Erwin Rommel was born on November 15, 1891 in Heidenheim, Germany. His father, Erwin, was a headmaster at a secondary school and his mother, Helene, was the daughter of a local wealthy family. Erwin had three siblings, Karl, Gerhard, and Helene.
At an early age, Erwin expressed an interest in engineering. At the age of fourteen, he constructed a glider that was capable of flying, albeit only short distances. His father, however, suggested that he join the cadets and he eventually joined the 124th Wurttemberg Infantry Regiment and was sent to an Officer Cadet School in Danzig in 1910.
In 1911, he met a woman named Lucie Maria Mollin and fell in love with her. In November of that year, he graduated from cadet school and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the German Army. In 1913, he had an affair with a woman named Walburga Stemmer that produced a daughter named Gertrud, but he still married Lucie in 1916. In 1928, they had a son named Manfred.
When World War 1 started, Rommel joined the Alpen Korps. He fought on the front lines of numerous campaigns in France, Italy, and Romania. During battle, he was wounded on three occasions, but continued to fight valiantly. One of his most successful battles was the Battle of Longarone, where he and other soldiers captured Mount Matajur and over 7000 Italian soldiers.
After the war ended, he was awarded the Iron Cross and the Pour le Merite, Prussia's highest commendation for military service. He spent most of the 1920s serving as commander of various battalions in the German Army. In 1929, he was chosen as an instructor at the Dresden Infantry School, serving until 1933. In 1935, he was chosen to teach at the Potsdam War Academy. In 1937, he published his diaries from World War 1 as "Infanterie greift an" and they subsequently became a military textbook.
The release of the book managed to attract the attention of Adolf Hitler, then chancellor of Germany, who placed Rommel in charge of training the Hitler Youth in 1937. He spent much of his free time studying the military strategies of past leaders, including Stonewall Jackson and Nathan Bedford Forrest, who were able to consistently fight back larger forces. In 1938, he was given command of the War Academy in Wiener Neustadt, where he wrote his second novel, "Panzer greift an".
In late 1938, Rommel was placed in charge of the FuhrerBegleitbataillon, Hitler's personal batallion assigned to his protection. The batallion normally traveled with Hitler to captured territories to ensure that he was safe from any insurgent forces or guerillas. After the invasion of Poland in 1939, Rommel was assigned to arrange the victory parade for Hitler in Berlin.
On February 6, 1940, Rommel was given command of the 7th Panzer Division in preparation for the invasion of France. He commanded the division with vigor and it was the first to reach the English Channel on June 10, 1940 and capture the port of Cherbourg on the 19th. During the invasion, he was able to repel an offensive by the British Expeditionary Force in the city of Arras and other obstacles that stood in his path.
In 1941, Rommel was placed in command of the 5th Light Division and 15th Panzer Division and sent to Libya. The Italian forces there were in terrible shape and it was Rommel's job to reinforce them and fight the British troops in Northern Africa. After spending much of the year building up his Deutsches Afrika Korps, Rommel advanced on Allied forces and pushed them out of Libya and back into Egypt.
After Rommel's forces surrounded the port of Tobruk, which was being held by Leslie Morshead, Allied forces attacked him twice in an attempt to relieve the city. The two offensives, known as Operation Brevity and Operation Battleaxe, were both failures. Unfortunately for him, they prepared a third offensive, Operation Crusader, which managed to break through his line.
Rommel immediately ordered his troops to withdraw from the area around Tobruk and retreated to the city of El Agheila on December 7, 1941. Allied forces pursued him, but he launched a counterattack on January 20, 1942 that managed to greatly damage the Allied forces. Afterwards, Rommel pushed the Allies back to Tobruk, where they took up a defensive position.
On May 24, 1942, Rommel ordered his forces to attack the Allied forces. The resulting blitzkrieg allowed his forces to flank the Allies in the cities of Gazala and Bir Hakeim. The Allies quickly retreated, leaving Tobruk to the mercy of Rommel and his Afrika Korps. He attacked the city on June 21, 1942 and its 33,000 strong force of defenders surrended. The tremendous victory led Hitler to promote Rommel to the rank of Field Marshal.
Rommel continued pursuing the Allies through Egypt, stopping at the city of El Alamein. He took sick leave in Germany in September, but returned after the Second Battle of El Alamein forced the Afrika Korps back to Tunisia. He staged a counterattack against the US 2nd Corps in the Battle of Kasserine Pass, which turned out to be a success for Germany.
Unfortunately for Germany, Rommel's victories would not last forever. By 1943, the Allies had developed ways to decode German radio transmissions and were able to tell when supplies were being shipped to reinforce Rommel's lines. On March 6, 1943, he advanced to attack in the Battle of Medenine, but Allied intelligence learned of the attack beforehand and ordered the lines reinforced with numerous anti-tank weapons. Rommel's Panzer divisions were slaughtered and he was forced to retreat. After this massive defeat, he returned to Germany and his former Afrika Korps was eventually captured by Allied forces.
On July 23, 1943, Rommel was placed in command of Army Group B and spent several months moving around to meet various threats. On November 21, 1943, he moved his forces to Normandy, France to prepare for a potential Allied landing. He ordered work on defensive fortifications to be accelerated and oversaw the laying of millions of mines, thousands of tank traps, and various bunker systems.
Rommel wanted desperately to fortify the beaches with small groups of tanks, but his commander, Gerd von Rundstedt wanted the tanks in the middle of France to prepare for an inland invasion. Hitler sided with Rundstedt and Rommel was left with only infantry support to defend the beaches of France. On D-Day, the Allies invaded at Normandy and were able to break through German lines, largely due to the lack of artillery and armored forces.
On July 20, 1944, a failed assassination attempt was conducted against Adolf Hitler and he ordered the arrest of numerous persons believed to be involved. A number of people that were arrested tied Rommel in with the conspiracy to kill Hitler, raising suspicions against him. Rommel supposedly did not support the assassination, but did in fact support an effort to remove Hitler from power. Hitler gave Rommel the options of either facing a trial before the "People's Court" or committing suicide and Rommel chose the latter. On October 14, 1944, he committed suicide using a cyanide capsule and he was buried in Herrlingen.