This week in the War, 10–16 February 1941: Erwin Rommel arrives in North Africa

Erwin Rommel in Tripoli, February 1941

Erwin Rommel in Tripoli, February 1941

This week in the war, 11 February 1941, the British War Cabinet made its fateful decision to send an expeditionary force to Greece, where a German invasion was expected by March. Thus O’Connor lost the resources and the window of opportunity that would have allowed him to continue his advance and to drive the Italians from North Africa.

The next day, German general Erwin Rommel arrived in Tripoli. Units of his Afrika Korps were arriving by the end of the week.

Rommel was bold, unorthodox; he was The Desert Fox. As his star rose, a series of British generals were to decline and fall: Wavell, Cunningham, Richie, Auchinleck, and, of course, O’Connor, who was captured.

Rommel would advance, besiege Tobruk, take Tobruk, and eventually enter Egypt. It would take two Battles ¬†of Alamein to stop him. By then, Hitler had opened a whole new front. He was diverting vastly more resources away from Rommel and towards Russia than Churchill had ever diverted away from O’Connor and towards Greece.

Units of the Afrika Korps in North Africa, early part of 1941

Units of the Afrika Korps in North Africa, early part of 1941

By 1944, with North Africa long since lost to the Axis, Rommel headed Army Group B and was charged with the task of repelling the Allied invasion of northern France. He was to die later that year by his own hand, forced to commit suicide as a result of his complicity in the failed 20 July bomb plot against the Fuehrer.

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