Following are some excerpts from The Rommel Papers (1953), which reproduces some letters from Rommel to his wife, in three of which he mentions Australian soldiers. Erwin Rommel was the German field marshal who led the German and Italian forces in North Africa during the Second World War.
In a letter dated 25 April 1941 (which, coincidentally, was Anzac Day), he gave high praise for Australian soldiers (the key part has been emphasised in bold):
“As I stopped at Kirchheim’s H.Q., the Italian force was just halting, unloading its weapons and ammunition and going into position.
I was extremely annoyed and charged Major Appel with the task of getting the Italians forward. He made a great effort, but did not achieve much. With British artillery fire sweeping the whole area, the Italians crept under their vehicles and resisted all their officer’s attempts to get them out again.
Shortly afterwards a batch of some fifty or sixty Australian prisoners were marched off close beside us — immensely big and powerful men, who without question represented an élite formation of the British Empire, a fact that was also evident in battle. Enemy resistance was as stubborn as ever and violent actions were being fought at many points. All the same, I continued for some time to think that we would be able to maintain our attack and take Tobruk. The only question was whether we had enough troops to go on feeding the attack long enough.”
From his 14 July 1942 letter:
“With the sun at their backs, our units fought their way forward from south to north as far as the area between the road and railway, where the attack came to a halt. Fierce fighting followed with the Australians, whom we knew only too well from the time of the Tobruk siege, and lasted well into the night.”
In his 14 July 1942 letter, he wrote:
“On the moonlight night of the 26th July, the Australians attacked again, this time in brigade strength. Their objective was the German line west of the Alamein-Abu Dweis track. The assembly had been made in all secrecy, and the assault, which was preceded by a violent R.A.F. bombing attack, consequently achieved a considerable measure of surprise. Despite the curtain of fire which was at once put down by the German-Italian artillery, the Australians succeeded in penetrating our front and wiping out the greater part of the German battalion. However, a dashing counter-attack by Combat Group Briehl, 3rd Reconnaissance Regiment and Kampfstaffel Kiehl eventually smashed in the Australian wedge, and threw the enemy back to his own line with heavy losses.”
B. H. Liddell Hart, The Rommel Papers, London: Collins, 1953, pp. 132, 255-256, 259
Erwin Rommel, Encyclopædia Britannica
Erwin Rommel, Wikipedia
Erwin Rommel (1891-1944), Biography
That’s so amazing, that our Aussie soldiers were respected by Germans 🤯
Catherine Brown says
No wonder Churchill tried so hard to stop PM Curtin from bringing our boys home to fight the Japanese in New Guinea.
John Curtin – one of my all time Heroes. He had tremendous courage and not only had to face down one of the most powerful and dogged leaders of the time, but had to endure the thought that a large part of Australia’s fighting force was on the Water, on their way to fight again for us. No wonder we are so proud of this little Nation and the ordinary men and women who did such extraordinary things. God bless em, we’ll never forget them.
Simon Gibbons says
Not such a surprise mate. I knew a lot of WW1 and a lot more WW2 diggers: I knew a few of the original Aussie commandos who were trained by Mayne in North Africa. I knew a fair few Rats of Tobruk too. All of them never forgot all the bloody flies. But they told me the sound of the stuka’s would put the wind up the hardest bastard: but they became acclimatised to them a little bit. The Scot Highland divisions, Gurkha’s and ANZACS were the wehrmacht’s greatest challenge. A lot of Anglo Aussies have Scottish heritage so the warrior instinct is a kind of genetic thing it seems. But that’s not to say The Rats of Tobruk were particularly impermeable to the hot dusty climate of North Africa: it was bloody hard yakka. One of the old Aussie commando’s I knew told me they had to travel as light and quickly as possible. They’d have half a litre of water to survive on per day. They’d not bother with food if an operation was only scheduled to last 3 or 4 days. You’d get dropped off by jeep about 80 km from your target about 10 or 11 at night, be expected to cover that 80 km over night by dawn. If you were dropped off late on a Tuesday night you’d be told if you don’t make it back to the rendezvous point at 1300 hours Thursday for instance, it would be up to you to make it back on your own anyway you could. Old Bill told me on one of his first missions he and 7 mates, poms, Indian, other Aussies, had to get to an underground German instillation, deploy explosives according to the intel they had of the layout, then had about 6 or 7 minutes to get out of danger range. They all made it ok and made the rendezvous point with a couple of hours to spare. You know what he complained about the most. The bloody infernal flies. Bill was 80 about 25 years ago. I knew he was 80, he told me the day he got his OBE. I asked him doesn’t that mean Order of the British Empire. He said nah mate, over bloody 80, it was the day he turned 80. If you didn’t know any Aussie WW1 or WW2 diggers I feel for you, they were the best mates I EVER had, or ever will. They were everything you hear about in traditional media and culture. All the WW1 blokes are gone now and there’s a small dwindling number of WW2 vets now. I never would’ve told those mad old bastards, but I loved those blokes and the way they talked to and treated me, they showed it back in return. How some of them made it through is utterly bloody gob smacking when you know their stories and close they came to getting knocked. And none of them were gung ho war mongering glorifiers of war. How often many of them told me they couldn’t understand why they were killing absolute strangers with whom they had no personal grudge. But still, they were all about watching their mates back’s and keeping out radical maniacs who were hell bent on spreading tyranny. And they had a sense of humour that would humiliate most of these modern day comedians. By fuck I miss the bloody lot of them.
After ww2 my grandmother devoted the rest of her life to keeping all the servicemen at Port Kembla RSL on an even keel, mentally. She would go to the RSL and sit with the diggers simply talking about whatever they needed. My grandmother was extremely intelligent. She had been an army nurse in ww2. She saw the level of trauma the returned servicemen had gone through and was determined to make a difference. Sadly, Port Kembla RSL does not exist now. That is sad for me. It is as if the people who used it are wiped from our memory. My grandmother’s counselling was just enough to enable the servicemen to get jobs, get married, have kids, go on holidays and achieve whatever goals they wished. My grandmother had a 100% success rate in saving soldiers, which most psychiatrists and psychologists can only dream of. I love her and miss her. Everyone who knew her described he as an angel. I believe that what she was doing was the beginning of PTSD therapy in Australia.
Australians were known for being excellent shock troops.
Nick Moss says
You have to remember at this point the ANZACS were in the main volunteer armies, the Brits were conscript and on average inevitably less effective. He certainly rated the ANZACS though, especially on the front foot and for offensive operations. It’s not that he didn’t rate the Brits too, but thought their Commanders were overly-cautious and slow to react. Commanders were, in his opinion, stuck in a WW1 doctrine, and hence the British were considered at their best when facing an enemy from a dug in position and defending. He also rated specialist British divisions such as the Commandos, and the battle-hardened British 7th Division (the original Desert Rats), and the British Guards Brigade whom he claimed were ‘almost the living embodiment of the virtues and faults of the British soldier – tremendous courage and tenacity combined with a rigid lack of mobility’. He also respected the bravery of the Indian and South African divisions. As a Brit I say we were very lucky to have our Empire troops including the Canadians who Rommel seems not to discuss. Not to forget the Newfoundland brigade BTW.
A fair assesment. It wasn’t that the Brits were in general less effective; the Brits had brigades and units that were professional along the same level as the Australians and New Zealanders, but obviously having to supply most of the troops at this point means Britain had to use green and raw units out of desperation sometimes. And green units are best used carefully. The 7th Division and the Guards are good examples of elite British units that he respected when used properly, same as the ANZACs.
“If I had to take hell, I would use the Australians to take it, and the New Zealanders to hold it”
Rated them? He held them higher than any allied force. There could be no greater praise from one of the greatest military minds that ever lived.
Nick Moss says
He never said this though, its a mythical comment typical of the less militarily-educated people of every Country who believe such quotes about their troops.
Rawlinson R says
Charlie Upham said about British conscripts.”What do you expect when brought up on two green trees and five potatoes”
Glenn Gibson says
On his return to Germany, Rommel was summoned to meet with Hitler to answer why he had not completed the North African campaign. Rommel explained the difficulties. Hitler asked what he needed to secure victory. Rommel answered candidly, “Two battalions of Australians, and a battalion of New Zealanders”. He was relieved of his command.
Spencer de Vere says
Please let us know your source for this…as I don’t believe it. Who was there to record this for posterity. Apart from that, Rommel was an ardent admirer of Hitler and would never speak to him in such a ‘smart-ass’ manner
Nick Moss says
The Anzacs were excellent troops, but there is this problem especially with some people who believe that Rommel really made these quotes. He valued his own Africa Corps above anybody else.
Adrian beyer says
Anzac hard as nails
Paul Langford says
ANZAC Day is in many ways a celebration of the defeat at Gallipoli. It commemorates the death of so many men for nothing. I once saw a video of a Turkish veteran telling of their side, where they were shooting the ANZAC troops who were attacking, and crying for the pity and sadness of it, but still shooting to defend their own country.
Rick Grantham says
Can’t help but think what would have happened if the lads at Gallipoli got up the hill early in battle, a lot of them boys came off the land, fit as Mallee bulls, most farmers in Australia had multiple children, all could ride, tough as nails, scrub clearers, rock pickers, me thinks if they got to the top could have been a very different result, today’s youth or young men will have to take their play stations with them to throw at the enemy, blanket as well so when they crawl into the foetal position they stay warm.