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WW2 General : Erwin Rommel


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#1 Reventer

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Posted 27 March 2014 - 08:37 PM

Rommel acted as commander of the Führerbegleithauptquartier (Führer escort headquarters) during the Invasion of Poland, often moving up close to the front in the Führersonderzug and seeing much of Hitler. After the Polish were defeated, Rommel returned to Berlin to organise security for the Führer's victory parade.

France 1940Panzer commander

Though France and Britain had declared war on Germany after the invasion of Poland, the winter and early spring of 1940 was a quiet period in the war. There was little activity along Germany's border with France, and the Netherlands and Belgium were still neutral countries. Following the campaign in Poland, Rommel made it known that charge of a guard detail was not the best use of his services, and he asked for a command in the regular army. Hitler asked Rommel what kind of a command he would prefer.[22] Four of the "Light" divisions used in the Poland campaign were being built up to full strength panzer divisions.[23] Rommel replied he wanted the command of one of these.[24] At the time there were only ten panzer divisions in the army.[25] Three months before Fall Gelb (Case Yellow: the planned invasion of France and the Low Countries), on 6 February 1940, Rommel was given command of the 7th Panzer Division. Rommel was well known by the men in the division as an Alpine infantry commander, and there was some doubt among them over his ability to handle mechanized units.[26] However Rommel's successes in World War I were based on surprise and maneuver, two elements the new panzer units were ideally suited for. Upon taking command he quickly set his unit to practising the maneuvers they would need in the upcoming campaign.[27] The decision to place him in command of an armoured division was soon borne out to be an excellent one. In the upcoming invasion of France in May 1940 his 7th Panzer Division would become known as the "Ghost Division", called this because its fast paced attacks and rapid advances often placed it so far forward that their actual position was not known, and they were frequently out of communication with the German high command.

Invasion of France and Belgium

On 10 May 1940 the Germans invaded Belgium, with von Bock's Army Group B moving into northern Belgium while von Runstedt's Army Group A with seven panzer divisions drove the hammer blow by coming through the rugged Ardennes forest. General Hermann Hoth's XV Army Corps, comprising the 5th and 7th Panzer Divisions, formed the northern portion of the advance and was intended to protect the flank.[28] Thus Rommel's role was to be supportive, but as was often the case with his commands, by taking sharp advantage of the opportunities that presented he made them more effective than his mission required.[28] By May 14 the 7th Panzer Division had reached the River Meuse near the Walloon municipality of Dinant. There the attack into France stalled due to destroyed bridges and determined artillery and rifle fire from the Belgian defenders. Rommel, present with the forward units, took direct command of the forces at the river, bringing up tanks and flak units to provide suppressive counter-fire. With no smoke units available, Rommel improvised by having nearby houses set on fire to conceal his forces with their smoke. He sent infantry across in rubber boats, appropriated the bridging tackle of 5th Panzer Division, and went into the water himself, encouraging the sappers and helping lash together the pontoons of their light bridge .[29] Once the bridge was functional, he was in the second tank across.[30] With the Meuse crossed the division moved out of the Ardennes and into France, with Rommel moving back and forth among his forces, directing and pressing forward their advance.

Rommel's experiences in the First World War of successes gained by rapid forward movement, flanking opponents and attacking their rear areas, and catching the defenders by surprise were amplified with the mobility afforded to armoured formations. To augment his force at the point of attack he made use of the Luftwaffe as a forward mobile artillery. For a man who had been in command of armoured units for only a few months, he proved adept at applying the techniques of the new "blitzkrieg" style warfare.[31] A major aspect of his success was his grasp of the psychological shock such attacks had upon the morale and fighting spirit of the enemy forces.

Battle of Arras

Rommel and staff during thecampaign for France, (June 1940).[N 1]

On 20 May Rommel reached Arras. Here 7th Panzer Division attempted to cut off the British Expeditionary Force from the coast. Hans von Luck, commanding the reconnaissance battalion of the Division, was tasked with forcing a crossing over the La Bassée canals near the city. Supported byStuka dive bombers, the unit managed to cross. The following day the British launched a counterattack using two columns of infantry supported by the heavily armoured Matilda Mk I and Matilda II tanks in the Battle of Arras. The standard German 37 mm anti-tank gun proved ineffective against the armour of the Matildas. A battery of 105 mm howitzers stopped the first column. The second approached within 1,000 metres of where Rommel was rallying his division, who made use of a battery of 88 mm anti-aircraft guns against the attackers. Rommel and his aide went from gun to gun, with Rommel giving each gun its target. As the losses in the tank force mounted, the attack was broken off. This was the first time the 88 mm Flak gun was used in an anti-tank role.[33]

After Arras, Hitler ordered his forces to hold their positions while he attempted to negotiate a peace settlement with Great Britain. 7th Panzer Division was afforded a few days of much-needed rest. The British appeared receptive, and gave every indication of considering a settlement while they bought time for their forces trapped in Belgium.[citation needed] In Operation Dynamo the British evacuated the bulk of their troops and a large number of French soldiers from Dunkirk. On 26 May, 7th Panzer continued its advance, reaching Lille on 27 May. For the assault on Lille General Hoth placed his other armoured division, the 5th Panzer, under Rommel's command. The same day, Rommel received news that he had been awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross; the first divisional commander to be so honoured during the campaign.

On 28 May, while making the final push into Lille, 7th Panzer came under heavy fire from French artillery. Rommel pressed his forces on, capturing Lille and trapping half of the French First Army. After this coup, Rommel's forces were again given time to rest.

Drive for the English Channel

Rommel, resuming his advance on 5 June, drove for the River Seine to secure the bridges near Rouen. Advancing 100 kilometres (62 mi) in two days, the division reached Rouen only to find the bridges destroyed. On 10 June, Rommel reached the coast near Dieppe, sending his "Am at coast" signal to the German HQ and linking up with fellow Panzer commander Heinz Guderian. 7th Panzer was the first German unit to reach the channel.[34]

On 15 June, 7th Panzer started advancing on Cherbourg. On 17 June, the Division advanced 35 kilometres (22 mi), capturing the town on the following day. The Division then proceeded towards Bordeaux but stopped when the armistice was signed on 21 June. In July, the Division was sent to the Parisarea to start preparations for Unternehmen Seelöwe (Operation Sea Lion), the planned invasion of Britain. The preparations were half-hearted, however, as it soon became clear that the Luftwaffe would not be able to secure air superiority over the Royal Air Force.

Ghost Division

General Erwin Rommel and staff observe 7th Panzer Division practicing a river crossing at the Mosel, spring 1940.

The 7. Panzer-Division was later nicknamed Gespenster-Division (the "Ghost Division"), because of the speed and surprise it was consistently able to achieve, to the point that even the German High Command at times lost track of its whereabouts. It also set the record for the longest thrust in one day by tanks up to that point, covering nearly 320 kilometres (200 mi).

Rommel received both praise and criticism for his tactics during the French campaign. Many, such as General Georg Stumme, who had previously commanded 7th Panzer Division, were impressed with the speed and success of Rommel's drive. Others, however, were more reserved, some out of envy, others over concerns over risks Rommel was willing to accept, and others in the German High Command out of their limited appreciation and acceptance of maneuver warfare.[35] Hermann Hoth, Rommel's corps commander in France, publicly expressed praise for Rommel's achievements, but apparently had some private reservations, saying in a confidential report that Rommel should not be given command over a corps until he gained "greater experience and a better sense of judgment."[36] With Rommel's campaign in North Africa to view in retrospect, Hoth's reservations can be seen as unfounded.[37] Commented Georg Ralf: "Wegen seiner steilen Karriere, seiner Popularität und vor allem aufgrund der Gunst, die er bei Hitler genoss, hatte er viele Feinde in der Wehrmacht," which can be translated: "Because of his stellar career, his popularity, and especially because of the favor he enjoyed with Hitler, he had many enemies in the armed forces."[38]

North Africa 1941–1943

The Western Desert area, showing Rommel's first offensive 24 March – 15 June 1941.

Rommel's reward for his success was promotion to the rank of Generalleutnant, and a reputation as an elite commander of motorized forces. On 6 February 1941, he was appointed commander of the newly created Deutsches Afrika Korps (DAK) ( listen (help·info), consisting of the 5th Light Division (later redesignated 21st Panzer Division) and of the 15th Panzer Division. The DAK was sent to Libya in Operation Sonnenblume, to aid demoralised Italian troops that had been severely defeated by British Commonwealth forces. His campaigns in North Africa earned Rommel the nickname the "Desert Fox" from British journalists.

First Axis offensive

A column of Panzer Mk IIIs of the 5th Light Division move up a desert road, 21 March 1941.

Soon after his appointment, Rommel arrived in Africa. OKW ordered Rommel to assume a defensive posture and hold the front line at Sirte until May, when the 15th Panzer Division would arrive, at which time he could undertake a limited offensive towards Agedabia and Benghazi. Rommel did not agree with this plan, as the terrain showed that Benghazi was not a defensible location.[39] The whole of Cyrenaica would have to be captured to reach a defensive line from which to hold Benghazi.[40] The task of even holding the remaining Axis bits of western Cyrenaica and Italian Tripolitania seemed daunting, as the Italians had only 7,000 soldiers remaining on the front after the defeat of the previous three months.[41]

 Rommel launched a limited offensive with 5th Light Division supported by two Italian divisions. This thrust was not anticipated by the British, who had "Ultra" intelligence showing that the German high command expected Rommel to remain on the defence.[42] In addition the British Western Desert Force had been weakened by the transfer of four divisions to defend Greece. Ironically, through "Ultra" intercepts the British command was well aware of the German plans to attack Greece, whereas Rommel, the German commander in Africa, was not. The British fell back to Mersa el Brega and started constructing defensive works, with their command not realising the serious intent of Rommel's actions.[43] Rommel continued his attack against these positions to prevent the British from building up the fortifications.[44] After a day of fierce fighting, the Germans prevailed and the advance continued. By now it was clear to all parties that Rommel had disregarded orders holding off the attack on Agedabia until May. In early April the British Commander-in-Chief Middle East Command, General Archibald Wavell, feeling overextended and fearing being cut off from his supply line, ordered the abandonment of Benghazi.

Sd.Kfz 7 bringing forward an 8,8 cm Flak gun in 1941.

Seeing the British reluctance to fight a decisive action, Rommel decided on a bold move: the seizure of the whole of Cyrenaica. He ordered the ItalianAriete armoured division to pursue the retreating British while the 5th Light Division was to move on Benghazi. On 3 April Generalmajor Johannes Streich, the 5th Light Division's commander, reported he needed four days to replenish fuel. This struck Rommel as utterly excessive. He ordered 5th Light to unload all their vehicles to send them back to the divisional supply depot at Arco dei Fileni. This meant that the men of 5th Light would be immobilised for a day and vulnerable to attack, but as the British were withdrawing Rommel felt it was a risk he could afford to take.[45] Back at headquarters Rommel was met with General Italo Gariboldi, who was furious Rommel was not obeying orders from Rome. He pointed out that the supply situation was insecure. Rommel was equally forceful in his response, telling Gariboldi: "One cannot permit unique opportunities to slip by for the sake of trifles."[46][47] At that point in the argument a signal came in from German High Command giving Rommel complete freedom of action.[45]

After Benghazi had been secured following the British withdrawal, Cyrenaica as far as Gazala was captured by 8 April. Comando Supremo felt Rommel was going beyond his orders, and protested his actions. Rommel had received orders from the German High Command that he was not to advance past Maradah. Seeing an opportunity to largely destroy the Allied presence in North Africa, press on to seize the port of Alexandria and potentially remove the British from all of Egypt, Rommel decided to keep the pressure on the retreating British.[48] With Italian forces moving along the coast, Rommel sent the 5th Light Division on a sweep across the desert to the south to block the retreat of the British and attack the harbour from the south-east. During the advance a German forward patrol captured Lieutenant-General Philip Neame, the Military Governor of Cyrenaica, as well as the very capable General O'Connor, who were attempting to reach their headquarters at Timimi, about 100 km east of Tobruk. The effort to entrap the British Army could not be carried out as rapidly as needed due to spoiling flank attacks on the 5th Light Division by the Tobruk garrison and difficulties with the lengthening supply line. By 11 April the envelopment of Tobruk was complete, though the bulk of the Western Desert Force had retreated back toward the Egyptian frontier. A preliminary effort to seize the port of Tobruk was made, while other Axis forces continued pushing east, reaching Bardia and securing the whole of Libya by 15 April. Tobruk would remain a thorn in the side of the Afrika Korps for the next eight months.

Siege of Tobruk

German Panzer Mk IIs and Mk IIIs cross the desert, June 1941.

The siege of Tobruk lasted 240 days. Tobruk was essential if the Axis were to press on into Egypt and win the war in the desert. If captured, the port would greatly shorten the supply line to the Axis forces. Moreover, the failure to take the fortress would leave a garrison in place that posed a constant threat of breaking out and cutting off the tenuous line of supply for units operating eastward in Egypt.[49] Falling into the defences of Tobruk was theAustralian 9th Division. In addition portions of a number of other units that had failed to escape before the advance of the Afrika Korps withdrew into Tobruk's defences as well, bringing the total force to 25,000 men. The defenders were under the confident command of Lieutenant General Leslie Morshead, an energetic officer who insisted on an active defence. The strategic importance of Tobruk was great, as it was a port that could be reached by Axis convoys sailing along the more secure Aegean-Crete line. In addition, the port held vast stock piles of allied materials. Its seizure would greatly aid in supporting Axis movements into Egypt.[50] To seize Tobruk Rommel launched a number of early small-scale attacks launched with little artillery support, but these were easily beaten back by the defenders. Adding to the difficulty, the Italians, who had built the fort defences before the war, were slow to provide blueprints for the port fortifications. The result was much loss of life in understrength attacks on well placed, well armed, determined defenders. Reflecting on this period, General Heinrich Kirchheim, a veteran African campaigner from the Great War, said: "I do not like to be reminded of that time because so much blood was needlessly shed."[citation needed]

Rommel was optimistic that success was possible. Less than a year since the British withdrawal at Dunkirk, he initially believed the British were evacuating. In a letter to his wife dated 16 April, he wrote that the enemy was already abandoning the town by sea.[51] In reality, the British shipping entering and leaving the harbour was not evacuating the defenders but unloading supplies and reinforcements. A letter of his written on 21 April suggests that he was beginning to realize this when the arrival of the blueprints of fortifications provided grounds for discouragement.[48] Nonetheless, Rommel continued to believe success was possible.

Afrika Korps Pz Mk III advances past a vehicle burning in the desert, April 1941.

At this point Rommel requested reinforcements for a renewed attack, but the High Command, then completing preparations for Operation Barbarossa, refused to provide them. Chief of Staff General Franz Halder dispatched Friedrich Paulus to review the situation. Realising the importance of seizing Tobruk, Paulus authorised another attack on the fortress. When this attack failed to penetrate the perimeter defences Paulus ordered it halted. In addition, he ordered no further attacks were to commence until regrouping and reinforcement was completed. In addition, no new assault was to take place without OKH's specific prior approval.

Rommel held off further attacks until the detailed plans of the Tobruk defences could be obtained, the 15th Panzer Division could be brought up to support the attack, and more training of his troops in positional and siege warfare could be conducted.[52][53][page needed] Johannes Streich, divisional commander of the 5th Light Division, was removed from command.

Arrival of Polish forces in Alexandria to relieve the Australians in Tobruk, August 1941

Though harassed by both air and sea attack, the British were able to maintain the defenders of Tobruk, running in supplies from Alexandria under the cover of night. Entrenched in defensive positions, the Australian 9th Division under the command of General Morshead proved to be very difficult to dislodge. After the initial assaults failed and the decision made to hold off further attacks, Rommel set about creating defensive positions around the garrison. Italian infantry forces were used to hold the Sollum–Sidi Omar line surrounding Tobruk, and the sea coast town of Bardia. Meanwhile, the mobile armoured units were left to the east and south to respond to further offensive actions by the Western Desert Force.

General Wavell launched a limited offensive on 15 May 1941 and code named Brevity, the British briefly seized the important Halfaya Pass. The action was called off after a day. Then on 15 June 1941 Wavell launched a major offensive to destroy the Axis forces and relieve Tobruk. Code namedBattleaxe, the attack was defeated in a four-day battle raging on the flanks of the Sollum and Halfaya Passes, resulting in the loss of 87 British tanks, while the Germans suffered the loss of 25 tanks of their own.[54] The defeat resulted in Churchill replacing Wavell as theatre commander.[55][N 2]

In August contention over the control of the Axis forces in Africa resulted in Rommel being appointed commander of the newly created Panzer Group Africa, with Fritz Bayerlein as his chief of staff.[57] The Afrika Korps, comprising the 15th Panzer Division and the 5th Light Division, now reinforced and redesignated 21st Panzer Division, was put under command of Generalleutnant Ludwig Crüwell. In addition to the Afrika Korps, Rommel's Panzer Group had the 90th Light Division and four Italian divisions, three infantry divisions investing Tobruk, and one holding Bardia. The two Italian armoured divisions, Ariete and Trieste were still under Italian control. They formed the Italian XX Motorized Corps under the command of General Gastone Gambara.[58] Two months later Hitler decided he must have German officers in better control of the Mediterranean theatre, and insisted on the appointment of Field Marshall Albert Kesselring as Commander in Chief, South. Kesselring was ordered to get control of the air and sea between Africa and Italy.[58]

Allied offensiveOperation Crusader

FlaK 8,8 cm guns fire upon British armour.

Following his success in Battleaxe, Rommel focused his attentions on the capture of Tobruk. He made preparations for a new offensive, to be launched between 15 and 20 November.[59] Meanwhile the British new theatre commander, General Claude Auchinleck reorganised Allied forces and strengthened them to two corps, XXX and XIII, which formed the British Eighth Army. The Eighth Army was placed under the command of Alan Cunningham. Auchinleck, having 770 tanks and 1,000 aircraft to support him, launched a major offensive to relieve Tobruk (Operation Crusader) on 18 November 1941. Rommel opposed him with two armoured divisions—the 15th and 21st with a total of 260 tanks—the 90th Light Infantry division, and three Italian corps, five infantry and one armoured division with 154 tanks.

The Eighth Army deeply outflanked the German defences along the Egyptian frontier with a left hook through the desert, and reached a position from which they could strike at both Tobruk and the coastal road, the "Via Balbia". Auchinleck planned to engage the Afrika Korps with his armoured division, while XXX Corps assaulted the Italian positions at Bardia, encircling the troops there. But the British operational plan had one major flaw. When XXX corps reached the area of Qabr Salih, it was assumed that the Afrika Korps would attack eastward, allowing the British to surround them with a southerly armour thrust. Rommel, however, did not find it necessary to do as the British planned, and instead attacked the southernly armoured thrust at Sidi Rezegh.[60]

Rommel conversing with his staff near El Agheila, 12 January 1942.

Rommel was now faced with the decision of whether to continue the planned attack on Tobruk in late May, trusting his screening forces to hold off the advancing British, or to reorient his forces to hit the approaching British columns. He decided the risks were too great and called off the attack on Tobruk.[61]

The British armoured thrusts were largely defeated by fierce resistance from antitank positions and tanks. The Italian Ariete Armoured Division was forced to give ground while inflicting heavy losses on the advancing British at Bir el Gobi, whereas the 21st Panzer Division checked the attack launched against them and counterattacked on Gabr Saleh. Over the next two days the British continued pressing their attack, sending their armoured brigades into battle in a piecemeal fashion,[62] while Rommel, aware of his numerical inferiority, launched a concentrated attack on 23 November with all his armour. The 21st Panzer Division held their defensive positions at Sidi Rezegh, while 15th Panzer Division and the Italian Ariete Division attacked the flanks and enveloped the British armour. During this battle, among the biggest armoured battles of the North African campaign, the British tanks were surrounded, with about two-thirds destroyed and the survivors having to fight themselves out of the trap and head south to Gabr Saleh.[63]

Rommel counterattacks

Panzer Mk IIIs on the move in the desert.

Wanting to exploit the halt of the British offensive, on 24 November Rommel counterattacked into the British rear areas in Egypt with the intention of exploiting the disorganisation and confusion in the enemy's bases and cutting their supply lines. Rommel considered the other, more conservative, course of action of destroying the British forces halted before Tobruk and Bardia too time consuming.[64] Rommel knew his forces were incapable of driving such an effort home, but believed that the British, traumatised by their recent debacle, would abandon their defences along the border at the appearance of a German threat to their rear.[65][page needed]

General Cunningham did, as Rommel had hoped, decide to withdraw the Eighth Army to Egypt, but Auchinleck arrived from Cairo just in time to cancel the withdrawal orders.[66] The German attack, which began with only 100 operational tanks remaining,[67] stalled as it outran its supplies and met stiffening resistance. The counterattack was criticised by the German High Command and some of his staff officers as too dangerous with Commonwealth forces still operating along the coast east of Tobruk, and a wasteful attack as it bled his forces, in particular his remaining tank force. Among the Staff officers who were critical was Friedrich von Mellenthin, who said that "Unfortunately, Rommel overestimated his success and believed the moment had come to launch a general pursuit."[67] To Rommel's credit, the attack very nearly succeeded: only Auchinleck's timely intervention prevented Cunningham from withdrawing.[68]

Axis retirement to El Agheila, relief of Tobruk

88 mm flak, El Alamein

While Rommel drove into Egypt, the remaining Commonwealth forces east of Tobruk threatened the weak Axis lines there. Unable to reach Rommel for several days[N 3] Rommel's Chief of Staff, Siegfried Westphal, ordered the 21st Panzer Division withdrawn to support the siege of Tobruk. On 27 November the British attack on Tobruk linked up with the defenders, and Rommel, having suffered losses that could not easily be replaced, had to concentrate on retrieving and regrouping the divisions that had attacked into Egypt. By 6 December the Afrika Korps had averted the danger, and on 7 December Rommel fell back to a defensive line at Gazala, just west of Tobruk, all the while under heavy attacks from the RAF. The Italian forces at Bardia and on the Egyptian border were now cut off from the retreating Axis. The Allies, briefly held up at Gazala, kept up the pressure to some degree, although they were almost as exhausted and disorganised as Rommel's force,[70] and Rommel was forced to retreat all the way back to the starting positions he had held in March, reaching El Agheila on 30 December. His main concern during his withdrawal was being flanked to the south, so theAfrika Korps held the south flank during the retreat. The Allies followed, but never attempted a southern flanking move to cut off the retreating troops as they had done in 1940. The German-Italian garrison at Bardia surrendered on 2 January 1942. Although Rommel had suffered serious reversals by the end of Crusader, the British had suffered much higher casualties than they expected, and thus they did not pursue their initiative after Rommel returned to Agedabya; this was a major tactical error, since Rommel's retreat dramatically shortened his supply lines while greatly lengthening those of Auchinleck and General Ritchie (Auchinleck's replacement for Cunningham).

During the confusion caused by the Crusader operation, Rommel and his staff found themselves behind Allied lines several times. On one occasion, he visited a New Zealand Army field hospital that was still under Allied control. "[Rommel] inquired if anything was needed, promised the British [sic] medical supplies and drove off unhindered."[71] Rommel later did provide the unit with the promised medical supplies. At one point, Rommel and his driver spent almost two hours driving openly among large numbers of British troop transports and armored cars; he went unnoticed because his staff vehicle was a captured British car, and its German markings were concealed by the night.

Second Axis offensiveWinter offensive

North Africa, Rommel in Sd.Kfz. 250/3

On 5 January 1942 the Afrika Korps received 55 tanks and new supplies and Rommel started planning a counterattack. On 21 January, Rommel launched the attack, which again caught the allies by surprise.[72] Mauled by the Afrika Korps, the Allies lost over 110 tanks and other heavy equipment. The Axis forces retook Benghazi on 29 January, Timimi on 3 February, with the Allies pulling back to a defensive line just before the Tobruk area south of the coastal town of Gazala. Rommel placed a thin screen of mobile forces before them, and held the main force of the Panzerarmee well back near Antela and Mersa Brega.[73] This concluded the winter fighting. Both sides then settled down to prepare for an offensive in summer.

Battle of Gazala

Afrika Korps soldiers approach a "No Entry" sign, while a cloud of smoke rises from allied shipping sunk in the harbor.

Following General Kesselring's successes in creating local air superiority and suppressing the Malta defenders in April 1942, an increased flow of supplies reached the Axis forces in Africa, including fuel, ammunition and replacement tanks. With his forces strengthened, Rommel contemplated a major offensive operation for the summer. He knew the British were planning offensive operations as well, and he hoped to pre-empt them. Despite the distance, he believed the strong British positions stretching south from Gazala could be skirted, coming up behind them and attacking from the east.[74]

Rommel in North Africa (June 1942)

The British were planning a summer offensive of their own, and were stockpiling supplies and reserves of equipment. The British fully equipped their units, plus had reserves of armour to replace losses once combat began. They had 900 tanks in the area, 200 of which were new Grant tanks. Unlike the British, the Axis forces had no armoured reserve. All operable equipment was put into immediate service. Rommel's Panzer Army Africa had a force of 320 German tanks; 50 of these were the light Panzer II model. In addition, 240 Italian tanks were in service, but these were also under-gunned and poorly armoured.[75] In addition to the armoured units, Rommel was badly outnumbered in infantry and artillery as well, with many of his units still awaiting reinforcement following the campaigns of 1941. This was of less concern to Rommel, who was by now accustomed to fighting from a numerically smaller position. The Axis had, however, temporarily established more-or-less air parity with the Western Desert Air Force.

Early in the afternoon of 26 May 1942, Rommel attacked first and the Battle of Gazala commenced. Italian infantry supplemented with small numbers of armoured forces assaulted the Gazala fortifications from the west. The intention was to give the impression that this was the main assault. Under the cover of darkness that night the bulk of his motorized and armoured forces drove south to skirt the left flank of the British, coming up and attacking to the north the following morning. Throughout the day a running armour battle occurred, where both sides took heavy losses. The attempted encirclement of the Gazala position failed and the Germans lost a third of their medium tanks. Renewing the attack on the morning of 28 May, Rommel concentrated on encircling and destroying separate units of the British armour. Repeated British counterattacks threatened to cut off and destroy the Afrika Korps. Running low on fuel, Rommel assumed a defensive posture, forming "the Cauldron". He made use of the extensive British minefields to shield his western flank. Meanwhile, Italian infantry cleared a path through the mines to provide supplies. On 30 May Rommel resumed the offensive, attacking westwards to link with elements of Italian X Corps, which had cleared a path through the Allied minefields to establish a supply line. On 2 June 90th Light Division and the Trieste Division again assualted the Free French strongpoint at Bir Hakeim, but the defenders continued to thwart the attack until finally breaking on 11 June. With his communications and the southern strongpoint of the British line thus secured, Rommel shifted his attack north again, relying on the British minefields of the Gazala lines to protect his left flank.[76] Threatened with being completely cut off, the British began a retreat eastward toward Egypt on June 14, the so-called "Gazala Gallop."

The Afrika Korps enters Tobruk.

On 15 June Axis forces reached the coast, cutting off the escape for the Commonwealth forces still occupying the Gazala positions. With this task completed, Rommel struck for Tobruk while the enemy was still confused and disorganised.[77] Tobruk's defenders were the 2nd South African Infantry Division, buttressed by a number of remnants of units recovering from the Gazala battle. This time striking swiftly and in strength, with a coordinatedcombined arms assault, the city fell in a single day. With Tobruk Rommel achieved the capture of the 33,000 defenders, along with gaining the use of the small port due south of Crete and a great deal of British supplies thrown into the bargain. Only at the fall of Singapore, earlier that year, had more British Commonwealth troops been captured at one time. Hitler promoted Rommel to Field Marshal for this victory.[N 4]

Rommel's gains caused considerable alarm in the Allied camp. He was poised to deliver a crippling blow to the British by taking Alexandria, gaining control of the Suez Canal, and pushing the British out of Egypt. The Allies feared Rommel would then turn north-eastward to conquer the valuable oil fields of the Middle East and then link up with the German forces besieging the equally valuable Caucasian oil fields. However, such moves required substantial reinforcements that Hitler was unwilling to allocate. Ironically, Hitler had been skeptical about sending Rommel to Africa in the first place. He had only done so after constant begging by naval commander Erich Raeder, and even then only to relieve the Italians. Hitler's interest was focused upon the east. He never understood global warfare, despite Raeder and Rommel's attempts to get him to see the strategic value of Egypt.[79]

Drive for Egypt

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, with his aides during the desert campaign. 1942

Rommel determined to press the attack on Mersa Matruh, despite the heavy losses suffered in the battle at Gazala. He wanted to prevent the British from establishing a new defensive line, and felt the weakness of the British formations could be exploited by a thrust into Egypt.[80] The advance into Egypt meant a significant lengthening of the supply lines.[81] Nevertheless, if Rommel could push past the Eighth Army and take Alexandria, his issues with supplies would be largely resolved and the potential existed to push the British out of their possessions in the Middle East entirely. Advancing on Egypt meant that a difficult proposed attack on Malta would have to wait. Kesselring strongly disagreed with Rommel's plans, and went as far as threatening to withdraw his aircraft support to Sicily.[82] Hitler agreed that if Rommel could win in Egypt, Malta would be of no matter, and the costly effort to take it would not be necessary. The decision was opposed by the Italian HQ.[83] In his notes, made with the thought of writing a second book after the war, Rommel defended his decision, stating that merely holding a defensive line at Sollum would pass the initiative to the British, while the Afrika Korps would be holding a position subject to being outflanked to the south. As to supply problems, the supply lines would still be lengthy unless he secured a large port further east, such as Alexandria.[84]

On 22 June Rommel continued his offensive eastwards. Meanwhile, General Auchinleck (who assumed personal command of the 8th Army after sacking General Ritchie) had already decided to withdraw from the western frontier of Egypt and fall back to defensive positions at El Alamein, but he left two corps to fight a delaying action at Mersa Matruh. Confusion on the part of the command resulted in the X Corps being caught in an encirclement on 26 June, trapping its four infantry divisions. One of the divisions managed to break out during the night. Over the next two days parts of the other three divisions also managed to escape. The fortress fell on 29 June, yielding enormous amounts of supplies and equipment, in addition to 6,000 prisoners.[85]

El AlameinFirst Battle of El Alamein

Rommel and Bayerlein survey the field at an 88mm gun emplacement.

Rommel continued his pursuit of the Eighth Army, which had fallen back to prepared defensive positions at El Alamein. This region was a natural choke point, where the Qattara Depression created a relatively short line to defend that could not be outflanked to the south because of the impossibility of moving armour into and through the depression. On 1 July the First Battle of El Alamein began. By the time the Afrika Korps reached El Alamein Rommel had only 13 operational tanks left due to mechanical problems and fuel shortages. Although he was only a few hundred miles from the Pyramids, he knew he did not have the resources. On 3 July, he wrote in his diary that his strength had "faded away".[86] After almost a month of fighting, both sides were exhausted and dug in. Rommel had hoped to drive his advance into the open desert beyond El Alamein where he could resume the more fluid mobile operations. Though Rommel had managed to inflict higher casualties on the Allies than he himself had suffered, the British could afford these losses much more than he could.[87] The key point was that his drive was stopped and he had lost the initiative to an enemy that was daily growing stronger.[88]

Another unintended result of the battle was that a change of command was made on the Allied side. Auchinleck had taken personal command of the 8th Army after he relieved Ritchie. Despite having successfully halted Rommel, Churchill decided a new commander was needed to lead the 8th Army. He relieved Auchinleck and placed General Harold Alexander in command of Egypt, with the 8th Army going to General William Gott.[89]

Summer standoff

After the stalemate at El Alamein, Rommel hoped to go on the offensive again before massive amounts of men and material could reach the British Eighth Army. As the central and eastern Mediterranean was dominated by the Axis airfields in Greece and Crete, almost all the allied supplies had to be shipped around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa, and back up the east coast of Africa to Egypt. Though the route was significantly longer, the British and now Americans provided the Eighth Army with a great deal of supplies. Meanwhile, allied forces based at Malta were recovering from the attacks they had suffered and were beginning to intercept more supplies at sea. Furthermore, with decreased duties flying cover for convoys to Malta the Desert Air Force began interdicting Axis supply vessels in Tobruk, Bardia and Mersa Matruh. Most of the supplies reaching the Axis troops still had to be landed at Benghazi and Tripoli, and the enormous distances supplies had to travel to reach the forward troops meant that a rapid resupply and reorganisation of the Axis army could not be done unless Rommel returned to his base at Tobruk—which he was unwilling to do, because it would give the initiative back to the British. Further hampering Rommel's plans was the fact that the Italian divisions received priority on supplies, with the Italian authorities shipping material for the Italian formations at a much higher rate than for German formations.[90] The Italian HQ desired their own forces be resupplied first.[91]

Rommel at a staff conference in the Western Desert in 1942

The British, themselves preparing for a renewed drive, replaced C-in-C Auchinleck with General Harold Alexander. The Eighth Army was assigned to General William "Strafer" Gott, but his aircraft was intercepted and shot down, killing the general. Subsequently Bernard Montgomery was made the new commander of Eighth Army. They received a steady stream of supplies and were able to reorganise their forces. In late August they received a large convoy carrying over 100,000 tons of supplies, and Rommel, learning of this, felt that time was running out. Rommel decided to launch an attack with the 15th and 21st Panzer Division, 90th Light Division, and the Italian XX Motorized Corps in a drive through the southern flank of the El Alamein lines. The terrain here was without any easily defensible features and so open to attack. Montgomery and Auchinleck before him had realised this threat, and the main defences for this sector had been set up behind the El Alamein line along the Alam El Halfa Ridge, where any outflanking thrust could be more easily met from overlooking defensive positions.

Battle of Alam El Halfa

North Africa, Rommel in Sd.Kfz. 250/3

The Battle of Alam el Halfa was launched on 30 August, with Rommel's forces driving through the south flank. Perhaps not realising that the British defensive line was not continuous, or else simply so desperate for supplies that he took the first opportunity to outflank regardless of risk, Rommel ran straight into Montgomery's trap. After passing the El Alamein line to the south, Rommel drove north at the Alam el Halfa Ridge, just as Montgomery had anticipated—into a mine-strewn area with patches of quicksand. Under heavy fire from British artillery and aircraft, and in the face of well prepared positions that Rommel could not hope to outflank due to lack of fuel, the attack stalled. By 2 September, Rommel realized the battle was unwinnable, and decided to withdraw.[92]

Montgomery had prepared to pursue the Germans but in the afternoon of 2 September, he gave Corps commander Brian Horrocks clear orders to allow the enemy to retire. This was for two reasons: to preserve his own strength and to allow the enemy to observe, and be misled by, the dummy preparations for an attack in the area.[93] Nevertheless, Montgomery was keen to inflict casualties on the enemy and orders were given for the as yet inexperienced 2nd New Zealand Division, positioned to the north of the retreating Axis forces, and 7th Armoured Division to attack on 3 September. The attack was repelled, however, by a fierce rearguard action by the 90th Light Division and Montgomery called off further action to preserve his strength.[94] On 5 September Rommel was back where he had started, with only heavy losses to show for it. Rommel had suffered 2,940 casualties, lost 50 tanks, a similar number of guns and, perhaps worst of all, 400 trucks, vital for supplies and movement. The British losses, except tank losses of 68, were much less, further adding to the numerical inferiority of Panzer Army Afrika. The Desert Air Force inflicted the highest proportions of damage to Rommel's forces. He now realized the war in Africa was unwinnable without more air support, which was impossible because the Luftwaffe was already stretched to breaking point on other fronts. Another blow to the Luftwaffe units supporting Rommel occurred on September 1: Hans-Joachim Marseille, one of the greatest fighter aces of the entire war, was killed during bailout when his fighter malfunctioned.[95]

Second Battle of El Alamein

El Alamein 1942: Destroyed Panzer IIIs near Tel el Eisa

In September British raiding parties attacked important harbours and supply points. The flow of supplies successfully ferried across the Mediterranean had fallen to a dismal level. Some two-thirds of the supplies embarked for Africa were destroyed at sea. In addition, Rommel's health was failing and he took sick leave in Italy and Germany from late September. Thus he was not present when the Second Battle of El Alamein began on 23 October 1942. Although he returned immediately, it took him two vital days to reach his HQ in Africa. The defensive plan at El Alamein was more static in nature than Rommel preferred, but with shortages of motorized units and fuel, he had felt it was the only possible plan.[96] The defensive line had strong fortifications and was protected with a large minefield that in turn was covered with machine guns and artillery. This, Rommel hoped, would allow his infantry to hold the line at any point until motorized and armoured units in reserve could move up and counterattack any Allied breaches.[97] GeneralGeorg Stumme was in command in Rommel's absence but during the initial fighting he died of a heart attack. This paralyzed the German HQ until General Ritter von Thoma took command. After returning, Rommel learned that the fuel supply situation, critical when he left in September, was now disastrous.[98] Counterattacks by the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions on 24 and 25 October had incurred heavy tank losses due to the intensity of the British artillery and air attack. Rommel's main concern was to counterattack in full force and throw the British out of the defensive lines, which was in his view the only chance the Axis had of avoiding defeat.[99] The counterattack was launched early on 26 October but the British units that had penetrated the defensive line inflicted heavy losses on Rommel's armour at the position code-named Snipe (often mis-named Kidney Ridge due to faulty interpretation of the ring contour – it was actually a depression). The Allies continued pushing hard with armoured units to force the breakthrough, but the defenders' fire destroyed many tanks, leading to doubts among the officers in the British armoured brigades about the chances of clearing a breach.[100] Montgomery, seeing his armoured brigades losing tanks at an alarming rate, stopped major attacks until 2 November when he launched Operation Supercharge and achieved a 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) penetration of the line. Rommel immediately counterattacked with what tanks he had available in an attempt to encircle the pocket during 2 November, but the heavy Allied fire stopped the attempt. By this time Panzer Army Africa had only one-third of its initial strength remaining, with only 35 tanks left operational, virtually no fuel or ammunition and with the British in complete command of the air.[101]

On 3 November Montgomery chose to wait for more reinforcements to be brought up. This lull was what Rommel needed for his withdrawal, which had been planned since 29 October, when he had determined the situation hopeless.[101] At midday, however, Rommel received the infamous "victory or death" stand-fast order from Hitler. Although this order demanded the impossible and virtually ensured the destruction of Panzer Army Africa, Rommel could not bring himself to disobey a direct order. The Axis forces held on desperately.[102]

On 4 November Montgomery renewed the attack with fresh forces, placing his 500 tanks against the 20 or so remaining to Rommel. By midday the Italian XX Motorised Corps was surrounded, and several hours later was completely destroyed. This left a 20 km gap in Rommel's line, with British armoured and motorized units pouring through, threatening the entire Panzer Army Africa with encirclement. At this point Rommel could no longer uphold the no-retreat order and ordered a general retreat. On 4 November he could wait no more, and began withdrawing, but he was unable at this point to extract the unmotorised forces on the right or southern aspect of his line.[103] 12 hours later early on 5 November he received authorization by Hitler to withdraw. Hitler's indifference to the survival of Rommel's men was what began to shake Rommel's faith in the Fuhrer—by the time Rommel was recalled from Africa for good in 1943, his attitude towards the dictator was bitter, though he continued to rely on him for political support.

End of Africa campaigns

rwin Johannes Eugen Rommel (15 November 1891 – 14 October 1944), popularly known as  (Wüstenfuchs,  listen (help·info), was a German field marshal of World War II. He earned the respect of both his own troops and his enemies.

Rommel was a highly decorated officer in World War I and was awarded the Pour le Mérite for his exploits on the Italian Front. In World War II, he further distinguished himself as the commander of the 7th Panzer Division during the 1940 invasion of France. His leadership of German and Italian forces in the North African campaign established him as one of the most able commanders of the war, and earned him the appellation of the Desert Fox. He is regarded as one of the most skilled commanders of desert warfare in the conflict. He later commanded the German forces opposing the Allied cross-channel invasion of Normandy. His assignments never took him to the Eastern Front.

Rommel is regarded as having been a humane and professional officer. His Afrika Korps was never accused of war crimes, and soldiers captured during his Africa campaign were reported to have been treated humanely. Orders to kill Jewish soldiers, civilians and captured commandos were ignored.Late in the war, Rommel was linked to the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Because Rommel was a national hero, Hitler desired to eliminate him quietly. He forced Rommel to commit suicide with a cyanide pill, in return for assurances that Rommel's family would not be persecuted following his death. He was given a state funeral, and it was announced that Rommel had succumbed to his injuries from an earlier strafing of his staff car in Normandy.
  • Pikachu77, m1 tanker and Fegelein like this

You are brought down, will you stand up an.fight once more.will you fall helplessly for fate to come. As long as that handgun stick to your fingers... as long as you got your bullets armed...one can never surrender for what he trusts, a goal, a dream, a passion on what he knows belongs for the greater good. So ill ask you again, will you get up or fall?


#2 Reventer

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Posted 27 March 2014 - 08:40 PM

And dont forget his picture
330px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_146-1973-012-43,_Erwin_Rommel.jpeg
  • m1 tanker and stahltiger like this

You are brought down, will you stand up an.fight once more.will you fall helplessly for fate to come. As long as that handgun stick to your fingers... as long as you got your bullets armed...one can never surrender for what he trusts, a goal, a dream, a passion on what he knows belongs for the greater good. So ill ask you again, will you get up or fall?


#3 Panzer-Blitz

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Posted 28 March 2014 - 04:41 AM

He wasn't a general. He was a Field Marshall.

#4 Reventer

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Posted 28 March 2014 - 05:03 AM

Its jsut for the topic....like my last one

You are brought down, will you stand up an.fight once more.will you fall helplessly for fate to come. As long as that handgun stick to your fingers... as long as you got your bullets armed...one can never surrender for what he trusts, a goal, a dream, a passion on what he knows belongs for the greater good. So ill ask you again, will you get up or fall?


#5 Panzer-Blitz

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Posted 28 March 2014 - 05:21 AM

Okay.

#6 panzerfaüst1

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Posted 28 March 2014 - 09:08 AM

Good call blitz, he was a field marshall not a general

#7 Sharks06

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Posted 28 March 2014 - 10:01 AM

Anyway was Rommel hitters third hand man
( winning is not final defeat is not fatal it's courage that counts)-Winston Churchill
( we fight for our allies we never give up friendship is the best weapon)- sharks06
( always fearsome never gives up fights for more fights for victory and fights for allies that make a prefect sharks kill for there team to survive not only themselves that the basic way of survival it's always better to hunt in packs then alone ) sharks06

#8 cmerry65

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Posted 28 March 2014 - 10:53 AM

Anyway was Rommel hitters third hand man

"Hitter"? :) Heil Hitter! Lol :D

ICH BIN EIN BERLINER!!! ("I am a jelly doughnut!")President John F. Kennedy, June 26, 1963 speech, Berlin, Germany. MOTTO OF THE NINJA CARNIVORES (TNC)!


#9 cmerry65

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Posted 28 March 2014 - 10:58 AM

Its jsut for the topic....like my last one

Another great post Rev! :)

ICH BIN EIN BERLINER!!! ("I am a jelly doughnut!")President John F. Kennedy, June 26, 1963 speech, Berlin, Germany. MOTTO OF THE NINJA CARNIVORES (TNC)!


#10 Pikachu77

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Posted 28 March 2014 - 03:18 PM

Wow! That was so long! Just don't anone quote it! Great Job!


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#11 Reventer

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Posted 28 March 2014 - 03:30 PM

Wikipedia was soo interested on rommel they add almost everything about him

You are brought down, will you stand up an.fight once more.will you fall helplessly for fate to come. As long as that handgun stick to your fingers... as long as you got your bullets armed...one can never surrender for what he trusts, a goal, a dream, a passion on what he knows belongs for the greater good. So ill ask you again, will you get up or fall?


#12 Sharks06

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Posted 29 March 2014 - 04:31 AM

Hes was the best tank commander in the world
( winning is not final defeat is not fatal it's courage that counts)-Winston Churchill
( we fight for our allies we never give up friendship is the best weapon)- sharks06
( always fearsome never gives up fights for more fights for victory and fights for allies that make a prefect sharks kill for there team to survive not only themselves that the basic way of survival it's always better to hunt in packs then alone ) sharks06

#13 Sharks06

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Posted 29 March 2014 - 04:31 AM

British desert hero Montgomery had a hard time with Rommel around
( winning is not final defeat is not fatal it's courage that counts)-Winston Churchill
( we fight for our allies we never give up friendship is the best weapon)- sharks06
( always fearsome never gives up fights for more fights for victory and fights for allies that make a prefect sharks kill for there team to survive not only themselves that the basic way of survival it's always better to hunt in packs then alone ) sharks06

#14 Reventer

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Posted 29 March 2014 - 05:16 AM

Yes unfortunately hitler himself wouldnt listen to the idea that they could win by a sea fight

You are brought down, will you stand up an.fight once more.will you fall helplessly for fate to come. As long as that handgun stick to your fingers... as long as you got your bullets armed...one can never surrender for what he trusts, a goal, a dream, a passion on what he knows belongs for the greater good. So ill ask you again, will you get up or fall?


#15 Sharks06

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Posted 29 March 2014 - 05:22 AM

Germans had the U-boat that thing was deadly
( winning is not final defeat is not fatal it's courage that counts)-Winston Churchill
( we fight for our allies we never give up friendship is the best weapon)- sharks06
( always fearsome never gives up fights for more fights for victory and fights for allies that make a prefect sharks kill for there team to survive not only themselves that the basic way of survival it's always better to hunt in packs then alone ) sharks06

#16 Reventer

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Posted 29 March 2014 - 05:48 AM

Yes but hitler denied his naval commander and said that they was going to win by land. Turns out a fail

You are brought down, will you stand up an.fight once more.will you fall helplessly for fate to come. As long as that handgun stick to your fingers... as long as you got your bullets armed...one can never surrender for what he trusts, a goal, a dream, a passion on what he knows belongs for the greater good. So ill ask you again, will you get up or fall?


#17 Sharks06

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Posted 29 March 2014 - 05:49 AM

Lol they sure did
( winning is not final defeat is not fatal it's courage that counts)-Winston Churchill
( we fight for our allies we never give up friendship is the best weapon)- sharks06
( always fearsome never gives up fights for more fights for victory and fights for allies that make a prefect sharks kill for there team to survive not only themselves that the basic way of survival it's always better to hunt in packs then alone ) sharks06

#18 Reventer

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Posted 29 March 2014 - 06:07 AM

Just like what test your brain said, always trust someone else instead of trusting yourself

You are brought down, will you stand up an.fight once more.will you fall helplessly for fate to come. As long as that handgun stick to your fingers... as long as you got your bullets armed...one can never surrender for what he trusts, a goal, a dream, a passion on what he knows belongs for the greater good. So ill ask you again, will you get up or fall?


#19 Sharks06

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Posted 29 March 2014 - 06:10 AM

"Hitter"? :) Heil Hitter! Lol :D

lol it's hitler
( winning is not final defeat is not fatal it's courage that counts)-Winston Churchill
( we fight for our allies we never give up friendship is the best weapon)- sharks06
( always fearsome never gives up fights for more fights for victory and fights for allies that make a prefect sharks kill for there team to survive not only themselves that the basic way of survival it's always better to hunt in packs then alone ) sharks06

#20 Reventer

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Posted 29 March 2014 - 06:23 AM

Hitter lol

You are brought down, will you stand up an.fight once more.will you fall helplessly for fate to come. As long as that handgun stick to your fingers... as long as you got your bullets armed...one can never surrender for what he trusts, a goal, a dream, a passion on what he knows belongs for the greater good. So ill ask you again, will you get up or fall?





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