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Rommel’s Ghost Division

Two German Panzer 38(t) tanks of the 7th Panzer Division push through a small creek on the way into the heart of France.
Two German Panzer 38(t) tanks of the 7th Panzer Division push through a small creek on the way into the heart of France.

The seventh Panzer Division roared throughout France in the course of the spring of 1940.

By Dr. Michael Rinella

The appointment of Erwin Rommel as commander of the seventh Panzer Division in February 1940 appears, within the mild of his many triumphs in France and North Africa, an unremarkable and completely pure selection. On the time, nevertheless, nothing might have been farther from the reality. For the invasion of France, code-named Fall Gelb (Plan Yellow), Germany had assembled roughly 135 divisions, however solely 10 of those have been panzer divisions.

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Rommel had no prior expertise commanding a division. Neither did he have any direct expertise with the brand new blitzkrieg operations that had made their debut through the conquest of Poland in September and October 1939. He had not even commanded a fight unit through the invasion. The chief of Military personnel had really helpful that Rommel be given command of a mountain division, based mostly on his expertise within the Alpine Corps throughout World Struggle I. So why, within the early hours of the morning on Might 10, 1940, was he main a panzer division into the forests of the Belgian Ardennes?

A Swift Rise Via the Ranks

Before becoming known as the Desert Fox, General Irwin Rommel proved his prowess on the battlefield.

Earlier than turning into generally known as the Desert Fox, Common Irwin Rommel proved his prowess on the battlefield.

What Rommel did have was common, private entry to Adolf Hitler. Rommel and Hitler first met briefly in Goslar at a Reichsbaurentag, a standard truthful for farmers and landowners that the Nazis had elevated to a political occasion. It was at this assembly in Goslar that Rommel additionally met the Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels. He made a positive impression and would henceforth take pleasure in his patronage.

Rommel was given a three-year appointment as teacher on the Struggle Academy in Potsdam in October 1935, his educating duties interrupted to carry out safety preparations, akin to on the summer time 1936 Nuremburg rally, and appearing because the Struggle Ministry’s liaison officer to the Hitler Youth starting in February 1937. He was picked to command Hitler’s escort battalion, the Führerbegleitbataillon (FBB), in the course of the occupation of the Sudetenland in October 1938, and he repeated the duty once more twice in March 1939 in the course of the occupation of the remainder of Czechoslovakia and the Baltic port of Memel. In August he was the apparent option to carry out the identical duties in the course of the invasion of Poland. He was promoted to main basic on August 22 (backdated to June 1). As headquarters commandant in the course of the Polish marketing campaign, he traveled on Hitler’s particular practice, named Amerika, and sometimes shared the identical automotive or mild aircraft.

By 1940 the 2 had developed a liking for one another, sharing each humble origins and a deep dislike for the snobbery and elitism of the previous German aristocracy. Rommel was neither a member of the Junker class of Prussian aristocrats nor a product of the Common Employees (who denied him entry), each of which have been important conditions for army development previous to the rise of Hitler. Rommel desired command of a panzer division, and he acquired it, the objections of the Military personnel department being overruled fairly probably by Hitler himself.

The appointment capped a very speedy ascent by way of the ranks. Rommel had begun the month of November 1938 as a serious who sometimes commanded an escort battalion. By February 1940 he was a serious basic in charge of one of many 10 panzer divisions that may spearhead the marketing campaign within the West. Hitler’s determination apparently raised various eyebrows within the senior army hierarchy as a result of, in a letter to his spouse Lucie dated February 17, Rommel wrote, “Jodl [chief of the Operation Staff of the Armed Forces High Command, the OKW] was flabbergasted at my new posting.”

A Propaganda Division

From the beginning it was clear the seventh Panzer Division can be receiving high-level political consideration and choice. Goebbels gave Rommel, an avid newbie photographer, a Leica digital camera to chronicle the marketing campaign. Rommel meant to make use of the photographs within the e-book he deliberate to put in writing to comply with up his in style Infantry Assaults. Manfred Rommel, his son, wrote, “… he deliberate to put in writing on the Second World Struggle … [my father] took actually hundreds [of photos] … together with a big quantity in shade.”

Rommel himself talked about, “I’ve taken lots of pictures” in a letter to his spouse written on Might 27. A number of of those photographs that Rommel took through the marketing campaign in France (or that have been taken with the identical digital camera whereas Rommel posed) are reproduced in The Rommel Papers. Most, sadly, have been evidently misplaced within the within the aftermath of Germany’s defeat in 1945.

Hooked up to Rommel’s division as a second aide-de-camp was Lieutenant Karl August Hanke, a favourite of Goebbels who might have offered a particular hyperlink to Berlin. The division’s officers included different Nazis corresponding to Karl Holz, who had been editor-in-chief of the anti-Semitic weekly tabloid Der Stürmer [The Stormer or, more accurately, The Attacker]. As well as, considered one of Rommel’s former college students at Wiener Neustadt, a Lieutenant Hausberg, was tasked with the obligation of flying from the division to Hitler’s headquarters each night to current a map displaying Rommel’s progress that day.

The seventh Panzer Division was then, in a way, no atypical division however a showpiece of the Nazi authorities. Whereas Rommel himself was not a member of the Nazi Social gathering, he was no stranger to ambition and possessed a thirst for glory that, particularly within the warmth of a marketing campaign, bordered on the unquenchable. At this early stage of the warfare he was not above exploiting the political connections he had constructed to advance his army profession to the utmost.

Military Teams A, B, and C

Rommel’s division, together with the fifth Panzer Division, can be the nucleus of XV Panzer Corps, which was a part of the Fourth Military commanded by Area Marshal Gunther von Kluge. Along with the XV Panzer Corps, Fourth Military had three infantry corps, the II, V, and VIII. The fifth and seventh have been the one panzer divisions in your complete Military. Fourth Military itself, together with Twelfth Military and Sixteenth Military, was a part of Military Group A, led by Area Marshal Fedor von Bock. It was the principal German strike pressure, the Schwerpunkt, for Fall Gelb.

Military Group B to the north would advance by way of Holland and Belgium in a feint to persuade the Allies that the primary German drive was within the north, whereas Military Group C to the south would exhibit towards the fortifications of the French Maginot Line. In distinction to Military Group A, Military Group B had however three panzer divisions, whereas Military Group C had none in any respect.

Operation Fall Gelb began on May 9 with the Germans blazing across France.

Operation Fall Gelb started on Might 9 with the Germans blazing throughout France.

The Offensive Begins

The code phrase for the launch of Fall Gelb, “Danzig,” was acquired late within the day on Might 9. Rommel wrote a final fast letter to his spouse as he was packing; there can be no communication between them within the coming days. The seventh Panzer rolled ahead at four:35 the subsequent morning, crossing the border between Germany and Belgium east of St. Vith. The fifth Panzer Division was on its proper.

The preliminary goals have been the crossings on the Meuse River round Dinant, some 65 miles to the west. Overhead flew Messerschmitt Me-109 fighters from Luftflotte III. Initially resistance was mild. The majority of the Belgian Military was concentrated to the north on the plain of Belgium to defend the nation’s main cities. The Belgians can be joined by a few of the greatest French formations and the British Expeditionary Drive, which superior east to hitch them. Underneath this technique, referred to as Plan D or the Dyle Plan, the Allies would defend a line from the French frontier to Antwerp.

The Belgian Military had carried out in depth demolitions within the Ardennes, however as a result of few of the obstacles have been coated by defensive hearth German engineers had little problem clearing the obstructions. The place they might not be eliminated, the blockages have been bypassed utilizing aspect roads or, the place potential, by shifting cross nation.

First Contact

To counter the heavy French artillery fire during his crossing of the Meuse River, Rommel ordered local houses burned to provide a smoke screen.

To counter the heavy French artillery hearth throughout his crossing of the Meuse River, Rommel ordered native homes burned to offer a smoke display.

Navigating the restricted street community, seventh Panzer encountered its first critical Belgian opposition in the course of the early hours of Might 11, brushing apart parts of the third Regiment of the Chasseurs Ardennais at Chabrehez. The position of the Chasseurs Ardennais was to battle a delaying motion till the French might cowl the flank towards their very own border.

That activity would belong to the French ninth Military, led by Common André Corap. Corap, aged 62, had spent most of his profession in French North Africa. He was, maybe, as a lot an adherent to the previous French faculty of army thought as Rommel was to the brand new lightning conflict employed by the Germans.

The French had despatched their greatest armies into central and northern Belgium. The armies that had been detailed to cowl the Ardennes, together with Ninth Military, have been a lot weaker. Corap’s military comprised two motorized and 7 infantry divisions. Of the latter divisions solely two have been common models, whereas two others have been reserve divisions. To make issues worse, Ninth Military had been assigned a sector of the entrance 80 kilometers lengthy, longer in actuality as a result of the Meuse River is just not a straight line, however filled with twists and turns.

The Ourthe River was crossed by the seventh Panzer Division at three places—Beffe, Marcourt, and La Rouche. Quickly thereafter, at Marche, French troops have been encountered for the primary time. These have been parts of the 4th Armored Automotive Regiment of the 4th DLC (Division Lègére de Cavalrie). After simply two days, seventh Panzer had superior 40 miles. One other 18 miles can be coated on Might 12. The fifth Panzer Division, nevertheless, had been slowed by the troublesome terrain and thick forest of the Ardennes. Rommel alluded to this reality when he wrote to his spouse that day that he was “approach forward of my neighbors.”

It might not be the final time Rommel’s division raced nicely forward of the remainder of the German Military. The French cavalry divisions, on Corap’s orders, methodically retired behind the Meuse River through the course of the day, with the Germans steadily following up. The cavalry was initially meant to delay the Germans for 5 days however Corap had felt it essential to recall them after solely two and a half when infantry help did not materialize quickly sufficient.

The river crossing stalled when a Panzer IV blocked the way over a railway bridge.

The river crossing stalled when a Panzer IV blocked the best way over a railway bridge.

Crossing the Meuse

The necessity for Rommel to seize a bridge intact was important. The Meuse was deep and vast, with steep and escarped banks. The French, nevertheless, have been profitable in blowing up the essential bridges in entrance of the advancing XV Corps, together with a railroad bridge at Houx, the street bridge at Dinant, and the street bridge at Bouvigne. As well as, the defenses had been bolstered by the switch of the 2nd Battalion of the 39th Regiment, fifth Motorized Division, from Common Bouffet’s II Corps to Common Martin’s XI Corps. The brand new battalion took up a place on a hill reverse Houx, close to the village of Grange.

Issues weren’t nicely in hand, nevertheless. The French had assumed they might have 5 days to strengthen and reorganize their protection if the Germans launched an assault out of the Ardennes, however Rommel was not about to permit them that type of luxurious. To make issues worse for the Allies, communications have been poor, each amongst French models and between the French and Belgians. Allied morale on this a part of the entrance was already displaying indicators of being unsteady. Rommel arrived on the Meuse in an armored automotive, examined the far financial institution with area glasses, and seeing it was nicely defended declared the job was one for infantry. His motorized infantry moved up and have been “firmly in charge of the east financial institution of the Meuse between Dinant and Houx” by the point the solar set on the 12th.

The German assault acquired beneath approach within the early hours of the subsequent morning. The western financial institution of the Meuse reverse the Germans was held by two French Infantry Divisions, the 18th and 22nd DI (Division d’Infantrie). Each divisions have been nonetheless within the strategy of arriving after a prolonged foot march. Troopers from Rommel’s seventh Motorized Infantry Regiment started to cross the Meuse at Dinant, and infantry from his sixth Regiment started to cross between Leffe and Houx. It was at Houx, the truth is, moderately than at Sedan, that German models first crossed the Meuse, at roughly 11:30 within the night of Might 12. A motorbike battalion, leaving their bikes behind, crossed beneath cowl of darkness, using an previous dam connecting a small island to each side of the river financial institution.

There’s some dispute over whether or not it was the motorbike battalion of the seventh or fifth Panzer Division that crossed the Meuse at Houx, and the matter is additional confused by the truth that the corps commander, Basic Hermann Hoth, had briefly transferred management of parts of the fifth Panzer Division to Rommel, who was making quicker progress. The dam and the lock had not been blown up by both the Belgians or the French for worry it will decrease the river and truly make it fordable in some locations. Nevertheless it ought to by no means have been left as unguarded because it was. The Germans have been fortunate. The island at Houx lay proper on the boundary of two French corps, the II Corps and the XI Corps, and for a single, deadly, second nobody was positive who was chargeable for its protection.

Soldiers of the 7th Panzer Division paddle across the Meuse River, while others scamper over a thin bridge. OPPOSITE: French armor pulled out of their positions near the Meuse River, when Rommel poured small-arms fire on them.

Troopers of the seventh Panzer Division paddle throughout the Meuse River, whereas others scamper over a skinny bridge.

The water crossing on the morning of the 13th was made largely in inflated rubber boats. Nicely-concealed French machine weapons and artillery took a heavy toll. Observing that the crossing of the sixth Regiment was opposed by heavy hearth and missing a smoke unit, Rommel ordered homes within the Meuse valley set on hearth “to provide the smoke we lacked.”

The assault at Houx was additionally lucky within the sense that the 18th DI was nonetheless within the means of arriving and solely a portion of it had reached the Meuse, and the models that have been already in place have been exhausted from a pressured march of greater than 50 miles. Even worse was the truth that, though German models had been over the Meuse since shortly earlier than midnight the night time earlier than, Basic Martin was not knowledgeable till 7 am. He tried to contact Common Corap, his military commander, however couldn’t attain him by telephone. Corap was not conscious till the night of the German bridgehead at Houx and the menace it posed.

Returning to the seventh Regiment, Rommel discovered that whereas it had shaped a company-sized bridgehead on the other financial institution their crossing gear had been destroyed by enemy hearth, and issues had come to a halt. Tanks and artillery, lastly arriving, have been used to silence the enemy hearth up and down the purpose of crossing, permitting further troops to cross and the wounded on the other financial institution to be retrieved. Rommel then personally took command of the 2nd Battalion, seventh Regiment, main it throughout the river and linking up with the models already on the other financial institution. French tanks approached. They have been unaware the German place lacked an antitank display. Rommel ordered small-arms hearth poured onto the enemy armor, and the ruse was adequate to persuade the French to withdraw.

“Onhaye Disaster”

By the morning of the 14th the advance guard of the seventh Motorized Infantry Regiment had reached Onhaye, two miles west of Dinant. Speaking by radio that he had “arrived” (eingetroffen), Colonel Georg von Bismarck was misunderstood as having introduced he was “encircled” (eingeschlossen). Radio communication then failed, setting off a disaster that rippled all the best way up the chain of command. Kluge, the military commander, spoke of an “Onhaye disaster” and diverted models in its path. Rommel instantly organized all of the tanks then out there on the west financial institution of the Meuse to hurry to von Bismarck’s assist.

The assault was led by Colonel Karl Rothenberg, commander of the 25th Panzer Regiment, with Rommel following shut behind in one of many division’s few Panzer III tanks, so intently, in reality, that Rommel’s tank got here beneath hearth from French antitank and artillery weapons, struggling two hits. Trying to flee, the tank slid down a steep embankment the place it turned immobilized. Rommel bailed out with the crew and escaped with solely an unsightly gash on his chin. It had been an in depth name, and it might not be the final time Rommel’s life can be in peril through the marketing campaign. An assault launched that night reestablished contact with von Bismarck, ending the “disaster.”

French Tanks Meet Rommel’s Panzers

For the French Military, nevertheless, the disaster was solely starting. Through the 13th and 14th all three German panzer corps had shaped bridgeheads on the western aspect of the Meuse, although Reinhardt’s at Monthermé was precarious and encountering stiff resistance whereas Guderian’s at Sedan was solely marginally higher, having grow to be the goal of intense air bombardment. It was at this fateful second on the 15th of Might that Corap ordered a withdrawal of his Ninth Military westward to a brand new line. This had the impact of “uncorking the bottle,” permitting each Reinhardt’s and Guderian’s corps to pour out of their bridgeheads, by means of and across the slowly reacting French models and into open nation. The French line now had a breach 60 miles extensive, with nothing to plug the hole.

French armor pulled out of their positions near the Meuse River, when Rommel poured small-arms fire on them.

French armor pulled out of their positions close to the Meuse River, when Rommel poured small-arms hearth on them.

Reverse Hoth’s XV Corps, Corap’s new line included the railway that ran to the east of Philippeville, 15 miles west of the place Rommel’s division had breached the Meuse. Earlier than the brand new line could possibly be occupied it was penetrated by the 25th Panzer Regiment. Rommel’s panzers, now with air help from the Luftwaffe, have been hanging deep into the rear of Ninth Military and forestalled an meant counterattack towards Dinant by the newly arriving French armored division, the first DCR (Division Cuirassee Rapide).

The first DCR had roughly 150 tanks to Rommel’s 218, however over half of those have been the heavy B fashions that outclassed something within the German stock. The French medium tank, the Somua S35, was one of the best all-around tank on the battlefield within the spring of 1940, quick, nicely protected, and with heavier firepower than the Panzer III. An obstacle of each the B fashions and the Somua was that a single particular person needed to load, goal, and hearth the turret gun, whereas inside a German tank a number of crewmen might coordinate a heavier fee of fireside. The 75mm gun on the B fashions was additionally hull mounted, which meant the gun might be redirected solely by shifting the whole car.

Had the first DCR appeared on Rommel’s proper flank unexpectedly it might have given him a nasty shock. As an alternative, close to Flavion, the Germans came across the French simply as their tanks have been within the strategy of taking over gasoline. One other drawback of the French heavy tanks was their speedy gasoline consumption, which restricted their operations to fewer than six hours earlier than they needed to refuel. Their gasoline tankers, lots of which have been civilian fashions missing tracks able to working on off-road terrain, had been delayed for hours.

A pointy engagement ensued at shut vary. The German panzers hit the heavier French tanks of their extra weak flanks. Their greatest guess was to shoot off the treads as a result of the German weapons lacked to the facility to penetrate the French tanks’ thick frontal armor. Solely about one-third of the tanks within the 1st DRC have been operational on the finish of the day. By the morning of the 16th, solely 17 have been nonetheless operational. Throughout this similar time interval the seventh Panzer Division accomplished the destruction of one other crack French unit, the 4th North African Division, which had been plugged into the road at Onhaye.

“The Most Spectacular German Exploit of the Day”

Reaching the French frontier simply west of Sivry, Rommel now was confronted with attacking the Maginot Line extension. The Germans didn’t make a distinction between the “true” Maginot Line, which ended at Longuyon, and its northern extension, which was made up solely of a shallow belt of pillboxes and antitank obstacles, one thing that explains Rommel’s warning on reaching these much less formidable fortifications.

There seems to have been some confusion on the morning of the 16th. Rommel acquired a message to stay at divisional headquarters for some unknown cause. It was not till 9:30 am that he was given permission to return to his advance headquarters. After shifting ahead and discussing the assault together with his chief of operations, Main Otto Heidkaemper, Rommel was visited by Kluge, who expressed shock that the assault was not but beneath means. Rommel defined his plan, a cautious set-piece assault, and it was readily accepted.

The French defenses have been efficiently pierced because the solar set, and the panzers discovered themselves in open nation by the early night. On the head of the division, driving in Rothenburg’s command tank, Rommel now drove the vanguard of the seventh Panzer relentlessly. The advance continued, as deliberate, within the moonlight. The rout of the first DCR was accomplished on the city of Avesnes, with solely three French tanks escaping. Unable to succeed in Hoth on the radio, Rommel refused to cease. On his personal initiative he ordered the panzers to proceed west, to Landrecies, wreaking havoc within the French rear.

Dawn the next morning, the 17th, discovered Rommel’s forces eight miles west of Landrecies on a hill simply east of the village of Le Chateau, exhausted and almost out of gasoline and ammunition. Two panzer battalions have been now almost 50 miles farther west than that they had been the day earlier than. The motion was audacious to say the least. Rommel’s Avesnes raid had pushed an extended slender “tongue” barely a mile vast into enemy territory. It was, based on writer Alistair Horne, “probably the most spectacular German exploit of the day—probably of the entire marketing campaign—and one which, greater than some other, was to determine Rommel’s status.”

Panzer IVs and a T(38) roll through another small French town.

Panzer IVs and a T(38) roll by means of one other small French city.

Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross

The remainder of the division was now far behind, dangerously so within the minds of some, together with people on the divisional employees akin to Heid- kaemper. He later wrote a memorandum, submitted to each Rommel and Hoth, complaining that a divisional commander ought to stay to the rear, at or near his headquarters. Rommel was nonetheless studying the high quality factors of commanding a panzer division on the transfer and when the state of affairs turned a bit frayed he would improvise options. This type of improvisation, Rommel famous derisively, was mistaken by a frightened “Basic Employees main” as an indication “the command of the division [was] not safe.”

However on this case a minimum of Rommel had judged appropriately. The consequences of his aggressive night time advance on an already shaken French Ninth Military had been decisive. The French models turned extra disorganized and extra demoralized the deeper Rommel drove into their strains. Now Martin’s XI Corps and Bouffett’s II Corps had been all however destroyed. Corap’s military had nearly ceased to exist. Of the 70,000 troops it started the marketing campaign with, solely 7,000 remained. For his actions throughout lately after crossing the Meuse, Rommel was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. Rommel mentions Hanke presenting him the ornament on Might 26 “on behalf of the Führer” and relaying Hitler’s regards, moderately uncommon duties for a junior officer. Rommel later returned the favor, recommending Hanke for the Iron Cross.

Rommel’s Bluff at Cambrai

The 17th was spent consolidating his moderately precarious place. Rommel left the panzer battalions at Le Câteau in a defensive hedgehog and hastened again towards Avesnes with a single tank offering escort. The tank broke down, leaving Rommel within the midst of many French troops, nonetheless bewildered and shocked by current occasions. He was fortunate to flee seize. Ultimately some 10,000 prisoners can be rounded up. The remainder of the division, to Rommel’s possible frustration, was solely simply arriving in Avesnes. He personally led the remaining panzer battalion and the 37th Armored Reconnaissance battalion westward to hyperlink up with Rothenburg’s hedgehog, however not earlier than preventing a pointy engagement with French tanks of a light-weight mechanized division, the first DLM (Division Légère Méchanique), that had taken up blocking positions between Landrecies and Le Câteau.

Lastly reaching Rothenburg, who had been keeping off assaults by French tanks himself, Rommel was stunned to study that for some unknown purpose a provide column had not made it by means of with him. There was no selection however to dispatch models again to Avesnes once more to make sure the availability columns might get via. Rommel recorded that the state of affairs was not cleared up till three pm.

After this pause Rommel acquired orders from Hoth shortly after midnight on Might 18 to push on to Cambrai, some 15 miles west of Le Câteau. Apparently the panzer regiment wouldn’t be prepared to maneuver till a lot later within the day, however Rommel was not about to attend. A composite battle group named Battalion Paris and consisting of principally motorized infantry together with a number of tanks and self-propelled flak weapons, was dispatched. Throwing up a cloud of mud and firing sometimes, the column of principally soft-skinned automobiles managed to persuade the defenders they have been dealing with a serious armored assault. By dusk on the 18th the city had been captured.

The 19th was spent regrouping and permitting the exhausted panzer crews to relaxation. Rommel, assembly with Hoth, demanded that he be allowed to make one other night time assault to grab the excessive floor south of Arras. Hoth didn’t assume the troops sufficiently rested however was persuaded by Rommel’s reasoning that a profitable night time assault would imply fewer casualties.

Night time Assault at Arras

French Poilus march to the front. Rommel’s blitz so unnerved the French that their divisions became disorganized and demoralized.

French Poilus march to the entrance. Rommel’s blitz so unnerved the French that their divisions turned disorganized and demoralized.

Within the early morning darkness of the 20th, the panzers have been once more on the transfer with Rommel characteristically within the lead. They reached the village of Beaurains, about two and a half miles south of Arras, at about 5 am. As had occurred throughout his daring Avesnes raid, the motorized infantry regiments didn’t keep contact with the panzers, falling properly behind. Rommel once more retraced his steps, trying to make contact with them, and once more was almost captured.

Horne wrote, “French cavalry tanks [were] infiltrating throughout his strains of communication. These knocked out Rommel’s accompanying tanks and for a number of hours he and his Alerts Employees have been surrounded.” The remainder of Might 20 was spent clearing up the state of affairs and bringing the infantry and artillery ahead.

Models of the SS Totenkopf (Deaths Head) Division have been arising on his left to assist cowl that flank. The fifth Panzer Division can be arising on his proper, however for the second he determined to cowl that flank with infantry and artillery. The armored reconnaissance battalion was within the rear, almost definitely for the division’s logistical “tail,” given the issues of the earlier days.

There have been rumors of British and French divisions concentrating close to Arras, however given all that had transpired to date Rommel dismissed them and continued together with his personal plans. The 25th Panzer Regiment would lead the advance round Arras to the northwest. In the meantime, the tanks of Guderian’s and Reinhardt’s corps have been pacing Rommel’s troops. Guderian’s 2nd Panzer Division reached the English Channel at Noyelles-sur-Mer round eight pm. A slender panzer hall now cut up the Allies in two.

The British Counterattack

The five-man crew of a short-barreled Panzer IV ride on the outside of their tank, confident that the German Luftwaffe had cleared the skies of Allied fighters.

The five-man crew of a short-barreled Panzer IV journey on the surface of their tank, assured that the German Luftwaffe had cleared the skies of Allied fighters.

Some 250,000 British and French troopers had been reduce off from their important provide bases within the inside of France. Britain’s prime minister, Winston Churchill, had been on the job lower than two weeks. Even so, he instinctively grasped there was a chance. He likened the German panzer divisions, far out in entrance of the forced-marching infantry, to a tortoise sticking its head out of its shell.

At his behest, Sir Edmund Ironside, chief of the Imperial Basic Employees, arrived at British Expeditionary Drive (BEF) headquarters in northeastern France on the morning of Might 20. Assembly with Lord Gort, the commander of the BEF, he indicated that regardless of current occasions the British authorities was utterly hostile to the thought of withdrawing from the Continent. As an alternative, he prompt Gort should stage a breakout to the southwest of a city named Arras.

(It’s value stating that Gort himself had held the place of CIGS previous to the outbreak of the warfare in 1939 and his appointment to command the BEF. Up till this level in his profession he had by no means commanded a drive bigger than a brigade.)

Gort was skeptical. He might sick afford to attract off any of the seven divisions presently occupying the primary entrance on the Escaut, lest he create a niche and lose contact with the already shaky Belgian Military on his left. He agreed the panzer hall have to be minimize earlier than the German infantry might catch as much as reinforce it, however, he insisted, it must be a predominantly French operation. One of the best he might do in the mean time, he informed Ironside, was proceed with an already deliberate counterattack by two divisions advancing south of Arras. The assault he envisioned, to be led by Maj. Gen. H.E. Franklyn, commander of fifth Infantry Division, was to chop German communications and block the roads south from Arras.

Main Basic Giffard le Quesne Martel, commander of the British 50th Infantry Division, had been chosen to steer the attacking troops. As deliberate by Martel, the advance can be carried out by two cellular columns, every to include a tank battalion, an infantry battalion from the 151st Brigade, a battery of area artillery, and a battery of antitank weapons, with an organization of motorcyclists for reconnaissance. Fifty-eight Mark I and simply 16 Mark II tanks have been all it might muster for the assault. Many have been in pressing want of a radical overhaul, notably their treads, which might crack and break after solely
restricted use.

The assault was destined to be severely handicapped. Based on writer George Forty, it “suffered from an entire lack of air help, had little artillery help, no infantry/tank radio communications, [the units had] by no means operated collectively earlier than assembly within the focus space and worst of all, had left in such a rush that correct orders had by no means been handed right down to particular person tank commanders.” French participation can be restricted to about 60 tanks from a cavalry corps overlaying the western flank of the right-hand column.

Rommel’s Gun Crews Repel the Assault

The 7th Panzer artillery opens up on French positions near a destroyed bridge.

The seventh Panzer artillery opens up on French positions close to a destroyed bridge.

Rommel had given orders for the 25th Panzer Regiment to advance northwest of Arras towards Lille by way of Acq, a small village on the north financial institution of the Scarpe River. Observing the panzers forming up, he had little question this new thrust into enemy territory can be as profitable as all these the regiment had launched within the previous days. He wished to accompany it in individual however, as soon as once more, the infantry had been sluggish to comply with up, so he hastened again looking for von Bismarck’s seventh Motorized Infantry Regiment. It was nowhere to be discovered.

As an alternative, Rommel got here throughout a portion of the sixth Motorized Infantry Regiment on the street between Ficheux and Wailly. Accompanying it he arrived in Wailly solely to seek out the German forces within the streets in chaos. Tanks from the seventh Royal Tank Regiment, a part of Martel’s right-hand column, have been closing on the northern fringe of the village from two instructions, and their hearth was creating havoc.

The state of affairs, Rommel wrote, was an “extraordinarily tight spot,” the retreating infantry sweeping up gun crews together with them. Instant motion was required. With the assistance of his aide, Joachim Most, Rommel rallied the gun crews and introduced each out there weapon into motion. It was Rommel’s opinion that solely heavy and speedy hearth from each obtainable gun, each antitank and antiaircraft, might reverse the state of affairs.

Rommel’s life was definitely in nice hazard presently. Most was killed just a few ft away simply because the British started to withdraw. At one other level Rommel and his telegraphist have been cornered in a shell gap by a British tank. As an alternative of killing or capturing him, the tank crew exited the tank and gave themselves up. The driving force had been killed, and the tank was crippled.

Rommel was deeply concerned in deploying the 20mm antiaircraft weapons at his disposal to repulse Martel’s right-hand column. He had no affect on the halting of the left-hand column, which was stopped in its tracks by 105mm and 88mm weapons firing over open sights because the tanks of the left-column broke into the open nation at Beaurains. One 88mm battery claimed to have destroyed 9 tanks. Rommel spoke by radio at 7 pm with the 25th Panzer Regiment, which had reached its aims and was ready for the remainder of the division. He ordered it to show southeast and assault each Walrus and Duisans through the night. It ran afoul of the infantry and antitank weapons that had been indifferent there, ultimately broke by way of them, after which engaged in a fierce tank duel south of Agnez because it pulled again to its begin line. Seven British tanks have been knocked out at a price of 9 German.


The warfare diary of the seventh Panzer Division admits the next losses on Might 21: 89 killed, 116 wounded, and 173 lacking. This was 4 occasions as many losses because the division had suffered in the course of the breakout from the Meuse. The 25th Panzer Regiment had misplaced as many as 30 automobiles, together with six Czech PzKpfw 38(t) and three PzKpfw IV tanks. The Totenkopf Division recorded losses of 39 lifeless, 66 wounded, and two lacking. The British claimed 400 prisoners, a complete that doesn’t match German figures. It’s attainable the variety of German lacking was intentionally under-reported.

Following the renewal of major operations in the West on May 10, 1940, Czech-designed tanks of the German Army roll rapidly across France and toward the English Channel. Using Czech technology enabled the panzer arm of the Wehrmacht to deliver firepower and mobility to the front in the early days of the war.

Following the renewal of main operations within the West on Might 10, 1940, Czech-designed tanks of the German Military roll quickly throughout France and towards the English Channel. Utilizing Czech know-how enabled the panzer arm of the Wehrmacht to ship firepower and mobility to the entrance within the early days of the conflict.

British and French casualties had, nevertheless, been simply as heavy, notably in gear. Of the 58 Mark I tanks solely 26 remained, and of the 16 Mark II tanks solely two remained. The remaining, lots of which wanted upkeep, have been harassed by German Ju-87 Stuka dive-bombers.

Rommel Maintains the Offensive

Within the days following the engagement at Arras, Rommel continued to push north, crossing the la Bassee Canal west of Lens, and at noon on Might 26, he was given momentary command of the tanks in fifth Panzer Division for the assault towards Lille. Between Might 27 and June 1, Rommel helped set up defensive positions outdoors Lille, keeping off French assaults earlier than being relieved by German infantry.

Summoned to see Hitler on June 2 whereas his division refitted for the second part of the marketing campaign, Rommel proudly wrote his spouse that in the course of the assembly on June three he was the one divisional commander who had been allowed to accompany Hitler. For his half, Hitler informed Rommel, “we have been all frightened for you through the assault.”

The seventh Panzer Division would take pleasure in one other run of nearly uninterrupted success the second the German invasion was resumed on June 5. The French had adopted a protection in depth by this time and infrequently inflicted sharp losses on the advancing Germans, however that they had misplaced most of their greatest troops and gear and the BEF had been evicted from the Continent. German victory was solely a matter of time. Breaching the French line on the Somme River between Abbeville and Amiens, the speedy advance shortly reworked right into a rout.

Rouen was reached on June eight; St. Valéry, between Le Havre and Dieppe, on the 11th; and Cherbourg on the 18th. Rommel, writing residence to his spouse from Rennes on June 21, described the second part of the marketing campaign as resembling a pleasing “lightning tour of France.” When the armistice between Germany and France went into impact on the 25th, the seventh Panzer Division was fewer than 200 miles from the Spanish frontier. In the course of the execution of Plan Gelb, at the price of lower than 2,500 casualties and 42 tanks destroyed (highest of Germany’s 10 panzer divisions), Rommel’s division had captured 97,648 prisoners, 277 area weapons, 64 antitank weapons, 458 tanks and armored automobiles, and greater than four,000 vans along with monumental quantities of provides.

British General Victor Fortune (right) surrenders the 51st Highland Division to Rommel and his staff.

British Common Victor Fortune (proper) surrenders the 51st Highland Division to Rommel and his employees.

“The Biggest Battle of Annihilation of All Time”

Germany’s marketing campaign in France and the Low Nations in Might and June 1940 has been characterised—each on the time and since—as “the best battle of annihilation of all time.” Writer John Ellis wrote that the German Military “had defeated a extremely rated enemy, superior in each numbers and gear, in simply 46 days.”

The armies of Holland, Belgium, France, and Britain had been routed by a German Military missing each materials and numerical superiority and regardless of their having been allowed 9 months during which to organize their defenses in a theater of operations giant sufficient to have afforded ample alternative to purchase time via a thought-about strategic withdrawal.

Germany, for its half, misunderstood the idea of its astonishing victory and underestimated the willingness of the Allies to struggle on. Hitler turned satisfied that his armies couldn’t be crushed. Rommel, who on the time had no concept Hitler’s thirst for conquest was almost unquenchable, in all probability anticipated the struggle to be over in 1940. He wrote, “How fantastic it’s all been.”

The Ghost Division

The exploits of the Gespensterdivision (Ghost Division), because the Germans referred to as seventh Panzer, or la division fantôme (the phantom division), because the French referred to it, in the course of the beautiful conquest of France delighted Rommel’s benefactors and nearly assured additional development. To drive the purpose residence Rommel spent a part of the summer time of 1940, at Goebbels’ request, aiding within the manufacturing of the propaganda movie Victory within the West. The counterattack at Arras is the one Allied offensive motion talked about in the complete movie.

Time was additionally spent getting ready for the crossing of the English Channel and the invasion of Nice Britain, code-named Operation Sea Lion, however the invasion was canceled when the required precondition—air superiority over the Channel and southern England—was by no means achieved.

Rommel additionally revealed the warfare diary of the seventh Panzer Division in guide type, a replica of which was introduced to Hitler by Rommel’s pal, Rudolf Schmundt. Hitler was impressed to the extent that he wrote a letter, dated December 20, 1940, telling Rommel, “You could be pleased with your achievements.”

Promotion got here in January 1941, when Rommel was elevated to the rank of lieutenant basic and despatched to Libya to spearhead Operation Sonnenblume (Sunflower) as commander of the Afrika Korps. There, in North Africa, he would ultimately earn his area marshal’s baton and cement his status because the Desert Fox.

Initially Revealed September 2010