Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
Holder of the highest Imperial decoration for bravery, the Pour le Merite, Rommel was appointed in 1939 to command Hitler’s escort and through that association got command of the Seventh Panzer Division for attack on France in 1940. His crossing of the Meuse was a tactical triumph and, though he acted with uncharacteristic panic when counterattacked at Arras by the British on 21 May, he emerged from the campaign with an established reputation as a tank leader with real flair. Sent to North Africa in January 1941 to the assistance of the stricken Italians, he proceeded to win a reputation as a strategist and theater commander also. Though occasionally overbold, he retained the initiative in the fight with the British until the summer of 1942, when the balance of forces shifted decisively in their favor, and even then he made Montgomery pay a high price for his victory in Alamein. He conducted a vigorous defense of Tunisia against the combined British and American armies but was evacuated before it fell. Next sent to France as commander of Army Group B under Rundstedt, he worked vigorously to improve the defenses of the Channel coast. He and Rundstedt disagreed over the location of the armor for the defensive battle but, despite losing the argument, he contained the Allied landings and blunted their early attempts at break-out. On 17 July, however, he was strafed in his staff car by a British fighter and severely wounded. Before he had fully recovered, he fell under suspicion of complicity in the Bomb Plot and was offered by Hitler the choice of disgrace or suicide. He chose the latter, was declared to have died of his wounds and buried with state pomp. Though never tested against the Russians, or at the highest level of command, the evidence suggests that Rommel was one of Germany’s greatest soldiers. Even the allies felt a rueful admiration for the ‘Desert Fox’.