The Desert Fox in Normandy: Rommel's Defense of Fortress Europe

By Samuel W. Mitcham Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
THE ATLANTIC WALL

The genesis of the German defense of Normandy can be traced to the end of November 1943, when the High Command of the Armed Forces telephoned Field Marshal Erwin Rommel--the legendary Desert Fox-- who was vacationing with his family at a villa in southwestern Germany and gave him a new assignment.

Military leaders of Erwin Rommel's caliber were rare even in Nazi Germany, which was noted for its brilliant commanders. Rommel's career had been meteoric. Born in Heidenheim, Swabia (a part of Wuerttemberg in southwest Germany), he was the son and grandson of schoolteachers. He enlisted in the Wuerttemberg 124th Infantry Regiment in 1910 as a Fahnenjunker (officer-cadet), attended the War School in Danzig, and was commissioned second lieutenant in 1912. He fought in Belgium, France, Romania, and Italy during World War I and emerged from the conflict with the Pour le Méite (a decoration equivalent to the Congressional Medal of Honor) for capturing an Italian division with an ad hoc battalion-sized battle group in 1918. He remained in the Reichsheer (the 100,000 man army allowed by the Allies under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles) and by 1939, after 29 years' service, was a colonel, commanding the obscure infantry school at Wiener Neustadt in the Austrian Alps. World War II began on September 1, 1939. In the next three years, Rommel rose to field marshal, the highest rank in the German Army. (For a comparison of German and U.S. ranks, see Appendix I.) He had commanded the Fuehrer's bodyguard in Poland; the 7th Panzer Division in Luxembourg, Belgium, and France; and then the vaunted Afrika Korps, Panzer Army Afrika, and Army Group Afrika in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia. Quick of decision and absolutely fearless, he always struck boldly, forcefully, and without hesitation--and usually where the enemy least expected him. Time after time he had smashed

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