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Who Was Erwin Rommel?

Learn about the highly decorated German officer popularly known as the Desert Fox.

  • Grades: 6–8, 9–12

Erwin Rommel, b. Nov. 15, 1891, d. Oct. 14, 1944, was a German field marshal in World War II. Commissioned in 1912, he served with distinction in World War I. A war college instructor and a liaison officer between the army and the Hitler Youth organization during the 1930s, he was promoted to brigadier general in 1939 and was subsequently assigned to Hitler's headquarters during the Polish campaign. The following spring he commanded an armored division during the Battle of France, and in 1941 he went to North Africa to lead the German Africa Corps. There he came to be known as the Desert Fox and attained the rank of field marshal. He was decisively defeated (November 1942) at El Alamein, 240 km (150 miles) west of Cairo.

In December 1943, Rommel was transferred to France to defend the northwestern coast against the expected Allied invasion. Once the landing (June 1944) had succeeded, Rommel realized that the war was hopelessly lost and that to condone Hitler's senseless continuation of it would be irresponsible. Injured in a strafing attack on July 17, 1944, Rommel could not personally participate in the attempt to overthrow Hitler three days later, but he was gravely implicated. Because of his popularity, his opposition was kept secret; he was given the choice of suicide, to be reported as death from his wounds, as an alternative to execution as a traitor, which would have placed his family and close associates in grave danger. Thus he died by his own hand.

Donald S. Detwiler

Bibliography: Fraser, David, Knight's Cross (1994); Irving, David, The Trail of the Fox: The Search for the True Field Marshal Rommel (1977); Young, Desmond, Rommel (1950; repr. 1987).

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