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HighTide

Rommel’smasterpieces:thebattlesofGazala,TobrukandMersaMatruh

(January–June1942)

TheBritish,bythrowingRommeloutofCyrenaica,hadinflictedontheFoxhisworst

defeatsofarinthedesertwar.Thisrankledenough,butwasmadeworsebytheItalian

highcommand’sgloatingatthesetback.Rommelwasbacktosquareoneinthisstrange,

see-sawwarthatflowedbetweenElAgheilaandtheEgyptianfrontier.

AtElAgheila,Rommelhadanaturaldefencelinesincethecoastalroad,theonly supplyrouteandavenueofadvancefortheBritish,hadtopassthroughanarrowland corridorbetweenthecoastalsanddunesandthesaltswampsoftheinterior.Theother advantageofthispositionwasthatRommelwasnowonlytwodaysawayfromhismain supplybaseatTripoli.Thisimprovedhissupplysituation,whiletheBritish,afteralong advance,wererunningoutofpetrol,water,sparesandreinforcements.Itwastimefor thependulumtoswingbackagain.Rommel,notinterestedinwaitingfortheoptimum timetostrike,wasabouttospringanunpleasantsurpriseontheenemy. 1 Alessergeneral would probably have waited and rested his army on the El Agheila line before commencingwithacounterattack.

The British, having won an apparent victory, had again become over-confident. AuchinleckwassurethatRommelhadreceivedamajorsetbackandthathewouldnot beinapositiontolaunchanewoffensiveoperationforaconsiderableperiod.Instead, theBritishoccupiedthemselveswithplanningtheirownoffensive,OperationAcrobat,

setforFebruary1942.Thispromisedtobringthedesertwartoavictoriousconclusion

bytakingTripoli. 2 Acrobatwasanaptnameforanoperationthatwasneverexecuted andsawtheBritish,inLiddellHart’swords,makeseverallongbackwardsomersaults allthewaytoGazalaandbeyond. 3

Bothsidesreceivednewtanksandunitstoreplacepreviouslosses.Thebatteredand

exhausted7thArmouredDivisionhadlostitscommander,GeneralCampbell,whose

deathwasaheavyblowtoitsmorale.CampbellwassucceededbyGeneralMesservy,

whohadlittleexperienceofarmouredwarfare.

Toreplacethe7thArmouredDivision,theBritishhighcommandsentanentirely

newformation,the1stArmouredDivision,tothedesertwith150brand-newCruiser

tanks. The problem was that the crews were composed of cavalry men, with little experienceoftanksandmechanizedwarfare–andevenlessofdesertconditions.

Rommelreceivednosuchlargesseintanksandcrews.On5January,aconvoyofsix

shipsbroughthim55PanzerIIIsandIVs.Ofthese,19ofthePanzerIIIswereJmodels

withthelong55mmgunsthatgave50percentbetterarmourpenetrationcapacitythan

theshort-barrelledversion.ComparedwiththenumberofAuchinleck’sreinforcements,

thiswasn’tmuch,butitwasenoughforRommeltoplananewoffensive.By12January,

Rommel’sSurpriseOffensive

LessthanthreeweeksafterbeingthrownoutofCyrenaica,Rommelwasreadytoattack. At08:30hourson21January,histanksassaulted 5 theBritishpositionsatAgedabia, catchingthemcompletelybysurprise.TheEighthArmy’scommanders,officersand troopsalikewereallequallyshockedbythisunexpectedmove. 6 The1stArmoured Division,supposedlythearmouredspearheadofOperationAcrobat,wasbeingrefitted andwasscatteredacrossahugestretchofdesert. 7 Itwasthereforeinnofitstatetotake onthefullmightofRommel’spanzers,andeachofitsbrigadeswasdefeatedinturn.On

22January,the2ndArmouredBrigadelosthalfofitstanks,andtheDAKdefeatedeach

ofitstankregiments. 8 The1stArmouredDivisionfaredworse,asitlost117tanks,33 gunsandthousandsofprisonerstoRommel,whoputhissuccessdowntopreserving completesecrecy.“Weknowfromexperience,”notedRommelinhisdiary,“thatItalian headquarters cannot keep things to themselves and that everything they wireless to RomegetsroundtoBritishears.”Basticoexplodedwithragethathe,thenominal commander-in-chief,hadbeenkeptinthedark. 9 Rommelcouldnothavecaredless,and notedwithdelightthat:“Ouropponentsaregettingoutasthoughthey’dbeenstung. Prospectsaregoodforthenextfewdays.” 10

On23January,theDAKoutflankedtheBritish,andtookAntelatandSaunnu. 11 The sameday,RommelreceivedamostunwantedandangryguestintheshapeofItaly’s GeneralCavallero,whosetask,hefeared,wastostophisoffensive.Indeed,Cavallero hadorderedtheItalianMobileCorps(IMC)tohalt.Rommelmadeitquiteclearthathe wouldcontinuetheadvanceaslongaspossible,withorwithoutthesupportofthe Italians. 12 TheGermangeneralseeminglyhadmoretroublewithhisalliesatthistime thanwiththeenemy.

Rommel’s offensive towards Msus continued. Msus was where the British had planned to make a counterattack. Nothing came of it, and the German advance on

MechiliandBenghazicontinuedwithoutabreak.On25January,afterfourdaysof

successfulfighting,Rommelconcludedthat,“Ourblowsstruckhome.Andthere’sstill onetocome.Thenwe’llgoallmodestagainandlieinwaitforabit”.Meanwhile, Mussolini had intervened and given Rommel wide orders that allowed him to act independentlyofCavallero. 13

Having taken Msus, Rommel drove on and smashed through the 210th Guards BrigadeonhiswaytoBenghazi. 14 On27January,Rommelwasdelightedtohavethe Italiansbackintheraceandhewasdelightedwiththehugenumberofarmouredcars, trucks,gunsandtanksthatwerefallingintohishands. 15 Thefollowingday,theIndians

(the4thDivision)evacuatedBenghazi,leavinghugeamountsofpetrol,oil,drumsof

waterandothersuppliesstockpiledforAcrobat,tobedevouredbytheDAK.Italianand German troops took Er Regima, east of the town, to cut off the retreating British forces. 16 Rommelwasthrilledwiththisbountythathisenemyhadleftbehind,which wouldhelphiminthefollow-uptotheoffensive.IftheforcesatAgedabiaandMsus hadadvancedmorequicklytowardsthecoastthen,atleastaccordingtoBayerlein,the

EighthArmymighthavebeenannihilated. 17

TheBritishhadbeendealtamassiveblow.Auchinlecksentafloodofinstructions andorderstothefront.Theresult,asoneBritishofficerputit,was“orders,counter ordersanddisorder”.Thisstateofshockandpanicinsomeunitscouldaccountforthe BritishabandoningthevitalBenghazidepot 18 thatshouldhavebeendestroyedassoon asRommel’stanksmadeanappearance.Asiftocompensateforthesesetbacks,the

RoyalAirForce(RAF)carriedoutaheavyraidagainstTripoliandMisurataon31

January.ThisfailedtostopthevictoriousAxisoffensive,sinceBarcefellthatsameday

andtheDAKpressedontowardsCyrene.

On 1 February, the British began to retire back to the Gazala line. Auchinleck orderedthatTobrukwastobeheldatallcosts. 19 By4February,Rommel’sarmyhad pushedtheEighthArmysome240km(150miles)eastwards,fromMsustoGazala. 20 “It wentlikegreasedlightning,”wroteRommelthatsameday. 21 On5February,theBritish leftMechiliandtheDAKtookTmimi.Twodayslater,Rommel’sforceshadreachedthe Gazalalinewhere,inthefaceoftheBritishdefences,theyhalted. 22 Rommelhada

483km(300-mile)frontthathehopedwouldstabilize,butatleasthewasinpossession

ofCyrenaica. 23 OnlythejealousItalianhighcommandwasn’thappy,and“wouldbe bestpleased”,claimedanirritatedRommel,“toseeusgetoutofCyrenaicaagain”. 24

On14February,afterapauseofaweek,Rommelorderedanewoffensivetobe

launched,butitdidnotmakemuchheadwaybecauseofheavyrains.Operationswere haltedfrom19to23February,astheweatherwentfrombadtoworse. 25 Therewasnow a long break in activity that lasted for the rest of March and April, except for air operations. While the Luftwaffe attacked Tobruk, the RAF pounded Tripoli in retaliation. 26

Rommelwasquitepleasedatbeingclosetothefront,andduringoneofhismany inspection tours he came across an abandoned house where the British, with their customaryhumour,hadwrittenonthewall:“Keepclean,we’llbebacksoon!”Rommel wrote:“We’llseeaboutthat!” 27 On10April,duringasimilartrip,Rommelhadalucky escape.Asplinterstruckhiminthestomach,buthithimwithitsflatsideandleftonlya purplebruise,thesizeofasoupplate,acrosshisstomach.However,Rommelwas shaken,andhistersecommentwas,“theluckofthedevil”. 28

MeanwhilehissupplysituationandproblemswithItalianArmyofficerscontinued toplaguehim.Rommel,likemostofhisofficersandmen,realizedtheywereunpopular withtheiralliessincetheItaliansbelievedtheGermanswereinsensitiveaboutItalian pride,unappreciativeoftheirmilitaryeffortsandshowedgreatarrogancetowardsthem. SomeofthemwenttoofarintheircriticismoftheGermans.GeneralGastoneGambara wasfiredwhenhetoldhisofficersinpublicthathelivedforthedaywhenhecouldlead theItalianArmyagainstGermany.Rommel’sonlycommentwas:“Whatafool!” 29 No doubt to soothe German feelings, and show his appreciation of Rommel, Bastico informed Rommel that he would be given an Italian decoration. Rommel was not

thrilled.“Moretroopswouldsuitmebetter,”hecommentedsourly. 30

Thedelayin operationsallowedtheBritishtocompletetheconstructionofthe Gazaladefenceline.CommencedinJanuary,itwasfinishedinMaywhenRommel launchedhisnextoffensive.Thelinecomprisedabeltofminefieldsextendingfrom

Gazalasome69km(43miles)southwardsintothedesert.Atregularintervalstheline

wasstrengthenedbyso-calledboxes.Atthesepointstheminefieldsthickened,andwere reinforcedbyfortifiedanti-tankditches,machine-gunbunkersandthicklayersofbarbed

wire.Eachoftheseboxeswasmannedbyaninfantrybrigade,includingthe150th

InfantryBrigade,the201stGuardsBrigade(intheKnightsbridgebox),the22ndGuards

Brigade and the South Africans. Finally, the anchor of the whole line was the

southernmostboxatBirHacheim,whichwasheldbythe1stFreeFrenchBrigade

commandedbyGeneralKoenig.

Aseconddefencelinestretched48km(30miles)fromElAdemtoSidiMuftah.Ona

map,andintheory,theGazalalinewasasortofdesertMaginot,butitsweaknesses

wereobvious.ItwasincompletesinceitendedabitsouthofBirHacheimwhichwould

allowRommel,inhisusualstyle,tooutflankitthroughthedesert.Furthermore,the

boxeswereplacedtoofarapart.TheBritishhighcommandhadhopedtoovercome

theseweaknessesbystationingXXXCorpsinthesouthernvicinityofBirHacheim.

Thelineservedseveralpurposes,butthemainonewastodefendtheEgyptian frontierandTobruk,whileitalsoprovidedajumping-offpointforaBritishoffensive. Onecouldn’tbutagreewithhistorianDavidChandler’sconclusions,thattheGazalaline wasawhiteelephantandthattheBritishdefencelineshouldhavebeenconstructed alongtheaxisofAcroma,Tobruk,ElAdemtoSidiRezegh. 31

OperationTheseusandVenezia

Inmid-June1942,theAxishadplannedtostrikeagainstMalta,anirritatinghornets’

nest.Inpreparation,Italy’shighcommandwantedRommeltoclearouttheBritishfrom Gazala.OnceOperationHercules(theinvasionofMalta)hadbeensuccessful,Rommel

couldproceedtoinvadetheNileDelta(OperationAida).On1May,hegaveordersto

attacktheBritish.WhileRommelwiththetankforcessweptaroundthesouthofthe

Gazalaline,CruewellwouldlaunchOperationVenezia,afrontalattackonthelinethat

wouldserveasadiversiontokeeptheBritishoccupied.

TheBritishexpectedtheGermanstostrikefrontally,atthecentreoftheline,and alongthecoastalroad. 32 ThisservedRommel’spurposeswell,sincehewantedtokeep the British occupied in the north, while he struck with the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions in the south. Having defeated the British at Gazala, which he called Marmarica,RommelwouldfinallycaptureTobruk. 33

Rommelhad332Germantanks,ofwhich240werePanzerIIIsandonly38werethe

superiorPanzerIVs.Healsohad228Italiantanks,mainlyobsoleteM13s.Rommel

faced 100,000 British troops and 849 tanks. The British had begun to receive new Americanmaterial,ofwhichthemostimportantwasthenewGranttank.Thiswasthe

BritishproductionvariantoftheUSM3(medium)Leetank.Itweighedinat28tonnes

(28.5tons),had57mm(2.2in)armourandtwoguns–a37mmgunintheturretanda

75mmmodelinasponsononthesideofthehull.WiththeGrant,theBritishfeltthey

finallyhadatankthatcouldtakeontheGermanpanzers.Itwasonlyintheairthat

Rommelhadamarkededge,ashehad700ItalianandGermanplanestopitagainst200

RAFaircraft. 34

Cruewellattackedintheearlyafternoonof26May.TheBritishbelievedthatthis

wasthelong-expectedGermanassault,andconcentratedthebulkoftheirforcesagainst

him.At21:00hoursRommel,leadinginpersonthepanzerdivisions,advancedtothe

southweststraightintotheSahara.DuringthefollowingmorningRommel’spanzers

scatteredthe3rdIndianBrigadethathadbeencaughtunawareshavingbreakfast.The

15thPanzerDivisionattackedthe4thArmouredBrigade,whichwasforcedtoretreatto

ElAdem. 35

That same morning, the HQ of the 7th Armoured Division was captured by Rommel’sadvancingtanks.GeneralMesservy–describedbyoneBritishveteranas“a sillyoldmanfromtheIndianArmy”–toreoffhisepaulettesintime,pretendedtobean oldbatmanandthen,accompaniedbyseveralotherofficers,managedtoescapebackto theBritishlines. 36 TherestofMesservy’sdivisionwasscattered,andthe4thArmoured Brigadewascommittedpiecemeal,whichallowedRommeltodestroyitwithease.The BritishhadnochoicesinceRommel’sattackcamesosuddenlyandunexpectedly. 37

RitchiebelievedthatRommelwasreducedto250panzerswhilehestillhad330

tanks,andthathethereforepossessedadecidednumericaladvantageoverRommel. However, he chose not to launch a concentrated, massed attack against Rommel’s exposedposition.Rommel’ssituationwastrulyprecarioussincetheItalians(thePavia andTriesteDivisions)weremakingonlyveryslowandpainfulprogressthroughthe British minefields. Unless a viable corridor was created through the minefields, Rommel’sforwardforceswouldbecutoff–andhispanzercrewswerealreadyin desperateneedofwaterandfood.Takingpersonalchargeofthebattle,Rommelheaded south to speed the convoys through the minefields and order his formation to concentrateforanall-outoffensive.

On29May,theItalianSabrathaDivisionattackedandmauledthe1stSouthAfrican

Division.Inthisconfusedfighting,CruewellwascapturedandGeneralAlfredGause, hischiefofstaff,wounded.Rommelwasdeprivedoftwoofhismostseniorandmost experienced subordinates just as he needed them most. Having tried, and failed, to concentrate his panzers southwest of the “Knightsbridge” position, Rommel, whose situationwasworsening,wentovertothedefensivesincetheDAKcouldnotreach Tobruk. 38

TheBattleoftheCauldron

Rommel’s new tactic was untried and ingenious. He created what he called a “cauldron”,adefensiveringinwhichheshelteredhistanksandtroopsagainstthe inevitableattackbyRitchie.Thedefencesconsistedofhastilylaidminefields,anti-tank

gunsandthehighlyeffective88mmanti-aircraftguns.Rommel,whowasintemporary

commandofGroupCruewell,wasdaringRitchietoattackandwastehistanksagainst thecauldron’sperimeterwhileheturnedhisattentionstotheboxesoftheGazalaline. These boxes were situated in the middle of the cauldron – and would have to be disposedof. 39

Rommel’sfirsttargetwastheboxofthe150thBrigade,whoseexistencecameasa

nastysurprise.Iftheboxescouldholdoutlongenough,thenRitchiehopedhewouldbe abletocrushRommel’sarmybetweenhimselfandtheboxesuntiltheFoxwasforcedto surrender.But,forthistowork,Ritchiewouldhavetoconcentrateenougharmourand strikebeforeRommelhadachancetodestroytheboxes.ThatmeantRommelwould havetodestroythe150thBrigadebeforeRitchiecouldlumberintoaction. 40

Insidethecauldronthesituationwasnotpleasant;infact,itwasgettingworsesince Rommelandhismenwererunningoutofwater–fast.ABritishmajor,ArcherShee,in commandoftheIndianprisoners,complainedthathistroopswerenotreceivingenough water.Rommelsnappedback:“Youaregettingexactlythesamerationofwaterasthe AfrikaKorpsandmyself–halfacup.ButIagreethatwecannotgoonlikethis.Ifwe don’tgetaconvoythroughtonightIshallhavetoaskGeneralRitchieforterms.” 41 Rommelwasn’texaggerating,andhewouldhavetogetcrackingbeforeitwastoolate.

The150thBrigadeBox

Thebattleforthe150thBrigadeboxwasoneofthelesser-knownepisodesofthedesert

war,overshadowedbythemoreprotractedandcelebratedstandoftheFrenchatBir Hacheim.ThebrigadewascomposedoftroopsfromthenorthofEngland,andwas underthecommandofColonelC.W.Haydon.Thebrigadewasnowsurroundedbythe enemy,andquiteisolatedfromtherestoftheEighthArmy–asituationthatalltroops hate,andonethatcanprovedeeplydemoralizing.Therewaslittlehopeofoutsiderelief fromtherestofthearmy,sinceRitchiehaddecidedthathecouldnotlaunchanattack

until3June,whichwouldprovetoolateforthe150th.Neitherwasthereanyhopethat

Haydoncouldgetrelieffromthemoredistantboxes.Hewasnowquitealoneandfacing

thefullmightandfuryoftheAfrikaKorps.

By30May,Germanpreparationsforanattackwereunderway,astheirsappers

madenumerouseffortstocutaholeintheBritishminefieldsbutfailedbecauseofthe defenders’witheringfire.Duringthenight,theBritishkeptupanaggressivepatrol activitythatheldtheGermansatbay.Atdawnthefollowingday,waveuponwaveof Stukassweptoverthebox,whichwassooncoveredbythicklayersofdust,sandand debris.ThisnaturalsmokescreengavetheGermansappersthecovertheyneededto penetratetheminefields.Thenthepanzersroaredintoaction,assaultedtheboxand

knockedouttheBritish25-pounderanti-tankguns.Bytheafternoon,despitedesperate

resistancebythedefenders,theboxhadfallentotheGermans,whocaptured3000

prisoners,124gunsand101tanks.Rommel’sonlydisappointmentwasthathehadnot

beenabletocongratulatethebraveColonelHaydonforasplendiddefence.Thecolonel,

likemanyofhismen,wasdead.

ThiswasacriticalvictorythatensuredthesurvivaloftheDAKinthefaceof

formidableodds.Auchinleck,shockedthatRitchiehadallowedanentirebrigadetobe destroyedwithoutliftingafingertosaveit,orderedhimtoattack.Thishedid,belatedly,

on2June.InthefaceofRommel’s88sandformidableanti-tankdefencesitwasa

slaughter,leavingheapuponheapofburningtanks.Itwastoolittle,toolate. 42

4 2 TheBattleofGazala: 26May1942 Rommel had breached the Gazala

TheBattleofGazala:26May1942

Rommel had breached the Gazala line, opened a lifeline to the west, and thus ensuredthatvitalsuppliesofwater,food,ammunitionandpetrolcouldreachhim.He

feltstrongenoughtosendthe90thLightDivisionsouthwards,toBirHacheim,to

supporttheArieteDivision. 43 BirHacheim,theanchoroftheentireline,wasthekeyto thewholeconfrontation,andifitfellthenRommelwouldwinthebattle.Everything hinged on the fighting resolve and quality of the Free French Brigade and its commander,GeneralKoenig,holdingtheBirHacheimbox.

Thetroops,allofthemdenouncedbytheVichyauthoritiesasrenegades,werea motleycollectionofformerregularFrenchArmy,ForeignLegionnairesandvolunteers. They were united in one single wish, to fight the hated “Boche” and redeem the tarnishedreputationoftheircountry.Theyalsopossessedanotherformidableassetin thetough,sallow-facedKoenig,whoworetheCrossofLorraineandhisblue-redberet withpride.Ifevertherewasagroupofmendeterminedtofightfortheircorner,itwas

thisgarrison. 44

On6June,Rommelmovedthe15thPanzerDivisiontogivesomemuscletothe

impendingattackonthebox.Asever,believinginbluffandtricks,hetestedthewaters first.Whystormapositionifthedefenderswerewillingtosurrender?Ithadworked beforeduringtheinvasionofFrance.RommelsenttheFrenchamessage:“Tothetroops ofBirHacheim.Furtherresistancewillonlyleadtounnecessarybloodshed.Youwill havethesamefateasthetwo(!)Englishbrigadeswhichwerewipedouttwodaysagoat GotValeb.Wewillstopfiringassoonasyouhoistthewhiteflagandcomeouttous unarmed.” 45 However,theseFrenchtroopswerenotthedemoralizedhordesof1940, butdisciplinedanddeterminedsoldiersledbyastubbornandproudgeneral.Koenig’s replywascharacteristicallyshortandrude:“Gotohell!” 46

Rommel’sresponsewasasswiftasitwasviolent.Shellsfrommortars,artillery, anti-tankgunsandtanks,coupledwithmachine-gunfireandStukabombs,raineddown upontheFrench.Koenig,worriedaboutthedemoralizingeffectofthis,radioedtheRAF forassistance.TheRAF,theonlyvisiblesupportthehard-pressedgarrisonhad,adopted BirHacheimasitsspecialmascot.TheSpitfireshadaturkeyshootattheexpenseofthe slow-movingStukas.TheFrenchwerejubilant.KoenigradioedtotheRAF,“Mercipour leRAF”,whichbroughtacharacteristicallyBritishresponsefromtheboysinblue, “Merciàvouspourlesport”. 47 TheGermansfailedtoseethehumourorsportinthe slaughteroftheiraircrews,andFieldMarshalKesselring,commander-in-chiefofthe ArmedForcesSouth,disgustedwithhislossesatBirHacheim,insistedthatRommel attackthestubbornFrenchwithhistanks.ForonceitwasRommelwhohadtourge Kesselringtodampenhisexuberancebypointingouttheobvioustruththattankswere nogoodagainstpreparedpositions.ThefailureagainstTobrukhadclearlyshowedthe follyofattackingfortifiedpointswithtanks. 48

Rommel,nothavingbeenpreparedforsuchstubbornandsavageresistance,was deeplyimpressedwithKoenigandhisfeistygarrison.Hewasespeciallyimpressedby theirabilitytowithstandthetremendousaround-the-clockpoundingBirHacheimwas taking.Hissappers’valianteffortswerequitefruitlessinthefaceofthewitheringand well-directed French fire. 49 Indeed, inside the Bar Hacheim box something of the stubbornandheroicspiritthathadcharacterizedtheFrenchdefenceatVerdunduring thepreviouswarhadreappeared.Ritchie,anxiousthattheFrenchmightnotbeableto holdthebox,radioedregularlytoaskKoenigifhismenwouldhold–tobetold,bya calmandreassuredKoenig,thattheywould. 50

TheFallofBirHacheim

Thisself-confidenceandwilltoresist,characteristicstheBritishadmiredmorethanany other,wonKoenig’smentherespectoftherestoftheEighthArmy.Atatimewhen nothingseemedtohavegonewellfortheirside,theyweregladtohavesomeheroesto celebrate. 51 Ifthiscontinuedlongenough,thentheBritishmightsimplyweardownthe DAKinabattleofattritionthatthelattercouldnot,unliketheBritish,afford.Rommel calledRitchie’spassivityandfailuretorelieveBirHacheim‘‘quiteastonishing”.After

all,hadthegarrisonbeenGerman,Rommelwouldhavedoneeverythingtorelieveit. 52

This criticism, although valid, is not entirely correct. Ritchie made some half- hearted, but unsuccessful attempts to provide relief. He realized the enormous

importanceofnotlosingtheGazalaline’sanchorpositiontotheenemy.On5June,as

Rommel’s vice around Bir Hacheim tightened, Ritchie launched his relief effort codenamedAberdeen.InthefaceoftheAxisminefields,artillerypositionsandmobile tankgroups,Aberdeenwasaslow,ponderousaffair.Britishtankswereusedinsmall

numberswhichwereeasyforthe88stopickoff.Aberdeenwasadismalfailurethatcost

Ritchietwoinfantrybrigades,fourartilleryregiments,150tanksand6000troops–2000

deadand4000takenprisoner. 53

Afterthiscatastrophicsetback,therewaslittleRitchiecoulddo,ashewasleftwith

only170workingtanksandwasinferiorinnumbersintheair.On9June,inagestureof

defiance,whatwasleftofthe4thArmouredBrigademadeafutileattempttorelieveBir

Hacheim. 54

Theseattacksonthecauldron’souterperimetercoulddonothingtointerruptor

impedeRommel’smeticulouspreparationstocrushKoenig.Bytheearlymorningof7

June, the 90th Light Division finally managed, despite fierce French fire, to cut a sizeable hole through the minefields. Three days later, a massive Stuka attack was followedbyaGermanassaultgroup,ledbyColonelBaade,thatmanagedtobreakinto theboxandspreadouttodestroyanyremainingFrenchresistance.

RommelhadexpectedtheFrenchtostandandfighttothedeath.ButKoenigwasas daringandcunningastheFoxhimself.Hehadalreadyorderedhismentobreakoutby attackingtheGermanlinesatasinglepointandmakingtheirwaybacktotheBritish

lines.Ofthegarrison’s3600men,2700eventuallyreachedtheEighthArmy’smain

lines.KoenigescapedRommel’strapinstylebybeingdriventhoughtheGermanlines

inastaffcardrivenbyaBritishwoman.

Someofthetroopsremainedtogivetheircomradescover,anditwasnotuntil11

JunethattheGermanflaghadbeenplantedinthebox.Onlysome100woundedFrench

troopsremainedtobetakenprisoner.Fortwoagonizingweeks,theFrenchhadheldout and delayed Rommel’s offensive in the process. But with the fall of Bir Hacheim RommelheldhalfoftheGazalaline,andhehadwonthebattleoftheCauldron. 55 Rommelwasdelightedwithhisvictory,butgaveKoenigandhismenwell-deserved praiseforahard-foughtbattlebyconcluding,“NeverinAfricawasIgivenastifferfight thanatBirHacheim”. 56

TheGazalaGallop

ThelessonsofBirHacheimwerenotlostonRommelashepreparedtomarchon

Tobruk,theultimateprize.However,beforehecouldtackletheporthehadtodealwith

theEighthArmy.

Churchill, frantic as ever about political prestige, put tremendous pressure on Auchinleck.ThiswastransmitteddownthechainofcommandtoRitchie,whowastold

thatTobrukwastobeheldatallcosts.ThismeantholdingwhatremainedoftheGazala

lineaswell.Ritchiecouldnottherefore,asheshouldhavedone,pullbacktoanew

defencelinebetweenAcromaandElAdem.

ThisgaveRommeltheopportunityhehadbeenlookingfortousehisremaining120

Germanand60ItaliantankstodestroyXXXCorps. 57 Itislikelythatanyothergeneral wouldhavepausedtorestandrefithistanksbeforetakingonsuchanarduoustask.It wastypicalofRommelthathewasconfident,withoutbeingunrealisticorarrogant,that hispanzerforcecoulddestroyanentireBritishcorps.Rommelhadthemeasureofhis menwho,hebelieved,hadnotbeenworndownexcessivelybyRitchie’sattritiontactics orbythegruellingbattleofBirHacheim. 58

InfactitwasimperativeforRommeltogoovertotheoffensivebeforeRitchiehad timetorecover.HeneededtokeeptheBritishoff-balance.Theultimateaimwasstillto

invadeEgyptandracetheBritishbacktoCairo.On11June,Rommelsentthe21st

PanzerDivisionagainstSidraRidgewhilethe15thPanzerDivision,accompaniedby

the90thLightDivision,advancedonElAdem.Bydusk,the90thLighthadtakenEl

Adem, which shattered Ritchie’s plans for a counterattack. Messervy, the hapless

commanderofthe7thArmouredDivision,waslostinthedesertbuteventuallyfound

hiswaybacktotheBritishlines.

Duringthenightof11–12June,RommelhadyetagainluredtheBritishintoan

ambush,withtheirtanksadvancingonhislinesandbeingshottopiecesbytheanti-tank guns.Oncethishadbeenaccomplished,Rommelsimplyorderedhistankstoadvance

aroundtheflanksandtraptheBritisharmourinapincerattack.Bydawnon12June,

XXXCorpswasleftwith70tanks–ithadvirtuallyceasedtobeaproperfighting

formation.Rommelhadachievedhisgoal.

On14June,Ritchie,withAuchinleck’spermission,abandonedthewreckofthe

GazalalineinspiteofChurchill’sshrillandinsistentprotests.Insteadofabandoning Tobruk – after burning it to the ground and destroying its supplies – Auchinleck instructedRitchietoholdthefortresstownwithastronggarrison,whiletherestofthe EighthArmymannedtheAcroma–ElAdemline.

ItshouldhavebeenobvioustobothRitchieandAuchinleckthatthisposition,given thebatteredstateofXXXCorps,couldnotbeheld.Norrie,thecorpscommander,was morerealisticthanhissuperiors,andhewasnotgoingtoseeXXXCorpswipedout.He thereforechosetoabandonGambut(siteoftheBritishHQ),ElAdem(thecornerstone ofTobruk’sdefences)andtherailheadatBelhamed(avitalcommunicationscentre). Henceforth, Tobruk was cut off and entirely bereft of support when Rommel, as expected,begantocloseinonthefortress.Meanwhile,theEighthArmycontinuedits retreateastwardstothesupposedsanctuaryofEgypt. 59

TheFallofTobruk

FormorethanayearthecaptureofTobrukhadbeenanoverridingobsessionwith Rommel. 60 Now he had the golden opportunity to realize his ambition. Rommel’s obsessionwassharedbyhismen,whohadseentheportasathornintheirfleshanda

symbol of British defiance. This time, as they advanced on the town, there were encouraging signs that the enemy was close to collapse. The retreating forces had abandoned everything liable to slow them down. Those DAK soldiers who were

veteransofthe1940campaigninFrancehadseenasimilarsceneontheroadtoCalais

andDunkirk.Obviously,thequarrywasbleedingtodeath,andtheDesertFoxwasready tostrike. 61

On15June,GeneralKlopperofthe2ndSouthAfricanDivisionwaspromotedto

Garrison Commander of Tobruk. 62 Unfortunately for Klopper and his garrison, Churchill shared Rommel’s unhealthy Tobruk obsession, and was now willing to sacrificeahugenumberoftroopstoholdit.ThereisnodoubtthatTobrukwasavital place with its depots, water desalination plant, modern port and proximity to the Belhamedrailhead.However,itwasn’tworththepriceChurchillwaswillingtopay– especiallyasAuchinleckdidnotsharehisprimeminister’sviews.Auchinleckwasnot preparedtosacrificeagoodshareofhisarmytoholdTobrukatallcosts,andhisnaval colleagues did not relish another series of “milk rounds” between Alexandria and Tobruk,asin1941. 63

InthefaceofChurchillianobstinacy,therewaslittlethatAuchinleckoranyoneelse coulddo.TheBritishweresparedtheburdenofasecondsiegebyRommel,whoshared his British colleagues’ distaste for such a situation. Tobruk may have seemed a

formidablefortress,asKlopperhad35,000troopsandstorestolastforthreemonths.

Thiswasdeceptive,asdisrepair,damageandapathyhadledtotheminefieldsnotbeing maintained,withdangerousgapsthroughthem.Theconcretebunkersandfortresses

builtbyMarshalBalbointhe1930swerealsoinastateofdisrepair.Thetownitselfwas

onehugeruin.

Buttherealproblemwasthestateofthegarrisonanditscommander.Althoughthe SouthAfricanswereastoughanddeterminedastheAustralians,theylackedexperience indesertwarfare–asdidKlopper.Furthermore,Tobrukhadnoairsupport,sincethe nearestRAF-mannedairfieldwasatSidiBarrani,toofareasttocovertheTobrukarea. Tobrukwas,therefore,atthemercyofKesselring’sairfleet.Thus,thisinexperienced anddemoralizedgarrisonwaslackingthemostelementarysupportinthefaceofa formidablefoe.Underthesecircumstances,itisnowonderthatTobrukfelltoRommel withsurprisingease. 64

Rommel,nowquiteexperiencedattakingfortifiedpositions,swiftlyclosedthenet aroundTobruk.GiventhatNorriehadabandonedElAdem,thegarrisonhadlosttouch withtherestoftheEighthArmy.TheGermanshadreachedtheViaBalbia(thecoast

road),thuscuttingoffTobruk’slandcommunicationswithEgypt;andon18Junethey

occupiedGambut.TheabandonedairfieldtherecouldnowbeusedbytheLuftwaffeto

poundTobruk–althoughthisprovedtobeunnecessary.By19June,theEighthArmy

hadcompleteditswithdrawaltothefrontier,whichallowedRommeltoattackTobruk withoutmuchinterferencefromtheenemy. 65

Givenhispreviousexperience,RommelhadeveryreasontotreatTobrukwithdue

respect.However,hemadetheunderstandablemistakeofoverestimatingthedefences. 66 Working according to their standard formula, the Germans struck at dawn with a massive air raid comprising 150 aircraft, which attacked the perimeter zone with unheard-of force and violence. At 08:00 hours, following the bombing, Rommel’s panzersattackedsimultaneouslyXIIICorps(tokeepitoccupied)andpiercedtheBritish

linesatTobruk.By16:00hours,Rommel’stroopshadoccupiedalltheairfieldsinside

thepocketsurroundingTobruk.Threehourslater,hispanzersrumbledintothestreetsof

theruinedtown.

Klopper had been taken unawares and his morale – not high to begin with – collapsed. He gave orders that the fuel dumps in the western sector were to be

destroyed,butthatfailed.At02:00hourson21June,Klopperissuedordersthatthe

garrisonwastofighttothedeath.Fourhourslater,itseemedhehadchangedhismind

andradioedforpermissionfromRitchietocapitulate.At08:00hours,withmuchofthe

TobrukpocketinGermanhands,includingthetown,Klopperdecidedthebattlewas

lost.Hesurrendered.At09:40hourshemetRommelontheViaBalbiaandwasdriven

backtotheTobrukHotelbythetriumphantGermancommander.Astheydrove,the roadwaslinedwith10,000glumBritishandCommonwealthtroops. 67 Thiswasthe highlight of Rommel’s desert war career, and the crowning moment of the entire campaign.TheBattleofMarmarica(Gazala)wasfinallyatanend.GreatBritainhad beenhumiliated.

In his triumphant Order of the Day, Rommel claimed to have captured 45,000 troops, 1000 armoured vehicles and 400 artillery pieces. 68 In this, Rommel was exaggerating. However, by any measure he had taken a huge number of troops,

equipmentandsupplies.Hehadbagged19,000British,9000whiteSouthAfricanand

9000Indianand“native”SouthAfricantroops.Moreimportantly,hehadcaptureda

mountainofsuppliesthathecouldputtogooduse,including1885tonnes(2000tons)of

petrol,4920tonnes(5000tons)ofprovisionsand2000serviceablevehicles.Courtesyof

theenemy,RommelwasnowinapositiontoinvadeEgypt,anddriveallthewaytothe

Nile.

Rommelhadlossesofhisown,though.Theseincluded3400Germantroops(13

percentofhistotal)andacatastrophic70percentofhisofficers(or300men).He,

unlikehisenemy,couldnotaffordsuchcasualtiesifhewastoreachEgypt.Butatleast Tobruk,thatBritishthorninhisflesh,hadfinallybeenremoved.Rommel’sofficial orders were terse: “Fortress Tobruk has capitulated. All units will reassemble and prepareforfurtheradvances.” 69 Thatwastheofficialview–correct,dryandunaffected. Butwithhiswifetherewasnoneedforpretence.“Tobruk!Itwasawonderfulbattle.” 70

Thevictoryhadfar-reachingconsequencesbothfortheAxisandfortheAllies. Churchill, who had placed such great emphasis on Tobruk being held, was in WashingtonforconsultationswithPresidentRooseveltwhennewsbrokeofitsfall. AddinginsulttoinjuryforChurchillwasthefactthathewasgiventhenewsnotbythe BritishEmbassyinWashingtonbutbyRoosevelthimself.Asiftosoftentheblow,

Rooseveltofferedtosend250brand-newShermantankstothedesertforthwith,andall

possiblesuppliestheAmericanscouldmusterforherbatteredBritishally.Churchill, althoughgratifiedbyhisally’sgenerousoffer,continuedtobedowncastsince“thiswas oneoftheheaviestblowsIcanrecallduringthewar.Notonlywerethemilitaryeffects grim,butitaffectedthereputationofBritisharms.Defeatisonething;disgraceis another.” 71

ThesombremoodontheAlliedsidewasmatchedbythecriesofjubilationinRome and Berlin where, for once, Rommel’s harping critics had been silenced by his spectacularsuccess.Hitlerwasecstaticwiththenewsofhisprotégé’svictory,andhe rewardedRommelwithanequallyspectacularpromotion.HemadeRommelGermany’s youngestfieldmarshal.RommelwasbothstunnedandgratifiedbyHitler’sunexpected promotion.Henoted,however,thathewouldhavepreferredtoreceivetwoorthree divisions instead. This was not false modesty since he was in desperate need of reinforcementstoreplacehislossesinbothmachinesandmen. 72

RommelasaLeaderandCommanderinWar

Rommelhadachievedagreatvictorywhichhadestablishedhim,onceandforall,as Germany’smostfamousmilitarycommander.Howhadthiscomeabout,andwhatwere thesecretsbehindhisphenomenalsuccess?Onemajorreasonwasthatinthedesertthe mobile,offensivetacticsofthepanzercommanderwereideal.NorthAfricawasmade forpanzers,“forwhoseemploymenttheflatandobstruction-freedesertofferedhitherto undreamed-ofpossibilities.Itwastheonlytheatrewherethetheoryandprinciplesof motorizedandtankwarfarecouldbeappliedfullyanddevelopedfurther.Itwastheonly arenainwhichthepuretankbattlebetweenmajorformationscouldbefought.” 73 In France,theinfantrydivisionsweregoodatholdingpreparedpositions,whileinthe deserttheyweremoreofahindrancethananassettotheDAK.Itwasthemobilepanzer

forcesthathadsavedtherestofthearmyfromdisaster.Duringthecampaignof1940,

Graziani,despitehisenormousnumericalsuperiority,wasatthemercyofthefarsmaller butmoremobileBritishArmy. 74

Mobilityandtheunfettereduseofarmourinanidealtankcountrycouldaccountfor much,butwhatwastheessenceofRommel’sownmethodsandideasinthedesert? Firstly,ashehadprovedtimeandagainwhenfightingtheBritish,itwasessentialto keeptheDAKconcentrated,whiletheBritishweredividedandtendedtoattackina piecemealfashion.Then,itwasimportanttothreatentheenemy’ssupplylines,which mightforcehimtobreakoffanattackwhileonekeptone’sownsupplylinessecureat allcosts.Thepanzersweretheheartofthearmy,andthecommanderofthisforcehadto keepveryclosetothefrontsince“speedofreactiondecidesthebattle”.Thatmeanthe couldtakerapiddecisionsbasedontheactualfrontlinesituation.Furthermore,Rommel believedfirmlyintheneedforconcealmenttocreatetherightconditionsforseizingthe elementofsurpriseattheexpenseoftheenemy.Inconclusion,“speediseverything. The enemy must never be allowed time to reorganize. Lightning regrouping and reorganizationofsuppliesforthepursuingforcesareessential.” 75

Rommelalsoplacedgreatemphasisontheintelligentuseofartillery,especiallyina

mobiledefensiverole.Here,too,speed,mobilityandlongrangewereessential,since weightofarmourcouldnotmakeupforlackofmaingunpower.Inanycase,tank firepowercouldonly bedeliveredattheexpenseofspeedandmobility. Rommel’s artillery,therefore,neededtohaveplentifulsuppliesofammunition,greatrangeand greatmobility,“forthesidewiththebiggergunhasthelongerarmandcanbefirstto

engagetheenemy”.Rommelhadfoundtheperfectweaponinthe88mmgunsandtheir

experiencedcrews.

Asforinfantry,theywereneededtoholdgroundandblockenemyadvances.Like theartillery,theinfantryneededtohavegreatmobilityandflexibility. 76 ForRommel, theinfantryandartillerywerepartofthesamemobilearmythatwouldensurevictory. HerejectedwhollytheBritishideaoftanksasaseparateentityfromtherestofthe army.

Rommel,althoughaboldcommanderwhotookrisks,wasnogamblerwiththelives ofhismen.Onlyunderthemostdesperateofcircumstanceswouldagamblebejustified. Whateverthesituation,Rommelhatedcompromisesandfightingbycommittee.After all,hewasthecommanderandhemadethenecessarydecisions. 77

TheCommanderasaDrivingForce

WhatwastheroleofthecommanderinRommel’sopinion?Nosurprisesheresince Rommel believed that the role was crucial. He felt that many subordinates were apatheticandsubjecttoinertiawithoutanactivecommanderatthehelm.Anactiveand energeticcommanderwhowasclosetothefrontandtothetroopswouldnotallow subordinateofficerstoslacken.Asanoldarmyinstructor,Rommelbelievedstronglyin the dictum of training the troops hard and thereby keeping casualties down. The commanderhadtostayclosetothefront,notonlytokeeptheofficersandtroopson theirtoes,butalsotopreventthebattlebecominganacademicgameofchess.Itwas alsovitalforthecommandertohaveclosecontactwiththetroops,tobuildconfidence and trust, but without spouting false sentiments that the troops would instinctively realizeandresent. 78

HowwasRommelasacommanderofhismen,andhowdidtheyperceivehim?One

keywastheendlessenthusiasm,driveandboundlessoptimismthatRommelpossessed.

Anyofficerwhodidnotsharehisenthusiasmwasquicklyandmercilesslyshippedback

toGermany.Hewasintolerantoffailureandcouldbecompletelyruthlesswhenhefelt

anofficerwasnottryinghisbestoravoidingdoinghisduty.Hedrovemuchyounger

mentoexhaustionthroughhisrelentlesspaceandstupendousdrivetowin.Oftenhis

driverwouldbetootiredtodrivesoRommeltookoverthewheelhimself.

LikehisBritishcounterpartatthelaterbattleofElAlamein,GeneralMontgomery, Rommelwasnotmuchforrichfoodordrink.Infact,hisstaffrememberedhimas extremelyspartaninhistastesandmostfrugalinhislivingquarters.Again,hebelieved in“liveasyouexpectotherstolive”,andthereforesharedhismen’srationsandliving quarters. 79

Hebelievedintheefficacyofpersonalinspections,whichhadtobefrequentbut

entirelyunexpected.Thesewerejustifiablyfeared,andcreatedanatmosphereofhaving todoone’sbest.Woebetideanofficerwhoseunit,orcamp,wasnotuptoscratch,when the“oldman”wasontheprowl.Rommel’sdriver,Schmidt,recalledoneinspectiontour whentheyapproachedacampandthesentrydidnotsaluteatfirst.Rommel’sangerat thissloppinessturnedtofurywhenheaskedforthecommanderandwastoldhewas asleep.Rommel,bynowinarage,turned“sleepingbeauty”outofhisbedandasked himwhatthelocalsituationwaslike.Toldthattherewasnothingnew,Rommelsnapped back:“Howdoyouknow?Youhavebeenasleep!”Rommelthenwentthroughawhole listofshortcomingswiththecamp,demandingimmediaterectification.Rommelturned tothecommanderandtoldhimnottobeasleepthenexttimehedroppedbyforan impromptuinspection. 80

What have the historians made of Rommel and his command talents? Most, includingthisauthor,havenothingbutpraiseforanexceptionalleaderofmen,who took a small and motley army of Germans and Italians to victory under trying circumstancesandagainstgreatodds.Nonehaveheapedmorepraiseonhisqualities than his former enemies, the British, as represented by Sir Basil Liddell Hart and KennethMackesy.Rommelwas,bythestandardsofanywar,anexceptionallytalented andinspiredleaderofmen–andagreatcommander.

Others have not been as impressed. Len Deighton, for example, does not see Rommel as one of the great commanders of World War II. In fact, according to Deighton,hisexceptionalstringofvictorieswasduemoretohistalentedsubordinates, such as Walter Nehring, Fritz Bayerlein and Ludwig Cruewell. It is argued that Rommel’sonefatalerrorwasthatheignoredtheproblemsoflogisticsandsupplies whichwere,mostungenerously,blamedonthefailureoftheItalianNavytoprotectthe supplyships. 81

The German military historian, Wolf Heckmann, goes even further by reducing Rommel’sreputationtotheproductofNazipropaganda.InHeckmann’sview,Rommel wastooclosetoHitlerinpersonalitytobetrulyadmirable.HeviewsRommelasbeing addictedtoillusions,vanityandtheunhappypursuitofglory.OncetheBritishcould matchhisstrength,Rommel’sluckranoutandhewasdefeatedatElAlamein. 82

Inthisauthor’sopinionbothDeightonandHeckmannarewelloffthemark.Itisone thing as an armchair strategist to criticize a field commander with the benefit of hindsight.Itisanothertofacetherealitiesofwar.Itwashere,onthebattlefieldsof NorthAfrica,thatRommelwastestedandtried.

Endnotes

1Moorehead,p.251;D.G.Chandler,TheFightforGazala:WesternDesert,February–June1942,p.932.RETURN

2Neillands,p.102.RETURN

3LiddellHart,p.278.RETURN

4LiddellHart,p.278;Neillands,pp.102-103;RP.180,Rommel’sdiary.RETURN

5RP.181,RommeltoLucie,22Jan.1942.RETURN

6GeorgeForty,TanksacrosstheDesert,p.70.RETURN

7Neillands,p.103.RETURN

8Ibid.RETURN

9RP.181,Rommel’sdiary.RETURN

10RP.181,RommeltoLucie,22Jan.1942.RETURN

11Salmaggi,p.209.RETURN

12LiddellHart,p.279;RP.182,Rommel’sdiary.RETURN

13RP.182,RommeltoLucie,25Jan.1942.RETURN

14Neillands,p.103.RETURN

15RP,RommeltoLucie,27Jan.1942.RETURN

16Neillands,p.103;Salmaggi,p.214.RETURN

17RP.183,Bayerlein’snotes.RETURN

18LiddellHart,p.279.RETURN

19Salmaggi,pp.215-216.RETURN

20Neillands,p.103.RETURN

21RP.183,RommeltoLucie,4Feb.1942.RETURN

22Salmaggi.RETURN

23RP.183,RommeltoLucie,7Feb.1942.RETURN

24RP.183,RommeltoLucie,10Feb.1942.RETURN

25Salmaggi,pp.217-218.RETURN

26Ibid,pp.222-223,225,231.RETURN

27RP.183,RommeltoLucie,31Mar.1942.RETURN

28RP.183,RommeltoLucie,10Apr.1942.RETURN

29RP.187,RommeltoLucie,25Apr.1942.RETURN

30RP.187,RommeltoLucie,27Apr.1942.RETURN

31Neillands,pp.106-107;Chandler,pp.934-935.RETURN

32Chandler,p.934.RETURN

33RP.202,Rommel’sdiary.RETURN

34Chandler,pp.934,938;Neillands,pp.107-108.RETURN

35Chandler,p.939.RETURN

36Forty,p.71;Neillands,p.109.RETURN

37Neillands,p.109.RETURN

38Chandler,p.940.RETURN

39Ibid,p.941.RETURN

40Ibid,pp.939,941.RETURN

41Ibid,p.942.RETURN

42Chandler,pp.941-942;RP.212,Rommel’sdiary;RP.213,RommeltoLucie,1June1942.RETURN

43Chandler,p.943.RETURN

44Moorehead,p.332.AllFreeFrenchtroopswereviewedasdesertersandtraitorsbyPétain’scollaborationistVichy

regime,andwereliabletobeexecutediftheyfellintothehandsofVichyofficials.RETURN

45Forty,p.73.RETURN

46Ibid,p.72.Afarbetterversionwouldbetherude“F”versionofthisexpression.RETURN

47Moorehead,p.333.RETURN

48RP.218,Rommel’sdiary.RETURN

49RP.213,Rommel’sdiary.RETURN

50Moorehead,pp.333-334.RETURN

51Forty,p77.JakeWardrop,theEighthArmyveteran,gaveKoenigthehighestpraisebycallinghim“averytough

gent”.RETURN

52RP.214,Rommel’sdiary.RETURN

53Salmaggi,p.250.RETURN

54Neillands,p.111.RETURN

55Chandler,p.943;Salmaggi,p.257;RP.220,Rommel’sdiary.Hehadwantedtocrownthissiegebytakingthe

Frenchprisoner,buttheirescapehadsucceeded(tohischagrin)andsouredtheGermanvictory.RETURN

56Neillands,p.110.RETURN

57Chandler,p.943.BritishengineerswerelayingaminefieldlinefromAcromadowntothecoast.RETURN

58RP.220,Rommel’sdiary.RETURN

59Chandler,pp.943-944.RETURN

60Schmidt,p.142.RETURN

61RP,Rommel’sdiary.RETURN

62Salmaggi,p.259.RETURN

63Chandler,p.934.RETURN

64Ibid,p.945.RETURN

65Salmaggi,p.259.RETURN

66RP,229,231.RETURN

67Salmaggi,p.262;Chandler,p.945;RP.231,Rommel’sdiary.RETURN

68RP.232,Rommel’sdiary.RETURN

69Chandler,p.945.RETURN

70RP.231,RommeltoLucie,21June1942.RETURN

71Chandler,p.948.RETURN

72Ibid.RETURN

73RP.197,Rommel’sdiarynotes.RETURN

74RP.198,Rommel’sdiarynotes.RETURN

75RP.200,Rommel’sdiarynotes.RETURN

76Ibid.RETURN

77RP.201,Rommel’sdiarynotes.RETURN

78RP.226,Rommel’sdiarynotes.RETURN

79Schmidt,pp.42,70.RETURN

80Ibid,p.75.RETURN

81Deighton,p.301.RETURN

82Heckmann,pp.8-10.RETURN

Imprint

Thisdigitaledition©2015BrownBearBooksLtd.

Allrightsreserved.Nopartofthispublicationmaybereproduced,storedinaretrieval

system,ortransmittedinanyformorbyanymeanselectronic,mechanical,

photocopying,recording,orotherwise,withoutthepriorpermissioninwritingofthe

copyrightholder.

Youmustnotcirculatethisbookinanyotherbindingorcoverandyoumustimposethis

sameconditiononanyacquirer.

PhotographycourtesyoftheRobertHuntLibrary.

AgroupofGermanofficers,probablyfromabattalionorregimentalheadquarters,

AgroupofGermanofficers,probablyfromabattalionorregimentalheadquarters,

assembleforahastybriefingsomewherenearMersaMatruh,spring1942.Thekhaki

uniformsoftheAfrikaKorpswerequicklydiscoloredbysweatandburningsunshine,

givingevenwellrestedunitsashabby,mismatchedappearance.

RETURN