Book Review: Rommel As Military Commander

Rommel As Military Commander, by Ronald Lewin

Clearly, this is a book written for someone like me.  Before I properly review this book, I feel it necessary to point out that I am the exact audience of a book like this, as a student of military history who finds it worthwhile to reflect on the virtues of leaders, and who enjoys books that seek to rehabilitate the reputations of leaders who have often been unfairly relegated to the lesser ranks of military leaders [1].  Although admittedly I am not as much a fan of World War II history as are most students of military history, largely because the conflict was both so massive and also so harrowing in its conduct that it is the sort of subject that keeps me up all night with horrific nightmares of the brutality of mankind, this is the sort of World War II book I can stand behind, and I like what it has to say about Rommel.  The author does all he can to free Rommel from the obloquy of having been a brave and generally successful leader of one of the worst regimes known to mankind, and manages to make a solid case for recognizing Rommel as a great leader, if not quite at the highest level of generals (more on that later), and explains his conduct in both WWI and especially World War II in framing him as brave and patriotic and not particularly skilled at political leadership, which ended up being a fatal shortcoming in his case as it proved impossible to be a fundamentally decent person in the moral cesspool that was the higher reaches of the German army without suffering as a result.

Nevertheless, this is not a book about Rommel the reluctant Abwehr conspirator, but about Rommel as a military commander, and that is for the better.  The first chapter covers Rommel’s early leadership as an officer in World War I and in the interwar German army, and one chapter covering Rommel’s successful work as the leader of Hitler’s bodyguards (!) and his work as a subordinate tank officer in France in 1940.  From page 35 to almost page 270 in a book that is only a bit over 300 pages the book spends its time looking at Rommel’s leadership in Africa in a very detailed fashion.  The book then ends with a look at Rommel’s frustrating career in trying to turn the Atlantic Wall into a defense of Hitler’s conquests before being seriously injured after D-Day and being forced into suicide like many a Chinese general who had run afoul of an insecure ruler.  As this book focuses on a very narrow theater of war for the vast majority of its pages, it gives almost a diary account of Rommel’s ups and downs as a general in the sands of Libya as the Germans and Italians fought the British and their dominion troops over the same ground over and over again and as Rommel dealt with logistics and the demands of being a leader of a coalition army.

And what is the book’s verdict?  The author argues that Rommel was excellent on the attack and was sound both as a tactical and strategic leader, a quick learner of the realities of contemporary warfare.  The book also does a good job at showing him to be a person of good character and someone whose skill as a leader and ability at unexpected flank attacks made him a cut above many of his opponents.  The author, though, to his considerable credit, does not minimize Rommel’s flaws as a leader.  For one, his inability to recognize the importance of seizing Malta suggests that he had some limitations in his logistical capabilities.  Likewise, his problems in working with Hitler and Germany’s general staff (admittedly not the easiest people to work with) and his impossible-to-hide contempt for the military skills of his Italian allies in the desert hurt his abilities to be a solid diplomatic general on the level of, say, a Marlborough or Eisenhower.  Even so, he is a solid general and this book gives a strong case for his skills on the battle and theater level from his World War II experience.  If you’re willing to give the author a fair hearing when trying to clear Rommel of guilt by association with his regime, this book is a solid read.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Book Review: Rommel As Military Commander

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The German Army In War | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Catherine The Great | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Germany Since 1740 | Edge Induced Cohesion

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