Book Review – Rommel as Military Commander

Rommel: as Military Commander  is the possibly-grammatically-incorrect title of a book by Ronald Lewin about General Erwin Rommel as a military commander. It’s less biography and more overall command study. And less overall command study and more a “Rommel in the Desert” book. But I can’t really fault it for that. It is quite good at what it intends to be.

Not a single cover of this book looks good, and I couldn't take a photo of mine because it's a hardback without one

Not a single cover of this book looks good, and I couldn’t take a photo of mine because it’s a hardback without one

The book starts out briefly in the First World War and then the Inter-war period. This and the Battle of France are glossed over in two chapters. The book really begins when Rommel sets foot in Africa, and is given command of the Afrika Corps, which will eventually become the Italian First Army. The book mainly follows the events of 1941-43 and the fighting in the desert (spoiler: Rommel loses {but not entirely due to his own actions}, and so do all the Germans and Italians). Rommel’s return to Europe and his death are again given one chapter each, with a closing chapter to follow.

The ten chapters devoted to the war in Africa are quite detailed and very well researched (the author was in the desert war, so it might be something he would know quite a bit about). Unit movements are all laid out, and the war is painted very much as it was without too much as to why it was that way. This is because the author rightly assumes that he can never know truly why Rommel made the decisions that he made (though this makes the point of the book rather dubious). If the author was simply trying to talk about each of the battles that Rommel fought in the desert in some detail, then the book would be quite good. But it keeps coming back to Rommel’s character, his frustration and sickness during and before the battles, and why he can’t be compared to other commanders that had many more divisions on much larger fronts.  This makes things seem confused, honestly, though I quite enjoyed the bits about Rommel presented, they continued to acknowledge that they were not the book’s focus and took away slightly from the overall book.   That being said, as a reference for “what happened where” in the clashes in the desert , it is excellent and well told.

The units are kept track of to a degree at which it may be confusing at times what is happening if one reads too quickly. Unfortunately, the maps don’t really help. They show the battlefields in great detail, but unlike the writing, provide one with no larger picture of what is going on, making them seem isolated and confused. (Make any war parallels you like with that.)

The book is, overall, a nice look at Rommel’s rise and fall. It would serve as a good introduction to him past his pop-culture persona, as Rommel, and his various attributes are presented quite nicely. And it is a good reference for the Axis in the North African campaign. It’s a good book for those casually or slightly more interested in the Second World War, but those who are very interested have undoubtedly read more detailed works.

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