Lessons from July 1942 Learn­ing Ev­ery Day

The Weekly Vista - - Opinion - DAVID WIL­SON

Gen­eral Er­win Rom­mel of Ger­many was one of the great­est mil­i­tary com­man­ders in all of World War II.

He had the des­ig­na­tion of Field Mar­shall (Feld­marschall in Ger­man) and for his con­quests in North Africa he be­came known as the Desert Fox. He was widely known in Ger­many and was highly re­spected by his op­po­nents.

In July 1942, Rom­mel and the Ger­man and Ital­ian armies he led in North Africa had reached the apex of their suc­cess and found their mil­i­tary ef­forts to be much more dif­fi­cult from that point on­ward.

In July of that year, 75 years ago, Axis forces un­der Rom­mel had forced their way east­ward into the Bri­tish-con­trolled coun­try of Egypt.

It was there, at a town called El Alamein (pro­nounced El Al-a-mane), that Bri­tain had to draw a line in the Mid­dle East­ern sand and take a strong stand.

And it was there that his­tory, as so of­ten is the case, be­gan to pro­vide lessons for us that re­main rel­e­vant to this day.

The first les­son is that events that hap­pen far away and seem in­con­se­quen­tial are of­ten cru­cial to what takes place the world over.

At this time 75 years ago, if the Axis forces broke through at El Alamein, they would have the op­por­tu­nity to move on­ward to Alexan­dria, Cairo and even­tu­ally the Suez Canal. If those were to fall, Bri­tain would no longer have con­trol of the ship­ping traf­fic on the east­ern end of the Mediter­ranean Sea.

That would have had a great im­pact on how World War II un­folded and

pos­si­bly how the world was shaped af­ter­wards.

In other words, Egypt was of vi­tal mil­i­tary sig­nif­i­cance.

But as it turned out, Bri­tain and her colonies held off the in­vad­ing forces, and soon the tide of the war in North Africa be­gan to change.

There was a sec­ond bat­tle at El Alamein in the fall of that year, and af­ter that Rom­mel and his forces had to with­draw.

As this took place on the east­ern end of North Africa, Gen­eral Dwight D. Eisen­hower and Amer­i­can armies un­der his di­rec­tion were land­ing at the west­ern side of the con­ti­nent.

Soon Rom­mel’s mil­i­tary forces (known as the Africa Korps) would be fight­ing the Bri­tish on the east and

the Amer­i­cans on the west.

Rom­mel’s armies fought on, and fought gal­lantly in many in­stances, but it was only a mat­ter of time un­til the Axis forces would lose Africa to Bri­tain and the United States.

The rea­sons that Rom­mel lost were many, but one of those was that he could not get the sup­plies, weapons, and re­in­force­ments from Italy and Ger­many that he needed. That is an­other one of his­tory’s great lessons.

If an army is sent to fight, there must be a com­mit­ment to sup­port it.

In 1942, Adolf Hitler was more in­ter­ested in what Ger­man armies were do­ing against the Rus­sians than what they were do­ing in Africa. As a re­sult, Rom­mel’s re­peated re­quests for more men and ma­te­rial were of­ten ig­nored.

As Rom­mel’s armies be­gan to feel the crush of Al­lied forces on all sides, he sought Hitler’s per­mis­sion

to or­ga­nize a with­drawal from Africa so that his of­fi­cers and armies could fight an­other day from the main­land of Europe.

Hitler re­fused on at least two dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions. At one point Hitler said Rom­mel’s troops must face ei­ther vic­tory or death. At a later time Hitler again de­nied Rom­mel’s re­quest, telling him that Africa was to be de­fended and not evac­u­ated, and he added, “That is an or­der, Herr Feld­marschall!”

At that time, his­tory tells us, Rom­mel no longer had faith in Hitler’s lead­er­ship.

Les­son three for the day is that those in charge should lis­ten to the ex­per­tise of sub­or­di­nates. Hitler failed to do so, even when Rom­mel clearly ar­tic­u­lated his case.

Les­son four is that a leader can­not be un­re­al­is­ti­cally de­mand­ing, as Hitler was on many, many oc­ca­sions.

Les­son five for us to­day is that there is noth­ing quite so de­mor­al­iz­ing as when one loses con­fi­dence in a leader. And Rom­mel had reached that point.

I know that Rom­mel was the en­emy and that Ger­many at the time rep­re­sented all that Amer­ica stood against. In spite of that, it is a great trib­ute to Rom­mel’s for­ti­tude that he sol­diered on­ward. His sense of duty and loy­alty en­abled him to con­tinue the fight, even though he had lost faith in those above him.

There is much that can be con­tem­plated about his cir­cum­stances, and there is al­ways much to learn from the lessons of his­tory, even those from 75 years ago.

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