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Len Deighton on Rommel

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  • Len Deighton on Rommel

    I have been vocal on this site to pull down the overblown reputation of Erwin Rommel before.

    But this latest book I've aquired, "Blood, Tears and Folly; An objective Look at WW2' by British historian and authour Len Dieghton, echoes my words in such a way that I could not help but revive the issue.

    Page 356 of this book looks at Rommel himself, with the opening comment that he was "...not one of the war's great generals." Len also tell us that many modern Germans express surprise that the British and American public at large know his name quite well above other more deserving characters. To the Germans, Rommel's reputation was and still is "Nazi propaganda".

    Deighton credits Rommels performance to several factors. His underlings he calls "exceptional", like Cruewell, Nehring and Fritz Bayerlien. He does praise Rommel for his down-to-earth work in moulding the morale of the Afika Korps "as few other men could".

    But Deighton returns to the grindstone when he writes that the deciding factor in the North African Campaign was "...the shipping and the ports. Even given that Vichy French facilities in Tunisia could have been used, though, it was still not viable for Rommel's Army to be any bigger than it was.
    Even if Rommel could, somehow, have used the combined port facilities, taken Tobruk, and then put it all together to bounce into
    Cairo and Alexandria, Rommel's inability to see the importance of logistics would have scuppered such moves. In fact, in communiques to berlin, Rommel ceaselessly blamed his logistical problems and shortages on "The Italian Navy", even when the figures show that the Italians were more than playing their part in supplying Rommel with all that he needed, an average of "800 tons per division per day", in an era when even petrol and supply hungry U.S. Armoured divisions in North west Europe need only 600 tons per division per day.

    The Italians and his superiors in Berlin all wanted Rommel to reign in his constant ingnorance of the logistic realities of his theater of operations and work within the resources that were allocated to him. Berlin became so concerned that they sent their senior logistic advisor, Generalleutnant Friedrich F. Paulus, to find out first hand what, exactly, Rommel was doing with what he had.
    Paulus was no slouch when it came to logistics. As Chief of Staff for the 6th Army, he had performed so well for the Heer's premier formations in France that he was tasked to produce a strategic survey for the invasion of the Soviet Uniion. Paulus was also more than a little familiar with Rommel. He was his company commander in the 1920's, and had no time what-so-ever for Rommel's cavilier style of warmaking.
    Paulus arrived in Afika on April 27, 1941, just in time to witness Rommel's preparations for an attack on Tobruck, something he vehemently opposed, and his sceptisim was well founded, as Rommel's forces became bogged down in siege warfare, his artilllery making not much of an impression on the port's Australian garrison.
    Paulus fired off what Deighton describes as a "caustic" report to Berlin, saying that Rommel's supply lines were "overstretched, his men exhausted and his reserves inadequate". Paulus made no bones about the fact that Rommel should operate within his resources, and during the autumn of 1941, Rommel tried harder and harder to foist the blame for his difficulties on the Italian Navy.

    Deighton calls Paulu's assessment "entirely correct", further saying that to prove Paulus wrong, Rommel would have to husband his fuel, pay great attention to his transport and supply lines, and capture Tobruk to shorten those same supply routes.
    Rommel did not do any of these things. He did not even utilize the coastal railroad when he captured sections of it. Rommel's methods remained unchanged by Paulus's cricisms, and he continued to lunge for Cairo, trying to grab the headlines before time and resources brought it all to a close.

    In summary, Deighton is caustic in his conclusion. He cites Erwin Rommel as a perfect example of "The Peter Principle" (where a person that has achieved competency at a certain level will be promoted to other tasks he is less than able to fulfil. Rommel's vain-glory almost outshone Mussolini's, for the Italian High Command was also constantly trying to reign him in, to operate within his supply boundaries, in a theater of operations where logistics was "King".

    To quote Deighton this one time.....

    "Rommel was a daring and in every way exceptional divisional commander, but he needed a superior who could keep him under control and make him understand the less glamourous realities of supply and maintainence"

    End of Sermon.....what do our distinguished members think?

    Drusus
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  • #2
    Rommel is hardly some exception among German generals when it comes to logistics and engineering in a modern war. Tactically and operationally on the battlefield Rommel was well ahead of his British counterparts. On the other hand he, like most of the generals in the Wehrmacht, lacked the insight and training in logistics and engineering to back battlefield operations in a sound manner.

    Neither the Germans or Italians made any great effort to open more port space and develop alternate means of moving supplies forward to trucking them. Tripoli could only handle 5 ships at a time. Benghazi was more limited to 2 or 3 at most. Tobruk was cluttered with wrecks and mostly unusable. Neither Axis power made much attempt to clear these harbors and increase their capacity. It wouldn't have mattered if more shipping and material was available for N. Africa if port space was unavailable to off load it and shipping space by road, rail, or whatever wasn't available to move it to the front.
    Because trucks were being used in the main to move the supplies forward what was being delivered generally sat, often for weeks, waiting truck space to be hauled forward. In terms of gasoline, the trucks were using as much as 10 gallons to deliver one to the front.
    The Germans, in particular, could have alleviated some of this by sending far more MFP lighters to operate in North Africa. A single MFP could haul about 150 tons of supplies, vehicles, men, or whatever along the coast. They could easily beach or pull into small ports by day if necessary to avoid enemy attack. Sending some S-boats as escorts would have helped as well.
    A single MFP could deliver the same supplies as roughly 30 trucks and used less fuel doing so. The Japanese in the Pacific supplied whole regions of island garrisons using their similar Daihatsu landing barges.
    Neither Italy or Germany tried at any point to improve or extend rail service in Libya either.

    Palaus was a slouch in logistics compared to Allied planners. His handling of 6th Army at Stalingrad shows that. So, if he was the Wehrmacht's best, they were in serious trouble. The Wehrmacht really had a poor appreciation of logistics by sea and similar means. They had no background experience in such operations so these were almost alien to their thinking and planning.

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    • #3
      Palaus was a slouch in logistics compared to Allied planners. His handling of 6th Army at Stalingrad shows that. So, if he was the Wehrmacht's best, they were in serious trouble. The Wehrmacht really had a poor appreciation of logistics by sea and similar means. They had no background experience in such operations so these were almost alien to their thinking and planning.
      That's the bottom line.

      Then if Rommel was so bad, what does that say about the British and later American in NA. The British had the ports and supply's coming in and still got pushed until Rommel ran short of supply and was vastly out numbered.
      "Ask not what your country can do for you"

      Left wing, Right Wing same bird that they are killing.

      you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Half Pint John View Post

        That's the bottom line.

        Then if Rommel was so bad, what does that say about the British and later American in NA. The British had the ports and supply's coming in and still got pushed until Rommel ran short of supply and was vastly out numbered.
        Actually supplies were having to come round the Cape and up the Red Sea and through the Suez canal as access to the Central Mediterranean basin was too dangerous for Allied merchantmen except for desperate situations such as the Malta convoys. This did not change until the Allies took Scilly and Pantelleria and deprived the Axis of airfields. On arrival at Alexandria supplies could then be shipped along the coast to those N African ports in British hands, having had to almost circumnavigate Africa. This excessively elongated supply line meant that the 8th Army's supply situation was far from optimal.

        MacGregor Knox in Hitler's Italian Allies makes the point that the Axis problems of supply were not lack of ports or interdiction of convoys by submarines and aircraft from Malta (although this was significant) but the inability of the Italians to organise and provide the necessary shipping this being the result of a mixture of poor infrastructure, incompetence and corruption. Rommel blamed it all on the failure to take Malta
        Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
        Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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        • #5
          Optimal or not they remained better than that Axis. Being fair, the Axis, Africa Corps punched above it's weight and bloodied a lot of noses.
          "Ask not what your country can do for you"

          Left wing, Right Wing same bird that they are killing.

          you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by MarkV View Post

            Actually supplies were having to come round the Cape and up the Red Sea and through the Suez canal as access to the Central Mediterranean basin was too dangerous for Allied merchantmen except for desperate situations such as the Malta convoys. This did not change until the Allies took Scilly and Pantelleria and deprived the Axis of airfields. On arrival at Alexandria supplies could then be shipped along the coast to those N African ports in British hands, having had to almost circumnavigate Africa. This excessively elongated supply line meant that the 8th Army's supply situation was far from optimal.

            MacGregor Knox in Hitler's Italian Allies makes the point that the Axis problems of supply were not lack of ports or interdiction of convoys by submarines and aircraft from Malta (although this was significant) but the inability of the Italians to organise and provide the necessary shipping this being the result of a mixture of poor infrastructure, incompetence and corruption. Rommel blamed it all on the failure to take Malta
            Good point...

            First of all, Technically Rommel reported to Field Marshall Ettore Bastico and no one seems to be blaming -him
            there really was nothing to gain by not waiting until the late fall early winter for operation supercharge. Crossing the North African desert was best done after the heat, before the winter rains
            The trout who swims against the current gets the most oxygen..

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            • #7
              Originally posted by marktwain View Post



              First of all, Technically Rommel reported to Field Marshall Ettore Bastico and no one seems to be blaming -him
              Bastico - at one time Italian Chief of Staff- Rommel damned him with faint praise " a fundamentally decent man with a sober military understanding" . Rommel's titular superior he looked askance at his methods of command which he thought would lead to "excesses the consequences of which Rommel does not understand". Like W S Gilbert's Italian commander the Duke of Plazatorro, Bastico "led his regiment from behind, he found it less exciting." Rommel led from far forward and the Italians thought his dashing about in a command car highly undignified.
              Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
              Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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              • #8
                I must confess that I haven't read this book, but I hope it is more historically accurate than 'Fighter.' Len's knowledge of the naval aspects of 1940 was seriously lacking. At one point he claimed that the coal transported by the FN/FS East Coast collier convoys between Methil & the Thames Estuary could have been carried by the railways, and indeed was later in the war. In point of fact, these convoys sailed throughout the war, the last being in May, 1945. There were 3584 convoys involving 104792 vessels, of which 178 were lost in convoy, and a further 25 lost either as stragglers or out of convoy, a loss rate of 0.36%. Len further claimed that the RN insisted on sailing them not so much out of necessity as to prove a point. Nonsense, of course. London was totally dependent on the coal these small colliers conveyed, and the rail network lacked the capacity, the locomotives, and the rolling stock, to transport anything like the amount of coal required. All in all, despite Len's reluctance to give the RN of 1940 any credit for anything at all, the old V & W Destroyers, Sloops, Corvettes, motor gunboats, and Armed Trawlers who escorted these convoys did, I would respectfully submit, rather a good job!

                I hope Mr. Deighton's book on Rommel does not contain similar crass errors.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by MarkV View Post
                  Bastico "led his regiment from behind, he found it less exciting." Rommel led from far forward and the Italians thought his dashing about in a command car highly undignified.
                  When British generals lead their men from their HQs, actually the place from where they can receive timely reports and issue appropriate orders, there's nothing wrong with that, but if Italian generals do so, heh.

                  When British generals wander around and have to spend time hiding in a water reservoir, they are blamed for losing contact with their subordinates, leaving them without orders. If Rommel dashes around, and his aides can't contact him, then that's magnificent.

                  Michele

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Half Pint John View Post

                    That's the bottom line.

                    Then if Rommel was so bad, what does that say about the British and later American in NA. The British had the ports and supply's coming in and still got pushed until Rommel ran short of supply and was vastly out numbered.
                    That the British are much the opposite. They got the logistics right but were largely incompetent on the battlefield.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Michele View Post

                      When British generals lead their men from their HQs, actually the place from where they can receive timely reports and issue appropriate orders, there's nothing wrong with that, but if Italian generals do so, heh.

                      When British generals wander around and have to spend time hiding in a water reservoir, they are blamed for losing contact with their subordinates, leaving them without orders. If Rommel dashes around, and his aides can't contact him, then that's magnificent.
                      Stop waving your tricolour! Bastico was unduly conservative and followed a very WW1 pattern. In fact the lack of Italian mobile radio communications, in part, forced some of this on the Italians but Ciano's diaries do continually lambast his own generals for a reticence to go forward. He is particulary rude in late 1940 about Graziani.see particularly the entry for Dec12
                      Last edited by MarkV; 12 Feb 19, 13:59.
                      Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
                      Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Michele View Post

                        When British generals lead their men from their HQs, actually the place from where they can receive timely reports and issue appropriate orders, there's nothing wrong with that, but if Italian generals do so, heh.

                        When British generals wander around and have to spend time hiding in a water reservoir, they are blamed for losing contact with their subordinates, leaving them without orders. If Rommel dashes around, and his aides can't contact him, then that's magnificent.
                        You are sort of "half correct."
                        Bernard Montgomery lead the campaign to have the British command reformed on the Napoleonic model; Forward mobile command caravans , the small general staff that specialized in 'filling out' the detail needed for orders, and initiative moved down to the lowest competent level.

                        Actually, the " Berthier Model."
                        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis-Alexandre_Berthier
                        the chateau based general staff concept vanished in 1940

                        As to the water reservoir, even British generals have to bathe on occasion, ol chap...
                        Last edited by marktwain; 12 Feb 19, 14:08.
                        The trout who swims against the current gets the most oxygen..

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post

                          That the British are much the opposite. They got the logistics right but were largely incompetent on the battlefield.
                          That T.A. is an insult! The RMs had the answer to that, they left all their commanding Idiots and, dare I say it? B......s, both officers and senior NCOs at home!! That is why the training Establishments are full of them! But also why they were usually quite good with what they did. lcm1
                          'By Horse by Tram'.


                          I was in when they needed 'em,not feeded 'em.
                          " Youuu 'Orrible Lot!"

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Drusus Nero View Post
                            I have been vocal on this site to pull down the overblown reputation of Erwin Rommel before.

                            But this latest book I've aquired, "Blood, Tears and Folly; An objective Look at WW2' by British historian and authour Len Dieghton, echoes my words in such a way that I could not help but revive the issue.

                            End of Sermon.....what do our distinguished members think?

                            Drusus
                            Good choice!
                            A great old favorite of mine (cripes my copy is now 26 years old -I can remember purchasing it clear as day!) even if Len isn't a professional historian as such.

                            His big picture overview and his ability to demolish myth after myth shows puts him in the same category (but sadly not quite the same 'league') as the immortal and venerable AJP Taylor.

                            Read Deighton's book in conjunction with Taylor's 'The Second World an Illustrated History' (Hamish Hamilton 1975 / Penguin Books 1976) and you'll never look at Rommel or many other aspects of the war in the same way again.

                            Regards
                            lodestar

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by lcm1 View Post

                              That T.A. is an insult! The RMs had the answer to that, they left all their commanding Idiots and, dare I say it? B......s, both officers and senior NCOs at home!! That is why the training Establishments are full of them! But also why they were usually quite good with what they did. lcm1
                              No, it's not, unfortunately. British generals repeatedly fouled up opportunities to deal Rommel, and the Germans for that matter, finishing blows in North Africa-- and Crete and Greece-- for that matter. The RM might not have had the problem that the British Army did, but the British Army was long on incompetence at the senior levels.

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