I keep running across the idea in movies and books that Patton and Rommel were arch-nemeses like Batman and the Joker. But looking at the actual historical record, I have to question how this idea got started.
George Patton’s first command was in Morocco. At the time, Rommel was fighting the British in Egypt. On March 6, 1943, Patton was named as commander of the US Army’s II Corps in Tunisia. But Rommel was relieved of the command of the German Africa Corps on March 9, 1943. And he had been fighting the British, not the Americans, in the last few days of his command.
Patton then fought in Sicily. Rommel was sent to Greece and northern Italy before being assigned to France. He fought the Americans again when they invaded but was wounded and again relieved of command on July 17, 1944. Patton did not take command of any forces in France until August 1, 1944.
As far as I can tell, these two generals never fought a battle against each other. Did I miss something?
In the motion picture Patton, George C. Scott’s character is shown reading Rommel’s book on tank tactics. Later, defeating the German tanks, he shouts “Rommel, you magnificent bastard! I read your book!”
Later, it’s revealed that Rommel wasn’t actually there, but one of Patton’s aides salves Patton’s ego by suggesting that, while Rommel wasn’t there, the plan was surely his, and that by defeating Rommel’s plan, Patton had actually beaten Rommel by proxy.
It’s dangereous to rely on historical films for one’s history (and it’s been way too long since I read the Ladislas Farago bio of Patton the movie was, in part, based on), but the implication was that Patten and Rommel were colorful, charismatic leaders of tank corps on opposite sides who potentially could have confronted one another. How true that really is, I don’t know.
Piss-poor history education, and entertainment which is not interested in facts, basically.
As MOIDALIZE says, they were the two great ‘celebrity’ generals on the US and German sides. And since, according to a lot of the popular swill out there, the US single-handedly defeated Germany, it must therefore follow that Patton beat Rommel - possibly in a Colt-Vs-Luger shootout while each stood on top of a tank on the outskirts of Berlin, or something equally inane. I mean, how else could the war possibly have ended?
One thing I’ve found myself grateful for as regards WWII is that MacArthur was in the Pacific. I shudder to think of what would have happened if Montgomery, Patton and MacArthur had all been in the European theater.
This TIME Magazine article of 12 April 1943. The Fight Against the Champ gives a reasonably good summation of Patton’s ‘contact’ with ‘The Champ’ as TIME loved to call him. The contact between Rommel and Patton took place exclusively in Patton’s infantile dreams.
The article provides a good example of American Rommel hero worship that continues to this day. It even includes that ridiculous quote by General Patton where he ejaculated his puerile desire to have a one on one tank duel with Rommel.
To the eternal disappointment of America’s legion of Rommel fanboys, Rommel and his Axis forces proved to be no better than a limp punching bag for Montgomery and the Eighth Army, as demonstrated at Alam Halfa, Alamein, Tobruk, Benghazi, Marsa Brega/El Aghiela, Buerat, Homs-Tarhuna, Tripoli and Medenine on 6 March 1943. (After the Medenine fiasco, which cost the Afrika Korps over 50 panzers for no gain, Rommel flew off to visit his Fuhrer to beg him to withdraw all Axis forces from North Africa, but to no avail).
Can I just take a moment to point out that “nemesis” does not simply mean “enemy” or “opponent,” and linguistically speaking, “arch-nemesis” is a null value.
Nemesis was originally the name of the Greek goddess of divine retribution. There’s only the one. If someone’s coming to tear you limb from limb for your past crimes, that person is your very own designated nemesis. Someone who picks a fight with you is not.
Criminy, if I could only smack Joss Whedon for throwing that concept into Season 6 of BtVS. Yes, language is fluid and changeable, but nemesis has a valuable meaning by its original definition, and its current use as a synonym of opponent is sloppy.
That’s a bit of a one-sided assessment, given that Monty took over at the low-water mark of British fortunes in North Africa, just when the Afrika Korps had exhausted itself chasing Auchinlek all the way into Egypt, and at a time when the Eight Army was receiving reinforcements and materiel in quantities Rommel couldn’t hope to match. Monty did a great job, but if he had his boots on the sand in early 1941 his record against Rommel might look a bit different.
It wasn’t Auchinleck who was being chased all the way back to Egypt, it was one of his idiotic selections for field commander, General Ritchie, who made such a pig’s breakfast of his command that the Eighth Army was forced by Rommel’s forces into a disorganised retreat of hundreds of miles all the way back to the Alamein line where Auchinleck, who was the overall commander of the Middle East, decided to dismiss Ritchie and take over as field commander on a temporary basis.
The Eighth Army didn’t start receiving material in adequate quantities to enable an attack on Rommel, particularly properly designed tanks with reasonably powerful guns (the Sherman), until after the Alam Halfa battle of August/September 1942, the first of many defeats inflicted by Montgomery’s Eighth Army on Axis forces led by ‘The Desert Fox’.
So he won a single defensive victory against German forces dangling on the end of a 1300km supply line and whose battle plan was an open book curtesy of Bletchley Park, before then winning a series of attritional battles by deploying his superior resources in an effective and well-thought-out manner? It still isn’t the stuff of legend, IMO.
And the Eight Army were already deploying Grants and quantities of other Lend-Lease materiel against Rommel as early as May 42, while Rommel wasn’t getting much other than exhortations.
You forget that the Eighth Army, dangling on the end of a 1570 mile (that’s about 2500 km) supply line leading back to Alexandria, also won a defensive victory at Medenine on 6 March 1943. That was the final fling by Rommel who attacked the Eighth Army with three Panzer Divisions. The "Desert Fox” lost over fifty tanks in that idiotic attack and inflicted very few casualties on the Eighth Army.
(As for supply problems, need I mention the 15,000 mile supply line around the Cape of Good Hope on which the whole Middle East command depended?).
Rommel’s ‘battle plan’, or the most likely line of attack was predicted months before Montgomery arrived simply because an outflanking move around a well defended line, almost invariably during a full moon, was the only sensible approach and the one most likely to bear fruit. It had previously been used on several occasions by Rommel with great success.
Bletchley Park had nothing to do with revealing any ‘plan’ simply because no German General ever transmitted details of field operations to Berlin.
Bletchley Park predicted the most likely date if the Axis decided to attack, that was the full moon period at the end of August 1942.
The intelligence provided by Bletchley Park was useful to the extent that it provided the Eighth Army with valuable information of Rommel’s supply problems and reinforcements, but any notion that such information had any bearing on the outcome of Alam Halfa is absurd.