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Rommel's Atlantic Wall: Failure of Monumental Proportion

Updated on August 12, 2020
emge profile image

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College, and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters

The beginning

The Western press has created a picture of Rommel which is larger than life. He is supposed to be a most brilliant general though, in fact, he was just a mediocre soldier who rose up the ladder courtesy Adolf Hitler. One reason for Rommel being rated a great general is British propaganda (easiest way to explain failure) in overrating him after their initial retreat in North Africa. Another example of his not so great performance was during the time of the retreat of the Afrika Corps. Roman retreated 700 miles without making a stand against Montgomery. He had not prepared any second line of defence and worse he escaped from North Africa in a plane to Italy leaving 300,000 soldiers of the Afrika Corps to become POW. Rommel left Africa in March 1943.

On return home, he was lucky that he was not given command of any of the army groups facing Russia. Rommel relaxed at home in Berlin and waited for his next appointment. He was a favorite of Hitler and the fact that he had left 300,000 soldiers to surrender in North Africa did not go against him; Hitler had removed German generals who were a lesser failure than Rommel.

Rommel as Commander Army Group B

Rommel relaxed in his home for almost 5 months. He was then summoned by Hitler and told that he would be given another command. He was informed during the meeting that he would be given command of Army Group B and that meant the entire Western front and France. He was told that the nominal commander to whom he would report would be Field Marshal Von Rundstedt but generally, he would have a free hand. In August 1943 Field Marshal Rommel took over command of army group B. Rommel was the Army Commander for nearly a year before the allied invasion on 6 Jun 1944. Thus, he had ample time to shore up the defenses of the sea coast.

Rommel had complete freedom to strengthen the Atlantic wall; a series of defenses along the coast of northern France to stop an Allied invasion. Rommel carried out an inspection of the entire defenses from Normandy to Calais and made many suggestions to strengthen the Átlantic wall'. He was of the view that the invasion had to be stopped at the beaches of northern France and the alliance should not be allowed to get a foothold on the continent.

This is where his strategic sense failed him. All the time he was expecting an invasion by the allies at the narrowest point of the English Channel at Calais. The English coast was only 22 miles from the French coast at that point and he assumed that the alliance would launch an amphibious attack on the shortest route across the sea. As a man with a strategic vision, he never realized that the allies could choose the coast of Normandy to mount their invasion.
The net result of his fallacious strategic thinking resulted in the defenses of Normandy not having priority than other points notably at Calais where the Germans expected the assault.
The Defense Against an Allied Landing

Rommel again proved to be a poor thinker. Just like in Africa, where after the Battle of Alamein and his defeat and retreat, he had no plans for a second line of defense or a place to make a stand, here also he had no plans to counter the allies once the Atlantic wall was breached. This was strategically an error and can only show that
Rommel’s biographers have glossed over this point. In addition, as brought out by Jonathan Kratetch he allowed himself to tricked by the Allies. Rommel and the rest of OB West had already been tricked by Operation Fortitude and Allied deception plan that kept nearly half of Rommel’s divisions concentrated in the Pas de Calais, away from Normandy on invasion day.
His failure to visualize an invasion in Normandy is one of the causes of the German defeat in the west. Besides though having lost in Africa, he had retired as a ‘hero’ to Germany. But his defeat in Africa conditioned him to face the allies without a positive frame of mind. No general can fight a war in case he does not believe in victory. Thus between the successful beachhead landing and Hitler's obstinacy and his frame of mind, Rommel felt the war was lost.


But there is no denying the fact that Rommel set about his task in earnest. He inspected the coast from Normandy to Calais and suggested measures to strengthen coastal defenses. Thus, laying of mines along the coast with barbed wire defenses as well as pillboxes housed in concrete were ordered to be built. But again his thinking was conditioned by his defeat in Africa. He was perhaps a little overawed by allied air superiority and mentally he expected the allies to win.


Final chapter

By June 1944, Rommel realized that the war was lost. That's when the Allies mounted the invasion. Rommel was not on the scene. As the weather was bad, he assumed there would be no invasion and took time off for a holiday in Berlin to celebrate his wife's birthday. He was also fooled by a deception plan by the allies that the invasion was imminent across the channel at the Pas de Calais. Even after the Allies had got a foothold at Normandy he did not prevail upon Hitler to use the German Panzer divisions to stop the invasion.
Rommel lacked the reach and horizon of a great soldier. Thus it has never been explained how during the crucial Allied landing at Normandy on 6 Jun 1944, Rommel was absent. With an allied attack imminent, Rommel being away must be a minus point against him.

Rommel's career in the Army was coming to an end and while proceeding to his HQ office in his car he was struck by an Allied fighter and injured. He landed in the hospital and that was the end of his command.

Prior to his going on leave certain conspirators who wished to get rid of Adolf Hitler had contacted him and he had given his tacit approval as he had already realized that Germany could not win the war and it was essential to remove Hitler. The bomb plot against Hitler failed and interrogation of the suspects by the Gestapo implicated Rommel. Hitler was at a loss as to how his most favorite general had betrayed him. Besides Hitler was worried about how to deal with a soldier who had been built up as a great hero. A via media was found and two generals were sent to Field Marshal Rommel's house with the option to commit suicide by taking poison and then have a hero's funeral. Alternatively, he would be tried as a traitor and his family would bear the consequences. As is well known Rommel, committed suicide by consuming cyanide which was brought to him by the generals. He was given a hero's funeral and it was announced to the world that Roman had died in an Allied air attack. His wife and son were not harmed.

Thus ended the life of Germany's most popular General. In retrospect, it is worth pointing out that Rommel was a greatly overrated general and at no stage, he proved to be a decisive leader in warfare. His dash across North Africa is much admired but a general has also to learn how to form a line of defence like Field Marshal Kesselring in Italy. He also failed in France where he had almost a year to get ready for the Allies invasion.

Do you think Rommel was a greatly overrated general

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    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      5 hours ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Do I detect a whiff of hero worship for old Adolf here, emge? Hitler was indolent, never rose from his bed earlier than midday and carried a chip on his shoulder heavy enough to weigh down a camel. His lack of a grasp of military strategy came in flashes, and if any of his generals came up with something that remotely approached brilliance, Hitler snatched the credit.

      The Austrian police threw him out for political and racial 'stirring' and he went next door to Bavaria, joined the Bavarian infantry and only rose to corporal runner because his seniors were picked off by British snipers. He only ever pulled a trigger in earnest at his last moment in the Berlin bunker. Very slyly he only issued verbal orders, leaving his underlings - from Bormann down - to carry the can. A good 'shyster' (bent defence lawyer) could've got him off on a plea of insanity for the lack of concrete evidence. Thankfully he didn't know that. Just a shame Eva Braun was so stuck on him, many a more deserving man would've given his eye-teeth to call her a wife. The Germans and Austrians tried to waltz him off on each other after the war, and - surprise, surprise! - very few call their sons Adolf.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh emge 

      7 hours ago from Singapore

      Rundstedt had a very poor opinion of Rommel. In my book also Rommel was not all that great.

    • profile image

      tom 

      15 hours ago

      runsdet and rommel disliked each other,they are portrayed in rommel the desert fox and the longest day

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh emge 

      6 weeks ago from Singapore

      Alan, There are many people who feel that he's there was just a Corporal and as such did not have any military sense. This was a fallacy and brought out by Captain Liddlehart the WW II historian. Hitler's conduct and planning of the Operations in France and the invasion of Norway in the teeth of the supremacy of the Royal Navy were simply brilliant. Not many are aware that he read the works of Clausewitz, Moltz and others .

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh emge 

      6 weeks ago from Singapore

      I don't remember but I do feel it was not Von Rundstedt. If it was him he was the supreme commander and could have easily instructed Rommel. I think it was a Colonel-General and nobody gave him any importance. I wIll have to look up the old history books to find out something about it.

      Incidentally, Field Marshal Von Rundstedt was the old-style German officer who never interfered with politics and just executed orders as passed to him. He was guilty on two accounts or having accepted orders and just passed them regarding the killing of Jews and the commissioners on the eastern front. He was lucky to have escaped punishment at Nuremberg and then finally died in 1953.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh emge 

      6 weeks ago from Singapore

      Pamela, thank you for sparing time and commenting

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      6 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

      This is a very interesting article. I didn't know that Rommel was over-rated as I thought he was a German hero even though they lost the war. I think your article gives us a very interesting look at Rommel, Emge.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      6 weeks ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Emge, I think the German general who foresaw the Allies' landing in Normandy was Gerd von Rundstedt. As Field Marshal he was senior to Rommel, and had a much greater grasp of strategy than most of the others (being sycophants, they went along with what the 'Fuehrer' wanted). Von Rundstedt was 'laid off' near the end because he and Hitler couldn't see eye-to-eye.

      Unfortunately von Rundstedt was never able to grip Hitler by his ear and hiss, "Who was right?" He always referred to Hitler as "dieser Boehmischer gefreiter" (this 'Bohemian' corporal, on account of Hitler's would-be artistic inclinations and lifestyle - he never rose from his bed before midday and had little or no grasp of real life, much like many artists).

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh emge 

      6 weeks ago from Singapore

      Thank you Liz, nice comment

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      6 weeks ago from UK

      This is an interesting article. It hives a lot of background to how ultimately the war was lost for Germany.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh emge 

      6 weeks ago from Singapore

      I remember watching' the Longest Day.' It was a wonderful film and there is one scene in the film where one of the generals in a meeting says that if he were the commander-in-chief of the Allied army he would land at Normandy. Rommel, I think was present in the meeting but I can't recall the name of the general. This was the fatal blunder the failure to recognize where the Allied thrust would be. They also wasted precious time bringing the panzers into battle and in the process, 'Ike' got a foothold. Rommel's theory to push back the Allies within the first 24 hours went for a six.

      I have read about the Dambusters and also saw a movie a decade or so back. Somehow historians only give a passing reference to this operation. The crux of the issue is the failure of German intelligence. It seems to be pretty poor.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh emge 

      6 weeks ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Flourish, for your comment.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh emge 

      6 weeks ago from Singapore

      Denise, It's a pleasure to have a comment from you.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      6 weeks ago from USA

      This was an enlightening article that showed his miscalculations as well as cowardice. Nicely written.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      6 weeks ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Rommel - you've named him as 'Roman' a few times - certainly wasn't unique in his assessment that the Allies (not 'alliance') would take the shortest route. Hitler had surrounded himself with sycophants, and it didn't do to gainsay him. Thus when double agent 'Garbo' put about that the Allied landing would be in the Pas de Calais, and dummy ordnance as well as bomber bases were 'planted' in the south-east of England it strengthened Hitler's reputation as Fuehrer (the Leader), and everything was geared to halting Eisenhower's push east to Berlin.

      A lot of the intelligence information arises in the film, 'The Longest Day', Daryl F Zanuck's masterpiece.

      An element missed (here I go again emge, watch closely) is the effect the Dambuster Raid had on the completion of the West Wall. When in May, 1943 a squadron of Lancasters (not me, M'lud) crossed the Channel and entered the Ruhr area at treetop height to get below German radar, a lot of capital equipment was destroyed in the industrial heartland, two of the three target dams had to be rebuilt by the Todt Organisation - slave labour, mostly from Eastern Europe - that had been engaged on the Atlantic defences. The months spent on that meant the West or Atlantic Wall had to wait. Precious time lost, and calculated by Barnes Wallis in his mission to destroy the dams; the war and occupations of Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium and France might well have lasted at least a year longer, possibly two. Britain's economy was 'creaking' by 1945, and a prolonged struggle would have increased pressure on the US by the USSR as Hitler's most urgent target.

      Historians have often belittled the effects of the raid and underestimated its effectiveness. However, Hitler's Armaments Minister Albert Speer admitted after the war that another such raid could've crippled the Nazi's economy and war effort.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      6 weeks ago from Fresno CA

      Your points have proved to me that he was not the commander that his press made him out to be. What a way for a warrior to go. Very dishonorable if you ask me to commit suicide.

      Blessings,

      Denise

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