Having gained a solid reputation as a military savant of the highest order, Rommel was promoted to Lieutenant General and placed in command of the newly formed Afrika Korps, which had been created with the intention of being sent to Libya to assist Italian troops struggling to cope with British advances into Axis territory in North Africa.
Ignoring orders to assume a defensive posture, Rommel immediately launched a lightning assault on the startled British forces and his Afrika Korps advanced rapidly, driving General Waverley out of his fortified position at Benghazi.
In an attempt to take advantage of the confusion that resulted from the fall of Benghazi, Rommel continued to press forward, driving the British before him and finally enveloping the enemy within Tobruk. Rommel place Tobruk under siege but met with stiff and resolute resistance from British and Australian soldiers.
In June, 1941, Wavell launched an Allied counterattack, Operation Battleaxe, but was severely mauled by Rommel’s Afrika Corp. After that, Rommel notched up a string of victories, more often than not against vastly superior forces, including Tobruk, Gazala, and El Alamein. In the process, he not only earned a formidable reputation for personal bravery and strategic genius but also for gallantry and mercy, as he amply demonstrated when he sent medical supplies to New Zealand forces within the Allied lines.
With a lack of reinforcements and supplies hampering his ability to complete a knockout blow to the Allied forces in North Afrika, Rommel was forced to go on the defensive and then later pull out his remaining forces from the North African theatre.
In February 1940, Rommel was named commander of the 7th Panzer division. The following year, he was appointed commander of German troops (the Afrika Korps) in North Africa.Colonel General Rommel inspecting German defensive positions, North Africa, Jan 1942
Italian losses to the British in North Africa led Adolf Hitler to send Rommel to Libya, where he laid siege to the port city of Tobruk from April to December 1941. Repulsed by the British, he returned with the Afrika Korps in June 1942 and finally took the city; this attack became known as the Battle of Gazala. Not long after, Rommel was promoted to field marshal by Hitler.