Rommel: The End Of A Legend, by Ralf Georg Reuth
Rommel was precisely the sort of general that it was easy for his opponents to appreciate. He was tactically brilliant, behaved in a chivalrous fashion towards other leaders, and was ignorant enough about logistical matters that his victories ultimately led to bitter defeat. In many ways, he could be compared to Confederate General Robert E. Lee as a practitioner of the flank attack and someone whose poor grasp of logistics ultimately led him to suffer defeat in support of a terrible cause. Yet while Rommel was a successful general whose rapid rise to power ruffled the feathers of the conservative German officer corps, he was also someone whose injuries and forced death by suicide for not being aware of and reporting the plotting that was going on in his staff after a failed attempt on Hitler’s life, making him somewhat of a martyr to the cause of Germans against Hitler. This book serves as a complex piece of revisionist history, looking at Rommel from a skeptical eye seeing both the unwarranted fame he received as a result of Nazi war propaganda and also the way that defeats in war and his own mercurial temperament led him to eventual death and a posthumous reputation as a principled anti-Nazi when he was not politically skilled or astute in general.
This book is a bit more than 200 pages long and is divided into five chapters (after the introduction) that deal with different aspects of a revisionist approach to the legend of Rommel as it existed in World War II and afterwards in historiography. The first chapter of the book looks at the background of Rommel and what it was that allowed him to rise to prominence just before World War II as Hitler’s general (1), given that most of the generals at the top level of their army were lukewarm at best towards Hitler and some of them were actively hostile. After that the author examines Rommel’s career as an army commander and views his reputation and its effect on others and his strengths and weaknesses in command (2). The author discusses Rommel’s reputation as a creation of Nazi propaganda and shows how this worked against his efforts at grounding German war policy on a realistic basis (3). The author then discusses Rommel as a victim of the July 20, 1944 plot against Hitler given the complicity of his chief of staff (4) before closing with a discussion of the legend of Rommel’s principled behavior in the postwar period that allowed him to be viewed (falsely) as an example of a good German (5) as well as an able and gentlemanly opponent of the allies mostly on the Mediterranean and Western fronts.
Rommel’s career and reputation are ultimately complex in that Rommel was clearly excellent in some parts of the art of war (particularly tactics) while not as good in logistics and diplomacy with his Italian ally. In addition, Rommel’s reputation was built up by Goering and others in the Nazi establishment who saw him as Hitler’s general, someone whose elan and dashing was a rebuke to overly conservative generals from the Wehrmacht that Hitler inherited from the Weimar Republic period. Rommel appears not to have understood national socialism, was not particularly anti-Semitic, and appears not to have been understood and appreciated as a realist who saw quite rightly that Nazi Germany did not have the means to handle a two-front war and whose realism was consequently viewed by Hitler and his loyalists as a defeatist in consequence. Rommel’s efforts at securing peace before (and after) D-Day gave him enough credibility to be viewed as a principled opponent of Hitler’s, even though he was loyal to the Fuhrer to the end, as tragic as that end was for both himself personally and his country as a whole.