Click Above to go to Rommel's Page (LEFT) or Montgomery's Page (RIGHT)
Commanders and their Tactics In The Western Desert.
In literature on the North African Campaign in the Second World War, both Rommel and Montgomery as portrayed at tactical genius's that turned certain defeat into victory; this is due to the fact that history prefers to glorify people and battles rather than an aspect of warfare such as supplies. Rommel`s crowning glory is said to have been at Gazala in May 1942 and Montgomery's at El Alamein in October 1942, but what is not mentioned is startling similarity in their respective situations. In May 1942 Rommel had a handsome numerical superiority in armour after receiving supplies that the Allies had not detected, which contained the vastly superior Tiger and Panther tanks (as well as the Panzer Specials equipped with larger guns and thicker face hardened and spaced armour) and enough fuel to launch a prolonged offensive. Likewise in October 1942 Montgomery enjoyed a numerical superiority that no other British commander had possessed in North Africa as the Eighth army had received 300 Sherman tanks more capable of matching the lower grade Panzer tanks and 100 self propelled guns in time for the El Alamein offensive, so from these statistics it is clear that logistical considerations were much more decisive factors than Second World War literature cares to mention.
One couldn't help feeling a little sorry for the man at this time. He had shown himself a brilliant fighter in the desert; three times he had escaped Montgomery's efforts to surround his panzer army; he had been consistently starved of supplies and equipment.1 Rommel was constantly held back by the lack of fuel and ammunition, which highlights the fact that supplies were a much more significant factor than commanders and their tactics. There is also the fact that both strategies were very similar as well. At Gazala Rommel`s attack was in accordance with the best German textbookstrategy2 and looking back on the battle of France, it all sounded rather familiar3. This was the case with Montgomery's strategy too; where deception was to play a key role and an attack was to be made in the surprise flank with the aim of outflanking and encircling the enemy. This clearly shows that the tactics employed at Gazala and El Alamein although effective, were not original. Rommel successfully attacked at Gazala, but then ignored Hitler and Cavallero`s orders to pause, and pursued the retreating Eighth Army 250 miles across the desert to El Alamein. To put it bluntly, Rommel had over-stretched himself4 and this was as much a failure as his Gazala battle had been a success, but again literature selectively excludes this in order to sustain the popular image of Rommel as a tactical genius. Montgomery showed extreme caution when pursuing the Axis forces after El Alamein, which he could afford to do as his overwhelming numerical superiority necessitated no hasty pursuit and the forces from the Torch landings now formed the 1st Army which was also advancing in the direction of Tunis.
Rommel was forced to go on the offensive at Alam Halfa because he knew the advantage of numerical superiority would soon lay in the hands of the Eighth Army. Fuel was in short supply and the Afrika Corps had insufficient Air support and all these factors led to Rommel`s defeat.
There is no disputing Rommel`s ability as both a tactician and a commander, but his failure lay in his strategic thinking and the many problems he faced with his supply situation and Hitler's disinterest in a conflict of far reaching consequences. Montgomery too proved to be a distinguished commander, whose tactics of precision planning, intensive training and extreme caution utilized his vast numerical superiority to its full potential. Again it is true that numerically, Montgomery was in a very good position before El Alamein and this has to be weighed against the success of his strategy. The immortalization of these commanders in popular history over-states their real contribution to the North African Desert War. However, both Rommel and Montgomery executed their plans with such success when they held the advantage, that they should indeed be seen as Great Generals.
1 F.W Winterbotham, The Ultra Secret page 101
2 F.W Winterbotham, The Ultra Secret page 73
3 F.W Winterbotham, The Ultra Secret page 73
4 Peter Young, Purnells Encyclopedias Of The Second World War (Volume 3, page 892)
Diverted and Committed Troops
Intelligence In North Africa
Weapons In North Africa
High Command Disputes And Interference
Concluding thoughts on the North African Campaign