Desert Fox

“Desert Fox” by Samuel Mitcham is a biography of German General Erwin Rommel. Rommel is widely considered, along with American General George Patton, as one of the two best generals of World War II. The book covers his his entire life, including his impressive exploits as a junior officer in World War I, but concentrates on his almost miraculous victories in the North African desert early in the war. Fighting the British, outnumbered in material and men and much of the time poorly supplied, he drove across the desert almost to the Suez Canal until being defeated by the heavily reinforced Allies after America entered the war. He earned the nickname, “Desert Fox”, during this time. The book covers Rommel’s fraught relationship with Hitler, whose orders he regularly disobeyed or ignored, but who ultimately promoted him to Field Marshal – Germany’s highest rank.

Supportive of Hitler early on due to his rebuilding of Germany’s armed forces and strong nationalistic positions but being tolerant by nature, Rommel did not discriminate against the Jews he encountered in battle. He treated all prisoners well, something not done by Germany in other theaters of battle. While fighting in the desert, Hitler sent an order to immediately execute any Jews captured in battle but Rommel refused to issue this order or obey it. Rommel later went on to command German troops resisting the D-Day landings and became disillusioned with Hitler. During this time he was wounded by an aircraft strafing his car. While recuperating, Hitler had Rommel executed as he had become implicated in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler although Rommel only wanted him arrested so as not to make a martyr of him.

This was an excellent biography of Rommel, especially of his military exploits. The biography does not go into depth on personal detail as Mitcham has explained Rommel was a very simple man. He drank little and did not smoke and was devoted to his wife and son. Other than an early affair before he married, which produced an out of wedlock child and which is discussed in the book, there were no personal scandals to write about as there are with many public figures. In the end, Rommel agreed to take the poison Hitler offered him rather than go to trial and have his family killed or imprisoned as Hitler threatened. He is still honored in Germany today for his military prowess and opposition to Hitler.

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