Rommel: The End Of A Legend by Ralf Georg Reuth

The Fox run to earth: debunking the myths that surround Rommel
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The legend of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel - the "Desert Fox" - is threefold: he was a simple soldier who did his duty and knew nothing of Nazism; he was a commander of superlative talent who ran rings round the British in North Africa in 1941-2; he was a leader of resistance to Hitler who gave his life for the cause after the failure of the July 1944 plot.

In this lucid, exemplary volume, Ralf Georg Reuth shows that all three of these assumptions are false. Rommel was a high-flying officer whose ambitions were in perfect harmony with the aims of the Nazis. He colluded in the marketing of his persona by Goebbels, whose newsreels built him up like a movie star. He was mindlessly loyal to the Reich and thought his oath of loyalty to the Führer transcended all other considerations.

Curiously, British politicians and media colluded in elevating Rommel to the pantheon of military greats. The British credited him with almost supernatural talents to rationalise their own incompetence in North Africa. Montgomery, another ludicrously overrated figure, had such crushing superiority at El Alamein in October 1942 that a freshman cadet at Sandhurst could have beaten the Afrika Corps.

Reuth meticulously examines the Field Marshal's role in the July plot, and establishes that Rommel was never one of the anti-Hitler plotters: the conspirators tried to inveigle him to join them, but only got him to agree to an "alternative method" of ending the war, other than an unrealistic victory. Rommel thought he was agreeing merely to negotiations with the Anglo-Saxon powers, but the plotters recorded him as one of them.

His chief of staff Hans Speidel, however, was one of the July conspirators: in danger of the gallows, he persuaded a military court that he had tipped off his boss about the conspiracy and expected him to forward the news to Berlin. Because they all hated Rommel for his movie-star image, the high command claimed to accept this transparent nonsense.

Rommel's bitter rival Heinz Guderian won over the military supremo Wilhelm Keitel to this version, and the Desert Fox's fate was sealed. Hitler was then presented with a damning litany of circumstantial evidence. In the Roman manner, Rommel was invited to commit suicide (by cyanide poisoning). Reuth reveals the truth in a brilliant book that, incidentally, exposes the self-serving role of the Cold War-era West in promoting the Rommel legend.