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The El Alamein line


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#51 lwd

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Posted 27 January 2014 - 05:02 PM

What I do not get is Rommel's pursuit then decision to stand , fortify and defend his position at Alamein for almost four months. It is complately illogical for Panzer Army to defend a position at the end of a 2200 km long supply line which is vulnerable to British attacks. Couldn't he read a map ? Rommel certainly was not a genius as he was portrayed. He took the decision to march on Nile (a wrong one in light of cancelling Malta invasion ) because of 8th Army's momentary weakness after fall of Tobruk and its decimation in May 1942 battles. In August-September once he was repulsed at Alam El Halfa Rommel just put his army to an indefensible position and hold a worthless ground until 8th Army tanks tore up Axis defences on 4th November. Once he failed in First Battle of Alamein in July why did not he retreat ?

Perhaps waiting for supplies to build up to allow him either to attack again or manage a well organized withdrawl?



#52 Belasar

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Posted 27 January 2014 - 08:35 PM

I Tend to agree. The pursuit of a beaten army in the hope of catching and destroying same is textbook military tactics. As for setting up a defensive position, it would also be textbook since the British could not flank him either. Sometimes you can make the correct decision at each junction only to find that these choices in the aggregate are a recipe for disaster. 

 

I know the Auchinleck counter attacks are criticized, but consider the psychological effect on Rommel. These attacks might have convinced Rommel that to attempt a retreat might expose his tired and depleted forces to the same kind of disaster that a few weeks before he had hoped to inflict on the 8th Army as they retreated. He was also likely aware of Hitler's "No Retreat" order to the troops in Russia the previous winter, especially those before "vital" objectives like Leningrad and Moscow. 


Wars are rarely fought in black and white, but in infinite shades of grey

(Poppy is occasionaly correct, or so I hear)


#53 merdiolu

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Posted 27 January 2014 - 09:45 PM

 

I know the Auchinleck counter attacks are criticized, but consider the psychological effect on Rommel. These attacks might have convinced Rommel that to attempt a retreat might expose his tired and depleted forces to the same kind of disaster that a few weeks before he had hoped to inflict on the 8th Army as they retreated.

 

This is the most likely explanation I can think of...Still it does not make Rommel's insistence to hold on and dig in Alamein right. And Auckinleck's counter attacks between 14-29 July did aim was to destroy whole or significant part of Panzer Army and drove it out of Egypt. Those operations objective was not anything psychological. That can be only a secondary unintended result however positive one. And their failures damaged confidence of 8th Army more than any detrimental psychological effect on enemy strategic thinking. 

 

Rommel probably after took Field Marshal's baton assumed British performance would be like in Gazala or Tobruk in 1942. Even after Montgomery / Alexander assigned to Middle East Command maybe he thought that British would give him an opputunity , a mistake or mistakes to exploit to turn the tables like he did in Gazala Cauldron. July 1942 battles when he threw back British Commonwealth counter attacks with ease might have given that over confidence. ( despite severe disadvantages like acute supply shortage , total air superorty of RAF , losing his main wireless intelligence unit and appearent growing enemy superiorty)  The trick was in my opinion after Montgomery took over 8th Army first time was led and was acting in a way that enabled to use its numerical superiorty with solid positive results and sucesses and did not give any oppurtunity or gap for an oppurtunistic enemy to exploit anymore. They figured out best way to defeat Afrikakorps and meanwhile minimize casaulties would be using massive firepower , coordination with RAF in tactical support , cut out enemy logistics and using attrition tactics like Great War. They found out that Germans especially punish mistakes in field like piecemental operations , unsupported arms , gaps , hesistancy etc ruthlessly so they did not give any. They also found out I think best way to deal with enemy was to throw back any German counter attack once an incursion was made. Germans always bound to counter attack even just for spoiling purposes and repulsing them would destroy meagre German resources.  After August 1942 8TH Army was fighting first time in confidence with existing , known , proven methods which were displayed sucessfully before. After that British rarely tried to imitate Germans but forced Germans to fight on its own terms and rules like sticking unbroken or undivided fronts or lines , no open flanks , big divisions and material / firepower war. It might be seen slow , cautios and unimaginative sometimes but it took results. Holding initiative like that wins the war eventually although you might lose a few engagements in the way.

 

He was also likely aware of Hitler's "No Retreat" order to the troops in Russia the previous winter, especially those before "vital" objectives like Leningrad and Moscow.

 

 

That only points a moral failure on his regard. As I said several generals in Eastern Front defied Hitler's "No Retreat" Order and paid high personal prices but also lessened casaulties at cost of their personal carreers maybe nothing more. That is why I put Guderian , Rundstedt , Manstein , Bock , Hoepner etc much higher place than Rommel. He did not show same moral thinking until last moment and unlike them he had relatively much more freedom in Africa and fame / credits in Hitler's entourage and among public.



#54 lwd

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Posted 27 January 2014 - 10:00 PM

Perhaps, at least in part, what the Japanese referred to as "Victory Disease".



#55 Belasar

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Posted 29 January 2014 - 03:53 AM

I can agree that the Auchinleck counter attacks were not intended to stimulate a impulse that would induce Rommel to dig in, but this is not a totally uncommon effect. Battles, especially protracted ones, can take on a life of their own. Guadalcanal is a good example of this.  I can also agree that in retrospect Rommel withdrawing to the Egyptian frontier was probably the best possible course for Panzerarmee Afrika, but that could have been said about R.E. Lee disengaging from Gettysburg on July 1st. 

 

The thing is both commanders were in similar positions. Acknowledged as the best "tactical" commanders in the theater they operated in. Both had come off significant victory's and had just been held in check by a defensive action by their opponent. Both faced unfamiliar enemy commanders of unproven ability. Both at the extreme extent of their logistics, open to possible interdiction by the enemy. Both with a reputation of being able to seek out a enemy mistake or miscalculation and exploiting these to gain victories against long odds on paper. Both supremely confident in the troops they commanded to do what the enemy can not. Both faced a long term unfavorable strategic situation.

 

Lwd offers "victory disease" and certainly that is probable for both commanders.

 

But just as for Lee on the evening of July 1,1863 unilaterally falling back from a enemy who appeared to be on their heels was neither the easy or obvious choice to make. Every time before Rommel had got the resources to renew an attack posture, every time before the British made some mistake in their disposition's, or drew off some portion of their growing forces for some other front/threat (Greece/Pacific).

 

As for his comparison to other German commanders of note, yes some were better Army group commanders, but I'm not sure they were morally superior in any real sense. They all served the immoral master and all of them listed are stained by the acts of atrocity committed in the East under their noses. Further they generally retreated only when under direct pressure and when holding the line was no a longer viable option. Pre-emptive withdrawals because of possible enemy action almost only occurred with the Fuhrer's permission and then only to free up troops for other threats/options. One must also acknowledge that Rommel was in a unusual position for a German army group commander of a isolated commander with no one on his left or right flank.

 

I have said before that in my opinion Rommel was a superb Corps commander, Better than average Army commander but as a Army group/front commander only average. Being average in a unfavorable strategic situation with a unforgiving and unreasonable master is not going to be kind to your reputation in the long term.   


Wars are rarely fought in black and white, but in infinite shades of grey

(Poppy is occasionaly correct, or so I hear)





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