Rommel remains confident despite retreat

Rommel in conversation with Major General Boettcher, North Africa, January 1942.

In the Libyan desert the British were apparently making good progress since the launch of 'Operation Crusader'. They had relieved Tobruk and had pushed on further west to re-occupy Benghazi, one of the major ports which allowed the supply of frontline forces without extended road journeys. They looked set to make even more territorial gains soon.

Erwin Rommel, commanding the Afrika Korps, did not see it like that at all. He was dismissive of his critics in Germany who were commenting on his retreat. Territory was less important to him than keeping his forces intact. He knew that, with the Royal Navy seriously weakened in the Mediterranean, he was now getting re-supplied with whole convoy loads of new tanks and munitions.

On the 10th of January he wrote to his wife in Germany:

Operations going as planned so far. Our mines and Luftwaffe are making things difficult for the enemy pursuit. To think that we’ve got our force back 300 miles to a good line, without suffering serious harm, and in spite of the fact that the bulk of it is non-motorised! That our “ unemployed ” generals are grousing all the time doesn’t surprise me. Criticism doesn’t cost much.

The Afrika Korps goes into the second line to-day, for the first time since the 18th November. Cruewell’s got a very bad dose of jaundice and it’s doubtful if he’ll stick it out. I’ll soon be the only one of the German officers who’s seen the whole thing through from start to finish.

The nights are bitterly cold and damp. I wrap myself up in woollens as much as I can. My stomach’s all right. Guenther sees to it that I eat well. I’m on the move from morning to night seeing that everything is going properly with the troops. It’s very necessary.

Rommel's armoured forces had ranged far and wide since November, first making a strong probing attack, then retreating in good order.
German soldiers in a 'Schützenpanzer', North Africa, January 1942.

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