WWII–-75th ANNIVERSARY POLLS--#19--FEBRUARY 1941



  • Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel (15 November 1891 – 14 October 1944), popularly known as the Desert Fox (Wüstenfuchs, About this sound listen (help·info)), was a German Generalfeldmarschall (general field marshal) of World War II. He earned the respect of both his own troops and his enemies.[1][2]

    Rommel was a highly decorated officer in World War I and was awarded the Pour le Mérite for his exploits on the Italian Front. In World War II, he further distinguished himself as the commander of the 7th Panzer Division during the 1940 invasion of France. His leadership of German and Italian forces in the North African campaign established him as one of the most able commanders of the war, and earned him the appellation of the Desert Fox. He is regarded as one of the most skilled commanders of desert warfare in the conflict.[3] He later commanded the German forces opposing the Allied cross-channel invasion of Normandy.

    Rommel is regarded as having been a humane and professional officer.[4] His Afrika Korps was never accused of war crimes, and Allied soldiers captured during his Africa campaign were reported to have been treated humanely.[5] Orders to kill Jewish soldiers, civilians and captured commandos were ignored.[6] Later in the war, Rommel was indirectly linked to the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Because Rommel was a national hero, Hitler desired to eliminate him quietly. He forced Rommel to commit suicide with a cyanide pill, in return for assurances that Rommel’s family would not be persecuted following his death. He was given a state funeral, and it was announced that Rommel had succumbed to his injuries from an earlier strafing of his staff car in Normandy.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erwin_Rommel

    In February of 1941, Erwin Rommel is appointed the head of a new German army corps sent to help the Italians in North Africa. 
    The “Afrika Korps”.
    Rommel has a storied and famous history in the annals of WWII.
    He would later be known as “The Desert Fox”, and was very well respected by Axis AND Allied leaders during that time.
    Of course he made mistakes, like all leaders usually do.
    So many debates on who the best general was during the Second World War.
    Rommel is also my personal favorite.
    If i was drafting an army like i would a baseball team, Rommel would be my first pick and i would make him manager of the team.
    So…the question of the month is this…
    Was he the best general of WWII?


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    The question is impossible to answer except in terms of personal preferences because there are many different types of generals; it’s not unusual for some of them to be superbly fitted for certain types of responsibilities but less suitable (or indeed completely unsuitable) for others.  For example, George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower were perfectly suited for their vital (but unglamourous) roles as top-level administrators of the war effort: clear-thinking, disciplined, organized, precise, and possessing the interpersonal skills required to deal with touchy customers ranging from Roosevelt and Churchill to Patton and Montgomery.  Neither of them was a “battlefield general,” but neither of them needed to be one.  Patton, by contrast, was at his best in a battlefield role, and similarly to Bill Halsey at sea was a high-profile, hard-swearing, hell-for-leather front-line flag officer who liked nothing better that locking horns with the enemy and giving him a good thrashing.  Patton could never have held Eisenhower’s job as Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, a responsibility requiring considerable diplomatic skill; even the polished Eisenhower was at times barely able to keep the Anglo-American alliance functioning properly.

    Rommell was a brilliant front-line commander of armoured forces, a first-rate tactician with a flair for bold, decisive action.  As a strategist, his record is harder to interpret because his assignments were primarily tactical and operational.  I think the highest strategic-level planning he was involved in was his supervision of the Atlantic Wall defenses in 1943 - 1944…and one could argue that his approach to handling the anticipated Allied invasion (“Hit them on the beaches”) reflected the tactical orientation of his thought processes.  He and the head of OB West, Gerd von Rundstedt, completely disagreed on this point; von Rundstedt wanted to build his counter-invasion plans around mobile armoured reserves, not fixed defenses.  And in a sense, both men were correct about the flaw in each other’s plans.  Von Rundstedt was correct to think that piecrust-type linear defenses scatter the defender’s resources, leaving the defender vulnerable if the line is cracked by the enemy at any one point, and that mobile defenses offer more flexibility and more ability to concentrate against the enemy regardless of where he attacks.  Rommell, on the other hand, was correct in thinking that Allied air supremacy would make it difficult for German armoured reserves to move into position for a counterattack, at least by day; in essence, he was arguing that a choosing a linear defense, despite its grave shortcomings, was a case of having to choose a bad option rather than a worse one.

    Just as a footnote to the question of what qualities make a particular general “great” for a particular wartime role, there’s a darkly amusing story about Hitler’s choice of Wilhelm Keitel as the head of OKW.  Hitler was looking for somebody to fill the position, and at one point consulted the officer who was Keitel’s boss at the time (I think it was Werner von Fritsch) about Keitel’s potential suitability.  Keitel’s superior was dubious that he could handle such an important position, and told Hitler something along the lines of  “He’s just the guy who manages my office.”  Hitler allegedly responded, “That’s exactly the kind of general that I want for this job.”


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16

    In any case, even on Rommel’s own terms there were other German commanders whose fearsome battlefield reputations make them at least equally good candidates - Manstein being an obvious one.


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @Private:

    In any case, even on Rommel’s own terms there were other German commanders whose fearsome battlefield reputations make them at least equally good candidates - Manstein being an obvious one.

    Erich von Manstein’s brilliant reputation needs to be viewed with a certain amount of caution because part of the mystique surrounding him originated in his memoirs, which are controversial because in them he simultaneously: a) depicts himself very favourably; b) takes no responsibility for any of the war’s morally reprehensible aspects; and c) blames Hitler for everything that want wrong.  In fairness, he was hardly alone in doing so in his memoirs; Admiral Doenitz wrote a similar account of his own involvement in the war.



  • General von Manstein was the best general of WWII. But before I get into the explanation as to why that is the case, I’d like to address the points CWO Marc made about him and his memoir.


    Erich von Manstein’s brilliant reputation needs to be viewed with a certain amount of caution because part of the mystique surrounding him originated in his memoirs, which are controversial because in them he simultaneously: a) depicts himself very favourably; b) takes no responsibility for any of the war’s morally reprehensible aspects; and c) blames Hitler for everything that want wrong.  In fairness, he was hardly alone in doing so in his memoirs; Admiral Doenitz wrote a similar account of his own involvement in the war.


    I have read von Manstein’s book Lost Victories. Yes, there was a strong, recurring element of him showing frustration at having his ideas rejected by those whose intelligence and/or military judgement were significantly inferior to his own. Maybe his critics view that as “depicting himself favorably.” I view that frustration as a natural, human reaction to be expected of someone whose bosses are far less competent than himself.

    As for b), it is false to assert that von Manstein failed to take responsibility for any of the war’s morally reprehensible acts. On the contrary: he acknowledged Germany committed serious sins. He also opined that, whatever Germany’s sins may have been, the Soviet Union’s were worse. However, his book was intended to be about military matters only. As such, he provided no detail about Nazi or Soviet war crimes. The fact that he confines his discussion almost exclusively to military matters does not lessen its credibility.

    I regard c) as an exaggeration. Manstein regarded Hitler as a military amateur. Hitler made himself commander of Germany’s military forces. Von Manstein felt Hitler was out of his depth in that role, and pointed out a number of military errors he’d made. It’s hard to see why von Manstein’s decision to point out Hitler’s military errors should detract from von Manstein’s credibility. It should also be noted that, despite von Manstein’s very obvious frustration with Hitler’s military mistakes, he also acknowledged examples of Hitler having made good military decisions.

    Why was von Manstein the best general of WWII? In 1939, Hitler asked his generals to prepare a military campaign against France. (To be started after Poland had been conquered.) The plan they came up with did not involve any attempt to actually conquer France, or to destroy the French Army. Instead, his generals set their sights much lower. Germany would conquer ports along the English Channel, so that Germany would be better-positioned to engage in sub warfare against Britain.

    Von Manstein pointed out that time was not on Germany’s side. It was better, he felt, to reach a military decision quickly, than to let things drag out. Therefore he prepared a plan to invade and conquer France. The German generals who’d prepared the “Channel ports” plan didn’t want Hitler to see von Manstein’s plan. Von Manstein was finally (despite those generals’ best efforts) able to get a meeting with Hitler. In that meeting he persuaded Hitler to adopt his own, rather ambitious plan to conquer France. France fell because von Manstein’s plan had been chosen. It would not have fallen had the Channel ports plan been adopted.

    Von Manstein felt that even with the fall of France, time was still not on Germany’s side. He therefore proposed an Operation Sea Lion plan–a plan that was every bit as bold and daring as his plan to conquer France. However, Hitler (incorrectly) felt that Germany was in the lead in after the fall of France, and had become more risk-adverse than he’d been when he’d approved von Manstein’s earlier plan. He rejected von Manstein’s plan to conquer Britain, and adopted a more tactically cautious approach. Von Manstein pointed out that, in avoiding a moderate amount of tactical risk, Hitler accepted an enormous quantity of strategic risk.

    After the Battle of Stalingrad, Germany’s entire Eastern front was in danger of collapse. (In danger of being rolled up from the south, near Stalingrad.) In the Third Battle of Kharkov, Germans under von Manstein’s command achieved an 8:1 exchange ratio against their Soviet opponents. 52 Soviet divisions ceased to be effective. The southern portion of Germany’s eastern front was stabilized. That set the stage for Germany’s summer offensive against the Soviet Union in 1943. That summer offensive failed. But the fact Germany was strong enough to even attempt it was the result of the Third Battle of Kharkov.

    During the previous year–1942–von Manstein had achieved another notable success against the Soviet Union. In the Battle of the Kerch Peninsula, forces under von Manstein’s command killed or captured 170,000 Soviet soldiers, for a loss of 9,000 Germans. While a number of other German generals also achieved favorable exchange ratios on the Eastern Front, I have not found any other German general whose ratios were as good as von Manstein’s.


  • 2019 2018 2017 '16

    It is a tough question.
    To me it would be Generaloberst Heinz Guderian, but his ranking is equal to a US Marshall I think.
    All German Generals had their attributes, but Guderian was a high quality leader so as Rommel, because they lead from the first row/frontline.



  • While Rommel was talented, his talents were magnified by western press and glorified by conducting war in a non European theater. The fact that Churchill had a man crush on him also helps his fame.

    How would Rommel had done as a divisional or korps commander in Russia?


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 '13 Moderator

    Wise words, Worsham.

    Like Model , he would have done very well in the halcyon days. I believe he would have done less well, defensively, unlike  Model, though. He would have worried his Army commander, like Guderian, never wanting to pause to regroup. But that would not have mattered to him or to the result.


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