Knight’s Cross – update

I’ve made quite a bit of progress in this life of General Erwin Rommel.  World War II has started, and after spending the Polish campaign in 1939 shepherding Hitler around the fringe of the battlefield, he was given a Panzer Division to lead in the campaign in France.

Rommel was an old infantryman, but he took to armored warfare without missing a beat. His 7th Panzer Division advanced rapidly, disrupting the attempts of the French and English to block the advance across the Meuse. He kept the pressure on as fit his command style, outrunning his own supply and losing touch with this superior command. Nobody seemed to know where he was, and his command gained the nickname “The Ghost Division”.  He held off a minor English counterattack at Arras and stood down until after Dunkirk.

In early June, his division was one of the spearheads of the advance into the rest of France. The French in their prepared defenses resisted stubbornly, but when the panzers broke through they lacked the mobility to form a new line and began to scatter and give up.  Rommel again advanced extremely rapidly, reaching Cherbourg in Normandy by the time the French called for an armistice.

In the winter of 1940, the disaster suffered by the Italians in Africa prompted the Germans to send a force to try to restore the balance and defend Tripoli. Rommel was chosen to lead the German contingent, called the “Africa Corps” (in German Deutsch Afrika Korps, or DAK).  Characteristically, his idea of the best way to defend was to look for a chance to attack!

The book itself is a good one so far. The usual hero-worship is kept within some bounds. Rommel’s tendency to slip the leash and outrun his supply is at least mentioned as a possible issue, although to this point it is compensated for by his ultimate success in keeping the enemy off-balance.  On the issue of his support for Nazism, the tack seems to be to put it to a bit of political innocence rooted in the army’s tradition of being outside of politics and a dash of good cop/bad cop blaming of excesses on underlings and assuming Hitler’s essential uninvolvement, with a dash of “Rommel didn’t know”.

To a point, that’s fair enough. Certainly soldiers have an ingrained loyalty to the commander-in-chief, and Germans probably more than most.  We will see how this balance shifts later in the war and how the author handles it.


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