on Rommel’s Desert War

I’m about two-thirds (Ok, I’m guessing) through the book, and the DAK has just failed to break the El Alamein line for the first time.  The question raised in my mind is – was it the correct decision for Rommel to invade Egypt.

The situation is this – he has heavily defeated the 8th Army at Gazala, and captured Tobruk. This gives him a huge amount of supplies to use in the invasion. The Commonwealth forces are weak, and reduced by heavy losses in equipment and men. The fighting ability displayed in the battle was frankly pretty poor even before the defeat.

It’s sure that if Rommel had not invaded at once, the 8th Army would recover and come back, sooner or later.  Allied superiority in equipment and men would replenish the army  – as it did on the Alamein line. So not invading pretty much means going onto the defensive for some time, and possibly for good.

What were the other options?  Kesselring wanted to take the air support and use it for an invasion of Malta.  If Malta had fallen, then the submarines and planes there could no longer interfere with supplies. At this time they were sinking 80-90 percent of the material sent.

The question is – would this invasion have happened?  In order to help the DAK, the operation would have had to be started almost at once.  Since it required aid by the Italian Army and Navy, this could be a problem.

And the second question is would it have been successful?  The presence of the Royal Navy in the area made any seaborne attack risky.

My guess is, even if committed to, the invasion would have been postponed until too late to do any good. The air units would have had to redeploy to Italy and attack Malta, then defeat its air cover and smash its defenses. This would take time.  And the Axis didn’t really have a lot of time, since the Torch invasion in their rear was only five months off.

If Rommel had been able to push to Alexandria, it ls likely that the Torch invasion would have been redirected or postponed. I think it was worth a try, but once the first attack had been stopped in July, the DAK should have started pulling back instead of staying in a static defense.  There was little point in staying at El Alamein after that, and the equipment and men saved could have put up a stouter defense.

Of course, once Torch had come off.the wise choice would have been to extract the men and equipment from Africa rather than reinforce the Tunisia area massively, and then lose the entire force to capture in May 1943.  This is just another instance of the German Army’s weakness in planning in the war.  Tactically they could do a lot, but they continually lost due to poor planning and logistics.

Malta was a constant problem that they never solved, and they put little effort into solving it. Something as simple as mining the harbor could have helped against the subs and supply convoys needed to keep the island alive. If a few squadrons of planes could suppress the island, then the maintenance of this force should have been top priority.  And if Rommel could do wonders with his two divisions, why not give him a few more and wind the entire thing up once and for all.  And if Africa is not worth that, why defend it at all?

If the Africa Korps was not in Africa, the British would have found it impossible to insist in the invasion, in the face of the US Forces’ distaste for the Mediterranean sideshow.


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