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Rommel's reputation - deserved or political ploy?


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#26 bobsmith76

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Posted 21 October 2014 - 06:54 AM

I've come across the suggestion that the reputation afforded Rommel by the British - as some sort of super-human figure - was an artificial construct, a political ploy. Basically an attempt to draw criticism away from the Eighth Army's rather bad performance in North Africa by emphasising Rommel's brilliance as a military commander, while simultaneously setting the stage for the media field-day that was Monty's victory at El Alamein - all the greater because it was Rommel he beat.

 

My own tentative conclusion is that Rommel was an effective military commander - his reputation wasn't completely undeserved. But it certainly seems as though there was something else at play - there were other competent and charasmatic German military commanders scattered about; why latch onto Rommel with such fervour? Surely it wasn't simply that Churchill was being 'sporting'.

 

It seems that Rommel was poster boy for both sides - not only for his own government's propoganda machine (drawing the German public's attention away from a Russian campaign that wasn't the cake-walk expected), but for his enemies as well. Where the British were concerned, it seems to have had a distinctly political lean to it.

 

Does anybody know of any extensive scholarship to do with this debate? Like I said, I've found it mentioned in numerous places, but nothing of much substance. If you know of any books/articles (preferably peer-reviewed, scholarly sources), I would really like to know. In fact, anything written about the military/political dichotomy in the context of the British in North Africa during WW2 would be fantastic!

 

Thanks.

I've been wondering the same thing.  Admittedly, Rommel's performance in France was nothing short of amazing, I mean, how often does someone capture a million prisoners but in Africa I don't really see much to brag about.  Of course in Africa he had far fewer resources but I'm still scratching my head as to what all the hoopla was about. 



#27 lwd

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Posted 21 October 2014 - 12:00 PM

If you look at his performance in WWI and his work on tactics in the inter war years as well as his early efforts I think it supports the view of him as a very capable tactician.  Indeed that is probably understateing it.  However his talents in operations and particularly strategy do not seem to have been at the same level.  So in the desert he's coming off of performances that played to his strength and didn't really run into circumstances that tended to stress his weaknesses until later in that campaign.



#28 LJAd

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Posted 21 October 2014 - 05:24 PM

I've been wondering the same thing.  Admittedly, Rommel's performance in France was nothing short of amazing, I mean, how often does someone capture a million prisoners but in Africa I don't really see much to brag about.  Of course in Africa he had far fewer resources but I'm still scratching my head as to what all the hoopla was about. 

 

 

1)    Rommel did not capture 1 million of prisoners in 1940

 

2)       He did not have fewer resources in Africa



#29 Belasar

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Posted 21 October 2014 - 09:49 PM

Crap, for once I have to agree with LJAd. Hope it isn't a trend.


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

(Poppy is occasionaly correct, or so I hear)


#30 von_noobie

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Posted 21 October 2014 - 11:49 PM

Agree on point 1, On the second point relating to supplies, While he had a greater amount of supplies sent you also need to take into account the fact that it was spread out amongst a larger force thus 'possibly' reducing the supplies per a person not to mention a good chunk was chewed up just moving the supplies to the front line.

 

cant say for certain which way the supply issue could be as i don't have the actual numbers but if some one has the numbers for supplies Rommel received in France and his troop strength along with supplies he received in NA and the troop strength (Month by month if possible).



#31 lwd

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Posted 22 October 2014 - 11:55 AM

France was much shorter than North Africa and the supply lines were much shorter and more robust as well.  Of course he had a division in France and a Corp in Africa so I guess you could make a case for more resources.  Clearly however the supply problem was much greater in Africa than it was in France.



#32 LJAd

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Posted 22 October 2014 - 06:42 PM

IIRC,the supply figures for NA have already been posted .



#33 LJAd

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Posted 22 October 2014 - 07:12 PM

From "War Statistics" : monthly axis supplies for NA .(in 1000 of tons delivered,NOT sent)

 

Caveat : different sources will give different figures .

 

The following ones are for the Axis = Italian army,navy,air force,German army,navy,air force,AND civilians and economy .

 

But, I am not sure if they included all supplies = if the supplies sent from Crete are included .

 

Whatever,here we go  (the months are numbered)

 

1941

 

1:  49

 

2 :  79

 

3 :  92

 

4:  81

 

5 :  69

 

6  : 125

 

7  : 62

 

8  : 83

 

9 : 67

 

10 :73

 

11  : 29

 

12  : 39  

 

Total :848

 

 

1942  :

 

66

 

58

 

47

 

150

 

86

 

32

 

91

 

51

 

77

 

46

 

97

 

66

 

Total : 867

 

1943  :

 

70

 

60

 

49

 

28

 

3

 

Total 210



#34 lwd

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Posted 22 October 2014 - 08:24 PM

Delivered to North Africa does not mean delivered to the fighting forces.  In France Romel was never more than a couple hundred miles from his source of supply (Germany) and the logistical infrastructure between him and Germany was well developed.  Futhermore due to the duration of the battle relativly few units of supply were consumed.  The situation was significantly different in North Africa.



#35 bronk7

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Posted 25 November 2014 - 12:41 PM

He was a very good tactical general and the British kept playing his game until Monty, but I think there are very good doubts about his abilities as far as strategy/ grand strategy.

didn't Monty have overwhelming power in most areas, on defense, no less? Rommel was out of supplies for a long push? so Rommel didn't have much to fight with?



#36 Carronade

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Posted 25 November 2014 - 03:27 PM

didn't Monty have overwhelming power in most areas, on defense, no less? Rommel was out of supplies for a long push? so Rommel didn't have much to fight with?

 

Montgomery's army was significantly more powerful and as you say vastly better supplied.  Montgomery fought on defense at Alam Halfa, then took the offensive at El Alamein (technically Second Alamein).

 

However steve's comment that "the British kept playing his game until Monty" is still correct and cogent.  In numerical or material terms, the British could have decisively beaten Rommel in either Operation Crusader or the battle of Gazala, but they failed to bring all their combat power to bear and allowed themselves to be defeated in detail - precisely the sort of mistakes Montgomery was determined to avoid.  Monty also had the self-confidence - ego if you prefer - to come out from two years' service in England and tell Britain's most experienced field army that it needed extensive training, directed by him, before it was ready for a conclusive confrontation with Rommel.  He was right; under his leadership 8th Army stopped making silly mistakes and "knocked Rommel for six".



#37 bronk7

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Posted 25 November 2014 - 05:52 PM

--Rommel vastly outnumbered in everything, Brits on good defensive ground, so I don't think Monty had any choice playing the ''game''...Alamein sector not like the rest of NAfrica..Rommel out of gas/supplies unlike before....so, it was not like previous battles, and it wasn't Monty that set down the reason why....Alamein 2 was a bottleneck..no maneuver room for Rommel..Rommel starved of supplies<>Monty getting much supplies= no brainer



#38 harolds

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Posted 26 November 2014 - 03:44 AM

Speaking of N. Africa and Rommel's reputation: He tried by various means, both direct and indirect, to get his men out of Africa before it was too late. Because of Hitler's refusal to get them out, plus Rommel's experiences with overwhelming Allied air power, he was the first Field Marshal to realize the war was probably lost or certainly could be lost. He has been called "defeatist" because of this, but I would say that he was a "realist".



#39 Sheldrake

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Posted 26 November 2014 - 11:30 AM

My 2p.

 

In 1970 I interviewed Auchinleck's sister for a school project.  Her damning verdict about Neil Ritchie was that he was a careerist.  by that she meant someone who was a little too obviously ntryuing to put his own personal career progress above his other duties.  This was anathema to the sensibilities of the british civil and military services based on the creed that public officers get on with the jobs they have been given and put their duty to country, service, animals men and animals first. 

 

Well Rommel' was a 100% careerist of the the kind familiar to observers of modern business dramas.  

 

His self promotional memoirs of the First World War which were set as a text book for his students in the mountain warfare school in the 1930s  a la gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter.

 

He was built up by the Nazi propaganda machine.  But that was partly because he played the Nazi system well.  As an infantyrman with a mountain warfare background he used his posiiton as commander of the Army Guard Regiment to talk his way into commanding a Panzer Division.  His cosy re;lationship with the party and government meant that he had one of Goebbels' his spin doctors embedded as a supernumerary on his staff  in France - hence lots of PR about the ghost division.  

 

Some fairly sharp elbows in his relationship with his colleagues.  One reason why his 7th division did better than the other in corps was because he commandeered the 5th Panzer Divisions bridging columns.  There is a whiff of sacrificing others for and trashing their reputations in the Destern desert. His relationship with the Italians he was supposed to be supporting was abysmal, His careerist gamble may have cost Italy the lives of many soldiers and any chance of retaining Libya.   He seems to have been a man who stepped on others to get to the top. He was not a team player.  His interventions on the Atlantic wall were micromanegemnt of the most annoying sort, cutting across  lots of chains of command 

 

The Western Desert campaign was a case in point.  The North African campaign was a side show. Pure logistics suggested that the German could never conquer Africa or the Middle east from Tripoili.  The idea of a n invasion of Russia Via Persia was ludicrous.  Only media hype and Rommels tactical success against an under performing  British army made this even a dream. In German;military doctrine there could only be one schwehrpunckt. After June 1941 the point of main effort had to be the defeat of the Soviet Union. Anything else was a distraction.  If there wass any possibility of German victory in 1942 the diversion of effort to the Mediterranean destroyed it.  The effort to retain Tunisia after Op Torch meant that the aircraft and mechanised troops that might have saved the 6th Army in Stalingrad were instead wasted in Tunisia.

 

Tactically he was ought fought by Montgomery, who fought a battle which maximised his advantages and avoided giving Rommel the chance to take advantage of his weaknesses.  At Alem Halfa and Medenine Montgomery fougth well organised and controlled defensive battles which did not give Rommel a chance to exploit the German superiority in low level mo ble warfare.   At El Alamein and in Normandy Montgomery obtained and held the tactical initiative preventing Rommel from massing armour and launching a counter attack at a time and place of his own choosing.  German accounts of Normandy are full of concepts for massed tank attacks which were pre-empted by some threat to capture Caen.   

 

Then  after his failure ion North Africa (having been too ill to take the blame for the defeat) and his gloomy pessimism over Italy he picks up a plum command in the West.  His views conveniently coincide with those of Hitler over the conduct of the defence of France.  Von Rundstedt has argued,that the channel Coast was indefensible, based on conventional wisdom backed by the cannon of military history.  Rommel chose to buy into the idea that somehow the shore line can be made impenetrable. It wasn't and probably never could have been. However Rommel'e ear for the sound bite ensured that the German failures opmn the Longest day left his reputation intact.

 

 

if you want a  serious hatchet job on Rommel try David irving's In the Trail of the Fox ;)



#40 von_noobie

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Posted 30 November 2014 - 04:37 PM

My 2p.

 

In 1970 I interviewed Auchinleck's sister for a school project.  Her damning verdict about Neil Ritchie was that he was a careerist.  by that she meant someone who was a little too obviously ntryuing to put his own personal career progress above his other duties.  This was anathema to the sensibilities of the british civil and military services based on the creed that public officers get on with the jobs they have been given and put their duty to country, service, animals men and animals first. 

 

Well Rommel' was a 100% careerist of the the kind familiar to observers of modern business dramas.  

 

His self promotional memoirs of the First World War which were set as a text book for his students in the mountain warfare school in the 1930s  a la gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter.

 

He was built up by the Nazi propaganda machine.  But that was partly because he played the Nazi system well.  As an infantyrman with a mountain warfare background he used his posiiton as commander of the Army Guard Regiment to talk his way into commanding a Panzer Division.  His cosy re;lationship with the party and government meant that he had one of Goebbels' his spin doctors embedded as a supernumerary on his staff  in France - hence lots of PR about the ghost division.  

 

Some fairly sharp elbows in his relationship with his colleagues.  One reason why his 7th division did better than the other in corps was because he commandeered the 5th Panzer Divisions bridging columns.  There is a whiff of sacrificing others for and trashing their reputations in the Destern desert. His relationship with the Italians he was supposed to be supporting was abysmal, His careerist gamble may have cost Italy the lives of many soldiers and any chance of retaining Libya.   He seems to have been a man who stepped on others to get to the top. He was not a team player.  His interventions on the Atlantic wall were micromanegemnt of the most annoying sort, cutting across  lots of chains of command 

 

The Western Desert campaign was a case in point.  The North African campaign was a side show. Pure logistics suggested that the German could never conquer Africa or the Middle east from Tripoili.  The idea of a n invasion of Russia Via Persia was ludicrous.  Only media hype and Rommels tactical success against an under performing  British army made this even a dream. In German;military doctrine there could only be one schwehrpunckt. After June 1941 the point of main effort had to be the defeat of the Soviet Union. Anything else was a distraction.  If there wass any possibility of German victory in 1942 the diversion of effort to the Mediterranean destroyed it.  The effort to retain Tunisia after Op Torch meant that the aircraft and mechanised troops that might have saved the 6th Army in Stalingrad were instead wasted in Tunisia.

 

Tactically he was ought fought by Montgomery, who fought a battle which maximised his advantages and avoided giving Rommel the chance to take advantage of his weaknesses.  At Alem Halfa and Medenine Montgomery fougth well organised and controlled defensive battles which did not give Rommel a chance to exploit the German superiority in low level mo ble warfare.   At El Alamein and in Normandy Montgomery obtained and held the tactical initiative preventing Rommel from massing armour and launching a counter attack at a time and place of his own choosing.  German accounts of Normandy are full of concepts for massed tank attacks which were pre-empted by some threat to capture Caen.   

 

Then  after his failure ion North Africa (having been too ill to take the blame for the defeat) and his gloomy pessimism over Italy he picks up a plum command in the West.  His views conveniently coincide with those of Hitler over the conduct of the defence of France.  Von Rundstedt has argued,that the channel Coast was indefensible, based on conventional wisdom backed by the cannon of military history.  Rommel chose to buy into the idea that somehow the shore line can be made impenetrable. It wasn't and probably never could have been. However Rommel'e ear for the sound bite ensured that the German failures opmn the Longest day left his reputation intact.

 

 

if you want a  serious hatchet job on Rommel try David irving's In the Trail of the Fox ;)

 

Too me just sounds like you are heavily biased against Rommel to such an extent that even in situations he has no fault over you lay blame on him.

 

Yes he may have commandeered asset's from other units and while you may frown upon that in the heat of battle you cant be sitting around waiting for them to just be given to you or permission from command to arrive to little to late, In Blitzkrieg time is everything, Waste time asking and a** kissing and you risk giving away the initiative. So dont have to like it but he did what needed to be done and it payed off.

 

Yes Rommel wanted to reach the Suez Canal and quiet possibly even advance into the Middle East but I have never ever heard any statement that he wanted to invade Russia through the Middle East but rather in fact he just wanted to destroy the British threat there.

 

Yes Rommel treated the Italians badly and criticism of him in this aspect is rightly deserved.

 

You claim the NA campaign was a distraction, True but Rommel wasn't the one in charge, He was put there it was up to Hitler/Mussolini if they stayed there or not. You claim that the forces wasted there could have saved the 6th Army in Stalingrad, Im assuming you have worked out the logistics to transport 250,000+ men and all their tanks, vehicles, planes, artillery, spares, resources etc all the way there? It's one thing to say they could have been better used elsewhere but 1. You need to work out how to get them there and keep them supplied (Hard enough to supply what as already there) and 2. You need to look at who made the top decisions, Last I checked Rommel was not the highest ranking military leader of Germany or the Fuhrer. He got his orders the same as every one else, Yes he bent them but even Rommel was not so good as to be able to bend them and sneak a quarter million troops and their supplies on what would be a 4,000km+ trip.

 

You mention Normandy, Last I checked Rommel wanted the tanks placed right up along the beaches as he was of the belief (rightly so) that the only way to defeat the allies would be on the beaches. He was able to get panzer divisions moved closer but when the Normandy landings came around they were held back because Hitler refused to allow them to move freely. Hitler didnt allow freedom of movement and Rundstedt wanted them held right back near Paris, Rommel had learnt that with the Allied aerial superiority the Panzers wouldn't have a chance to make any meaningful attribution to the battle when moving over long distances (In fact a lot of German tanks were taken out by allied aircraft while on the move in Normandy), So trying to lay the failure at Normandy squarely on Rommel is just a poor attempt at attacking a man that you apparently just don't like. You say his interventions in the Atlantic wall were micromanagement f the most annoying sort? Funny seeing as he sped up the rate of construction and defenses installed actually reduced the times the Allies could land {Quote by Edward Ellsberg "Rommel had thoroughly muddled our plans. Attacking at high tide as we had intended, we'd never get enough troops in over those obstacles.."}, His involvement actually improved the situation.

 

Rommel can be criticized for a number of things but attacking him for fighting in North Africa (When ordered to do so), For improving the defenses of the Atlantic wall, For trying to stop the allies on the beach because he knew if they got a foot hold they would not be able to be beaten (By this time the German army was a shadow of its former self, They had limited aerial support and even less young highly trained troops) is just silly, You complain about his micromanagement, If you want to complain about that then look at Hitler, He stopped whole divisions from moving while the allies kept piling up more troops and tanks...



#41 LJAd

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Posted 30 November 2014 - 05:45 PM

Truth lies midway:Rommel was not a genious,he also was not an imbecile.

 

He lost in NA,but an other general also would have lost in NA.

 

He lost in Normandy,but an other general also would have lost in Normandy :about the panzer controverse:Rommel and the others (Rundstedt,Guderian,...) were right and wrong : the strategy of the "others" would fail,but also the strategy of Rommel .


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#42 KJ Jr

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Posted 30 November 2014 - 07:13 PM

I have to believe Rommel would of had more success in Normandy, had the higher ups did not withhold the release of certain units and the communications had not broken down. You can thank the Allies and resistance for the latter. It's a good thing there were tremendous failures on the Atlantic Wall by the Germans.
"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." - Einstein
 

 

#43 harolds

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Posted 30 November 2014 - 07:55 PM

Sheldrake,

 

I have to second what von_noobie and others have said here. One thing they didn't mention was re. your comment  that Rommel was self-promoting. Yes, to an extent he was, but Montgomery was at least equally self-promoting and arrogant beyond belief. His statements to the press during Goodwood and the Ardennes are excellent examples. There are many others. His slow progress forward during the first part of the Italian campaign was a disgrace. Some of the 8th Army press corps beat him to the link-up with American forces for heavens sake! Certainly Rommel had a big ego, but what major commanding officer didn't? Montgomery? Patton? Alexander? Mark Clark? MacArthur? If the last five named were as physically large as their egos, then you couldn't have fit them all in a large sports stadium!



#44 Sheldrake

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Posted 01 December 2014 - 01:32 AM

We are talking about Rommel , not Montgomery, Patton Mark Clark McArthur or even Eisenhower; all of whom presented themselves via the media.  .

 

Rommel's deployment to North Africa nwas not his decision. However having been given a mission to fight a defensive battle or support Germany's Italian ally. Rommel ignored orders, pressed on and used his scussed to foirce the Germans to waste nresources on a sideshow.  



#45 von_noobie

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Posted 01 December 2014 - 02:34 AM

We are talking about Rommel , not Montgomery, Patton Mark Clark McArthur or even Eisenhower; all of whom presented themselves via the media.  .

 

Rommel's deployment to North Africa nwas not his decision. However having been given a mission to fight a defensive battle or support Germany's Italian ally. Rommel ignored orders, pressed on and used his scussed to foirce the Germans to waste nresources on a sideshow.  

 

True, He was told to fight a defensive battle but let me ask you this, If he stays in a defensive posture how long would it have been before the Allies built up enough troops and resources to bypass Rommel? A static front there would be less of an issue hence less invsted into it (What was invested was minimul). Sooner or later the allies would have had the strength built up and would have bypassed Rommel then the NA campaign would have been over far sooner the occured historically. With the make up of the land in NA static defences did not work, Not unless you had a natural land formation beside you that prevented the oppositions armor and vehicles travelling around you. This may nt have come into Rommels thinking but with benefit of hindsight it was either sit still and get defeated sooner or attack when ou had the chance, May not win but would prevent the other from building up enough to take you out completely.

 

Should also note Rommel only went on the offensive when he found out the allied forces facing him where shifting troops to Greece, So he had a chance for a good victory that while historically maybe not the best option (He should hav stopped sooner) could also had been marked down as one of his great theats had it succeeded, It was at this time that he probably had the best chance of kicking the British out of North Africa.



#46 Sheldrake

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Posted 01 December 2014 - 11:43 AM

True, He was told to fight a defensive battle but let me ask you this, If he stays in a defensive posture how long would it have been before the Allies built up enough troops and resources to bypass Rommel? A static front there would be less of an issue hence less invsted into it (What was invested was minimul). Sooner or later the allies would have had the strength built up and would have bypassed Rommel then the NA campaign would have been over far sooner the occured historically. With the make up of the land in NA static defences did not work, Not unless you had a natural land formation beside you that prevented the oppositions armor and vehicles travelling around you. This may nt have come into Rommels thinking but with benefit of hindsight it was either sit still and get defeated sooner or attack when ou had the chance, May not win but would prevent the other from building up enough to take you out completely.

 

Should also note Rommel only went on the offensive when he found out the allied forces facing him where shifting troops to Greece, So he had a chance for a good victory that while historically maybe not the best option (He should hav stopped sooner) could also had been marked down as one of his great theats had it succeeded, It was at this time that he probably had the best chance of kicking the British out of North Africa.

 

There is a difference between waging an aggressive defence of Libya, which might invovled kicking the british everytime they over extended their supply lines and attempting to conquer Egpt and the Middle east.  

 

The really bad decisions made by Rommel were to

1) Press for an offensive in North Africa in 1942 before the  the capture of of Malta, which would have alleviated the logistic problems and freed up naval and air units for other tasks. 

2)  invade Egypt.in July 1942 without capturing Malta.

 

These are the two big criticisms that Albert Kesselring made.  He was a much better strategist than Rommel.

 

The scale of Rommel;s  victory in June 1942 and the capture of Tobruk in  retrospect came back to bite him.  Churchill was in Washington  when Tobruk fell.  This had more impact on US plans for the ETO than any amount of arguing.   FDR's sympathy led to hundreds of tanks and SP guns being diverted to Egypt.  Had Rommel been on the Lybia border then maybe the Americans would have never become involved in  an obvious side show.  Lots of pressure for early Op Overlord- and the Kasserine pass takes place on the French coast....    

 

|n   



#47 LJAd

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Posted 01 December 2014 - 12:27 PM

These decisions were approved by Rome and Berlin,and,IMHO,they were justified,as time was running against Germany .Besides,it is not so that the capture of Malta would have alleviated the Axis logistic problems,because

 

a) only a small part of the Axis supplies were lost duting the transport to NA

 

                                                 only a part of  them were lost be British forces operating from Malta

 

c) if no supplies had been lost,this would not alleviate the logistic problems which were caused by the transport of the supplies from the ports to NA

 

d)it is not proved that with more supplies the Axis forces could defeat the British once and for all



#48 steverodgers801

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Posted 01 December 2014 - 09:25 PM

Bronk the game I refer to is the British spent two years, until Monty, sending heir tanks with out any support straight into the German anti tank defenses.        Iys not entirely true that what the Germans lost en transit was minimal. Due to the amount of fuel the Germans needed to get the supplies to the front, every loss meant less got to the Front. I don't know the exact amount, but I wouldn't be surprised if at the time of El Alamain the Germans used as fuel transporting the items as they used in combat



#49 steverodgers801

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Posted 01 December 2014 - 09:26 PM

The question I just thought is if the British had not been so idiotic in how they handled their tanks and continually handed Rommel victory would Rommel have been considered such a great general?



#50 harolds

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Posted 01 December 2014 - 09:40 PM

Let's not also forget that the WW2 Heer was totally offensive oriented. Passive defense was not in their "playbook", at least not until a few years later. Rommel was known to be aggressive even by the Heer's standard. So, why would anyone think he would not attack at the first opportunity? As von_noobie pointed out, a defensive strategy, even an "aggressive defense" was bound to fail. Battle is an all-or-nothing activity. Waging war so as just not lose is what my country did in Vietnam. Didn't work there, wouldn't have worked in N. Africa either.

 

Rommel also had lot's of ambition. He wanted to win battles! My previous post was to illustrate that most successful generals, and some not so successful, had lots of ego and ambition. This can be a very positive thing if managed correctly.


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