“The Desert Fox” commits suicide - HISTORY
Year
1944

“The Desert Fox” commits suicide

On this day in 1944, German Gen. Erwin Rommel, nicknamed “the Desert Fox,” is given the option of facing a public trial for treason, as a co-conspirator in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, or taking cyanide. He chooses the latter.

Rommel was born in 1891 in Wurttenberg, Germany, the son of a teacher. Although not descended from military men, the newly unified German empire made it fashionable to choose a military career, which young Rommel did, becoming an officer cadet. During World War I, he showed himself to be a natural leader with unnatural courage, fighting in France, Romania, and Italy. Following the war, he pursued a teaching career in German military academies, writing a textbook, Infantry Attacks, that was well regarded.

At the outbreak of World War II, Rommel was given command of the troops that guarded Hitler’s headquarters, a disappointment for a man used to fighting on the front lines with the infantry. But in early 1940, he was given his chance to put to use his gifts, when he was given command of the 7th Panzer Division. Although a novice as far as mechanized forces were concerned, he soon mastered the advantages and proved his leadership abilities again in the German offensive against the French channel coast in May.

In early 1941, Rommel was given control of the troops sent to North Africa to aid Germany’s ailing ally, Italy, in maintaining its position in Libya. It is here, in the deserts of North Africa, that Rommel earned his vaunted reputation, as well as his nickname (he became known for his “fox-like” sneak attacks). Winning significant victories against the British, whom he begrudgingly admired, Rommel nevertheless became weary of this theater of operations; he wanted to go back to Europe. It wasn’t until a second battle to take el-Alamein in Egypt went against him that the “invincible” general was finally called home back to Europe.

Hitler put Rommel back in northern France, to guard against an Allied invasion. Rommel’s suggestions for the precautions necessary to repel an enemy invasion were not heeded, and he began to lose confidence in Hitler and Germany’s ability to win the war. When Rommel was approached by friends to agree to head the German government in the event of Hitler’s overthrow, he agreed-although there was no explicit talk of assassination, which he found abhorrent.

D-Day was launched, and Rommel’s prediction of disaster for Germany’s position played itself out. Still, Hitler would not consider negotiations with the Allies. Rommel ended up in the hospital after his car was attacked by British bombers and he was forced off the road. Meanwhile, details of the failed assassination plot had come to Hitler’s attention, including Rommel’s contact with the conspirators. As Rommel was convalescing in his home at Herrlingen, two generals visited and offered him his choice-trial or suicide. Rommel told his wife and son what had transpired, and that he had chosen to take the cyanide capsules the generals had provided.

The German government gave Rommel a state funeral. His death was attributed to war wounds.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Theodore Roosevelt shot in Milwaukee

Before a campaign speech in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Theodore Roosevelt, the presidential candidate for the Progressive Party, is shot at close range by saloonkeeper John Schrank while greeting the public in front of the Gilpatrick Hotel. Schrank’s .32-caliber bullet, aimed directly ...read more

The Battle of Hastings

King Harold II of England is defeated by the Norman forces of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings, fought on Senlac Hill, seven miles from Hastings, England. At the end of the bloody, all-day battle, Harold was killed–shot in the eye with an arrow, according to ...read more

King wins Nobel Peace Prize

African American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent resistance to racial prejudice in America. At 35 years of age, the Georgia-born minister was the youngest person ever to receive the award.Martin Luther King, ...read more

Yeager breaks sound barrier

U.S. Air Force Captain Chuck Yeager becomes the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound.Yeager, born in Myra, West Virginia, in 1923, was a combat fighter during World War II and flew 64 missions over Europe. He shot down 13 German planes and was himself shot down over ...read more

Steve Bartman catches ball

On October 14, 2003, a Chicago Cubs fan named Steve Bartman plucks a fly ball out of the air before outfielder Moises Alou can catch it—a catch that would have been a crucial out—in the sixth game of the league championship series against the Florida Marlins. As a result of ...read more

Dwight D. Eisenhower is born

On this day in 1890, future President Dwight D. Eisenhower is born near Abilene, Texas.After graduating from West Point in 1915, Eisenhower embarked on a stellar military career–he would eventually become the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe during World War II and ...read more

Victor Hugo marries Adele Foucher

On this day in 1822, Victor Hugo married Adele Foucher, his childhood sweetheart. The pair will have numerous children, and the marriage will survive notorious infidelities on both sides. The marriage got off to an ominous start, however, when Hugo’s brother suffered a nervous ...read more

Pulp Fiction debuts

On this day in 1994, the writer-director Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, a crime drama featuring multiple storylines and a large ensemble cast including John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis and Harvey Keitel, opens in theaters. Made for less than $10 ...read more

Coal miners die in Wales

On this day in 1913, 439 workers die in a massive coal-mine explosion in Wales. The incident was one of Britain’s worst-ever mining disasters.The Sengenhydd colliery (coal mine) was located about eight miles from Cardiff in Wales. The mine consisted of two pits, side by side, ...read more

Trial begins in Amityville murders

Ronald DeFeo Jr. goes on trial for the killings of his parents and four siblings in their Amityville, New York, home on October 14, 1975. The family’s house was later said to be haunted and served as the inspiration for the Amityville Horror book and movies.On the evening of ...read more

The Cuban Missile Crisis begins

The Cuban Missile Crisis begins on October 14, 1962, bringing the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear conflict. Photographs taken by a high-altitude U-2 spy plane offered incontrovertible evidence that Soviet-made medium-range missiles in Cuba—capable of ...read more

Battle of Bristoe Station

Confederate General Robert E. Lee attempts to drive the Union army out of Virginia but fails when an outnumbered Union force repels the attacking Rebels at the Battle of Bristoe Station.In September 1863, two corps from the Union Army of the Potomac moved to Tennessee to ...read more