Live like a knight, die like a soldier! The life of Erwin Rommel

Wars give rise to bloodshed, chaos and a state of total disarray. Wars have never brought peace and have in fact wrecked havoc regardless of their scale and impact. Prolific English writer H.G. Wells has said, ‘If we don’t end war, war will end us’.

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There could be no better sentiment to define the colossal damage that the Second World War wrecked upon mankind than this HG Wells epic. In the most bloodied affair of all modern mankind history, about 60 million people died, around 4% of the 1940s world population.

The Second World War

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After all, the Second World War (1939-45) was the splitting image of bloodbath on all of earth’s surface. Maligned by man’s grave undoing of another, the cataclysmic damage brought upon by Germany under one deeply disturbed debauch’s leadership splattered Europe into a battlefield. Innocents died, honesty was crushed, civilian casualties reached the highest toll and the world was witness to unprecedented carnage. Despised for its barbarity, Germany along with Italy formed the evil Axis power that went down fighting a mythical and unfounded dream of ruling over the world, devastated by the Allied trio of Russia, USA and Britain. When Berlin fell, Europe was united, at least for a while after witnessing magnanimous damage on its opulent surface.

Rommel- the light during Germany’s darkness

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In the light of such massive upheaval in Europe, there could be nothing more apt than Plato’s fitting testimony on the savagery of wars ; ‘Only the dead have seen the end of war’. Chances are, if you are aware of the most revered general across the horrors of Second World War then you’ll discover that Plato’s epic might have struck a chord with this figure. He was Erwin Rommel,without a doubt, the greatest general Germany has ever had the honor of producing and a true icon of chivalry. Despite reptitive pleadings to Fuhrer, Rommel cut a sorry figure when his pragmatic suggestion for making peace with Allies was turned down. After all, a German defeat was the inevitable after crushing defeats in Stalingrad and the failure to adequately fortify the Atlantaic Wall. The orders from the very top were- fight to the last bullet. But alas, despite Rommel’s mega victories in the sun burnt desert sands of North Africa, and Germany’s alliance with Fascist Italy, it was never going to be enough.

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But it was never to be. Rommel was the perfect anti-thesis to Hitler’s devastating evil. Hitler sought to create the ‘perfect Aryan race’ made of ‘pure’ German blood and thought of anyone standing in his master-plan- Jews, hippies, blacks, homosexuals and others- as ‘unwanted’ or ‘despicable’. Rommel, on the other hand, was a decorated soldier; a product of dignity, ethics, an honorable man who fought hard. He regarded carrying out the orders of his superiors as the lone excuse for a soldier’s existence. There was little feeling for laurels that came along. A courageous simpleton, had it required him, Rommel, would have drank the poison chalice of saving Germany from defeat, if only that could save his beloved Deutschland. A handsome Swabian, a daring battler, an ingenius military tactician and an innovative soldier renowned for deceiving Germany’s arch-enemies in the desert warfare, Rommel was the 6th sense that aided Germany in memorable mobile warfare victories from Tobruk to Gazala.

The Rommel legend

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Yes, he was conscious of how he was perceived but his focus was on garnering hard-fought victories and placing them at the feat of Germany. in the intense North Africa campaign, Rommel blazed a trail that perturbed Bernard Montgomery, his rival from Britain, whom he battered, scared and upturned on various occasions from June 1940 to May 1943, before withdrawing from El Alamein only for the lack of military aid and supplies he received from Berlin. Soon realizing that the arduous battles he had so valiantly fought for, were for a deplorable evil who relished crushing innocents more than making Germany great again, Rommel, it is believed turned against Adolf Hitler.

After the 20th July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler backfired, captured and documented in history as ‘Operation Valkyrie’, Rommel’s involvement in the failed coup was leaked to Hitler. Although, it’s believed Rommel may never have been ‘involved’ in the attack although his awareness about it cannot be ruled out. Truth be told, no amount of future historical extensive research can prove Rommel’s direct involvement in the plot to eliminate Hitler even though his revulsion for him was now more ‘open’ than ever. Those in Hitler’s inner circle such as Rommel’s new chief of staff, Hans Speidel and the likes of Stulpnagel may have leaked Rommel’s name to Hitler which left him infuriated.

Hitler turns against Rommel

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Hitler,who had first become a ‘Rommel convert’ after reading the Heidenheim born gallant man’s book ‘Infantry Attack’; a special document on trench warfare, left Rommel- then in 1944, convalescing at Herrlingen following an accident- the final choice: forced suicide by consuming cyanide or prepare for public trial. The latter had one direction- death and elimination of family in concentration camps. Ever the lion-heart, Rommel took his own life in exchange for safety for his family.

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On October the 14th, 1944, Germany’s greatest knight; it’s shining armor amidst world war horrors and the much loved figure of bravado was gone, snapped by the very evil who he had come to fight for, albeit to save Germany. But before all of this, before the carnage in death camps, before the fall of Berlin in 1945, before Germany’s crushing defeat by the Allied powers, in the clamor of hatred for Germany- Erwin Rommel was the only beacon of hope and the ray of optimism in the chaos of Second World War.

The bravery, the might

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Rommel fought even in the First World War where for his bravery in the tumultuous events in the heart of Europe in September 1914, January 1915- was awarded the Iron Cross- 2nd and 1st class respectively. An audaciously courageous soldier, Rommel’s magnetic charm cast a spell on anyone who came in his company. Graduating from the military school in Danzig, the Swabian who became a legendary figure in the Wehrmacht first joined the 124th infantry regiment at Baden Wurttemberg. Soon at age 26, he would rise as captain and by 1917 he had already been awarded Germany’s greatest military honor- Pour Le Merit. Despite being stout in frame, Rommel’s never say die attitude earned him respect from his fellow soldiers and later, even across the enemy camp.

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At the peak of his powers, post the Blitzkrieg war, when Hitler asked Rommel if he could do anything for him, Rommel asked Hitler to give him charge of a Panzer (tank) division. But after serving elongated periods in terse mountainous regimes, the Rommel legend would rise in true heroic fashion in the sandy landscape of North Africa. Here, in Egypt and Libya, Rommel’s famous ‘Africa Corps’ would earn the nickname of ‘Ghost Divison’ for its lightening fast movement in mobile warfare against British forces who would later be joined by legendary US General Patton. Rommel was kind and uncompromising in his ethics as a true soldier. He was perhaps the only general who defied Hitler’s orders to kill innocent Jewish prisoners and never forced slave labor on his captives, that measured in thousands, marking his memorable siege of Tobruk, Libya and the First Offensive in North Africa. In fact, it often seemed that no enemy bullet or missile shell would land near Rommel who was perceived to be ‘invincible’.

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A caring and devoted military leader, his soldiers were ready to give their life for the legendary ‘Desert Fox’ for whom the idea of sacrificing lame lives was incomprehensible and unacceptable. He was cautious and defensive about his troops, gracious in victories and chivalrous in defeats. No enemy captured soldier by Erwin Rommel was ill-treated or subjected to the brutalities that were so much of a common measure by the opressive and barbaric German regime.

A soldier always and always

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Known for being aloof from politics and revered for an appetite for battle, Rommel aligned an inner fury with an incessant courage to reign supreme in the desert warfare in Africa where he was touted the ‘bogeyman’ who couldn’t be captured. Winston Churchill even cried to the house of commons, ‘what matters most but to defeat him (Rommel) and that across the tyranny of war, Britain had a daring enemy and a good general’. Loved by his countrymen who looked up to him as a national hero and exploited by the Joseph Goebbels led Propaganda warfare, Rommel’s National-hero image was flaunted to the common German for adulation and fanfare.

But as fate would have it, all good things come to an end and Rommel, despite his military accomplishments and inspiring feats for Germany met fatality. But he went like the fighting soldier he had so proudly been for Germany; brave, compassionate and larger than life.

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No other military leader has been honored with a museum based on his life and accomplishments other than Rommel. For his tenacity, endearing love for Germany- factually a tyrant fighting a baseless war built on corrupt standards of hatred, ethnic cleansing and greedy territorial superiority under Hitler, Erwin Rommel was the true knight that Germany relished amidst darkness and the horrors of war.  Long live Rommel.

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where bravery meets chivalry to reign supreme,

Rommel will always bear that force’s theme

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