My Uncle Harry was in the 8th Army in North Africa.
They were known as The Desert Rats.
Uncle Harry, like everyone else, was in awe of Rommel.
Rommel was the genius in command of the German Afrika Corps.
His image, his reputation (what we would call his ‘brand’) was destroying morale amongst British troops.
So much so that Montgomery banned any mention of his name.
The back-story was this.
In June 1940, Italy declared war on Britain.
Britain and Italy fought in North Africa and the British wiped the floor with them.
By the end of 1940 the Italian army had been pretty much destroyed
But Hitler couldn’t let North Africa fall to the British.
So in February 1941 he sent German troops under General Rommel.
Straight away things changed.
Where the British had easily beaten the Italians, the Germans began beating the British.
Whatever the British tried, Rommel out thought them.
Wherever they attacked, Rommel was expecting it.
Whichever way they defended, Rommel came round the other way.
That’s how he got the name ‘The Desert Fox’.
Rommel’s reputation gave belief to his own soldiers and badly harmed the morale of the British troops.
Everyone recognised his genius was unbeatable.
Rommel wasn’t quite the genius everyone believed.
The truth is he really did know every move the British were going to make before they made it.
Because an American told him.
In 1940 America wasn’t in the war, but Colonel Bonner Frank Fellers was assigned to the US Embassy in Egypt.
He was allowed into every British military briefing.
Every day he sent what he’d heard, in code, back to Washington.
Here’s a sample:
NIGHT OF JUNE 12TH JUNE 13th BRITISH SABOTAGE UNITS PLAN SIMULTANEOUS STICKER BOMB ATTACKS AGAINST AIRCRAFT ON 9 AXIS AIRDROMES PLANS TO REACH OBJECTIVE BY PARACHUTES AND LONG RANGE DESERT PATROL.
What Colonel Fellers didn’t know was that the Italians had broken into the US Embassy in Rome and photographed the codebooks.
Every cable he sent was decoded within a few hours.
Rommel read the British plans with his breakfast.
So he really did know what they were going to do before they did it.
And Rommel looked like a tactical genius.
Up until June 1942.
That’s when it became obvious the code had been broken.
The entire code system was changed and Colonel Fellers was replaced.
Rommel wasn’t able to read British plans with his breakfast.
Suddenly he wasn’t so brilliant as he had been.
Because three months later the British attacked at El Alamein and Rommel didn’t know about it.
He lost 37,000 men and four hundred tanks.
That changed the balance of the war in North Africa.
All troops on both sides stopped believing in the infallibility of Rommel’s brand .
German morale suffered, British moral soared.
El Alamein was the first of many defeats for him.
In fact, six months later all German forces in North Africa surrendered.
Proving it hadn’t just been Rommel that had been beating the British.
It had been predatory thinking.