January 29

This Day in History

World War I

Jan 29, 1915:

German lieutenant Erwin Rommel leads daring mission in France

On January 29, 1915, in the Argonne region of France, German lieutenant Erwin Rommel leads his company in the daring capture of four French block-houses, the structures used on the front to house artillery positions.

Rommel crept through the French wire first and then called for the rest of his company to follow him. When they hung back after he had repeatedly shouted his orders, Rommel crawled back, threatening to shoot the commander of his lead platoon if the other men did not follow him. The company finally advanced, capturing the block-houses and successfully combating an initial French counter-attack before they were surrounded, subjected to heavy fire and forced to withdraw.

Rommel was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class, for his bravery in the Argonne; he was the first officer of his regiment to be so honored. Where Rommel is, there is the front, became a popular slogan within his regiment. The bravery and ingenuity he displayed throughout the Great War, even in light of the eventual German defeat, led to Rommel's promotion through the ranks of the army in the post-war years.

In May 1940, Erwin Rommel was at the head of the 7th Panzer Division that invaded France with devastating success at the beginning of the Second World War. Promoted to general and later to field marshal, he was sent to North Africa at the head of the German forces sent to aid Hitler's ally, Benito Mussolini. Known as the Desert Fox, Rommel engineered impressive victories against Britain in Libya and Egypt before his troops were decisively defeated at El Alamein in Egypt in 1943 and forced to retreat from the region.

Back in France to see the success of the Allied invasion in June and July 1944, Rommel warned Hitler that the end of the war was near. The unequal struggle is nearing its end, Rommel sent in a teletype message on July 15. I must ask you immediately to draw the necessary conclusions from this situation.

Suspected by Hitler of conspiring against him in the so-called July Plot, Rommel was presented with an ultimatum: suicide, with a state funeral and protection for his family, or trial for high treason. Rommel chose the former, taking poison pills on October 14, 1944. He was buried with full military honors.

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