Today on February 12th 1941, German General Erwin Rommel arrives in North Africa to support his beleaguered Italian allies.
Erwin Rommel, nicknamed the Desert Fox, was one of Germany’s most decorated field commanders during World War II. Rommel experienced great success as the commander of the 7th Panzer Division during the 1940 Invasion of France. Throughout the war, he became a larger than life figure among both Axis and Allied forces. In early 1941, Hitler established a new Deutsches Afrika Korps to support and reinforce his beleaguered Italian allies. Mussolini’s invasion of North Africa was crumbling by the day with Britain delivering countless defeats. Italy had lost control of Egypt, suffering more than 20,000 casualties and over 100,000 soldiers being taken prisoner.
Rommel was dispatched to Tripoli, Libya to take command of the 5th Light Division and 15th Panzer Division. He was initially only given control over the German and and Italian forces located in Libya. However he would quickly assume command over the entire North African Campaign. The German High Command ordered Rommel to take up a defensive position in Libya and prepare for a British assault. Instead he opted to launch an offensive attack first with encouragement from Hitler. These conflicting orders highlighted the growing disagreement between Hitler and his generals.
Rommel reaffirmed his reputation as a formidable commander after a series of surprise attacks against the British. Impressed with his success in North Africa, Hitler promoted Rommel to field marshal. However, it quickly became apparent that Rommel had difficulty capitalizing on his victories. The Germans continued to struggle in the intense desert heat and were constantly running low on supplies and ammunition. While attempting to advance on Cario, Rommel was defeated at El-Alamein and eventually lost all of his newly regained territory. Across the Arab world, Rommel was dubbed a “liberator” from British authority. Hitler ordered him home in March 1943.