Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel (15 November 1891 – 14 October 1944), nicknamed "The Desert Fox" by British (and later German) propagandists, was the commander of German forces in North Africa during World War II and held famous commands against the Western Allies. These included one of Germany's ten early-war panzer divisions (the 7th), one of fifty German corps (the Deutsches Afrikakorps), and one of just seven German Army Groups (Army Group Africa, later Army Group B). The last of these commands gave Rommel command of a full tenth of Germany's total combat strength, and half of the combat forces deployed against the Western Allies in France in the summer of 1944.
His son Manfred went on to be a capable and popular mayor of Stuttgart for the Christian Democratic Union (the major conservative party) which may have helped delay the critical assessment of the man behind the myth in Germany. To this day the Bundeswehr uses Erwin Rommel's name and tradition, though — like almost anything the Bundeswehr does — this is not well liked by the political left in Germany.
To understand the myth of Rommel's martial omnipotence, we must first understand what media outlets can and cannot say about military operations. They can use as many meaningless cultural tropes as they like by truthfully reporting:
- The personality of commanders - e.g. 'he drinks tea every morning, likes touring the front lines (they love that, it makes them look 'closer to earth'), and is as confident as he is brilliant'.
- The weather and mundane lives of the troops - e.g. 'they don't like how hot it is, they swim in the sea every chance they get to cool off, and only the English ones dunk their biscuits in their tea'.
They cannot actually give any indication as to what is really going on by truthfully reporting:
- The ability of commanders - who are always praised for 'boldness/daring' (hyperaggression), 'thoroughness' (indecisiveness), 'precision' (micromanagement), 'innovation' (common sense), and other meaningless adjectives.
- Why military operations succeed or fail.
- The real Operational and Tactical plans used by each side - which are always 'brilliant' (success) or 'negated by unforseeable weather/enemy weapons/enemy numbers' (failure).
- The real numbers of troops, equipment, weaponry, and ammunition - which are always 'adequate' (success) or 'insufficient to counter the raw numbers at the disposal of the enemy' (failure).
- The real standards of training - which are always 'excellent' (success) or 'excellent, but rendered moot by the enemy's superior numbers and/or training' (failure).
- The real opinions and feelings of the troops.
- The long-term 'morale' or short-term 'mood' of the soldiers - which is always 'high' (success) or 'resilient' (failure).
- The soldiers' feelings about particular campaigns or commanders - which they always 'understand to be necessary' (failure) or 'are glad to be fighting' (success) and whom they always 'love' (competent) or 'have confidence in' (incompetent).
Key to all these points is the consistent portrayal of the enemy as highly competent, whether you are beating them or vice versa. To beat a strong and cunning enemy is a great accomplishment, and there is no shame in being defeated by such an enemy - and there is certainly no reason to question the competence of your military when it is defeated by such a formidable foe. In German wartime media, failure was always explained with reference to the (exaggeratted or non-existent) numerical superiority of the enemy. Conversely, Allied media struggled with how to explain failure despite (downplayed, but still evident) numerical parity or superiority. To explain their failures, they had strong incentives to praise the ability of German commanders and the combat efficiency of German forces.
Rommel was perhaps the best example of this tendency.
For the better part of two years, the only two German generals known to the British public were Gerd von Rundstedt and Erwin Rommel - the latter of which inflicted defeats upon British Commonwealth forces despite numerical parity or inferiority in most battles (this should be noted that this was usually a result of Rommel focusing all his strength on a specific point in the more thinly spread Commonwealth lines, negating numerical advantage/disadvantage completely. It was something he was very good at, but its weakness is that you cannot capitalise on its success-see below). On the German side, for the better part of two years the only German general known to be fighting forces of equal racial-cultural status ('the English') was Rommel; when he won he was a genius, and when he lost there was little to no shame in him losing to them. And, when the Americans entered the war, Rommel was their first and greatest foe in North Africa (1942-3) and the western part of the Normandy Front (mid-1944) - and the inexperienced US Army repeatedly failed to defeat him. Between these three media machines, Rommel's abilities was hyped to mythical proportions. Among all three combatant countries, he attained a reputation as a god of war incarnate.
To give just one example of just how wildly (then-classified) military analysis could depart from its portrayals in contemporary and later media:
- "They became the Rats of Tobruk, the men who by their determination, inventiveness, bush "can do" attitudes and larrikin aggression stopped the world's fiercest fighting machine in its tracks. The siege of Tobruk [...] was a triumph of defence, masterminded by a quiet country school teacher from Victoria, Lt Gen Leslie Morshead. Morshead was tasked with the job of holding Tobruk against the onslaught of the legendary German general Erwin Rommel for two months — April and May 1941 — to buy time for the Allied forces in Egypt to gather strength and re-equip. They lasted until December. By doing so they made Rommel strangle on his own supply lines and laid the groundwork for the pivotal battle a year later at El Alamein which marked the turning of the tide of World War II. British prime minister Winston Churchill called it the "turning of the Hinge of Fate." (full article)
- "When Rommel first attacked [Tobruk] in 1941 [defended by the Australian 9th division], he did so with barely a division [...] it had no real heavy weapons, little air support, and barely enough supply to eat, let alone fight. On that occasion, Rommel had failed to penetrate even the outpost line of the 9th Australian Division, and he suffered heavy losses. He then proceeded to "invest" Tobruk for the next six months. Given his small force commitment, it was an investment in name only" - Robert Citino note The logistician Martin van Creveld has also noted that Tobruk could only handle a maximum of 1% of the Italo-German coalition's sea supply throughput, the real logistical bottleneck being the 600km truck supply route from Benghazi. In April 1941, Bastico and Rommel were forced to pause for eight months to bring forward their heavy weapons, repair their damaged vehicles, and stockpile supplies for the next push.
He was a gifted tactician, but he was unable to conceptualise warfare at a level larger than his immediate line of sight - the so called Operational level of warfare. He also did not understand how the logistics of a line-of-sight battlefield was a very different beast to that conducted over many dozens or even hundreds of kilometres. His refusal of initiative to his subordinates and his constant touring of the front lines meant that when he was promoted to Operational-level command, the bulk of his forces went only semi-commanded and semi-informed (or not at all) for many hours or even days at a time. This meant that while the five-kilometre section of the front lines that Rommel was on at any given moment was relatively well-run, the other twenty-to-two-hundred were (appreciably) less so than under most contemporary German operational commanders. This goes some way to explaining his battlefield success; without care or knowledge of logistics or supply lines, he could throw all his strength at a specific point on a British force that was more evenly spread, achieve a breakthrough, but be unable to capitalise on it as a result; he was then defeated in turn, driven back, and the whole thing would start all over again.
To understand the myth of Rommel's chivalry and honour, we must understand why the German and Anglo-American publics believed they were fighting. Wartime Propagandists/Postwar apologists tried, with an unclear but substantial degree of success, to convince Germans that the war was/had been:
- A defensive war against Judeo-Bolshevism, so the German people would not be enslaved and exterminated by the Jews at the hands of their Asian Communist puppets/A defensive war against Bolshevism, so the German people would not be enslaved by (Asian) Communists.
- A war of liberation-by-conquest, to civilise and uplift eastern Europe and racially-Aryan eastern Europeans by making them German/A war of liberation, to free eastern Europeans from (Asian) Communist Barbarism.
Whereas in the UK and USA the war was consistently portrayed as:
- A defensive war against Fascist tyranny, so the Anglo-American people would not be subjugated.
- A war of liberation, to free western Europe from Fascist tyranny.
Naturally, the emotional lynchpin of each portrayal was viewing onself as both Victim and Hero.
Of course, Germany's war goals of ethnic cleansing and genocide were left out because they didn't fit the self-centred national narratives of the war. Acknowledging German atrocities meant less dwelling upon German suffering; acknowledging foreigners' suffering meant less dwelling upon Anglo-American suffering; and acknowledging Anglo-American indifference to the destruction of the European Roma and Jews made them seem callous. As You Know, the Anglo-Americans had made no efforts to prevent or stop Germany's genocides because the potential costs vastly outweighed the benefits (further details in the article on The Holocaust). Anglo-American national self-interest continued to predominate in the postwar trials process, which was used to sate domestic demands for 'justice' rather than identify and punish wrongdoers.
The postwar trials were used to promote a useful image of Nazi German society in the UK and USA: a wafer-thin layer of Nazis who had used a 'totalitarian' state to terrorise an otherwise perfectly nice mass of Germans into submission through monolithic organsiations of state terror, 'the Gestapo' and 'the SS'. This image was useful because it encouraged their citizens to believe that normal Germans and the German military had been blameless for the regime's 'secret' crimes. This was very important as many people feared that 'the German race' was somehow inherently militaristic and obsessed with conquest, which made it seem like pure folly to allow Germany to have a military again (as 'of course' they would turn upon France, Britain, and the USA at the first chance they got). Praising the Wehrmacht as an 'honourable' institution during the trials process was not just a continuity from Anglo-American wartime propaganda, but was also a way of helping people accept the recreation of the (West) German military and the Germans' status as a valuable new ally against their former ally - the Soviet Union.
Within Germany itself, the wafer-thin-Nazi-layer theory was quickly accepted as a polite fiction. This self-deception was useful because it allowed German citizens to feel that they and the German military had been blameless for the regime's 'secret' crimes. This was important because the vast majority of adult citizens had been fully aware and supportive of the regime's atrocities, and they found it difficult to reconcile this support with the image of themselves as good people. Over time, the cumulative effects of self-serving bias and memory distortion enabled many Germans who had not personally committed atrocities to come to genuinely believe that the Wehrmacht in which so many of them had served had been an 'honourable' institution. While it was generally accepted that the Wehrmacht might have had committed some minor indiscretions 'in the east', these were of course just a response to the savagery of their Asiatic Communist opponents - who 'forced' them to adopt 'extreme' measures against their goodhearted nature to survive - and were not representative of the institution or its character as a whole.
Of course, the German military voluntarily killed a dozen million civilians in 'national security' and 'foraging' measures of its own volition with no input from or in partnership with other state organizations. Far from being blissfully unaware of Germany's genocidal programs, it carried them out in several countries including Belarus and France. The German Army's regulations on 'foraging', the treatment (immediate execution) of communist party officials, and collective retaliation in the form of mass-enslavement or execution for communities in the vicinity of partisan attacks broke most of The Laws and Customs of War to which Germany had agreed. Every German Army commander at Corps level (in charge of 30-60,000 troops) and above - bar a handful appointed in the war's final months - could have been charged with war crimes and hanged.
But of course they weren't. And that made Rommel very useful to the British, Americans, and West Germans after the war.
In all three countries 'Rommel' was a household name, and his forces had not needed to conduct significant anti-partisan or national security (anti-communist, Gypsy, Jew, etc) operations. During the war itself he had been lauded as an 'honourable' man by the likes of Winston Churchill and Bernard Law Montgomery. It did not take much to imply that Rommel's 'honourable' conduct had been representative of the German military as a whole, and that all the German commanders that British and American people had never heard of (von Mellenthin, Guderian, Hoth, Balck, Kluge, von Bock, von Manstein, Model, etc) were every bit as 'honourable' as he had been. The US public was already familiar with the concept of a 'good' man and a 'good' military serving evil in the form of Robert Lee, the Confederate Army general (and brutal slave owner) and a key figure in the 'Lost Cause' mythology and so took the concept to heart fairly readily.
Rommel was not the only German military leader mythologised by the British and American governments after the war, but he came to outshine the others because of the prominence of their Crimes. During the war, Gerd von Rundstedt and Albert Kesselring had been as famous as Rommel in The Anglosphere as a result of their service in France and Italy. Yet Gerd von Rundstedt was guilty of such a long and well-substantiated laundry list of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity that the British were only able to save him from execution by claiming that he was too old and sickly to stand trial in the first place note The wealth of evidence of Kesselring's War Crimes against Italian civilians (to prevent Partisan attacks) was also thoroughly damning, so much so that a British military tribunal was forced to find him guilty and sentenced him to death - though they managed to commute this to imprisonment, and in 1952 had him released from prison on health grounds. Attempts to claim that the fundamentally 'honourable' nature of both men was proven by their 'clean' conduct of combat operations against British troops and good treatment of British POW, were eventually undermined by the truth's sheer obviousness. note
Rommel was also a much more useful symbol to West Germany in particular because he could be portrayed as an opponent of the regime, unlike von Rundstedt and Kesselring. This portrayal hinged around the circumstances of his death, as a victim of the regime he had hitherto served so loyally and which had rewarded him so richly. Rommel had been wrongly convicted of participation in the 20th July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler and install a military dictatorship, and had committed suicide rather than be executed. This was used as 'proof' that Rommel had wanted to kill Hitler and had opposed Nazism. Today we know that although Rommel was aware of the plot, and how he stood to benefit from it, he neither reported it nor participated in it. His well-established desire for power and fame does suggest that he hoped to benefit from the plot if it succeeded and avoid punishment if it failed, but there is no definitive proof for this or any other conclusion.
When awareness of The Holocaust became widespread in Germany, America, and lastly Britain in the late 1980s it created an interesting act of Selective Obliviousness with regard to the 'honour' of Rommel and his colleagues. Rather than conceding that Nazi Germany's military leaders had either been indifferent to or had approved of their country's genocides, admirers reasoned that they somehow 'must not have known' about Nazi Germany's war goals or else they would not have fought for it. Rommel is far from the worst example of this kind of wishful thinking about Wehrmacht personnel. That dubious honour almost certainly goes to the convicted War Criminal and conductor of Crimes Against Humanity Erich von Manstein, whose 'politics' have been elided as recently as a 2010 biography (Mungo Melvin).
Today, Rommel's Cult of Personality remains strong. Outside the fields of Military/War Studies and Genocide Studies, some still praise him for his 'martial excellence' and 'honour'. This seems set to change in the near future. Studies of logistics and military operations (as distinct from tactics) are becoming more mainstream, and in the past decade knowledge of the Wehrmacht's daily atrocities against civilians and POW has finally jumped the language barrier from German and into English. What credible debates remain about Rommel centre on the extent to which he was promoted because of his role in propaganda campaigns, relentless self-promotion, and close personal friendship with Hitler (a great admirer of his and vice versa) - versus having been relatively competent and successful when he was still just a tactical commander.
Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel was born on the 15th of November 1891 in Heidenheim, Baden-Württemburg, then part of the German Empire. His father, Erwin Rommel Sr, had been an artillery lieutenant and was by this point the headmaster of the local school. His mother, Helene, was an aristocrat, though from the minor von Luz family. Rommel, with characteristic terseness, said his childhood was "quite happy". As a young man, he displayed astounding technical aptitude, building a working full-scale glider with a friend at the age of 14, and later buying a motorbike to tinker with in his bedroom. He also developed an illicit relationship with a local fruitseller, Walburga Stemmer, who, in 1913, bore his child. He later broke off the relationship, though he continued to support and remained very close to his "niece", Getrud. Despite an ambition to become an engineer, his father insisted that he gain some military experience first, so the 19 year old Rommel took a Fähnrich's commission in the 124th Württemberg Infantry Regiment. During his time at the Officer Cadet School in Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland), he met Lucia Mollin, commonly called Lucie, who would become his wife. He graduated from the Danzing Officer Cadet School on his 20th birthday, in 1911, becoming a Leutnant in the 6th Württemburg the following year.
When World War I broke out in 1914, Rommel served in France with the 6th, however, seeking action, he transferred to the elite German Alpenkorps. He quickly began to display some of the same skills and flaws that would both make his legend and help his downfall. After quickly acquiring a track record as a brave, resourceful officer who had excellent tactical judgment and a cool head under pressure, he won a 2nd class Iron Cross in 1914 and a 1st class one in 1915. For his service in Italy at the Battle of the Isonzo in 1917, in which he captured an Italian fortification of 7000 men with a force of only 100, he was awarded the Pour le Merite, Imperial Germany's highest military honour. His account of that battle and his service in France and Romania was published as Infanterie Greift an, or Infantry Attacksnote in 1937. It is still considered a valuable primer in infantry tactics, but it included some of his flaws, including his escape from an Italian attack that all but destroyed his command staff. He managed to make his way back to imperial lines on his own, still convinced that the Italian military was sub-par 'and' without considering he might need to adapt his strategy. When WWI ended, Rommel remained in the newly formed Reichswehr. His Swabian heritage and accent initially caused him career problems in a service dominated by Prussian aristocrats, leading Rommel to refuse promotion to the "Troops Office" - the completely-harmless-and-totally-non-threatening-human-resources-office-that-definitely-isn't-the-General-Staff-Germany-wasn't-allowed-under-the-Versailles-Treaty. Instead, he became Colonel of an Alpenkorps Battalion, and later held several teaching posts in the German Army. During one occasion, he refused to allow SS units to parade before his battalion in front of Hitler and Goebbels. They backed down. Later, Hitler appointed him Colonel of the Führerbegleitbataillon, his personal protection brigade. During this time, Rommel had a spat with a Nazi newspaper, Das Reich, which had written a fictitious biography of him as an ardent Nazi and early Party supporter. He had a son, Manfred, born in 1928
By 1940, Rommel had been promoted to Major-General and placed in command of the 7th Panzer Division. Under his terrifyingly effective command in the Battle of France, 7th Panzer became known as the "Ghost Division" by the German High Command, because it struck so rapidly and penetrated so deeply that its true position was often not known. 7th Panzer was the first German unit to reach the channel, reported to High Command (during one of Rommel's typical surprise communiques) with the three word signal: "Am at coast." Meanwhile, despite Germany's great military successes, Italy found themselves on the brink of total collapse in North Africa, and Mussolini asked Hitler for assistance. Having established himself as one of Germany's top thirty division commanders, yet not being quite so talented as to be indispensable for the upcoming Operation Barbarossa, Rommel was then placed in command of the Heer's expeditionary force in Africa - the Deutsche Afrika Korps.
Despite the General Staff's evaluation that (what with Barbarossa having some 3 million combat-troops and 1.5 million logistics personnel) they could only support some 50,000 combat troops in North Afrika and even then only by diverting precious trucks from the eastern fronts (then North, Middle, and South), Rommel used his pull with Hitler to have some 100,000 combat troops given to him. Accordingly, his troops could never have had the food, ammunition, and fuel to survive let alone fight without stealing all three from the Italians. This created an endless series of arguments with his quartermasters, the Italians, and the Italians' quartermasters. Initially under the command of the Italians, Rommel swiftly ignored them for being useless and, pinching their food and petrol, began a lightning campaign across North Africa that quickly turned the entire temp of the campaign on its head. His first campaign was a relative anti-climax, and it still thoroughly wrongfooted the Western Allies and drove to the gates of Tobruk before eventually being driven back. But the second one was where he made his legend, swiftly taking Gazala (for which he was made Field Marshal) and Tobruk, and preparing to push into the British-held Middle East, aiming to cut the Suez Canal, split The British Empire in two, and eventually push up through the Caucasus into the Soviet Union (German plans tended to be made without reference to logistics or the enemy's capabilities, which is why a thousand-kilometre advance to defeat the USSR's Caucasian mountaineers at a series of well-fortified mountain passes was considered a realistic possibility).
It was not to be, however. The British harried German resupplies with their naval forces in the Mediterranean and aircraft from Gibraltar and Malta. British intelligence had also cracked the German codes, and were reading his orders; Rommel guessed the Western Allies had obtained an intelligence breakthrough but- like virtually all German commanders- believed the Enigma machine was impenetrable, meaning he assumed it was a result of Italian incompetence one of the rare times it wasn't. All of these crucial problems coupled with his trademark aggressiveness began to turn against him. His critical supply situation began to wear him down. At the First Battle of El Alamein, the Allied forces under Claude Auchinleck pulled back and let their superior artillery and airpower wear down Rommel's attack, stopping it without ever engaging the bulk of their own forces. At the Second Battle of El Alamein, Bernard Law Montgomery inflicted a crushing defeat, reducing his effective armored strength to just 35 tanks and boatloads of poorly-supported infantry who were often run down in the rout. Rommel requested permission to retreat and re-supply. Back came the order from Hitler: "victory or death". Rather than allow himself to be surrounded, he retreated anyway, heading back to Tunisia disgusted with Hitler's lack of concern for his exhausted troops, the lack of support he had received, and with his faith in his Führer broken. His growing disillusionment with Hitler's callousness, cruelty, and incompetence lead to him lending his support, in February 1944, to the plot against Hitler.
In 1943, he flew back to Germany on his own initiative to try and convince Hitler of the situation in Africa. Hitler refused to listen, and soon after, a quarter of a million Axis troops surrendered in Tunisia (including Rommel's remaining 100,000 Afrika Korps combat- and logistics-troops). He was transferred to the B-front in Greece (one of the five eastern fronts), where an Allied invasion was expected thanks to a British deception operation. When it became clear that the Germans had been fooled (the British and Americans instead invaded Sicily), Rommel and Army Group B were transferred to France in expectation of D-Day. By 1944, it was clear that the Allies were going to attempt a return to France. He oversaw a massive expansion of the Atlantic Wall, turning it from a token propaganda fortress to a major thorn in the side of Allied planners. Despite this, he was fooled with the rest of the German staff into believing that the Allied invasion would come through the Pas-de-Calais.note Correctly, however, Rommel knew that wherever the invasion did come, it could only be resisted by hitting it immediately with overwhelming force and smothering it at birth. However, due to Germany's devastating panzer-losses in the Ukrainian campaigns during the winter of 1943-44, very little forces were available for this and those that were available were generally 'green'. Worse, the command system remained highly fragmented with Rommel and the Heer commanding the bulk of the land forces but the paratroops and flak troops under Luftwaffe control - the command-situation was even worse in the eastern theatre, where the Luftwaffe actually had field-divisions numbering some 200,000 combat troops (a tenth of the total). There was even a battalion of Marines and the crews of most of the heavy defensive guns under command of the Navy (which at least made a bit of sense, as those guns were essentially battleship main guns mounted in bunkers or on special railroad carriages)- and this is before the prime battle formations of the Waffen-SS and the Panzer Lehr under Hitler's direct command.
Denied freedom of action from above and sufficient resources by the titanic struggles in the east, Rommel did his best with what he could - stopping his old enemies, the British, from taking Caen on D-Day, using under-strength infantry and panzer forces. (It certainly didn't help that Rommel was back in Germany celebrating his wife's birthday and nobody thought there would be a break in the weather that would allow an invasion.) Meanwhile, the elite Panzer Lehr and fanatical 12th SS Panzer Divison Hitlerjugend were kept uselessly in place by Hitler, whilst the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich was wasted fighting La Résistance in the Corrèze and the 15th Panzer Division dawdled in Calais, waiting for the real invasion, which would never come. On the 17th of July, returning from 1st SS headquarters, a Canadian Spitfire strafed his staff car, throwing him from the vehicle and putting him in hospital. The defense plan he had put in place just before this stopped the Allied advance of "Operation Goodwood" the day after his injury. However, Goodwood set up the next offensive a week later that resulted in the shattering of the German line in France, which may have suffered from Rommel's absence but neither he nor anyone else by that point could have altered the outcome.
Rommel returned to his family home in Ulm at the end of his convalescence, expecting to be sent back into combat. However, it was not to be. On July 20th, the anti-Nazi officer Claus von Stauffenberg detonated a bomb in Hitler's headquarters in East Prussia. After the bomb failed to kill Hitler and the conspirators failed to take over the country, Gestapo revenge was swift. Rommel was implicated (while Rommel didn't necessarily assist the plotters, he certainly knew about the whole thing and didn't bother to tell anybody). Rather than allow a decorated hero to be dragged before the People's Court and wreck national morale, Hitler instead dispatched General Wilhelm Burgdorf with a vial of cyanide and the threat that, if Rommel did not commit suicide, he would be punished. Rommel said goodbye to his wife and son. Manfred asked if the family should not stand and fight. Erwin replied that it was better for only him to die than suffer. "Besides," he said, "we've no ammunition." A few minutes later, he bit on the vial, killing himself. He was 52 years old.
In popular culture Rommel is remembered as an honourable, capable armored officer who resisted Hitler and refused to carry out the illegal Commando Order and Night and Fog Decrees, as well as paying the forced laborers who helped him build his Atlantic Wall. He was one of just two Axis soldiers targeted for assassination by the Western Allies (Soviet attempts are still classified), so afraid were the Western Allies of him (the other was Isokoru Yamamoto). After his death Churchill paid him fulsome tribute, and even more so when he discovered the truth of the July Plot. His writings on his experiences in World War II were edited and published after the war as The Rommel Papers by the military theorist Captain Liddel Hart (supporter of the notable military theorist JFC Fuller). Association with Rommel and other surviving generals including Heinz Guderian and Erich von Manstein (who used Hart to promote themselves and the myth of the Wehrmacht as a 'clean' institution untainted by racism and War Crimes) catapulted Hart to fame. The title Rommel had planned for them was Krieg ohne Hass: "War without Hate".
In 1970, the German Bundeswehr named a Lutjens-class destroyer for him. He always wore a braided scarf knitted for him by Gertrud. Because of this, even he has sometimes been given a Historical Hero Upgrade and Historical Badass Upgrade beyond what the historical record supports, especially since he was one of the German commanders to most consistently fight the Western Allies. Most portrayals correctly show he was no blood soaked ghoul or total incompetent; but many also overlook how he supported two less than savory governments and suffered a Fatal Flaw duo of arrogance and selfishness, whether it was refusing Hitler's orders to execute Commandos and Jews or ignoring or insulting his Italian allies in North Africa. Suffice it to say that he was an archtypical Noble Demon who "fought for the wrong side": decent in his own way, but still an eager servant of the most evil regime the world has ever known.
- EC Comics published a short bio story on Rommel called Desert Fox in Frontline Combat. The story was a Deconstruction, intended to parody his post-war appraisal, by contrasting Rommel's chivalry with several other Nazi atrocities that he may not have committed but must have known about and looked the other way.
- He appeared as the villain in Billy Wilder's 1942 film Five Graves to Cairo, where he was played by Erich von Stroheim. It is the only film to be made when Rommel was still alive.
- The 1951 film The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel, starring James Mason in the title role, portrayed him sympathetically. Mason played Rommel a second time in The Desert Rats, where he's a Worthy Opponent to the Anglo-Australian protagonists.
- He was portrayed by Werner Hinz in The Longest Day, with this famous speech:
The first 24 hours of the invasion will be decisive... The fate of Germany depends on the outcome... For the Allies, as well as Germany, it will be the Longest Day. The Longest Day.
- Christopher Plummer played Rommel in The Night of the Generals (1967).
- Karl Michael Vogler played him in in Patton (1970).
- He appears in Atlantic Wall (1970), played by Johannes "John" Eppler. The second story arc of the movie revolves around a fictional British plot to assassinate him on June 5th 1944, on the eve of the Normandy landings. What's most interesting about this one is that Eppler, before becoming an actor, was actually one of the spies Rommel himself sent in Egypt for Operation Salaam during the war.
- Ulrich Tukur played him in the German made-for-TV movie Rommel (2012), which was also distributed on DVD in France as Rommel, le guerrier d'Hitler.
- In The Desert Peach, he is the older brother to the fictional Camp Gay titular character, Colonel Pfirsich Rommel.
- He's aptly featured on the cover of the Real-Time Strategy video game Afrika Korps vs. Desert Rats.
- He served as one of the historical inspirations for the Star Wars character Grand Admiral Thrawn.
- Ernst Joachim Eugen Rommel from Strike Witches Operation Victory Arrow vol.2 is based from him, and younger than Erwin was during World War II.
- He is a prominent figure in multiple stories of the Alternate History anthology Third Reich Victorious.
- His actions in the Battle of France are the subject of the Sabaton song "Ghost Division", a song every bit as energetic as the 7th Panzer Division's breakthrough of the Maginot Line, which the band traditionally uses to open every concert.