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B. H. Liddell Hart The rommel papers .pdf



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TOBRUK
Rommel

s

plan for

tfie

attack onTobruk which
was to take place n

November

1941

Reproduction of a sketch

map

drawn by Rommel

In this left hand corner of the original map Rommel
wrote the time schedule for the attack. It reads:
1

2

Start line

X-Day

03.30

Attack onfortifications X-Day 04.00 after artillery
preparation (02.00-04.00)

3

sides of Via Balbia up
of three roads 06.30-10.00

Advance on both

to junction

4

Penetration to coastline 10.00-15.00

5

Attack on harbour and town ofTobruk 15
and Auda waterworks

6

Railing up of the coastal strip as fa,

.<A>-

as

00*

X ** ** }

adi

Sahal

\

MAI MAY 21
"u

JUN

o

19
r

HAY 16

7

Rommel s sketch on which he plotted the British
attack of November 20th aimed at the
relief of
Tobruk, which forestalled and thwarted his
"""""-

plan,

with the

movements of his own forces
response to

it.

in

940.933

R76p

Rcraiel

The Rcranel papers.

DUE
INTERLIBRAW

U&4.

KC..MJ.PU

OCT

173

8

<

JUL 15
s 1

M2U
HAY

a

28

L-16

COPYRIGHT, 1953, BY
B. H. LIDDELL HART
All rights reserved* including
the right to reproduce this book
or portions thereof in any -form.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NO. 53-5656

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

CONTENTS
XV.
XVI.

ALAMEIN

IN

ix

RETROSPECT

page 327

THE GREAT RETREAT

337
348

The Evacuation of Cyrenaica

XVII.
XVIII.

CONSULTATION

EUROPE

IN

359

BACK TO TUNISIA

370

the Sirte

Through

273

Buerat Respite

The End

From Alamein

XIX.

381

in Tripolitania
to

Mareth

385
394

Retrospect

BETWEEN Two FIRES
"

Army Group
The End

in

397
408
416

"

Afrika
Africa

PART FOUR

ITALY
XX.

ITALY,

1

943, by Manfred Rommel

425

PART FIVE

INVASION
XXI.

INVASION

1944, by General Fritz Bayerlein

RommeVs

Letters from the West,

December 1943

1944

460

High Command Preparations for
Invasion

XXII.
XXIII.

THE LAST

the Invasion

Day
DAYS,

4,51

Jwne
4.65

471
by Manfred

THE SKY HAS GROWN DARK
Modern Military Leadership

Rvmmel

495
507

516

Africa in Retrospect

Appendix

525

Index

526

LIST OF MAPS
Drawn
1.

The advance from

2.

The

3.

Rommel s map

4.

by J. F. Trotter

the Rhine to Cherbourg

Battles

8

of his advance, iSth-iyth

round Arras and

May, 1940

23

Lille

31

Somme

5.

Crossing the

6.

The Somme-Seine break-through

7.

The

drive into Cherbourg

8.

The

thrust into Cyrenaica, April 1941

9.

The

British Offensive,

June 1941

10.

The

British Offensive,

November 1941

1 1

Crusader (and phase)

.

page 5

break-through on the Meuse

45
51
71

108

Battleaxe

143

Crusader

(ist

phase)

157
1

65

12.

Rommel s

13.

Gazala (2nd phase)

215

14.

Rommel s

219

15.

The

Battle of Alamein, July 1942

16.

The

Battle of

17.

The

Battle of Alamein, October

8.

The

Battle of Kasserine

19.

The

Battle of

lay-out of

1

attack at Gazala,

May

1942

(ist

phase)

205

eastward thrust after Bir Hacheim

20.

The

21.

Battles

22.

Battles in the

Alam

247

Haifa, September 1942

278

November 1942

301

ggg

Medenine

German

4x3
defences

on D-Day

472

round Caen

475

Cherbourg Peninsula

488

FOLD OUT MAPS

The

coast of

North Africa from Alexandria to Tunis

Northern France

facing page

418

LIST OF PLATES
Field Marshal

Crossing the

Enemy
"

We

artillery

"

43

prisoners at St. Valdry

Val&y

letter to his wife,

58
58

June

1940

2ist,

59

with General Gambier-Parry

98

by Rommel

98

Summer

99

Fieseler Storch used

The

43

the coast of France

surrender at St.

Rommel

facing page 42

on the Somme

and French

Rammers

frontispiece

Somme

had reached

British

The

Rommel

Tracks south of Tobruk,

terrain

Another type of desert

Rommel on

99

the Via Balbia, April 1941

Rommel s main

headquarters on the Via Balbia

Rommel s advanced

Rommel outside
The Mammoth
Digging a

1941

headquarters near Tobruk

his tent

130
131

131
2226

way through

Rommel working

130

in his

the sand

226

hills

caravan

227

Marshal Kesselring, General Froehlich, General Cause,
Field Marshal Rommel, General Cruewell

Field

227

Plans for the attack on Cairo

258

Obstacles on the shores of France, Spring 1944

259

Rommel

with Field Marshal Rundstedt

498

Rommel

with General Speidel

498

RommeFs
Hitler

s

coffin being

wreath

borne from his

home

499
499

INTRODUCTION
Rommel made on the world with the sword will be
with the pen. No commander in history has
power
deepened by
written an account of his campaigns to match the vividness and value
of Rommel s which, for the most part, has now been retrieved from its
various hiding places and put together in this volume.

THE IMPACT

that
his

No

other

commander has provided such a graphic

picture of his

and method of command. No one else has so strikingly
operations
conveyed in writing the dynamism of Blitzkrieg and the pace of panzer
forces. The sense of fast movement and quick decision is electrifyingly
communicated

in

many

of the passages

Rommel

carries the reader

in his command vehicle.
along with him
Great commanders have mostly been dull writers. Besides lacking
skill in describing their actions, they have tended to be cloudy
literary

about the way their minds worked. In relating what they did, they have
told posterity little about how and why. Napoleon was an exception,
but the value of his account is impaired by a more than usual unin treating facts, and by his intentness to falsify the
scrupulousness
balance-sheet. Like Caesar s, his writing was not merely coloured but

dominated by a propaganda purpose.
Rommel s narrative is remarkably objective, as well as graphic.
In drafting it he certainly had, like most men who have made history,
a concern for his place in history. But while he shows a natural desire
for justification in his explanation of events, it is subordinate to his
of the campaigns. His evidence
burning interest in the military lessons

up uncommonly well to critical examination, and checking by
other sources, A number of errors of fact can be found in it, but fewer
than in many of the official and personal narratives compiled with the
are some disputable interpreta
advantage of post-war knowledge. There

stands

but not the purposeful distortions, for national or personal credit,
which are all too often found in such accounts.
tions,

of accuracy which distinguish Rommel s
clarity and high degree
the operations are the more notable because of the confused
of
picture
that are apt to be produced by fast-moving tank battles,
impressions
in the desert. The clearness of Rommel s picture owes much

The

especially
to his way of

command

his habit of getting right
Xlll

forward and seeking

INTRODUCTION
crucial spot at the crucial time. It also owes much to his
prolonged self-training in observation, highly developed eye for spotting
what was significant in a scene, and knack of registering it. His passion
for taking photographs at every step of advance was a symptom of this

to

be near the

as it was with Lawrence, in the Arabian theatre of
characteristic
World War L
There were marked resemblances between these two masters of desert

warfare, whatever their differences in temperament, range of interest
and philosophy. They were strikingly akin in their sense of time and
space, instinct for surprise, eye for ground and opportunity, combination
of flexibility with vision, and ideas of direct personal leadership. Another
military link was in the application of mechanised mobility to desert

warfare. Lawrence, who is popularly associated with camel-rides, was
among the first to see how the new means of mobility could transform
desert warfare, and had demonstrated this embryonically and in miniature,

with a few armoured cars and

on the grand

aircraft.

RommeFs

exploitation of these

would have delighted the Lawrence who
potentialities
was a connoisseur of military art and had a revolutionary bent.
Rommel, also, had an urge to express himself on paper as well as in
action. That became evident
long before he became famous as a
commander from his extraordinarily vivid treatise on infantry tactics,
inspired by his experiences as a young officer in World War I and by
his reflections upon them. Most text-books on tactics are
deadly dull,
but he brought life into the subject. The more mobile operations of the
next war, and his own greater role, gave him bigger scope of which he
took full
He was a born writer as well as a born fighter.
advantage.
The same expressive gift and urge can be seen in the way he sketched on
paper, with pencil or coloured chalks, the operations he planned or even
scale

imagined.

Throughout his activities in World War II he kept constantly in
mind the project of a book to match the performance, and continually

made notes for the purpose notes that he developed into a narrative
whenever he had a breathing space.
Death, under Hitler s decree, prevented him from completing the
project, but what he had already drafted makes a book that has no
peer

among

narratives of

lack polish, but its literary power
is very
striking. Along with descriptive clarity it has dramatic intensity,
while its value is much increased by the comments that
accompany and
illuminate its story. His section on
The Rules of Desert Warfare is a
masterly piece of military thinking, while the whole narrative is sprinkled
with sage reflections, often with a fresh turn about concentration in
time rather than in space; about the effect of
speed in outweighing
numbers; about flexibility as a means to surprise; about the security
provided by audacity; about the stultifying conventions of the
its

kind.

It

may
"

"

"

master

quarter

"

mind;

about creating new standards and not
submitting to

INTRODUCTION

XV

norms; about the value of indirect rather than direct reply to the enemy s
moves; about the way that air inferiority requires a radical revision of
the rules of ground operations; about the unwisdom of indiscriminate
and the folly of brutality; about the basic inexpediency of
reprisals
.

unprincipled expediency.
Until I delved into Rommel

s

own papers I regarded him as a brilliant

fighting leader, but did not realise how deep a sense
It was a
or, at any rate, developed in reflection.
that such, a thruster had been so thoughtful, and that
surprise to find
his audacity was so shrewdly calculated. In certain cases, his moves may

and great
of strategy he had
tactician

be criticised as too hazardous, but not as the reckless strokes of a
blind and hot-headed gambler. In analysis of the operations it can be
seen that some of the strokes which miscarried, with grave results for him,
still

came

close to proving graver for his opponents.

failure his strokes

made

Moreover, even in

such an impression on them as to assure his

army a chance of escape.

of the clearer ways in which commanders can be measured is
to which they impress the opposing side. By that measure
In centuries of warfare only Napoleon
is very high.
stature
s
Rommel
has made a comparable impression on the British, and that was not
achieved purely in the military field, as it was in Rommel s case.
Moreover, Rommel became much more than a bogey to the British.
Awe for his dynamic generalship developed into an almost affectionate
admiration for him as a man. This was inspired primarily by the speed
and surprise of his operations, but it was fostered by the way that he
maintained in African warfare the decencies of the soldierly code, and
of war
by his own chivalrous behaviour towards the many prisoners
whom he met in person. He became the hero of the Eighth Army troops
who were fighting against him to such an extent that it became their
to say that someone had done a good job of any
when

One

by the extent

wanting
kind on their own side, to describe it as
doing a Rommel
Such intense admiration for the enemy commander carried an under
morale. Thus the British commanders and
lying danger to the soldiers
habit,

"

",

were compelled to make strenuous efforts to dispel
It is a tribute to their sense of decency and his
such
counter-propaganda was not directed towards
personal conduct that
towards diminishing his military scale. In
but
character
his
blackening
that respect, his ultimate defeats provided a lever and it was hardly
to be expected that his opponents would emphasise his crippling dis
the significance of what he
advantages in strength and supplies, or
such
under
achieve
to
Juster comparison and truer
handicaps.
managed
a habit of correcting the
has
which
reckoning are left for history,
that
temporarily keep company with victory.
superficial judgments
Hannibal, Napoleon and Lee went down in defeat, yet rose above their
headquarter
"

the

staffs

Rommel

legend

".

conquerors in the scales of history.

INTRODUCTION

XVI

judgment of performance, due account must be taken of the
conditions and relative resources, together with the other factors that lie
outside a commander s control. Only then can we properly estimate
the quality of his performance. The outstanding feature of Rommel s
numerous successes is that they were achieved with inferiority of resources
and without any command of the air. No other generals on either side
in World War II won battles under these handicaps, except for the early
In true

under Wavell and they were fighting Italians.
performance was not flawless, and he suffered several
possibly avoidable reverses but when fighting superior forces any slip
may result in defeat, whereas numerous mistakes can be effectively
covered up by the commander who possesses a big margin of superiority
in strength. For all his audacity and rapidity of movement and decision,
Rommel comes out well, on balance, from the test embodied in Napoleon s
British leaders

Rommel s

saying that

"

the greatest general

is

the one

who makes

the fewest

mistake*?."

That criticism, however, has too passive a note to fit the nature of
war, and is apt to foster a dangerous caution. It would be more pro
foundly true to say: "the greatest general is the one who leads his
5
opponent to make the most mistakes. By that test, Rommel shines even

more

brightly.
best line of

The

comparison between famous commanders of different

through their art, which can be distinguished from
technique. It is possible to make a comparative study of the use

eras

lies

changing

they

made

of the means at their disposal to achieve their effects particularly their
use of mobility, flexibility, and surprise to upset their opponents* mental
and physical balance. It is even possible, with such as have disclosed their

gauge how far their effects were a matter of calculation.
Here, above all, lies the instructive value of Rommel s papers and
the more so because his narrative was not revised in the
light of post
war knowledge, while his letters frequently provide pre-event evidence
of the way in wliich he approached his problems. It is in the
approach,
more than in the act, that a man reveals the bent of his thought, and the
compass of his mind.
The Rommel Papers should go far to dispel the dust of
controversy
that has been stirred up, from various motives. Rommel s narratives
were written long before he could have any idea of the
controversy that
would arise outside Germany, and could frame them to meet it; his
letters to his wife have still more
immediacy. It is remarkable how frank
they are in comment in view of the fact that they were liable to be opened.
From these conjoint sources the reader can get a clear view into Rommel s
conceptions, to

mind and
differ
little

the mainsprings of his action. The
picture may naturally
according to the individual reader s predisposition, but there is
obscurity about the personality itself, and its various facets.

Rommel was

very

human

apart from his extraordinary energy and

INTRODUCTION
his

military genius.
narratives and letters.

The

"warts"

are plainly self-revealed in his

Like most of the leaders of mankind he was in a
state of immaturity. During his spell of greatest success his attitude had
the boyishness that is captivating but dangerously
unphilosophical, and
his outlook had the limitations that make for success in
leadership. In
the earlier part of the war, his letters suggest that he tended to
regard
war as a great game the game for which, in his country s service, he
had trained himself with single-minded devotion. For maximum driving
power, a commander must feel like that about war and the most
thrustful of them always have. Rommel had an unusual
capacity for
reflection, but his did not go beyond the military field until the last
months of his life.
Like most forceful soldiers, too, he did not find it easy to be tolerant*
about contrary views, especially among those who were fighting on the

That is manifest in his biting comments on Haider and
in
Kesselring
particular, which were certainly unjust on several counts.
It should also be remembered that he was a sick man
the later

same

side.

during

stages of the African campaign, a condition which naturally tended to
increase his aggravation and warp his view. But there was little malice
his explosiveness was an outlet
in him
and he was
to

unusually ready

repair an injustice when his anger passed. That can be seen, for instance,
in the high tribute he pays to Kesselring in his final reflections. Moreover,
his comments on the enemy
French, British and American show a re

markable freedom from hatred and readiness to recognise their qualities.
Rommel s attitude to the Fuehrer and his long-continued loyalty
are a puzzle only to those who do not understand the habit of mind
"

"

produced by a professional soldier s early training, particularly in
Germany, and are unable to imagine how things look from such a point
of view. But the Papers make clearer two factors that for a time buttressed
easy to perceive how Rommel s dynamism made
and how the obstruction he suffered from the
intermediate
top-hamper with which he was in close contact made
him feel more sympathetic to the distant Fuehrer. That continued while
Rommel s reflectiveness was simply military. But the wide measure of
independent authority he had in Africa, the larger problems with which
he had to deal, and the deep impression made on him by the material
superiority of the Allies, gradually widened the scope of his reflection
and thus paved the way for the momentous change of altitude that
developed when he came back to Europe and into closer contact with

his soldierly loyalty.

him responsive
"

It is

to Hitler s

"

would have been madness for him to have recorded on paper
process of change indeed, some of his later letters show an obvious
but there are a number of clues scattered through
effort to disguise it
the pages. His son and closest associates have supplemented these with
their evidence of how he was brought to the break-away, and the resolve
to overthrow Hitler, which cost him his life.
Hitler.
this

It

INTRODUCTION
The main importance of the papers lies, however, in the abundant
Their evidence confirms
s
light they shed on Rommel military leadership.
the judgment of the British soldiers who actually fought against him, and
shows that their estimate was closer to the mark than the counterpropaganda designed to depreciate his formidable reputation. The
Rommel legend clearly had a much better foundation than most.
Save for his many narrow escapes from death or capture in battle, he
owed less to luck than most commanders who have attained fame. Now
that his actual conceptions and the workings of his mind are laid open
for examination it becomes evident that his successes were earned, not
accidental. They bear the hall-mark of military genius.
This is not the place for a biographical survey of Rommel s career"

"

which has been ably and vividly presented in Desmond Young s book, 1
a valuable complement to this. But it may be worthwhile to epitomise
the principal features of Rommel s generalship, and briefly discuss them
in relation to the general experience of warfare.
In most fields, genius is associated with originality. Yet it has been
rare among those who are usually acclaimed as the great masters of war.

Most of them have gained their successes by using conventional instru
ments superlatively well, and only a few have sought new means and
methods* That is strange, since history shows that the fate of nations
has been repeatedly decided, and the most epoch-making changes in
history determined,

by change

in

weapons and

tactics

especially the

latter,

But such developments have usually been produced by some student
fresh turn of mind, and by his, influence upon the pro
gressively inclined soldiers of his time, rather than by the action of any
top-level commander. In the history of war great ideas have been less
numerous than great generals, but have had a more far-reaching effect.
The distinction between the two is a reminder that there are two forms
of military genius the conceptive and the executive.
In Rommel s case they were combined. While the theory of Blitzkrieg
the new super-mobile style of warfare with armoured and motorised
had been conceived in England, long before he came on the
forces
stage, the quickness with which he grasped it and the way he developed
it showed his fresh-mindedness and
innate conceptive power.
He
became, next to Guderian, the leading exponent of the new idea. That
was the more remarkable because he had had no experience of tanks
until given command of the 7th Panzer Division in
February, 1940, and
then had less than three months to study the theory and master the
problem of handling such forces before he was launched into action. His
brilliant share in the panzer drives that produced the
collapse of France
of

war with a

led to his being given the
opportunity of applying the
1

Rommel

(Harpers, 1951).

new conception

INTRODUCTION

XIX

and with the advantage of independent command which
Guderian was never allowed in Europe, fortunately for Germany s
surviving opponents. Moreover, in Africa, Romniel demonstrated a

in Africa

subtler application of the theory, blending the defensive with the offensive
and drawing the opposing tanks into baited traps, preparatory to his

own lightning thrusts. In other respects, too, he made signal contributions
to the new technique.
It is significant that Rommel was one of the few eminent commanders
who have gained distinction as military thinkers and writers. More
remarkable still is the fact that his chance to prove his powers as a
commander came through the effect of his writings. For it was his book
an that first attracted Hitler s attention to him, and by the
Infanterie grdft
it made paved the way for his phenomenal rise.
impression
Rommel was able to make the most of his chance because he also
executive genius. The extent to which he had it may best be
possessed
realised by taking note of the qualities that the great commanders of
although the degree of each quality has varied in
history have shown
each case.
In earlier times,

when

weapons, and when the

armies were small and fought with short-range
than the theatre of war was

battlefield rather

the general s arena, the quality most prized in a commander was coup
an expressive term for the combination of acute observation with
fftil
swift-sure intuition. All the Great Captains possessed in high degree this
and the situation;
faculty of grasping instantly the picture of the ground
Rommel most
to
whole.
and
the
the
the
to
one
of relating
other,
part
clearly
to the

had this faculty. It had a renewed importance in Africa owing
nature of fast-moving armoured warfare and the moderate scale

of the forces in that theatre.
In recent times, as the range of weapons lengthened and armies
became more extended as well as larger in scale, so the need increased

The

for a faculty wider and deeper than coup d vil
power
insight.
of penetrating, as Wellington aptly expressed it, into what was going on
behind the enemy s lines, and in the
at the other side of the hill
more than in the past, a leader must
even
the
In
mind.
s
present
enemy
have a
understanding of psychology in general, and of the opposing

for

"

"

deep

commander

s

this

Rommel
psychology in particular. The extent to which
kind of insight, or psychological sense, can be seen in his

possessed
Papers as well as in his operations.
Such a psychological sense is in turn the foundation of another

the power of
positive, element of military genius
that upsets the
move
the
of
unexpected
producing
creating surprise,
it must be reinforced
opponent s balance. For full effect, as history shows,
to
the
and
acute
an
develop the highest
time-sense,
capacity
by
by
twin
are
and
of
qualities. They
surprise
Speed
mobility.
possible degree
or offensive, qualities of true generalare predominantly the
hitting,"
essential,

and more

"

INTRODUCTION

XX
ship.

And

on a

faculty

their development, like that of the informative senses, depends
which may be best, and briefly, defined as creative im

agination.

In power of producing the unexpected move, acuteness of time-sense,
and capacity to develop a pitch of mobility that can paralyse opposition,
it is hard to find a modern parallel to Rommel, except Guderian, the
prime minister of Blitzkrieg. Later in the war, Patton and ManteufTel
displayed similar qualities, but comparative assessment is difficult
because of their more Limited scope. So it is, also, when we go back into
the past, where instruments were so different although we know that
Seydlitz, Napoleon, and Bedford Forrest were outstandingly gifted in

achieving surprise through speed, and although a similar dynamism can
be discerned in the great Mongol leaders such as Genghiz Khan and
Sabutai. The secret of this combination has never been so clearly
communicated as in Rommel s Papers.
In seeking to upset the enemy s balance, a commander must not lose
his own balance. He needs to have the quality which Voltaire described
as the keystone of Marlborough s success
that calm courage in the
midst of tumult, that serenity of soul in danger, which the English call
a cool head." But to it he must add the quality for which the French
have found the most aptly descriptive phrase
le sens du
praticable"
The sense of what is possible, and what is not possible tactically and
administratively. The combination of both these two
guarding
qualities might be epitomised as the power of cool calculation. The
"

"

"

"

sands of history are littered with the wrecks of finely conceived
plans that
capsized for want of this ballast.

On this count, there is more question about RommePs qualifications.
Along with tremendous courage he had what is called the artistic tempera
ment, and was apt to swing from exaltation to depression as his letters
show. Moreover, he was often criticised in German staff
circles, including
his own, for not
taking sufficient account of supply difficulties, and
attempting strategically more than was practicable administratively. In
a number of cases the course of the operations tends to bear out such
criticism. On the other hand, the
Papers show that in the risks he took
there was a deeper calculation than
appeared on the surface. He
demanded more than was possible by Quartermasters
standards as
the most probable way of gaining
great results under the new conditions
of strategy. Although that strategic
policy miscarried at times, it is
remarkable how often he managed more than was
possible administra
and in consequence achieved results
tively by any normal calculation
that would not have been
possible in any other way.
Finally, and beyond all the other qualities that mark a great com
mander, comes actual power of leadership. That is the dynamo of the
battle-car and no skill in
driving will avail if it is defective. It is through
the current of great
leadership that troops are inspired to do more
"

"

INTRODUCTION
than

seems

possible,

and

thus

upset

an

"

opponent

s

normal

"

calculations.
this score of Rommel s qualification as a
Exasperating to staff officers, he was worshipped by
the fighting troops, and what he got out of them in performance was far

There

*

is

no doubt on

Great .Captain.

".

beyond any rational

calculation.

B.

H. LIDDELL HART

THE STORY OF THE ROMMEL PAPERS
By Manfred Rommel
WHEN MY

father died,

he

left

had accumulated during

a considerable number of documents which

his

campaigns.

situation reports, daily reports to the
official

diary,

the

There were army

High Command;

orders,
besides these

documents he left a number of volumes comprising his personal
and comprehensive notes on the French campaign of 1940 and on

war

in the desert.

World War my father published a book on infantry
based
tactics,
largely on his own experiences. When he was writing that
book he found he had preserved few of the essential documents, while
After the First

his diary

was hardly more

helpful;

there were great gaps
during the

when he had been too occupied with

most important periods,
to have time for his diary.

My

father undoubtedly intended to publish another

fighting

book on the

be derived from his experiences in World War II,
and this time he was determined not to be at the same disadvantage in
the matter of contemporary records.
From the moment he crossed the frontier on 10 May 1940 he began
to keep a personal account of his operations, which he generally dictated

military lessons to

Whenever a lull allowed, he prepared a more
considered appreciation of what had taken place.
He preserved all his official orders, reports and documents. In
daily to one of his aides.

addition there were hundreds of
staff had drawn

which he or
and exactly

finished off in

intended to

illustrate his

his

maps and

sketches of his operations

in coloured chalks,

drawing ink; there were

some being

carefully
also drafts for maps

subsequent writings.

As events took a less favourable turn, my father became all the more
anxious that an objective account of his actions should survive his

On

his
so that his intentions could not be misinterpreted.
possible death
in
on
his
return from Africa he worked
great secrecy, dictating,
papers

or giving drafts for typing, only to my mother or to one of his A.D,Cs,
On his return from France in August, 1944, he began to write an account
of the Invasion, but he destroyed this when it became clear that he was
xxiii

THE STORY OF THE ROMMEL PAPERS
suspected of complicity in the July 20 plot. On the other hand, some
papers have survived which he would undoubtedly have burned had he
had the time.
father was an enthusiastic photographer. Here, again for the
purposes of his book, he had gone back to Italy after the first World War
to get photographs, which he needed for making tactical sketches, of the
places where he had fought in 1917; but that had not been easy, for the
Italians did not welcome German officers with cameras to their frontier

My

an

with my mother on a
engineer
he
book
to
write
on
the Second World
the
For
planned
motor-cycle.
War he intended to be well provided with photographs and he took
literally thousands, both in Europe and in Africa, including a large
number in colour. He took photographs only when advancing, he once
territory.

My

"

told

me;

I

father travelled as

don

t

photograph

"

my own

"

retreat."

Furthermore, he wrote to my mother almost daily and she had
preserved about a thousand of his letters.
Only a proportion of all this material survived the various vicissitudes
which it underwent.

During the months immediately preceding the outbreak of war, my
father commanded the War Academy at Wiener Neustadt, about thirty
miles south of Vienna. The academy was housed in an enormous old
castle. When in 1943 British and American bomber squadrons started
to raid the town and our home was in danger of being destroyed, we
deposited some of my father s papers in the deep cellars of the castle;
others we sent to a farm in south-west Germany. The rest we took with
us when in the autumn of 1943 we moved from Wiener Neustadt to
Herrlingen, five miles from Ulm in Wuerttemberg.
father s death made my mother all the more anxious to save his
papers, not only for personal reasons but so that, when history came to
be written, the truth might be told. Already at the time of the funeral,
an S.S. officer had tried to find out, in the course of conversation, what
had become of my father s papers.
did not take the bait. Nonetheless,
it appeared highly probable that an
attempt would be made to take

My

We

them from

My

us.

mother, therefore, immediately began to assemble all the papers
in the house. I went to Wiener Neustadt to retrieve the documents which
we had left in the castle cellars. One did not need to be very far-sighted
at that time to realise that Soviet troops would, in due
course, reach
Vienna; and, as it turned out, six months later they stormed the castle
after it had been reduced to a heap of rubble
following stout resistance
on the part of the German officer cadets in training there.
Everything
that was not nailed to the ground, was plundered.
With the help of my father s sister and of Captain Aldinger, his

THE STORY OF THE ROMMEL PAPERS

XXV

A.D.C., my mother began to pack up all the papers ready for evacuation
should the need arise. She intended to rely on dispersal, for while it was
probable that one hiding place would be discovered, it was improbable
that all would be.
In the middle of November, 1944, Captain Aldinger, who had stayed
with my mother to help her clear up my father s affairs, was suddenly
ordered by the town major of Ulm to present himself at the main railway
station of that city. It was said that an officer on General Maisel s staff
would be there and that he had certain matters to discuss with Captain
Aldinger. It was General Maisel who had fetched my father away a
month earlier. It was further intimated to Captain Aldinger that this
officer

had

orders to proceed to Herrlingen afterwards.

The purpose of this visit was obscure to my mother and Captain
Aldinger. Was an arrest planned? Or did they intend to carry out a

my father s notes? No one could tell.
of hiding the remaining papers was speeded up as much
as possible. By the evening of the i4th November, with the exception
of drafts and jottings for his personal notes, all that remained in the house
which would, in any
Secret
were official war documents, marked

house search

for

The work

"

",

be given up.
On the morning of the isth November, Aldinger left Herrlingen to
God
I shall leave the car here," he said to my mother;
go to Ulm.
knows whether I shall ever come back. Perhaps I shall be arrested right
at once."
away. If not, I shall come back to Herrlingen
afternoon came, she became seriously
the
When
waited.
mother
My
concerned about Aldinger s arrest. There was all the more danger that
mother and myself,
this might happen because, with the exception of my
he was the only witness who knew the real cause of my father s death.
Towards three o clock the gate of our garden opened. Aldinger came in.
He was alone and was carrying rather a bulky parcel under his arm which
was wrapped in white paper. Mercifully my mother s fears had not
over the baton
materialised. The officer on MaisePs staff had handed
from
taken
had
two
the
my father on
generals
and service cap which
to
trophies
the i4th October, after he died. They had taken these
were
out
found
we
afterwards, they
the Fuehrer s Headquarters and, as
Hitler s A.D.C. Immediately after
kept for a time in the desk of Schaub,

event,

have

to

"

"

"

my

father

protested,

"

and vigorously
death, Captain Aldinger had repeatedly
behaviour and
unheard-of
this
at
in the name of my mother,
s

had now* against

all

expectations,

been

successful.

1
The majority of the documents had by this time been dispersed. hey
case
one
in
in
south-west
Germany,
were hidden on two different farms
boxes
of
a
behind
other
empty
in
the
heap
walled up in a cellar,
s notes on the
small box which contained some of my father
cellar.
the walls of
between
ours
of
a friend
buried

ma

A

Normandy was
bombed Stuttgart ruin in

battle of

a

by

a part of the town which

had been so pounded

XXVi

THE STORY OF THE ROMMEL PAPERS

by numerous

air attacks that it

was no longer

likely to

be considered a

father s diaries for 1943-44 were deposited in a
target.
aunt in Stuttgart.
was sent to
hospital, while other material
father s notes
mother retained in the house at Herrlingen the drafts of
which had formed the original manuscript on Africa, films taken by my

My

worthwhile

my

My

my

campaign of 1940 and his personal letters.
Strangely enough, my mother was so preoccupied with the fear that
the Nazi authorities might get hold of the papers that she never thought
of the possibility that the Allies, who were now approaching, might show
an equal interest.
During the second half of April 1945, t ie bombing became continuous.
Hour by hour the American H.E. bombs crashed down on Ulm, which
was burning night and day in many places. From the west and from
the north the sound of artillery fire could be heard and day by day it
became more menacing. The remnants of the German Army were
streaming back weaponless through the valley in which Herrlingen lay,
some on farm-carts, some on foot, all in perpetual fear of attack by U.S.
father in the French

fighter-bombers. The local Volksturm, comprising youngsters of fourteen
and old men of sixty-five, was mobilised. Placards had been put up
Anyone who fails to defend Ulm against the
everywhere which read
"

enemy

is

One

a

swine."

it must have been the aoth April, my mother,
looking out
of her window, saw the American tanks approaching Ulm. Only when,
on the following day, Allied soldiers set fire to parts of the neighbouring
village on the false assumption that it was occupied by German partisans,
and Jong columns of refugees from that village came streaming through
Herrlingen, only then did my mother become anxious about the docu
ments that were still in the house. She got the letters, notes and films
ready so that she could take them with her at a moment s notice. Part
of these she threw in an old trunk which, with the help of neighbours, she
buried in the garden.
The American troops now occupied Herrlingen. Sentries were posted
everywhere. It was impossible to bury any further material. Among
the first Americans who came to see my mother was a Captain Marshall
of the Seventh Army. He asked -whether there were any documents
In the confident belief that private letters would not
in the house.
be confiscated, my mother answered:
have only the personal letters
of my husband written to me."
Where are these letters ? ** asked
Marshall,
He went with my mother down to the cellar. When he saw the
folders containing the letters lying in a box, he said:
I will have to
take them away. We shall want to have a look at them. I will
bring them
back in a few days."
Next my mother was told that the return of these letters would be
delayed for a bit. A fortnight later Captain Marshall s interpreter came

day,

"I

"

"

THE STORY OF THE ROMMEL PAPERS
to

my

mother, and

said:

XXVU

The Captain is terribly sorry that we can t
Army has decided that these documents will

"

keep our promise but the
*
have to be sent to Washington.
One day, in the middle of May, at eight o clock in the morning, my
mother was ordered to leave her house by nine. An American unit was
to be billeted in our home. While my mother was still packing, American
soldiers started to open the drawers and cupboards and to search.
Numerous documents of my father s (drafts for notes on Africa and hand
written maps) which at the time were on the library shelves, in the desk
and in the cellar have not been seen since. All my mother managed to
do was to bring away on a small hand-cart a trunk containing my father s

manuscript of the African campaign, and the official history
of the yth Panzer Division s operations in France in 1940, of which only
three copies had ever been made.
The papers which were evacuated to other places met with varied

films, the

fates.

On the one farm in south-west Germany, some Americans appeared,
announced that they belonged to the Counter Intelligence Corps and
demanded to see the trunks which Field Marshal Rommel had had
placed there. Unfortunately, some of these trunks and boxes had already
been brought up from the cellar in which they had been walled up
into the house itself. The Americans commandeered a chest and a trunk.
The chest contained my father s documents, notes and sketches from the
the material he had used in his book, The Infantry in
First World War
contained my father s complete Leica equipment (a
trunk
The
Attack.
camera and twelve different accessories), personal effects and about 3,000
He was particularly proud
snapshots which my father had himself taken.
had
been taken with a certain
which
some
of
colour
of his
photographs,
amount of danger to himself. One, I remember, which was most im
Australian infantry attacking with bayonets. There
pressive, showed
other photographs which he had collected from
thousand
were several
war reporters and soldiers between 1940 and 1944; some he had already
captioned.

The Americans gave a receipt for the chest and the trunk. But
American officers who subsequently came and tried to be helpful about
receipt,"
the recovery of the trunks, and to whom we showed this
were doubtful whether these people had really been acting under official
orders. There remained on this farm another box containing the personal
to 1943 as well as notes on the French
diary of my father from 1940
further boxes with maps. The owner
two
were
there
of
1940;
campaign
of the farm, a friend of my father, had denied, despite threats from the
two CJ.C. people, that he had any further material. Subsequently, he
"

did his best to see that at least these boxes remained in our possession.
Even then, the box with my father s diaries and notes on France in 1940
from the loft by an unknown
was, in an unguarded moment, stolen

THE STORY OF THE ROMMEL PAPERS

XXVlii

he found when he opened the
person. Whether he was pleased with what
is
doubtful.
box,
On the other farm, meanwhile, a Moroccan force had taken over.
Cattle and poultry were slaughtered and open fires were burning in the
farmyard. The whole place was thoroughly searched several times by
Moroccans. Fortunately, none of them ever suspected that a further
cellar existed behind a whole heap of empty boxes. It was in this way

w ere saved.
which my aunt had kept

that the documents here

r

for us and those that had been
The papers
buried in the Stuttgart ruins also survived the German collapse.
When my mother had to leave her home, she found emergency
accommodation in a small room in the neighbourhood. It was here that
she made an inventory of the material that remained to her. The box
which had been buried in the garden at Herrlingen was once again
unearthed and removed to another place. The boxes on the farm, which
had in the meantime been evacuated by its Moroccan occupiers, were
fetched. Thus, when my mother eventually found new shelter in the
Herrlingen school, she took all the material along with her.
When my mother learned that posthumous denazification proceedings
were going to be taken against my father with the object of confiscating
what effects he had left, she once again loaded up the small hand-cart
and hid the documents away from where she was living. Fortunately,
these new threats never materialised, though we heard of a case in which
similar documents belonging to another officer were confiscated.

Encouraged by Brigadier Young, and by Captain Liddell Hart

.

s

undertaking to edit my father s papers, I eventually started to reassemble
the documents from their various hiding places. In fact, it was possible
to translate hurriedly a few passages and incorporate them as an Appendix
to the

biography of

my

father

which Brigadier Young had written and

which was by then already

at press.
father s former Chief of Staff, made repeated
General Speidel,
efforts to have
father s letters restored to
mother.
Brigadier

my

my

my

Young asked General Eisenhower

with Washington for their
recovery. Finally, through the efforts of Captain Liddell Hart, and after
much protracted search, the letters were handed over to General Speidel
by Colonel Nawrocky on behalf of the American Historical Division. It
transpired that in Washington they had been filed, not under ROMMEL
but under ERWIN
my father s Christian name and the signature on
to intercede

"

",

"

",

the letters. Some are still missing, notably those written at the time of
the Invasion. However, some other documents dealing with
Normandy
were subsequently returned to my mother.
With the return of the letters we felt we had recovered as many of
my father s papers as had survived the destruction of war, in part
carried out by my father for his own personal
safety, and the looting
which inevitably follows in the wake of war.

EDITORIAL NOTE
THE MAIN part of Rommel s papers deal with the North African campaign.
The whole of his narrative is printed in this volume. The only part of
the story he did not cover, as he would have done if he had lived, is the
winter campaign of 1941-42. So a chapter on this has been provided by
General Bayerlein then Chief of Staff of the Afrika Korps with the

own knowledge, from very
own
s
Rommers
of
views.
close contact,
Bayerlein
exceptional experience
make this addition all the more
Panzer leader
and ability as a

aid of Rommers notes and letters as well as his
"

"

interesting.

Rommel s
exciting,

story of the 1940 campaign is on the
it turns aside to deal with

but in some places

whole intensely
minor details of

movement, while occasionally there is nothing of particular interest
in the day s events. Such passages have been cut, as indicated in the text.
did not
During the months he was in Italy, during 1943, Rommel
conduct any active operations, but his diary contains a number of
d etat and the efforts to prevent
illuminating entries about the Italian coup
has woven these diary passages,
Rommel
Manfred
side.
changing

unit

Italy

and Rommel

Rommel

s letters

did not

at the time, into a short chapter.

live to write his story of the

Normandy campaign,

and a number of other records, especially about
these
his pre-invasion ideas and plans. General Bayerlein has pieced
and also incorporated in this chapter Rommel s letters of the
together,
but he

left

a

lot of notes

period.

In a

and

death,

Manfred Rommel

relates the story of his father s
that
of the tense weeks
preceded the arrival of the executioners
to carry out Hitler s decree.

final chapter,

who came
The interest and value of these chapters and of Rommel s own
colour
narrative is much enhanced by his letters. For they convey the
besides
of his thought at the actual moment in the operations, and thus,
their vividness, often provide
narrative.
in his

an

historical

check on the recollected story

subsequent
wrote his wife almost every day, however hard pressed, although

He

were always rather short. They were usually written in the
and sometimes when he was on the move
early hours of the morning,

his letters

XXIX

EDITORIAL NOTE

XXX

in his armoured car or in a tank. The handwriting of the letters often
has a shakiness caused by the movement of the vehicle or the chill of
the hours before sunrise.
While he had to be discreet in referring to operations in progress, it
is remarkable how frank he often was in his comments, in view of the
either by the ordinary or the
risk that his letters might be opened

secret censorship.

many of his letters were simply affectionate notes to his
but any that contained significant comments are incorporated in
volume.

Naturally,
wife,
this

Acknowledgments
IN THE first place, tribute is due to the excellent work of Manfred Rommel
and General Bayerlein in the initial assembly and classification of the
material. I was greatly impressed by their diligence and conscientiousness
during all the months we worked jointly on the Papers. The first section
recovered was Rommel s draft narrative of the African campaign, and
this was published in Germany under the title of Krieg Ohne Hass
( War
Without Hate) with a number of footnotes by Manfred Rommel and
by
General Bayerlein. These footnotes have been kept in the present
volume where the full material is being published for the first time
while I have added numerous editoria^ notes to clarify points in the
narrative and to provide an historical background, relating Rommel s
actions and observations to those on the Allied side.
For the recovery of the letters and their restoration to Frau Rommel,
grateful thanks are due to Major-General Orlando Ward, Chief of
Military History, U.S.A., and to the initiative taken by Brigadier General
S. L. A. Marshall, the eminent military
analyst and historian, whose
help I sought in the matter.
In the editing of The Rommel Papers, I would like to
express my
appreciation ot the manifold help given by Mark Bonham Carter, Paul
Findlay (the translator but far more than that), and Ronald Politzer,
as welj as of Manfred Rommel and General
Bayerlein. It was most
refreshing

and stimulating

to

have such discerning and able associates

in the editorial task.

B.
WoLverton Park,

Buckinghamshire, August, 1952

H. LIDDELL HART

Part One

FRANCE

1940

CHAPTER

I

THE BREAK-THROUGH ON THE MEUSE
ON

THE

I oth
May, 1940, Hitler launched his long-expected invasion
1
It achieved a lightning victory that changed the course
West.
of the
of history with far-reaching effects on the future of all peoples.
3

The decisive act in this world-shaking drama began on the i3th
when the Meuse was crossed by Guderian s panzer corps near Sedan and
by Rommel s panzer division near Dinant. The narrow breaches were
soon expanded into a vast gap. The German tanks, pouring through it,
reached the Channel coast within a week
armies in Belgium.

That

isolation of Britain.

Although Britain

disaster led

on

thus cutting off the Allied
to the fall of France and the
}

managed

to hold out

behind her

sea-ditch, rescue came only after a prolonged war had become a world
wide war. The price of that mid-May breakdown in 1940 has been

tremendous, and remains immeasurable.
After the catastrophe, the breakdown was commonly viewed as
inevitable, and Hitler s attack as irresistible. But appearances were very
as has become clear from post-war revelations.
different from reality

Instead of having an overwhelming superiority in numbers, as was
as their
imagined, the German armies were not able to muster as many

and was
opponents did. The offensive was launched with 136 divisions,
faced by the equivalent of 156 French, British, Belgian and Dutch.
It was only in aircraft that the Germans had a big superiority, in numbers
Their tanks were fewer than those on the other sidewere also, on the average,
barely 2,800 against more than 4,000. They
and
inferior in armour
armament, although slightly superior in speed.

and

quality.

in the
advantage, besides that in airpower, lay
and the superior technique
speed with which their tanks were handled
had
leaders
Their
had
adopted, and put into
panzer
developed.
they
with decisive effect, the new theories that had been conceived

The Germans main

practice
in Britain but not

comprehended by the heads of the

British

and French

armies.
is supplied by the Editor, Captain
comments apart from footnotes are set in

introductory note

Elsewhere

all his editorial

3

B.

H. Liddell Hart.

italics.

FRANCE, I94O

4

Of the

136

German

divisions,

only 10 were armoured but that small
decided the issue of the campaign

fraction, used as spearheads, virtually

before the mass of the

The

German Army came

into action.

of these panzer thrusts obscured their small scale,
and also the narrowness of the margin by which they succeeded* That
success could easily have been prevented but for the paralysis, and all
too frequent moral collapse, of the opposing commanders and troops in
face of a tempo and technique of attack for which their training had not
prepared them. Even as it was, the success of the invasion turned on a
series of long-odds chances
and on the readiness of dynamic leaders like
Guderian and Rommel to make the most of such chances.
brilliant result

The original plan for the offensive in the West had been on the lines
of the pre-1914 Schlieffen plan, with the main weight on the right wing,
where Bock s Army Group
B was to advance through the plain of
Belgium. But early in 1 940 the plan was changed following the proposal
of Manstein for a more daring, and thus more unexpected, thrust through
the hilly and wooded Ardennes country of Belgian Luxembourg. The
centre of gravity was now shifted to Rundstedt s Army Group
A,"
which faced that sector. It was given seven of the ten German panzer
divisions and the largest part of the infantry divisions.
"

"

"

The main drive for the Meuse was led by Kleist s Panzer Group,
which was in the van of List s I2th Army. It had two spearheads, the
stronger one being formed by Guderian s corps (of three panzer divisions),
which made the decisive thrust near Sedan, while Reinhardt s corps (of
two panzer divisions) on its right aimed for the crossing at Monthermh
Farther to the right, operating under Kluge s Fourth Army, Hot ss.
panzer corps drove through the northern Ardennes as cover for Kleiste
flank and with the aim of getting across the Meuse between Givet and
Namur. This secondary thrust had two spearheads of smaller scale,
formed respectively by the 5th and 7th Panzer Divisions.
The yth was commanded by Rommel. This was one of the four
divisions that had been converted into panzer divisions
light
during
the winter. It had only one tank regiment instead of the normal two,
although this regiment was given three battalions instead of two
making a total of 218 tanks. More than half of these were Czech-built. 2

,

"

"

,

r rhe

7th Panzer Division comprised:
Armour
25th Panzer Regiment (of 3 tank battalions)
37th Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion
Motorised Infantry
6th Rifle Regiment
7th Rifle Regiment

7th Motor-cycle Battalion
Engineers

58th Pioneer Battalion
Artillery

78th Field Artillery Regiment (of 3 battalions, each of 3 four-gun batteries)

42nd Anti-Tank

Artillery Battalion

f

6

FRANCE, 1940

The conversion had been made in the light of the lessons of the
Polish campaign. There Rommel, himself an ardent infantryman, had
come to recognise the potentialities of the tank arm. It was only on the
1 5th
February that he had taken over command of the 7th at Godesberg,
on the Rhine, but he learned the new technique, and adapted himself
to it, with extraordinary quickness. He had always been a thruster in
the infantry field, handling infantry as if they were mobile troops, and he
revelled in the much greater scope for mobility offered by his new
command,

On the opening day of the offensive, little resistance was met. The
mass of the Belgian Army was concentrated to defend the plain of
Belgium, where the chief cities lie, and the defence of the hilly and
wooded region of Belgian Luxembourg, beyond the Meuse, was left to
the special Chasseurs Ardennais, whose role was simply to impose as much
delay as possible until the French came up to cover this wide flank approach
to their own frontier. Such was the calculation on which the Belgian
plan was based.
The French plan, however, was based on a more offensive concept.
The First and Seventh Annies, which comprised the bulk of the French
mechanised divisions, drove far forward into the plain of Belgium,
together with the British Expeditionary Force. Meanwhile, the Ninth
Army, forming the hinge of this manoeuvre, made a shorter wheeling
advance over the Belgian frontier to align itself along the Meuse from
Mezi6res to Namur. It consisted of seven infantry divisions (only one
of which was motorised) and two cavalry divisions these last being
horse-mounted troops with mechanised elements. The cavalry were sent
forward across the Meuse on the night of the loth May, and next day
pushed deep into the Ardennes, where they met the rapidly advancing
panzer divisions, which had already overcome most of the Belgian
defences there.
On the eve of the attack, during the last tense hours of preparation,
Rommel wrote this brief letter to his wife, and then takes up the narrative:

g May 1940

DEAREST Lu,

We re

packing up at

last.

Let

s

hope not

Everything will go

You ll get all
Don t worry yourself.

in vain.

the news for the next few days from the papers.
all right.

In the sector assigned to my division the enemy had been
preparing
obstructions of every kind for months past. All roads and forest tracks

had been permanently barricaded and deep

craters

blown

in the

main

But most of the road blocks were undefended by the Belgians, and
it was thus in
only a few places that my division was held up for any
length of time. Many of the blocks could be by-passed by moving across
roads.

THE BREAK-THROUGH ON THE MEUSE

7

country or over side roads. Elsewhere, all troops quickly set to work to
deal with the obstructions and soon had the road clear.
At our first clash with French mechanised forces, prompt opening

on our part led to a hasty French retreat. I have found again and
again that in encounter actions, the day goes to the side that is the first
to plaster its opponent with fire. The man who lies low and awaits
developments usually comes off second best. Motor-cyclists at the head
of the column must keep their machine-guns at the ready and open fire
the instant an enemy shot is heard. This applies even when the exact
position of the enemy is unknown, in which case the fire must simply be
sprayed over enemy-held territory. Observation of this rule, in my
experience, substantially reduces one s own casualties. It is funda
mentally wrong simply to halt and look for cover without opening fire,
or to wait for more forces to come up and take part in the action.
Experience in this early fighting showed that in tank attacks especially,
the action of opening fire immediately into the area which the enemy is
believed to be holding, instead of waiting until several of one s own
tanks have been hit, usually decides the issue. Even indiscriminate
machine-gun fire and 20 mm. anti-tank fire into a wood in which enemy
anti-tank guns have installed themselves is so effective that in most cases
the enemy is completely unable to get into action or else gives up his
fire

In engagements against enemy tanks also which more often
than not have been more heavily armoured than ours opening fire early
has proved to be the right action and very effective.

position.

ii

DEAREST Lu,
I ve come up

moment

to write.

May

1940

for breath for the first time to-day and have a
way ahead of
Everything wonderful so far.

Am

m

completely hoarse from orders and shouting.
neighbours. I
Had a bare three hours sleep and an occasional meal. Otherwise
too tired for
I
absolutely fine. Make do with this, please, I

my

m

m

more,
Following up the retreat of the French ist and 4th Cavalry Divisions, Rommel s
advanced troops reached the Meuse in the afternoon of the i2th May. It was his
aim to rush a crossing if possible on the heels of the French, and gain a bridgehead
on the west bank. But the bridges at Dinant and Houx were blown up by the
French
to

and Rommel was thus compelled
just as the leading tanks began to cross
This
river-crossing assault with troops ferried over in rubber boats.

mount a

assault

was launched

succeeded.

On

Rommel

early next morning,
writes:

and

suffered heavy casualties before

ii

May, I drove off to Dinant at about 04.00 houjrs with
Captain Schraepler. The whole of the divisional artillery was already
the

1

3th

in position as ordered, with

its

forward observers stationed at the crossing

8

FRANCE, 1940

-

I found only a few men of the yth Rifle Regiment.
points. In Dinant
west of the
Shells were dropping in the town from French artillery
the streets
in
tanks
knocked-out
of
number
a
were
Meuse, and there
down to the river. The noise of battle could be heard from the

leading

Meuse

valley.

signals vehicle down
so Schraepler and I clambered
valley bottom. The 6th Rifle
down on foot
bank in rubber boats, but was
the
other
to
cross
to
Regiment was about

There was no hope of getting

my command and

Meuse unobserved,
through the wood to the

the steep slope to the

fire and by the extremely trouble
being badly held up by heavy artillery
some small arms fire of French troops installed among the rocks on the
west bank.

2.

THE BREAK-THROUGH ON THE MEUSE

was none too pleasant. Our boats were
by the French flanking fire, and the
The enemy infantry were so
a
standstill.
to
came
crossing eventually
well concealed that they were impossible to locate even after a long
search through glasses. Again and again they directed their fire into
the area in which I and my companions the commanders of the Rifle
screen in
Brigade and the Engineer Battalion were lying. A smoke
these
have
would
Meuse
the
infantry doing much
prevented
valley
harm. But we had no smoke unit. So I now gave orders for a number of
houses in the valley to be set alight in order to supply the smoke we

The

situation

when

being destroyed one

I arrived

after the other

lacked.

Minute by minute the enemy fire grew more unpleasant. From up
a damaged rubber boat came drifting down to us with a badly

river

THE BREAK-THROUGH ON THE MEUSE
wounded man clinging to it, shouting and screaming for help

9
the poor
here, the

was near to drowning. But there was no help for him
enemy fire was too heavy.
Meanwhile the village of Grange [i J miles west ofHoux (and the Meuse),
and 3 miles north-west of Dinant] on the west bank had been taken by the
yth Motor-cycle Battalion, but they had not cleaned up the river bank

fellow

as thoroughly as they should have done. I therefore
rocks on the west bank to be cleared of the enemy.

gave orders for the

With Captain Schraepler, I now drove south down the Meuse valley
road in a Panzer IV to see how things were going with the yth Rifle
Regiment. On the way we came under fire several times from the
western bank and Schraepler was wounded in the arm from a number
of shell splinters.
Single French infantrymen surrendered as we
approached.
By the time

we arrived the yth Rifle Regiment had already succeeded
a company across to the west bank, but the enemy fire had
then become so heavy that their crossing equipment had been shot to
pieces and the crossing had had to be halted. Large numbers of wounded
were receiving treatment in a house close beside the demolished bridge.
As at the northern crossing point, there was nothing to be seen of the
enemy who were preventing the crossing. As there was clearly no hope
of getting any more men across at this point without powerful artillery
and tank support to deal with the enemy nests, I drove back to Division
Headquarters, where I met the Army commander, Colonel-General von
Kluge and the Corps commander, General Hoth.
in getting

After talking over the situation with Major Heidkaemper and making
the necessary arrangements, I drove back along the Meuse to Leffe [a
village on the outskirts of Dinant] to get the crossing moving there. I had
already given orders for several Panzer Ills and IVs and a troop of
left the signals
artillery to be at my disposal at the crossing point.
vehicle for the time being at a point some 500 yards east of the river
and went forward on foot through deserted farms towards the Meuse.
In Leffe we found a number of rubber boats, all more or less badly
damaged by enemy fire, lying in the street where our men had left them.
Eventually, after being bombed on the way by our own aircraft, we
arrived at the river.
At Leffe weir we took a quick look at the footbridge, which had been
barred by the enemy with a spiked steel plate. The firing in the Meuse
valley had ceased for the moment and we moved off to the right through
some houses to the crossing point proper. The crossing had now come
to a complete standstill, with the officers badly shaken by the casualties
which their men had suffered. On the opposite bank we could see several
men of the company which was already across, among them many
wounded. Numerous damaged boats and rubber dinghies lay on the
opposite bank. The officers reported that nobody dared show himself

We

.

IO

FRANCE, 1940

outside cover, as the enemy opened fire immediately on anyone they
spotted.
Several of our tanks and heavy weapons were in position on the
embankment east of the houses, but had seemingly already fired off
almost all their ammunition. However, the tanks I had ordered to the
crossing point soon arrived, to be followed shortly afterwards by two field
howitzers from the Battalion Grasemann. 1
All points on the western bank likely to hold enemy riflemen were

now brought under fire, and soon the aimed fire of all weapons was
2
pouring into rocks and buildings. Lieutenant Hanke knocked out a
pill-box on the bridge ramp with several rounds. The tanks, with turrets
traversed left, drove slowly north at 50 yards spacing along the Meuse
valley, closely

watching the opposite

Under cover of

slopes.
this fire the crossing slowly

got going again, and a
cable ferry using several large pontoons was started. Rubber boats
paddled backwards and forwards and brought back the wounded from
the west bank. One man who fell out of his boat on the way grabbed
hold of the ferry rope and was dragged underwater through the Meuse.

He was

rescued by Private Heidenreich, who dived in and brought him
bank.
I now took over personal command of the 2nd Battalion of
7th Rifle
Regiment and for some time directed operations myself.
With Lieutenant Most I crossed the Meuse in one of the first boats
and at once joined the company which had been across since early
to the

morning. From the company command post we could see Companies
Enkefort and Lichter were making rapid progress.
I then moved up north
along a deep gully to the Company Enkefort.
As we arrived an alarm came in
Enemy tanks in front." The company
"

:

had no anti-tank weapons, and I therefore gave orders for small arms fire
to be opened on the tanks as
quickly as possible, whereupon we saw them
back into a hollow about a thousand yards north-west of Leffe.
Large numbers of French stragglers came through the bushes and slowly
pull

laid
x

down

their arms.

ln the Germany Army, units and formations were often called
by the name of

their

commanders.

2

Manfred Rommel Hanke was a prominent member of the Nazi Party and
of Goebbels s Propaganda Ministry. He appears to have been
very unpopular
with the other officers on account of his
high-handed behaviour, and Rommel finally
removed him from the Staff after an incident in the Mess when he
suggested that he
had the power to have Rommel himself removed from his command. Rommel made
a long report later to -Hitler s Adjutant.
Later in the war, Hanke became Gauleiter of Silesia and achieved
notoriety for his
defence of Breslau to the last stick and stone
However, when the devastated city finally
capitulated, Hanke did not stay to meet the invading Red Army, but escaped in an
aeroplane, leaving the population to the tender mercies of the Russian troops. He has
never been heard of since.
JVbfe by

an

official

THE BREAK-THROUGH ON THE MEUSE

II

Other accounts show that RommeVs intervention was even more crucial, and
he conveys. The German troops were badly shaken by the intensity
of the defenders fire when he arrived on the scene and organised the fresh effort, in
which he himself took the lead. Fortunately for his chances, the French i8th Infantry

decisive, than

Division, which was charged with the defence of the Dinant sector, was only in
a lengthy march on foot, and was short of
process of taking over the position after
anti-tank guns, while the ist Cavalry Division had not recovered from the tankmauling it had received in tfie Ardennes. Thus the boldly led attackers were able
to

prise open the defence once they

had gained

sufficient

space on the west bank to

develop a manoeuvring leverage.
I now went down with Most to the Meuse again and had myself
taken back to the other bank, where I drove north with a tank and a
signals vehicle to the 6th Rifle Regiment s crossing point. Here the
crossing had meanwhile been resumed in rubber boats and was in full
swing. I was told by Colonel Mickl, the commander of the anti-tank
battalion, that he already had twenty anti-tank guns on the western bank.
A company of the engineer battalion was busily engaged in building
8-ton pontoons, but I stopped them and told them to build the 1 6-ton
type. I aimed to get part of the Panzer Regiment across as quickly as
possible. As soon as the first pontoon was ready I took my 8-wheeled

enemy had launched a heavy
be heard approaching the ridge
of the Meuse bank. Heavy enemy shells were dropping all round the
signals vehicle across. Meanwhile, the
attack, and the fire of their tanks could

crossing point.
arrival at Brigade Headquarters
situation looking decidedly unhealthy.

On

on the west bank

The commander

found the
of the 7th

I

Motor-cycle Battalion had been wounded, his adjutant killed, and a
powerful French counter-attack had severely mauled our men in Grange.
There was a danger that enemy tanks might penetrate into the Meuse
valley

itself.

Leaving my signals lorry on the west bank, I crossed the river again
and gave orders for first the Panzer Company, and then the Panzer
Regiment to be ferried across during the night. However, ferrying tanks
across the i so-yards-wide river by night was a slow job, and by morning
there were still only 15 tanks on the west bank, an alarmingly small
number.
At daybreak [i4th May] we heard that Colonel von Bismarck had

on Onhaye [3 miles west of Dinant],
where he was now engaged with a powerful enemy. Shortly afterwards a
wireless message came in saying that his regiment was encircled, and I

pressed through his attack to close

therefore decided to go to his assistance immediately with every available
tank.
At about 09.60 hours the 25th Panzer Regiment, under the command
of Colonel Rothenburg, moved off along the Meuse valley with the 30
tanks which had so far arrived on the west bank, and penetrated as far

FRANCE, 1940

12

500 yards north-east of Onhaye without meeting any
resistance. It transpired that von Bismarck had actually radioed "arrived"
encircled 51 and that he was now on the point of sending an
instead of
assault company round the northern side of Onhaye to secure its western
as had been shown by an exercise we had carried out.
exit. This
as a hollow
"

move,

the next stages
Godesberg, was of the greatest importance for
of the operation. Accordingly, five tanks were placed under von Bismarck s
command for this purpose not to make a tank attack in the usual sense,
but to provide mobile covering fire for the infantry attack on the defile
west of Onhaye. It was my intention to place the Panzer Regiment itself
in a wood 1,000 yards north of Onhaye and then to bring all other units
from where they could be employed to the north, north
to that

earlier in

up

point,

how the situation developed.
to move round both sides of the wood
to
orders
Rothenburg
gave
was
and
into this assembly area,
placed myself in a Panzer III which
to follow close behind him.
Rothenburg now drove off through a hollow to the left with the five
the infantry, thus giving these tanks a
tanks which were to

west or west, according to
I

accompany

lead of 100 to 150 yards. There was no sound of enemy fire. Some 20
to 30 tanks followed up behind. When the commander of the five tanks
reached the rifle company on the southern edge of Onhaye wood, Colonel
Rothenburg moved off with his leading tanks along the edge of the wood
had just reached the south-west corner of the wood and
going west.
were about to cross a low plantation, from which we could see the five

We

tanks escorting the infantry below us to our left front, when suddenly
from the west.
artillery and anti-tank gunfire
one after the
hits
two
received
tank
and
us
Shells landed all round
my
in the peri
second
and
the
turret
the
of
the
the
first
on
other,
upper edge

we came under heavy

scope.

The driver promptly opened the throttle wide and drove straight
into the nearest bushes. He had only gone a few yards, however, when
and
steep slope on the western edge of the wood
canted over on its side, in such a position that the enemy,
whose guns were in position about 500 yards away on the edge of the
next wood, could not fail to see it. I had been wounded in the right
cheek by a small splinter from the shell which had landed in the periscope.
It was not serious though it bled a great deal.
I tried to swing the turret round so as to bring our 37 mm. gun to
bear on the enemy in the opposite wood, but with the heavy slant of
the tank it was immovable.
The French battery now opened rapid fire on our wood and at any
moment we could expect their fire to be aimed at our tank, which was
in full view. I therefore decided to abandon it as fast as I could, taking
the crew with me. At that moment the subaltern in command of the
the tank slid

down a

finally stopped,

1

Translalor

s

note:

eingetrqffen

instead of eingtschlossen.

THE BREAK-THROUGH ON THE MEUSE

13

tanks escorting the infantry reported himself seriously wounded, with
Herr General, my left arm has been shot off."
the words :
clambered
round.
up through the sandy pit, shells crashing and splintering
Close in front of us trundled Rothenburg s tank with flames pouring out
of the rear. The adjutant of the Panzer Regiment had also left his tank.
I thought at first that the command tank had been set alight by a hit
in the petrol tank and was extremely worried for Colonel Rothenburg s
safety. However, it turned out to be only the smoke candles that had
caught light, the smoke from which now served us very well. In the
meantime Lieutenant Most had driven my armoured signals vehicle
into the wood, where it had been hit in the engine and now stood im
mobilised. The crew was unhurt.
I now gave orders for the tanks to drive through the wood in a
general easterly direction, a move which the armoured cars, which stood
at my disposal, were of course unable to follow. Slowly Rothenburg s
command tank forced its way through the trees, many of them tall and
well grown. It was only the involuntary smoke-screen laid by this tank
that prevented the enemy from shooting up any more of our vehicles.
If only the tanks had sprayed the wood which the enemy was believed

We

"

"all

to be holding, with machine-gun and 37 mm. gunfire during their
advance, the French would probably have immediately abandoned their
guns, which were standing in exposed positions at the edge of the wood,
and our losses would almost certainly have been smaller. An attack
launched in the evening by the 25th Panzer Regiment was successful,
and we were able to occupy our assembly area.
A tight combat control west of the Meuse, and flexibility to meet the
changing situation, were only made possible by the fact that the divisional
commander with his signals troop kept on the move and was able to
give his orders direct to the regiment commanders in the forward line.
Wireless alone due to the necessity for encoding would have taken
far too long, first to get the situation reports back to Division and then
for Division to issue its orders. Continuous wireless contact was maintained
with the division s operations staff, which remained in the rear, and a
detailed exchange of views took place early each morning and each
afternoon between the divisional commander and his la. 1 This method
of command proved extremely effective.
By his advance that day Rommel had created a breach which had momentous
consequences, particularly by its effect on the mind of General Corap, the commander
of the French Ninth Army.
Three crossings of the Meuse had been achieved on the i^th, Rommel s being
the fast. In the afternoon, the leading troops of Reinhardfs panzer corps had got
across at Montherme, and Guderiarfs at Sedan. But Reinhardfs gained only a
narrow foothold, and had a desperate fight to maintain it. Not until early on the
i$th were they able to build a bridge over which his tanks could cross, and the exit
9

1U la

"

is

the operations side of the

staff,

and

is

also used for the officer in charge of

it.

FRANCE, 1940

14

from Monthermi ran through a precipitous
troops were

foothold,

defile that

was

easy to block.

Gudenarfs

successful, but only one of his three divisions gained an adequate
at daybreak on the i^th only one bridge had been completed.
The

more

and

bridge wfis lucky to escape destruction, as it was repeatedly attacked by the Allied
9
air forces. Guderian s troops had little support from the Luftwaffe on this second
crucial day, but his anti-aircraft gunners

brought down an

they

put up such a deadly canopy ofjire that

estimated 150 French

and British

aircraft,

and

effectively

upset the bomb-aiming. By the afternoon, all three of Guderiaris panzer divisions
were over the river. Holding off heavy counter-attacks from the south he wheeled

west towards the joint between the French Second and Ninth Armies, which began
to give way under his fierce and skilfully manoeuvred pressure.

That night the commander of the French Ninth Army made a fatal decision,
under the double impact of Guderiatfs expanding threat to his right flank and
Rommers penetration in the centre of his front wild reports conveyed that thousands
of tanks were pouring through the breach there. Orders were issuedfor the abandon
ment of the Meuse, and a general withdrawal of the Ninth Army to a more westerly
line.

On Rommel* s

front this intended stop-line ran along the railway east oj
miles behind the Meuse. It was penetrated by Rommel next
Philippeville,
morning, the i$th, before it could be occupied, and under his deep-thrusting threat
the confusion of the withdrawal quickly
developed into a spreading collapse. His

and 75

renewed thrust also forestalled an intended counter-attack towards Dinant by the
French ist Armoured Division and 4th North African Division, which were just
arriving on the scene. TJie former appeared on Rommel s right flank but ran out oj
fuel at this crucial moment, and only a small fraction of its tanks went into action.

RommeUs

advance swept past its front while it was at a standstill, and many oj
tanks were subsequently captured before they could get
away. Meantime, the
North African Division was bowled over by the onrush of the panzers and the
its

stream of fugitives.

Worse

Corap s general withdrawal order had uncorked the bottleneck at
where
the right wing of the Ninth Army had hitherto blocked Reinhardf s
Montherme,
panzer corps. Once a withdrawal began here, it quickly became a hopelessly
confused retreat, and Reinhardf s leading troops were able to slip round the right
behind the back of the forces opposing Guderian
and
flank of the Ninth Army
then drove on westward
many miles along an open path. By that evening, also,
Guderian had overcome the last line of resistance that
faced him, and broke through
into open country.
The breach in the French front was now 60 miles wide.
The
Rommel s story of the i$th May becomes all the clearer
significance of
when set agaimt the wider background of that decisive day.
M.J intention for the isth May was to thrust straight through in one
stride to our objective, with the
25th Panzer Regiment in the lead and

with

still,

artillery

follow

up

and,

if possible,

dive-bomber support. The infantry was

the tank attack, partly

essential tiling, to

my

on

to

and

partly lorry-borne. The
mind, was that the artillery should curtain off
foot

both flanks of the attack, as our
neighbouring divisions were

still

some

THE BREAK-THROUGH ON THE MEUSE
way behind

15

The

25th Panzer Regiment s route, which was marked
out on the map, led round the outskirts of Philippeville [18 miles west of
Dinant], avoiding all villages, and on to our objective, the district round
Cerfontaine \8 miles west of Philippeville]. It was my Intention to ride with
25* Panzer Regiment so that I could direct the attack from up forward
and bring in the artillery and dive-bombers at the decisive moment. To
simplify wireless traffic over which highly important messages often
arrived late, due to the necessity for encoding I agreed a
line of thrust
with the la and artillery commander. Starting point for this line was
taken as Rosee church and finishing point Froidchapelle church. All
officers marked the line on their maps. If I now wanted artillery fire on,
for instance, Philippeville, I simply radioed:
Heavy artillery fire
us.

"

"

"

immediate round
the

new

eleven."

The

artillery

commander was

delighted with

system.

At about 09.00 hours I met a Luftwaffe major who informed me that
dive-bombers could be made available for my division that day. As the
were already starting to move I called for them immediately, to
action in front of the attack. I then moved over to Rothenburg s
into
go
tank and instructed my Gefechtsstqffel 1 to follow up the tank attack from
cover to cover with their armoured car and signals vehicle. tanks

After a brief engagement with

enemy tanks near Flavion, the Panzer
in
advanced
column
Regiment
through the woods to Philippeville,
passing on the way numerous guns and vehicles belonging to a French
unit, whose men had tumbled headlong into the woods at the approach
of our tanks, having probably already suffered heavily under our divebombers. Enormous craters compelled us to make several detours
through the wood- About 3 miles north-west of Philippeville there was
a brief exchange of fire with French troops occupying the hills and
woods south of Philippeville. Our tanks fought the action on the move,
with turrets traversed left, and the enemy was soon silenced. From time
to time enemy anti-tank guns, tanks and armoured cars were shot up.
Fire was also scattered into the woods on our flanks as we drove past.
Staff and artillery was kept closely informed of the progress of the attack
by brief radio messages sent in clear, with the result that the artillery
curtain functioned perfectly. The day s objective was soon reached.
With one of Rothenburg s panzer companies placed under my com
mand, I then drove back over the tracks of the advance to establish
contact with the infantry in the rear. On the high ground 1,000 yards
west of Philippeville we found two of our tanks which had fallen out with
mechanical trouble. Their crews were in process of collecting prisoners,
and a few who had already come in were standing around. Now hundreds
of French motor-cyclists came out of the bushes and, together with their
lf
The Gefechtsstqffel, to which Rommel refers throughout his campaigns, was a small
headquarters group consisting of signals troops and a small combat team, together with
the appropriate vehicles (including a wireless lorry), which always accompanied him
in action.

l6

FRANCE, 1940

slowly laid down their arms. Others tried to make a quick
getaway down the road to the south.
I now occupied myself for a short time with the prisoners. Among
them were several officers, from whom I received a number of requests,
including, among other things, permission to keep their batmen and to
officers,

have their kit picked up from Philippeville, where it had been left. It
was greatly to my interest that the Philippeville garrison should surrender
quickly

and without

fighting, so I

granted the requests.

escorting panzer company now drove for Neuville [2 miles south
of Philippeville], with the object of cutting off the French retreat from
Philippeville to the south. On arriving at the company with Most, I
found it involved in fighting near Neuville, with the action moving south

My

and threatening to turn into a pursuit. I had no intention of pushing
any farther south, and so gave orders for the battle to be broken off and
for the company to continue eastward from Neuville. About 500 yards
south of Vocedee we ran into part of Panzer Company Huttemann,
which joined up with us. On the southern edge of Vocedee we had a
brief engagement with a considerable force of French tanks, which was
soon decided in our favour. The French ceased fire and were fetched
out of their tanks one by one by our men. Some fifteen French tanks
fell into our hands, some of them
damaged, others completely intact. It
being impossible to leave a guard, we took the undamaged tanks along
with us in our column, still with their French drivers. About a quarter
of an hour later we reached the main Dinant-Philippeville road, where
I met the leading troops of the Rifle Brigade, with 8th M.G. Battalion
under command, who were following up the tank attack. I took several
officers into my armoured car and with the whole column behind
me,
drove at high speed along the dusty road through the northern outskirts
of Philippeville. [Rommel had turned about, and was heading westward
again.]
En route I described the situation to the commanding officers and
.

instructed

them

in their

new

tasks.

At the

rate

we were

driving (average

about 40 m.p.h.) the dust-cloud behind us was enormous. Near Senzeille
of Philippeville], we met a body of fully armed French motor
coming in the opposite direction, and picked them up as they
passed. Most of them were so shaken at suddenly finding themselves in
a German column that they drove their machines into the ditch and were
in no position to put up a fight. Without
delaying, we drove on at high
speed to the hills west of Cerfontaine, where Rothenburg was standing
with the leading units of the Panzer Regiment. On its
arrival, the
column was deployed as quickly as possible and without
halting into the
surrounding district. Looking back east from the summit of the hill, as
night fell, endless pillars of dust could be seen rising as far as the eye
[4 miles west

cyclists

could reach

comforting signs that the 7th Panzer Division s move into
the conquered territory had
begun.
The fact that the enemy had been able to infiltrate between the

THE BREAK-THROUGH ON THE MEUSE

17
Panzer Regiment and the Rifle Brigade during the afternoon had been
solely due to the latter s delay in getting moving. The officers of a
panzer division must learn to think and act independently within the
framework of the general plan and not wait until they receive orders.
All units had known the start lime of the attack, and
they should have
formed up at that time.

Next day, the i6th

May

1940, I received orders

at Divisional

H.Q. The reason was unknown

hours before

I at last

to

me.

from Corps to stay
It was about
09.30

received Corps permission to move forward to the
my arrival the division received orders to thrust
via Sivry through the Maginot Line and on that night to the hills around
Avesnes.
This was not the Maginot Line proper, which ended near
Longuyon, but its
later westward extension
where the type of fortification was much less

new H.Q.

Shortly after

,

strong.

But German accounts

often

draw no

distinction between the original line

and

its

extension.

Guderian s and Reinhardt s corps had encountered, and broken
through, the
Maginot Line extension shortly after crossing the Meuse, and were now racing
westward behind it. But HotKs corps, having crossed the Meuse
farther north,
in Belgian territory, had still to
penetrate it in their south-westerly drive. Sivry
is 12 miles west
of Cerfontainey and Avesnes 12 miles west of Sivry.
I had just discussed the
plan for our attack on the Maginot Line with
my la, when the Army Commander, Colonel-General von Kluge, walked
in. He was surprised that the division had not
already moved off. I
described to him our plan. The intention was first to gain the frontier
near Sivry, while, at the same time the Reconnaissance Battalion recon
noitred the Maginot Line over a wide front and the mass of the
artillery

moved

into position

round

Sivry.

Then

the Panzer Regiment, under

powerful artillery cover, was to move in extended order up to the French
line of fortifications. Finally, the Rifle
Brigade, covered by the tanks,
was to take the French fortifications and remove barricades. Not until
all this was accomplished was the
break-through to Avesnes to be made,
with the armour in the lead and the mass of the division following
closely
behind. General von Kluge gave complete approval to our plan.

Soon the leading battalion was moving rapidly forward towards
reached without fighting. Artillery and anti-aircraft
and received instructions to open fire immediately into
certain areas on the other side of the frontier to see whether the enemy
would reply. Meanwhile, the 25th Panzer Regiment arrived at Sivry
and received orders to cross the frontier and take Clairfayts [3 miles beyond].
No enemy battery had replied to our artillery fire on their fortified zone.
I rode, as on the previous day, in the
regimental commander s
command tank. Soon we were across the French frontier and then the
tanks rolled slowly on in column towards Clairfayts, which was now only
a mile or so away. When a report came in from a reconnaissance troop
Sivry, which was
went into position

FRANCE, I94O

l8

that the road through Clairfayts had been mined, we bore off to the
south and moved in open order across fields and hedges in a semi-circle
round the village. There was not a sound from the enemy, although
our artillery was dropping shells at intervals deep into their territory.

Soon we found ourselves among orchards and tall hedges, which slowed
up the advance. Rothenbiirg s tank was among the leading vehicles,

my aide-de-camp, following behind in a Panzer IV. His
orders were to open fire quickly on a sign from me and thus act as a
lead-gun for the rest. It had been very evident in the previous days
fighting that frequently far too much time elapsed before the tank crews

with Hanke,

opened fire on fleeting targets.
Suddenly we saw the angular outlines of a French fortification about
100 yards ahead. Close beside it were a number of fully-armed French
troops, who, at the first sight of the tanks, at once made as if to surrender.
We were just beginning to think we would be able to take it without
fighting, when one of our tanks opened fire on the enemy elsewhere, with

enemy garrison promptly vanished into their concrete
In a few moments the leading tanks came under heavy anti
tank gunfire from the left and French machine-gun fire opened over the
whole area. We had some casualties and two of our tanks were knocked
the result that the

pill-box.

When the enemy fire had quietened down again, reconnaissance
established the existence of a very deep anti-tank ditch close beside the
enemy fortification, which had not so far opened fire. There were more
defence works in the enemy rear and the road from Clairfayts towards
out.

Avesnes was blocked by high steel hedgehogs (anti-tank obstacles).
Meanwhile, elements of 25th Panzer Regiment had joined battle
with the enemy west and 2,000 yards south of Clairfayts; the artillery
also opened a heavy fire at my orders and was laying smoke over
various sections of the Maginot Line. French artillery now began to
bombard Clairfayts and Sivry. Soon the motor-cyclists arrived with the
engineer platoon of the 37th Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion. Under
covering fire from tanks and artillery, infantry and engineers pushed
forward into the fortified zone. The engineer platoon began to prepare
the demolition of the steel hedgehog blocking the road to our advance.
Meanwhile, an assault troop of the Panzer Engineer Company over
came the concrete pill-box. The men crawled up to the embrasure and
threw a 6-pound demolition charge in through the firing slit. When,
after repeated summonses to surrender, the strong enemy garrison still did
not emerge, a further charge was thrown in. One officer and 35 men
were then taken prisoner, although they shortly afterwards overcame the

had

weak
fire

assault troop

from another

and escaped,

after

French machine-guns had opened

pill-box.

Slowly the sky darkened and it became night. Farms were burning
at several points in Clairfayts and farther west. I now gave orders for
an immediate penetration into the fortified zone, and a thrust as far as

THE BREAK-THROUGH ON THE MEUSE

ig

possible towards Avesnes. Staff and artillery were quickly informed by
wireless, and then it was time for us to climb into the command tank
and get under way. Taking our place immediately behind the leading
panzer company, we were soon rolling across the demolished road-block
towards the enemy.
During the time that the sappers of the 37th Reconnaissance Battalion
had been demolishing the steel hedgehogs, more violent fighting had
broken out against anti-tank guns and a few field-guns located near a
cluster of houses 1,000 yards west of Clairfayts. Round after round had
been fired over open sights at our tanks and infantry standing near
Clairfayts. Finally, the enemy guns had been silenced by a few rounds
from a Panzer IV.
The way to the west was now open. The moon was up and for the
time being we could expect no real darkness. I had already given orders,
in the plan for the break-through, for the leading tanks to scatter the
road and verges with machine and anti-tank gunfire at intervals during

the drive to Avesnes, which I hoped would prevent the enemy from laying
mines. The rest of the Panzer Regiment was to follow close behind the
leading tanks and be ready at any time to fire salvoes to either flank.
The mass of the division had instructions to follow up the Panzer Regiment

lorry-borne.

fire.

now

rolled in a long column through the line of fortifica
first houses, which had been set alight by our
In the moonlight we could see the men of 7th Motor-cycle Battalion

The
tions

tanks

and on towards the

moving forward on foot beside us. Occasionally an enemy machine-gun
or anti-tank gun fired, but none of their shots came anywhere near us.
Our artillery was dropping heavy harassing fire on villages and the road
far ahead of the regiment. Gradually the speed increased. Before long
we were 500 1,000 2,000 3,000 yards into the fortified zone. Engines
roared, tank tracks clanked and clattered. Whether or not the enemy
was firing was impossible to tell in the ear-splitting noise. We crossed
the railway line a mile or so south-west of Solre le Chateau, and then
swung north to the main road which was soon reached. Then off along
the road and past the first houses.
The people in the houses were rudely awoken by the din of our tanks,
the clatter and roar of tracks and engines. Troops lay bivouacked beside
the road, military vehicles stood parked in farmyards and in some
their faces distorted
places on the road itself. Civilians and French troops,
the
with terror, lay huddled in
ditches, alongside hedges and in every
hollow beside the road. We passed refugee columns, the carts abandoned
we went,
by their owners, who had fled in panic into the fields. On

a steady speed, towards our objective. Every so often a quick glance
map by a shaded light and a short wireless message to Divisional
of 25th Panzer Regiment.
to
H.Q.
report the position and thus the success
that there was
Every so often a look out of the hatch to assure myself

at

at the

20

FRANCE, 1940

and that contact was being maintained to the rear.
The flat countryside lay spread out around us under the cold light of the
moon. We were through the Maginot Line! It was hardly conceivable.
Twenty-two years before we had stood for four and a half long years
before this self-same enemy and had won victory after victor) and
yet
finally lost the war. And now we had broken through the renowned
Maginot Line and were driving deep into enemy territory. It was not
just a beautiful dream. It was reality.
Suddenly there was a flash from a mound about 300 yards away to
the right of the road. There could be no doubt what it was, an
enemy
gun well concealed in a concrete pill-box, firing on 25th Panzer Regiment
from the flank. More flashes came from other points. Shell bursts
could not be seen. Quickly informing Rothenburg of the
danger he
was standing close beside me I gave orders through him for the
regi
ment to increase speed and burst through this second fortified line with
broadsides to right and left.
Fire was opened quickly, the tank crews
having been instructed in
the method of fire before the attack. Much of our ammunition was tracer
and the regiment drove on through the new defence line
spraying an
immense rain of fire far into the country on either side. Soon we were
through the danger area, without serious casualties. But it was not now
easy to get the fire stopped and we drove through the villages of Sars
Poteries and Beugnies with guns
blazing. Enemy confusion was complete.
Military vehicles, tanks, artillery and refugee carts packed high with
belongings blocked part of the road and had to be pushed unceremoniously
to the side. All around were French
troops lying flat on the ground,
and farms everywhere were jammed tight with
guns, tanks and other
military vehicles. Progress towards Avesnes now became slow. At last
still

no

resistance

11

we succeeded

We

in getting the firing
drove through Semousies.
stopped.
picture, troops and civilians in wild flight down both
sides of the road. Soon the road
forked, one going right to Maubeuge,
which was now only about 10 miles
away, and the other left down into
the valley towards Avesnes. The road was now thick with
carts and
people, who moved off to the side of the tanks or had to be directed into
the side by us. The nearer we came to Avesnes the
greater was the crush
of vehicles through which we had to
our

Always the same

fight
way. In Avesnes itself,
which had been shelled by our
artillery shortly before, the whole popula
tion was on the move,
jammed between vehicles and guns on both sides
of the road in front of our
moving tank column. It was obvious that there
were strong French forces in the town.
I did not have the column
halted, but drove on with the

leading

battalion of tanks to the
high ground west of Avesnes, where I intended
to stop and collect
up prisoners and captured equipment.
the way
a scouting party of two tanks was detached
in the southern outskirts of

On

Avesnes and dispatched

down

the

main road

to the south.

Some 500

THE BREAK-THROUGH ON THE MEUSE

21

yards outside the town on the road to Landrecies, we made a halt,
marshalled our units and rounded up the French troops in the immediate
neighbourhood. Here, too, farmyards and orchards beside the road were
jammed full of troops and refugee carts. All traffic down the road from
the west was halted and picked up. Soon a prisoner-of-war cage had to
be constructed in the field.
Meanwhile, firing had started behind us in Avesnes tank guns by
the sound of it and soon we saw flames rising, probably from burning
had lost contact with the tank battalion behind us
tanks or lorries.
and with the 7th Motor-cycle Battalion.
This did not yet cause me any concern, as, in the confusion of owner
had
less refugee carts, it was only too easy for a traffic jam to pile up.
reached our objective and that was the main thing. However, the enemy
there must have been at least a battalion of tanks made
in Avesnes
good use of the gap in the Panzer Regiment, and French heavy tanks
soon closed the road through the town. The 2nd Battalion of the 25th
Panzer Regiment at once tried to overcome the enemy blocking the
road, but their attempt failed with the loss of several tanks. The fighting
Intermittent wireless contact was
in Avesnes grew steadily heavier.
established between the 2nd Battalion and ourselves. The battle in

We

We

Avesnes lasted until about 04.00 hours \ijth May].
Finally, Hanke,
who, on my orders, advanced from the west against the powerful enemy
tanks with a Panzer IV, succeeded in disposing of the French tanks.
Dawn was slowly breaking when the battle ended and contact was re
established with the 2nd Battalion.
Meanwhile, I had sent repeated signals to Corps through the divisional
staff asking whether, in view of the success of our break-through of the
Maginot Line, we should not now continue our advance over the Sambre.
Receiving no reply wireless contact had not been established I decided
to continue the attack at dawn with the object of seizing the Sambre
orders by wireless to
crossing at Landrecies and holding it open. I issued
all other units to follow up the Panzer Regiment s advance to Landrecies
[// miles west

of Avesnes].

At about 04.00 hours

I

moved

off towards Landrecies

with the

The 7th Motor
leading battalion of Rothenburg s Panzer Regiment.
followed
closed
had
now
behind, and I was
up,
cycle Battalion, which
units of the
the
them
that
behind
convinced
remaining
again
firmly
division would take part in the attack. The failure of the wireless had
we had
left me in ignorance of the exact position of the regiments and
all orders into the blue.
transmitted
simply
As no supplies had come up during the night, we now had to^be
westwards through the brightening
sparing with ammunition and drove
and
we
Soon
silent.
with
began to meet refugee columns
day
guns
chaos of guns,
detachments of French troops preparing for the march.
tanks and military vehicles of all kinds, inextricably entangled with horse-

A


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