The Forced Suicide Of German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
Erwin Rommel, the "Desert Fox"
Rommel In The Initial Stages Of The War
Erwin Rommel was one of the most successful German commanders. He smashed the French and Belgian defenses in 1939 during the early course of the Second World War. The Whole World was shocked by the rapid German onslaught in Europe. Rommel was a staunch nationalist and he would do what is right for his country. During the initial stages of the War (1939-1940), Hitler was the hero of the German people. Likewise, Rommel also loved his fuhrer, as the "Unifier of Germany". Rommel gained fame and respect within the Army after his "blitzkrieg warfare" in Western Europe. He was promoted by Hitler and was given the command of the "Afrika Korps". With the German Army winning almost all of Europe (except Russia and the neutral countries such as Switzerland), the Gestapo and the proponents of the infamous "Nazi Ideology" took the center stage in Europe. The Gestapo killed millions of Jews throughout Europe. The German Army (Heer) was also ordered to kill Jews and all of the prisoners of War (POW's). The German Field Marshals and Army Commanders knew of this "command" but some of them including Rommel consciously did not follow the "killing orders". Though Rommel was a favorite of Hitler, he was never liked by the Gestapo and the German High Command.
Rommel having a drink with a fellow German soldier in Africa
A German soldier surrenders in El Alamein
Tunisia campaign : Rommel's last African victory
Rommel Loses Faith In His Fuhrer
Rommel's "Afrika Korps" fought against the Allies all throughout the deserts of North Africa. He often used his own discretion and disregarded the orders from the German High Command. He was mostly successful. His war-field strategies earned him the respect of both his men and the Allies. Considering the fact that he had to fight the Allies with numerical inferiority and limited resources, he was undoubtedly one of the best Commanders of the War and thus, he earned the nickname, "Desert Fox". He kept winning all the desert battles til Egypt, where he lost to the British General Montgomery, in the Second battle of El Alamein.
In the Second battle of El Alamein, Rommel could not use his tactic of attacking the enemy from the rear ends. To the north of this town was the Mediterranean Sea and to the south was the famous Qattara Depression. It was a last stand for the Allies in North Africa. The Allies had the control of the Suez Canal which gave them more resources than the Germans, who had to bring in resources from North-Western Africa throughout the Desert. Rommel had requested his High Command for more reinforcements. Though Hitler understood the significance of capturing the Suez Canal, he did not authorize reinforcements to Rommel.
Hitler was preoccupied with the invasion of Russia (Operation Barbarossa) which would later prove to be disastrous! Rommel with his limited Armour lost the Second battle of El Alamein to a surprised Allied thrust from the South, when he was fighting with an Australian Division near the Mediterranean. During the course of this battle, Hitler gave an order of "NO RETREAT". Rommel was disheartened with Hitler's lack of concern in the lives of his men! Though Hitler later authorized Rommel for falling back, his trust in his fuhrer has been shaken!
Rommel retreated to Tunisia where he got a new reinforcement of men and tanks. He was utterly disappointed that this reinforcement in El Alamein would have gave them victory over the Allies. He won a small skirmish over an American Division in Tunisia, which was his first battle against the Americans and his last in Africa! He then went to Europe and never came back to Africa. Though he had to rely onto Hitler for political support, he understood that Germany was to lose the battle sooner or later with madmen controlling the German High Command!
The men who were behind the plot
Rommel And The 20th July Plot To Kill Hitler
Coming back to Europe, Rommel came in contact with a lot of German Generals and Colonels who had developed a bitterness towards the Gestapo and Hitler. A team of German Resistance within the Army had assembled and started to plan a plot to kill their fuhrer. A culminated effect of the Anti-Hitler clan within the Army and Nationalist German Resistance resulted in the the 20th July plot of 1944 to kill Hitler. Apart from the active members of the plot, there were many Generals and Army officers who knew of the plot but did not aware the High Command (that is, they wanted Hitler dead as well)! The plot was directed by the following German Army men-
General Hans Oster (deputy head of the Abwehr, Germany's counter-espionage agency)
Ludwig Beck (a former Chief of Army General Staff),
Franz Halder (Chief of the Army General Staff),
Erwin von Witzleben(Commander of the Wehrkreis),
Major Tresckow (Chief of Staff of the 2nd Army),
General Olbricht (General of the Heer) and
Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg (Lieutenant Colonel).
The main aim of this team of conspirators was to protect Germany and for that, Hitler had to be killed, the control of their Army had to be taken from the SS and the Gestapo men. They managed to gain the support of Erwin Rommel, the first Field Marshal in their team. Though he was of the opinion to arrest Hitler and try him in a court of law, he supported the lesser evil (Killing Hitler) than the larger evil (Hitler in power). Rommel came in contact with members of the conspiracy and silently gave them moral support. He wanted Hitler to be ousted from power and then only, Germany could come to agreements of peace with the Allies. Else, Germany will be destroyed.
A Magazine cover of the failed plot
The Wolf's lair conference room after the bomb blast
Operation Valkyrie Fails
Operation Valkyrie (German: Operation Walkure) was a German World War II emergency operation plan which was to be issued by the Territorial Reserve Army of Germany to execute and implement in case of a general breakdown of civil order of the nation.
German Army (Heer) officers General Friedrich Olbricht, Major General Henning von Tresckow, and Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg modified this existing plan with the intention of using it to take control of the Army, the German cities, to dissolve the SS and arrest the Nazi leadership once Hitler had been assassinated in the July 20 Plot by a bomb planted by Colonel Stauffenberg. Hitler's death (and not arrest) was required to free German soldiers from their oath of loyalty to him, according to a clause of the plan. Further, Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Göring were to be killed along with Hitler.
This was the beginning of the Operation Valkyrie-
"The Führer Adolf Hitler is dead! A treacherous group of party leaders has attempted to exploit the situation by attacking our embattled soldiers from the rear in order to seize power for themselves."
Detailed instructions were written for occupying the government ministries in Berlin, Himmler's headquarters in East Prussia, all the radio stations and telephone offices and other Nazi administration through military action.Previously, it was believed that Stauffenberg was responsible for the Valkyrie plan, but documents recovered by Soviet Union and released in 2007 suggest that the plan was developed by Tresckow by the autumn of 1943.
After a lengthy preparation and some confusion, the plot was activated in 20th July, 1944, but failed to kill Hitler.
Rommel with his wife
Report of Rommel's death
Rommel's Forced Suicide
After the plot to kill Hitler failed, Friedrich Fromm (Commander in Chief of the Reserve Army) tried to save himself and tried to cover up the fact that he knew of the plot! He executed some of the conspirators immediately by the firing squad. However, these actions did not save him and was later arrested and executed by the Gestapo. The Gestapo arrested more than 7,000 people for being involved in the plot and 4,980 of them were executed. Stülpnagel (military Governor of Occupied France) told Rommel's name under torture by the Gestapo officers. A few days later, Stülpnagel's personal adviser, Caesar von Hofacker admitted under severe torture that Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was an active member of the conspiracy of 20th July, 1944. It is not clearly known to which extent Rommel had been involved in the plot, but many historians are of the opinion, that he knew of the plot even if he wasn't involved directly.
Hitler knew it would be a National scandal to have the most popular German Commander Erwin Rommel tagged as a traitor. It would also affect the morale of the German soldiers. With this in mind, Hitler gave Rommel two options : either suicide or face a public trial by the Freisler's People's Court. Knowing that being brought to the People's Court was more than a death sentence (his family and all his staff would be killed as well), Rommel chose to suicide (by taking a cyanide pill brought to his house by Gestapo officers) on 14th October 1944 upon Adolf Hitler's promise that his family would remain safe. He was buried with full military honors and his role in the conspiracy did not come to light until after the war. He remained a Tragic Hero in the hearts of his countrymen and is still loved throughout Germany!