The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man… Thomas Robert MALTHUS

All About Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel(15)…

Rommel as military commander…

Rommel has been hailed as a brilliant tactician and competent strategist but certainly not without flaws. Contemporaries who had to work with him under adversity often had very few kind words to say about him and his abilities. Following Paulus’ return from his inspection of Rommel’s doings in North Africa and also considering the reports submitted by Alfred Gause, Halder concluded: „Rommel’s character defects make him very hard to get along with but no one cares to come out in open opposition because of his brutality and the backing he has at top level.” Others mentioned his leadership style, which expected much of his commanders, while not being open to criticism or objections. He had little patience for sub-commanders who did not do their jobs properly. Only three weeks after assuming command of the 7th Panzer Division in February 1940, Rommel found a battalion commander performing below par and had the man relieved of command and sent on his way in 90 minutes. This management style would certainly send a signal that he demanded the utmost of his men, but it was bound to create a feeling of resentment among some of his officers.

While some aggressive subordinates, like Hans von Luck, praised his leadership from the front, Mellenthin questioned this leadership style as it often led to disinvolvement of his staff officers in the fight instead of their maintaining an overview of the situation. His consequential long absences from HQ also meant that subordinates had to make decisions without consulting Rommel, leading to confusion.

In France, Rommel’s aggressive drive through the French and British lines, disregarding the safety of his flanks and rear, succeeded to a remarkable degree. His bold attacks often caused larger enemy formations to surrender but his aggressiveness did cause resentment among fellow officers, however, who felt he at times acted too recklessly and failed to keep his sub-commanders and colleague commanders properly informed of his intentions. He was also criticized for claiming too much of the glory himself, neglecting support from other elements of the Wehrmacht and downplaying other units’ achievements.

Rommel won many battles in Africa in 1941 and 1942 against British forces that always outnumbered him and generally had better supply lines, through aggressive action. On several occasions he violated direct orders not to attack. But his eagerness to drive for Egypt, when the necessary logistical support was lacking, meant that these drives ultimately failed with great losses. Rommel perceived „unique opportunities” in capturing Egypt and perhaps the Middle East. This result would definitely have had a huge impact on the course of the war, but his grand vision was never supported by Hitler nor the General Staff in Berlin to the extent that Rommel desired. Nevertheless, he received all the troops that the African theater could support, despite the pressing need for them on the Eastern Front. His forces also got more support and equipment than other formations of similar size and importance, such as an unusually large number of motor vehicles.

Rommel himself only belatedly acknowledged that his continual supply problems were not the result of intransigence or slacking by the Italians, who handled the transshipment of his supplies, but were a result of his aggressive actions in overextending his lines of communication. In his analysis of the logistical aspects of the North African Campaign, military historianMartin van Creveld wrote:

Given that the Wehrmacht was only partly motorized and unsupported by a really strong motor industry; that the political situation necessitated the carrying of much useless Italian ballast; that the capacity of the Libyan ports was so small, the distances to be mastered so vast; it seems clear that, for all of Rommel’s tactical brilliance, the problem of supplying an Axis force for an advance into the Middle East was insoluble. … Rommel’s repeated defiance of his orders and attempts to advance beyond a reasonable distance from his bases, however, was mistaken and should never have been tolerated.

He was a tactician of the greatest ability, with a firm grasp of every detail of the employment of armour in action, and very quick to seize the fleeting opportunity and the critical turning point of a mobile battle. I felt certain doubts, however, about his strategic ability, in particular as to whether he fully understood the importance of a sound administrative plan. Happiest while controlling a mobile force directly under his own eyes he was liable to overexploit immediate success without sufficient thought for the future.

…his real gift was for commanding an armoured regiment, perhaps a division, and that his absolute ceiling was an armoured corps.

During the siege of Tobruk, Rommel launched frequent costly attacks during the first month of the siege. The level of losses incurred caused Rommel to have several arguments with his unit commanders, and also with the German High Command. Indeed, some sources indicate that Chief of Staff Halder had to send Friedrich Paulus to Africa to rein Rommel in, although Rommel himself maintained he had realized the futility of further attacks on the fortress on his own accord…


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