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"Most Overrated German General of WWII?" Topic


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08 Jun 2018 11:51 a.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian18 Nov 2017 8:04 p.m. PST

Which German commander simply doesn't live up to his reputation?

21eRegt18 Nov 2017 8:42 p.m. PST

I've always felt that while talented, the "Desert Fox" wasn't as good as his opponents made him out to be once he progressed beyond the divisional level. Capable to be sure and daring, which was ideal for the strategic situation, but no Alexander (the Great).

ancientsgamer18 Nov 2017 8:49 p.m. PST

Can't agree at all. The Allies controlled the Med and Rommel had to contend with undersupply and being outnumbered.

But I am not well versed enough on WW2 to give sn opinion of too good of a reputation. Maybe Paulus?

Winston Smith18 Nov 2017 9:23 p.m. PST

Hitler.

Lee49418 Nov 2017 9:39 p.m. PST

Most overrated Rommel. Post war authors did much to make his myth because he supppsedly was part of the plot to kill Hitler. The degree of his involvement is now open to question. Most underrated was Kesselring. For the allies most overrated Bradley. Most underrated Eisenhower. If Bradley hadn't been Ikes pal he would've been sacked during the Bulge. As it was Ike essentially took him out of the battle by giving half his forces to Monty other half to Patton. Ike was responsible for many battlefield decisions that he gets little credit for. Moving the 101st and 82nd to the exact key decision points during the Bulge. Putting Patton in charge after Kasserine. Many key decisions leading up to Normandy culminating in the war winning decision to go on June 6th in spite of the weather. And yes I will say it … Monty was also underrated, at least by Americans. Let the firestorm begin lol. Cheers!

Winston Smith18 Nov 2017 10:26 p.m. PST

I have to agree with everything Lee494 said.
The British built up Rommel as a genius, simply because he beat them all the time. The Germans were more than happy to oblige after the war because it gave them a martyr untainted by war crimes.

I have to agree about Bradley too. He essentially pouted in his tent during the first crucial days of the Bulge.
And Monty was damn good too.

korsun0 Supporting Member of TMP19 Nov 2017 12:36 a.m. PST

Hard question, Rommel was good but also overreached his mandate in Africa because of unrealistic ambition. I think he would have excelled in Russia but he could not be allowed to be independent.
The worst, Ernst Busch. The best outside the usual Guderian, Manstein et al would be Hermann Balck or Erhard Raus.
For the allies, Mark Clark was a shocker.

langobard Supporting Member of TMP19 Nov 2017 3:05 a.m. PST

A very difficult question. A lot of the Generals that had a lot of success and therefore gained good reputations, ended up being sacked by Hitler, and replaced by officers such as Paulus who, while they were excellent at implementing orders (which is what Hitler wanted) certainly did not have the drive and vision of Guderian, Runstedt, Rommel, Manstien, von Bock or many many others.

A lot of the obviously overrated ones such as Hitler and Himmler where only good in their own minds.

I might toss Model in for consideration. A great defensive fighter in an army designed for blitzkrieg is sort of an anomoly at the least…

Skarper19 Nov 2017 3:29 a.m. PST

Given the quite narrow parameters of the question the answer is Rommel. Hands down.

Rommel was by no means a bad general. He achieved a great deal often with scant resources. But in North Africa the forces he ran rings around were weak, under supplied and badly led. When Monty was in charge the situation changed and frankly Monty would have had to have been useless not to succeed.

It's just that Rommel was lionized from all sides for reasons set out above.

Other German generals were overrated too. Mainly because they wrote their own accounts of the fighting in the East and the allies lapped it up.

And many an allied general is overrated too. Patton perhaps the most overrated but again not without ability. Just blew his own trumpet too hard. Arguably it's part of the job. You don't want a commander who is self-effacing! "Well. I suppose we won but it wasn't all down to me you know chaps, we were lucky, and we had a lot more men and material – if it had been anywhere close to a fair fight they'd have massacred us…"

So while Patton and Monty can seem massively egotistical and self promoting it rather goes with the territory.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP19 Nov 2017 4:28 a.m. PST

Rommel is the guy who gets the most credit for doing something many other German generals did almost routinely on the eastern front and was proclaimed a genius for it.

He is a superbly capable commander and a great, very brave leader of men, logistics and higher command are not his forte at all.

He fits very well inside the classic German/Prussian mould of romantic near-suicidal bravery in battle. It's not the classic "King and Country" sense of duty of British officers or the "I strive to do the utmost best in all my endeavours, and I happen to be soldiering." You see in somebody like Col. Joshua Chamberlain at Gettysburg.

Between Goethe's Young Werther and Wagner the German has a fetish for the tragedy and dying heroically in battle is almost better than boringly winning a battle.

Remember that Rommel had been sidelined several times early in his career and when Hitler rose to power he made sure he got noticed and was noticed. He drove his division very hard in France and then he got the supreme stroke of luck. While many highly capable German commanders were pulling off amazing stunts in Russia, there was no real scope for one of them to really stand out because the scale drowned out everything.

He could be a star in North Africa and he played that role to perfection. And he had the added bonus that the British were a far more credible foe than the Soviet Untermenschen who were being slaughtered by the corps in Russia.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP19 Nov 2017 4:43 a.m. PST

Patton is a kind of "bigger, better, louder" Rommel. Very similar mindset, though I'd give Patton an edge in logistics and planning. Patton seemed to always have several plans as contingency whereas Rommel seems to have been more of a "spur of the moment." Commander as examplified by the problems he had when he isolated Tobruk. He seemed to expect it to fall and to his surprise it held on, forcing him to get in directly.

Montgomery is harder to frame, because he's both among the most lauded and most reviled of Allied commanders. He did extremely well in 1940, his talent for logistics and army building are second to none and he's a pragmatist, aware of his own limitations and tailors his plans accordingly. He knows he's not going to match Rommel in a straight battle, and he gets Auchinleck's plan dropped on his lap for El Alamein, the difference is that he defies Churchill and tries to stack the deck with even more aces by building up his army instead of attacking Rommel.

He does a good enough job handling armies as he did a division. The real problem is that he gets stuck between opposing the "Broad front" approach called by Eisenhower and the urgent need to press on in September 1944, where everything goes wrong.

Monty, overrated, but competent.

Personal logo Jeff Ewing Supporting Member of TMP19 Nov 2017 6:56 a.m. PST

"Patton is a kind of "bigger, better, louder" Rommel [with gasoline, air superiority, and reliable vehicles]

troopwo Supporting Member of TMP19 Nov 2017 7:19 a.m. PST

What Leeds said, goes for me too.

CorroPredo19 Nov 2017 8:31 a.m. PST

How many of you were there? My Dad was, and he was suitably impressed with Rommel. Give Erwin Rommel the logistics behind Montgomery or Eisenhower, and see how well he does.

Big Red Supporting Member of TMP19 Nov 2017 9:04 a.m. PST

Its almost impossible to evaluate complex people in complex situations in a short paragraph or two. A one liner rating? Well…

Legion 419 Nov 2017 9:17 a.m. PST

IMO it has to be Rommel. As many noted here. But also as mentioned, he was a very capable and effective commander.

Fred Cartwright19 Nov 2017 12:53 p.m. PST

I think Rommel deserves his reputation. I disagree that the Brits in North Africa were badly equipped and under supplied. The Afrika Korps were often worse supplied and equipped using what they captured out of necessity. He called the invasion right saying that it had to be defeated on the beaches and he was the driving force behind the development of the defence. Guderian on the other hand was in favour of keeping the Panzers back for a counter stroke which would have never worked. As for German logistics it was always shaky. They didn't have the resources or the transport that the western allies in particular did.
I would agree about Patton being overrated. As for him being better at logistics than Rommel that is down to the efficient logistics train that the US army developed, not Patton himself.

21eRegt19 Nov 2017 6:08 p.m. PST

I think one serious knock against Rommel as a commander that hasn't been mentioned yet is his handling of his allies and technically superiors, the Italians. Not only did his WWI experience make him treat them with contempt, post Alamein he abandoned his allies completely. Not the way to engender loyalty and support.

badger2219 Nov 2017 8:36 p.m. PST

Rommel had some big wins, but he matched them with big losses. He should have won Crusader, particularly given the Auks plan of wait and see what the Germans do. It should have cost him the battle, but Rommel was even worse in his reaction. And Cruwell almost won it for him, then he dummied up again

RudyNelson19 Nov 2017 9:01 p.m. PST

You said General not Marshall, so I suspect you are talking about second level commanders.
If you are talking about top tier strategic policy makers then Hitler is the worst one.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP20 Nov 2017 5:40 a.m. PST

I think some people missed the OP of "Which general is OVERRATED" You can be quite competent and still be overrated.

Rommel was pretty good, he was extremely brave, had a good rapport with his men, and liked to lead from the front.

However how much of his success is based on standard German practices ? The German army emphasized heavily the use of mobile forces to outflank the enemy, surround him and then take him out in a cauldron battle.

Fighting in North Africa screamed for the use of tanks and motorized forces because troops on foot were next to useless on a mostly featureless battlefield where terrain and distance mean nothing.

Rommel therefore had the luxury of fighting the perfect German tactical manual textbook battle. He uses his mobility to the utmost advantage, nibbling away at whatever forces he manages to catch in the cauldron.

The first lesson the British learn is to avoid getting trapped, they still get outflanked, but as time goes on it's harder for Rommel to pin down significant forces and reduce them as intended. And the British use another trick, they deny him mobility by digging in at places that can't be "turned" like Tobruk and Alamein. At this point Rommel could have had the supernatural ability to tap into every military genius in history, he had no other choice than to take it by force.

The biggest lie and common delusion of WWII is that it was all about fancy super-clever use of modern technology exemplified by the tank and every WWII General was a brilliant chessmaster deploying his assets on the battlefield and only the most brilliant commander would find the critical spot to strike and win the battle.

That's complete and utter bullcrap. The essence of warfare is to find the enemy and then force or threaten enough losses that they give up before you do. Everything else is a derived function of that principle : you kill enemies until they stop fighting, how you achieve this can vary, but there are only so many variations on the theme. You can surround an army and force them to surrender or you can set up a meatgrinder and whoever throws in the last reserves wins.

Rommel's tactics are as old as that long forgotten battle where one army deployed chariots, moved faster than the enemy and flanked them.

The Germans emphasized mobility because they knew that the other option is to slug it out. This hadn't been a problem for much of history because battles used to be mostly protracted affairs, lasting a day at worst. This changed in the 20th century where clashing armies could be at it for months in massive battles of attrition, as seen in the Great War.

If you are going to peg down Rommel he's a very capable German commander who applies the manual extremely well. But why is he overrated ?

Nobody in WWII outside of Germany and the USSR had much of a clue what was happening. Guys like Herman Balck were doing stunts that would make Rommel pale with envy. But there was no media or political spin in Western Media. He was one of many faceless German generals slaughtering the Red Army until the Red Army started slaughtering them …

Rommel was front page news for months. Post war there was a need to rehabilitate the Germans and Rommel happened to be the perfect poster-boy both during and after the war.

The fighting in North Africa was perfect audience viewing. A kid could keep track of the advance of armies with pins on the wall, and the British media could praise Rommel as a dire foe in anticipation of him being soundly defeated. El Alamein and all that.

Let's resume :

Rommel was a very competent general in some aspects, less so in some, pretty bad in others. He was likeable, gained both the image of a noble foe in battle and a rebel against Hitler.

He was not significantly more talented than other German generals and he didn't do anything that wasn't really in the German manuals at the time. His ability to read a battle were hit and miss, he seems to have expected a certain outcome at times and acted erratically when it didn't work out as planned.

It's not like "If Rommel had been on the Eastern Front he would have wiped the floor with the Red Army and be in Moscow by September." He had no magic, he couldn't summon a victory out of thin air as much as some people really seem convinced he was able to.

That's why he's often brought up and highlighted far more than other generals, because if any random person on the street might know the name of a German general, it's probably going to be Rommel and there is this vague collective awareness that he was an invincible military genius. And that's why dear reader Rommel is overrated.

Fred Cartwright20 Nov 2017 9:10 a.m. PST

Patrick I think you are confusing being overrated with being well known. The fact that other generals did as well as Rommel, but are less well known takes nothing away from his performance. It is inevitable that he is more known in the West as he fought solely against the western allies. As for being the poster boy for the rehabilitation of the Germans post war, he wasn't around and had no say in how his reputation was used. Guderian on the other hand was and used his book to secure his own reputation.

Murvihill20 Nov 2017 11:23 a.m. PST

Before about 1943 the German Army was so good tactically the generals could pretty much point their fingers and the soldiers could kill their way to the objective. This both in Russia and the desert. Their infiltration tactics, use of tanks and tactical air all combined to ensure victory regardless of whether the strategy was good (like in 40 and 41) or bad like in 42 (Fall Blau? Uggh). After 43 the German army had attrited away many of their good tactical leaders and their enemies learned to counter their tactics.

Mark 120 Nov 2017 6:14 p.m. PST

I too fall on the side of considering Rommel to be overrated. That does not mean I think he was not competent or even rather talented. But overrated. In part because he was so highly rated, in part due to his shortcomings.

I really like Patrick R's analysis, and agree with him on many of the points he has raised.

Rommel is the guy who gets the most credit for doing something many other German generals did almost routinely on the eastern front and was proclaimed a genius for it.

This comment in particular I find to be insightful. Looking at Rommel, I can't find anything that is more impressive than what Manstein or Guderian or Balck or (insert list of more than 20 German General Officers) did on a semi-regular basis on the Eastern Front. But they get lost in the noise, and Rommel stands out. Largely, I think, because he so often out-fought and confounded the British, who built pretty much lionized the man for it.

I also think Murvihill raises a key point.

Before about 1943 the German Army was so good tactically the generals could pretty much point their fingers and the soldiers could kill their way to the objective.

How much credit do we give to a general for the performance of his troops? Rommel did very well with his German troops, and not so well with his Italian troops. So how much of that was Rommel's genius?

I think his achievements as a division commander in France were excellent. Really top-notch. But as a corps commander, and more importantly a corps commander who was remote from his superior, and later an Army commander in the same circumstance, he had significant weaknesses.

I see two critical weaknesses. First, He had a blind eye to logistics. For all his creative talent on the battlefield, he devoted none of his creativity to his logistics. Second, he did little to develop capabilities across his troop base. More than half of the Axis forces in North Africa were Italian. Rommel offered much criticism of the Italians, but did little to improve their combat effectiveness.

What could he have done in either case? I don't know. There are probably half a dozen things I can come up with, but more important is the question of what HE could have come up with, if he had applied his intellect, his talent, his creativity to these issues. The problem was he did not. These issues don't seem to have interested him much.

Give Erwin Rommel the logistics behind Montgomery or Eisenhower, and see how well he does.

This statement drives my whole criticism of Rommel.*

He didn't HAVE the logistics of a Montgomery or an Eisenhower. As a Corps or Army commander, his plans should have been based on "what can I achieve with the resources I can access?" at the least, or "what can I do to improve my logistics?" at best, NOT "what could I achieve if some magic fairy comes along and gives me resources that are not available to me under any current scenario?"

The first order of business in warfare in the industrial age is LOGISTICS. The second is proficiency of the front line command, and the troops themselves. Somewhere several steps down the list is tactical planning and operational control by high command.

Rommel argued strongly AGAINST the plan to take Malta. While he complained about how few resources he was receiving, he paid little personal attention to how to reduce how much resource was lost trying to GET resources to him, or how much of the resource he DID receive was being used moving his resources forward from his supply base to his combat formations.

As a Corps or Army commander, ensuring logistics scaled to your operational planning was job #1! In this he failed. He overreached with the resources he had, and did little to secure and improve his supply lines (other than complaining to higher command that he needed more).

Rommel never invested much in his Italian divisions. He seems to have been dismissive of them -- not typically the way one gets the best out of men. Some of the Italian divisions fought very well, but generally not in the way that the Germans fought, or needed them to fight according to his scheme of operations.

While I'm not a great fan of Monty, he clearly excelled in these jobs #1 and #2. He was VERY mindful of logistics, and he invested a LOT in training and equipping troops for the battle as he envisioned it. And so he won. Which is, after all, what generals are called upon to do.

I don't mean to suggest that Rommel was a poor general. Just that he should not be given a "pass" on the issues that define successful Corps and Army commanders.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

*Note: The full posting I excerpt from here includes some interesting and worthy comments I have omitted. I have chosen this sub-set of words not to dispute or rebut what was said, but only to illustrate a concept.

4th Cuirassier21 Nov 2017 2:36 a.m. PST

Much of Rommel's success was derived from his supposed "fingertip feel" for the tactical situation. This in fact was no such thing it was poor Commonwealth signals security, and helpful detailed sitreps from the other side by Colonel Bonner Fellers of the US army in Cairo, provided to him by Italian intelligence.

Once these factors in his favour were neutralised, he was a lot less effective. This is also why O'Connor looked so good in 1940 but then made no impression at all later commanding a Corps in NW Europe.

Rommel was successful initially because he was insubordinate and mendacious, so he would tell his superiors he wasn't going to attack (or be told by them not to) and would then do so anyway. The British commander, listening to his signals, tended to assume orders would be obeyed given that this was Germans we are talking about, and was wrong-footed in consequence. Rommel also painted himself into logistics corners that he expected others to get him out of, including others who'd warned him. Auchinleck defeated him twice, or three times if you count Second Alamein.

He was up against a poor army, which helped. Australians aside, the average quality of the Commonwealth troops was probably similar to the Italians. Montgomery's insight was to work out a way to win battles with such raw material as he actually had. This is why I tend to cut him some slack in the post-Alamein action in N Africa if he had pursued Rommel a l'outrance, for sure his army would have found a way to get itself shot up and halted.

Fred Cartwright21 Nov 2017 5:50 a.m. PST

Mark I am not sure I would agree that Rommel made poor use of his Italian Divisions. As with many things the effectiveness of Italian troops has been reassessed and many performed well. A good example is the Ariete division who inflicted a number of defeats on the British and was a key part of Rommels plans on a number of occasions. How much he could have influenced the key weaknesses of the Italian army in terms of equipment and motivation is open to debate. The Germans did very little to support their allies across the board, so not a particular failing in North Africa. He was also known to support Italian units with German troops to increase the overall effectiveness. Complaining to ones superiors about the poor performance of troops would also seem to be a valid way of bringing it to their attention. Rommel was not unique in being critical of his allies, of course. Patton was openly contemptuous of the British.
The other question concerns his actions and whether he would have been better waiting for the British to attack or pursue the strategy he did and push his offensives to the limits of his logistics. That is a complex question. For 2 years he kept the British focussed on North Africa, keeping key Commonwealth Divisions there that might have been better employed in the Far East. The British and Commonwealth lost over 220,000 men, the reason the British ran so short of manpower in NWE. His actions were probably responsible for Churchill winning the arguement to concentrate on the N Africa and the Med first and delay Overlord, which the Americans didn't want to do. Could he achieved that by staying on the defensive and limiting offensive action to counter strokes within the capabilities of his logistics? We will never know. Part of his success though WAS in creating that reputation of the bogeyman to the British. N Africa was a slideshow to Hitler, but a major focus for Churchill.

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