Erwin Rommel’s goggles.

Have you ever noticed how in (almost) every picture taken of Erwin Rommel commanding the DAK (Deutsches Afrikakorps) in North Africa he’s wearing a pair of goggles on his head?

Okay… maybe it’s just me.

Turns out these are (actually*) British Mark II Gas Goggles. Most likely just picked up somewhere. But there is an apocryphal account on how Rommel came to own these glasses which is a much more interesting narrative.

Major General Michael Gambier-Parry, of the 2nd Armoured Division, was captured with 2,000 of his men by Rommel in Mechili, Libya, in 1941.

The German field marshal invited the British officer to dine with him in a gesture of military camaraderie. The pair shared good wine and smoked ‘excellent cigars’, according to Gambier-Parry’s granddaughter, Liza Donoghue, 67.

During the meal, Gambier-Parry complained that a German soldier had taken his hat. A furious Rommel then took it upon himself to get the garment back to his prisoner.

And when Rommel later found Gambier-Parry’s Army goggles in a staff car, he asked the British officer if he could keep them and Gambier-Parry agreed[1]

MJ  *It amuses me that Rommel found utility in British engineering, if anything it demonstrates that he he would use a superior product. Even if that product came from the ‘enemy’. Which I think is pretty cool.

I put enemy in inverted commas because I think Rommel saw the British as adversaries and not enemies. He is after all famous for his line ‘Krieg ohne Hass’. War without hate. We still give the Alexander the moniker ‘The Great’. Even if he was a blood thirsty homicidal maniac. I think if you’re going to give someone the benefit of the doubt… might as well be Erwin Rommel.

In any event I liked this story, even if it turned out to be spurious.

[1] This text exists in on several websites and so I’m not entirely sure who to credit.

Arbor mortis

I wake up every day at 03H59.

Which is a stupid time (I know). But it is also a very considered time. Most importantly its thirty one minutes before Jocko Willink gets up. I have a this weird competitive thing (slash mental disorder).

I don’t actually roll out of bed and attack my day (unlike Jocko) and kill my enemies. It takes me a solid ten minutes to check my feeds and then to haul my (plus-size) carcass out of bed. Then I loiter around and lollygag for a bit. This morning I was trying to figure out how to hard-reboot my fitbit (which decided to commit suicide during the night), but there’s always something. Also… I thought it might stop raining if I waited.

At zero dark thirty it was still bucketing down. Decided to swap out my backpack for a poncho instead for my 5km tour de neighborhood. On my way back and probably 700mtrs from my house I suddenly hear a thunderous crack behind me. I turn, three or four meters away this huge tree comes down across the road, directly were I was a second ago.

Holy cow! I stop and stare. Death by tree. That would have been… so incredibly… uncool!

An hour later, dry, in the car and on my way to work I drive to where the tree fell in the hope of an instragramable photo. Alas, the crazy German whose tree it is, has already, rather diligently, taken a chainsaw to it. Looking at it in the light now, it turns out to be a much bigger tree than I had initially given it credit for.

I always imagined going out in blaze of glory, something akin to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid (1969) or the ending from Cowboy Bebop (1998). Or even something along the lines of the Battle of Camarón,

95696556_o

Δ At the battle of Camarón, having run out ammunition the last five French Foreign Legionnaires mount a bayonet charge against the enemy. Two were immediately killed but the other three were captured. When brought before the Mexican Major, surprised that there are only three men left he exclaims, ‘These are not men! They are demons’. 65 Legionnaires outnumbered 46 to 1 inflicted 190 casualties and wounded over 300. 

Being killed by a falling tree seems quite passé in comparison.

Being of a stoic disposition (in so far as I like stoicism) death is supposed to be quite a blasé event (Look at me getting my é and ó on). Still, given the option to tick a box on checking out I’d obviously prefer dying… well… ‘well’. Trundling along and suddenly the world going dark because of a rapidly descending conifer is certainly not how I imagine it going.

Not that I would care, obviously. I’d be deader than a door-nail.

George S. Patton died stupidly. After defeating the Nazi’s he was driving along musing on how wasteful war was when the staff car he was driving in had to brake suddenly to avoid an army truck. While all the other passengers were only slightly injured, Patton hit his head on the glass partition that separated the driver from the rear passengers. He suffered a neck injury and was paralyzed. He died two weeks later.

Versus

Erwin Rommel who had two SS officers visit his house. ‘You can take this vial of poison and die with dignity, or we kill your family, and potentially everyone you know and love’. Rommel puts on his uniform says goodbye to his wife and son, drives to the outskirts of town and drinks the poison.

Given the choice I would choose the latter every time.

Anyways. I’m glad I avoided at least one ignominious end. Obviously I might not be so lucky next time. The only way to choose the way in which you will die is to kill yourself. The samurai might have been on to something. Although disemboweling myself seems like a tough ask.

Momento Mori. Motherfucker.

Schwehrpunkt 

Blitzkrieg was never a codified dogma in the German army. Rather it evolved due to a situational requirement. Schwerpunkt, literally means, ‘Heavy-point’, although a better translation might be ‘Focal point’. In German it is a word that describes a type of solution when problem solving. Many German businesses use this term to illustrate when the majority of a finite resources should be used on a critical area of focus.

This tactic was used very successfully by Erwin Rommel during the battle of France. His armored division was often so far a head of the main line that is was referred to as the ‘Ghost Division’ since no-one knew where exactly it was, and by the time they did, Rommel had likely already moved on.

Situationally the German army could not afford to get bogged down in Poland and France. Having learned from the disaster of The first World War and how quickly the fighting had devolved into attrition trench warfare they were keen not to repeat their mistake.

The Schwerpunkt is a culmination of the situation, technology and terrain. Is is basically a modified version of the refused flank or Oblique order. Instead of concentrating your forces on one flank however, the Schwerpunkt can be used anywhere along the battle line.

11.png

The Schwerpunkt tactic uses a large hard hitting, highly mobile unit (in the German case, tanks) arranged against a long strung out battle line.

21.png

Before the offensive started, the Luftwaffe and ground based artillery would soften up the target area with bombardment.

3

The heavy unit would then assault the weak point in the line using overwhelming numerical superiority and speed to punch through.

4.png

Once the heavy unit had broken through it could carry on going or swing round to attack the rest of the line in the rear.

 

Vulnerabilities

  1. The terrain needs to be conducive to high speed warfare. If the French had immediately blown up all their bridges and defended choke-points created by valleys and rivers the offensive would have ground to a halt.
  2. If your opponent is robust enough to survive the initial attack, digs in and does not panic or surrender because formations are in his rear this tactic will likely fail. The German army relied heavily on the psychological effect of Panzers and dive bombers to demoralize the enemy.
  3. Logistics nightmare. To feed, arm and supply a unit working behind enemy lines becomes very difficult. If your opponent can weather the storm you will quickly run out critical components. The Germans in North Africa struggled to keep their supply lines operational. A critical shortage of diesel fuel, parts and water likely aided in their defeat.