protect us. During the day father told me “There are many chances that I will be dead tonight”.
Even if Rommel died, his myth must not disappear, the Nazi propaganda wanted to continue to use his aura on the German people.
The former Field Marshal was judged by what the Nazis called an “Honorable court”, constituted of officers such as Gerd Von Rundstedt. The German people must never discover the truth! Nevertheless, Rommel must die. To do so, on the 14th of October 1944, Berlin sent him a funeral flowers crow! The funeral telegram intended for his family was also ready.
The Nazis gave Rommel two ways to die: poison or a public trial.
The Führer’s favorite German officer, who had chosen to save his army instead of following a fool, paid the ultimate sacrifice on the 14th of October 1944 in biting a cyanide capsule to protect and save his family.
Field Marshal Von Rundstedt on October 18th, 1944 during the "propaganda" burial ceremony: “My dear Rommel through our Führer, we sent you our sincere thanks. You died like a hero remembering us. Your motto will continue to live on: Fight until victory!”
The National ceremony of Erwin Rommel's burial was one of the many "Naziwood" shows made by Joseph Goebbels. The worst thing was for his family, Lucia Maria his wife and Manfred his son. Why? The ceremony was held by his murderers.
Manfred Rommel: “I felt completely lost, I wanted the ceremony to end”.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the winner of Tobruk, the military leader who believed in his army was during all his life a tool of the Nazi regime. He was the most privileged officer of the Nazis but when he discovered the truth about their real intentions it was too late. Erwin Rommel today is buried at the cemetery of Herrlingen.
Manfred Rommel: "What could you do when the government is itself a criminal ?"
Written by Pierre Fallet, WWII Trainee of Normandy American Heroes