The Rommel Myth

You sometimes come across the claim that the so-called Rommel myth is a post-war creation, such as the statement:

Like Young, whose ‘Rommel the Desert Fox’ created the Rommel myth, authors can appear biased because they echo sources that reflect the prejudices and assumptions of the period.[1]

Nothing could be further from the truth. Rommel’s myth was, for a range of reasons, well in the making from an early time of the desert war. See for example T. Kubetzky’s thesis (in German, available as a Google E-Book) called ‘The Mask of Command’, which presents ample evidence that German wartime propaganda was very busy indeed in myth creation.

Today I went through interrogation reports of German and Italian prisoners from February 1942, kindly sent to me by Tom. They are in WO208/5518 in Kew. The reports are probably based on wiretaps on prisoner of war accommodations, or maybe reports from ‘stool pigeons’, fake prisoners inserted to record conversations.

One particular item stood out that demonstrates clearly that the myth was at least beginning to take shape as early as the turning of the year 1941/42. The report is dated 1.2.42. What is interesting is that the prisoner in question had probably never been to Africa and/or served under Rommel. He was a Sergeant-Major of the German air force’s Coastal Air Wing 806, 2nd Squadron (2./Kuestenfliegergruppe 806), and taken prisoner after his plane, a Junkers 88, was shot down over or around Malta on 3 January 1942. Probably either Feldwebel Freese, or Feldwebel Arnold, air gunner and observer respectively of a 2./KflGr806 Ju 88 shot down by Hurricanes or AA between 0933 and 1015 hours of 3 January 1942 after an attack on Safi landing strip.[2] The whole crew of four survived the loss of the plane, abandoning it in the air and parachuting safely to the ground. The other prisoner numbers are: 421372, Corporal Hoppe, wireless operator, 421370, First Lieutenant Schnez, Pilot, and 421371 – the other Sergeant.[3]

A 421359 in conversation with A321571:

[…]

He [Rommel] went to the FUEHRER too, and said: “I can’t go on fighting with such shells as these.” He wanted to take over [or give up?] the command, in AFRICA (?).

[…]

That rumor that ROMMEL had some Italian officers shot was quite true.

[…]

(Eulogy of ROMMEL)

ROMMEL’s a marvelous chap. He’s had seven drivers already and he hasn’t even been wounded. His battle position is an old car, heavily armored of course. It’s got a few sandbags on top, and there he sits inside.

The light tanks couldn’t get back, they had to stay where they were. They were to be fetched during the night. Suddenly a sort of lorry came racing along, ROMMEL was inside. “Now, boys” he said, “go along and fetch that stuff. Even if you’re taken prisoner, it won’t be so bad, I’ll get you back to-morrow.”

Several mythology elements of Rommel are apparent here – going over the head of the Army command to Hitler to make his case; showing the Italians who’s the boss; oblivious to danger; leading a charmed life; motivating his men to give all through personal appeals.

[1]World War II in Europe, Africa, & the Americas, with General Sources: A Handbook of Literature and Research, Loyd E. Lee, Robin D. S. Higham pp. 142-143, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997

[2]https://maltagc70.wordpress.com/2012/01/03/3-january-36-hour-attack-on-malta/

[3]http://www.ronaldv.nl/abandoned/airfields/MT/malta.html#safi

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