This gave Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini time to make a stupendous military error

Thursday, September 21st, 2023

As the winter rainy season began, Bevin Alexander explains (in How Hitler Could Have Won World War II), General Eisenhower decided to hold up the North African offensive till the weather improved:

This gave Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini time to make a stupendous military error. They commenced shipping in more and more troops, altogether about 150,000 men. Yet the Allies had assembled overwhelming sea and air forces — many times more than had ever threatened Rommel — and could throttle the German-Italian army by cutting off its supplies. Sooner or later its fuel, ammunition, and food would be exhausted and it would have to surrender, leaving few Axis troops to defend Sicily and Italy.

Erwin Rommel noted dryly afterward that, if Hitler had sent him in the spring of 1942 only a fraction of the troops he poured into Tunisia, he could have conquered Egypt, the Suez, and the Middle East, and virtually ruled out an Allied invasion of northwest Africa.


Because of poor food, many Axis troops had become sick. Rommel was one of the casualties, and in September he went back to Europe for treatment and rest. He was replaced by General Georg Stumme, while General Wilhelm von Thoma took over Africa Corps. Both were from the Russian front and were unused to desert conditions. On the first day of the attack, Stumme drove to the front, ran into heavy fire, and died from a heart attack. Rommel, convalescing in Austria, flew back on October 25 and resumed command of a front already heaving from British attacks.

Montgomery took no advantage of his overwhelming strength by sweeping around the Axis positions. Instead, he launched a frontal attack near the coast, which led to a bloody, protracted struggle. British armor pushed a narrow six-mile wedge into the Axis line.


Rommel decided to fall back to Fuka, 55 miles west, but Hitler issued his familiar call to hold existing positions at all costs. Rommel recalled the columns already on the way — a decision he regretted bitterly, writing that if he had evaded Hitler’s “victory or death” order he could have saved the army.


Rommel proposed the correct strategic solution to his superiors — withdraw at once all the way to Wadi Akarit, 225 miles west of Tripoli near Gabès, Tunisia, and 45 miles beyond the Mareth line, a fortified barrier built by the French in 1939–1940. Wadi Akarit was much more defensible than the Mareth line, having only a fourteen-mile frontage between the sea and a salt marsh inland. But Mussolini and Hitler rejected the recommendation and insisted on holding one defensive line after another— Mersa el Brega, Buerat, and Tarhuna-Homs. Yet the work of fortifying these lines was useless, because the British could swing around the flank of all of them.

“If only the Italian infantry had gone straight back to the Gabès line and begun immediately with its construction, if only all those useless mines we laid in Libya had been put down at Gabès, all this work and material could ultimately have been of very great value,” Rommel wrote.

In hopes of getting the Fuehrer to face reality, Rommel flew to his headquarters at Rastenburg on November 28, 1942. He got a chilly reception, and when he suggested that the wisest course would be to evacuate North Africa, in order to save the soldiers to fight again, “the mere broaching of this strategic question had the effect of a spark in a powder keg.” Hitler flew into a rage, accusing members of the panzer army of throwing away their weapons.

“I protested strongly, and said in straight terms that it was impossible to judge the weight of the battle from here in Europe,” Rommel wrote afterward. “Our weapons had simply been battered to pieces by the British bombers, tanks, and artillery, and it was nothing short of a miracle that we had been able to escape with all the German motorized forces, especially in view of the desperate fuel shortage.”

But Hitler would listen to no further argument.

“I began to realize that Adolf Hitler simply did not want to see the situation as it was,” Rommel wrote in his journal.


  1. Jim says:

    O, how the reality distortion field cuts both ways.

Leave a Reply