The Afrika Korps or German Africa Corps was the German expeditionary force in Africa during the North African Campaign of World War II.
First sent as a holding force to shore up the Italian defense of their African colonies, the formation fought on in Africa from March 1941 until its surrender in May 1943. Its commander was the infamous Erwin Rommel.
Rommel first gained attention in the First World War. As a young German officer, he experienced mobile warfare on the Romanian and Italian fronts, avoiding the bogged down trench fighting. Smart and courageous, he earned several of Germany’s highest honors, including two Iron Crosses.
Politically astute, Rommel ingratiated himself with the Nazi leadership as they took control of Germany. His style of command involved more micro-management than was usual in Germany, but because of his political connections, it did not hinder his career.
At the start of the Second World War, Rommel commanded the troops guarding Hitler’s headquarters during the invasion of Poland. He then used Hitler’s favor to win command of a Panzer Division, skipping the usual line for a promotion.
In France, Rommel proved his worth as a tank commander. Using the boldness that had won him distinction in the previous war, he led his division in a decisive advance. He waded into icy waters and wielded a machine gun during a difficult river crossing. His troops were credited with capturing 100,000 Allied prisoners.
When Italian troops were in trouble in North Africa, Rommel was sent to help them. It was to be a token effort, but a bold strike by Rommel drove the British back. Two years of back-and-forth campaigning followed. Operation Torch, in which the Americans arrived, opened a second front and led to the defeat of Axis forces in North Africa.
Briefly involved in the defense of Italy, Rommel was then moved to Normandy. He prepared defenses and fought against the 1944 Allied invasion. However, his tactical flexibility was limited by Hitler’s commands.
In July 1944, he was severely wounded when a British fighter strafed his car. While recuperating, he was implicated in a plot to kill Hitler. Given a choice between suicide and a show trial, he took his own life on October 14.
These often-chilling pictures offer us a fascinating insight into the hardware the Allies were up against in this theatre of WW2. The campaign was hard and bloody and left many hundreds of thousands dead, missing, wounded, or captured, but the fascist alliance of Germany and Italy was ultimately driven from the land. After the campaign, the Allies would turn their attention to Italy, where they would win another crucial victory in the fight against militant fascism in Europe.