Rommel on his way to losing CRUSADER?

Rommel on his way to losing CRUSADER?


This picture is from NARA, but their caption reads it is from 24 January or November 1941, and often gets mislabelled as January 1942.


Let’s assume they would mean 24 January 1942, not 41 (since 1941 is clearly not possible, Rommel only arrived in North Africa in February), and that they were not sure about the location, the context of the picture would change dramatically.  In the first case it would be Rommel off to one of the biggest mistakes he made in the war, the “dash to the wire” after winning the battle of Totensonntag on Sidi Rezegh airfield, while in the second it would be him off to pull victory from the teeth of defeat in the second conquest of Cyrenaica.

The rear of the picture was scanned too and removes any doubt though and it is 24 November 41. Furthermore, the picture is included in a series of pictures also labelled 24 November.

From US NARA Digital Archive Site

Gen. Erwin Rommel with the 15th Panzer Division between Tobruk and Sidi Omar. Sdf. Zwilling, Libya, January or November 24, 1941. 242-EAPC-6-M713a. National Archives Identifier: 540147


The Dash

The picture thus was taken during the ‘dash to the wire’, in which Rommel hoped to push over the already imbalanced enemy, following the battle of Sidi Rezegh. This was a crucial mistake that cost him the battle, and it was made against the advice of Gen. Crüwell, commander of the Afrikakorps, who proposed for the main force to remain on the airfield, with only limited pursuit to clear out the immediate area to the east between Trigh Capuzzo and Trigh el Abd. Rommel instead proposed to use infantry from Div. z.b.V. for the task of cleaning up the battlefield, noting that they could use captured vehicles to motorist. This was in ignorance of the situation that this division was in, being pressed from the east and the west, but there was a severe lack of clarity on this at Panzergruppe command.

Had the Germans remained in control of the airfield, their recovery organization could have put many of the tanks lost back into action, and they could have collected captured supplies and weaponry. CRUSADER would have taken a very different course and very likely ended with an Axis victory.


D.A.K. war diary entry 24 November 1941, showing the consideration and proposal by Crüwell for a more limited strike east. Collection