The Desert Fox in Normandy: Rommel’s Defense of Fortress Europe, by Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr., Praeger, Westport, Conn., 1997, $26.95.
In less than a year, the “Desert Fox” of Afrika Korps fame was toppled from his most important command as defender of Fortress Europe and ignominiously forced into suicide. The author of The Desert Fox in Normandy focuses on the career and activities of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel while he served in Europe from November 1943 until his death in October 1944.
Rommel was sent to France to inspect the defenses being built to repel the expected Allied D-Day invasion of Europe. He did not like what he saw and immediately made recommendations and instigated action to improve those defenses, first at the water’s edge and then as far inland as resources would allow. He managed in just a few months to significantly improve the first-line defenses along the French coast. Those improvements did not stop the invasion force, but they did exact a heavy toll in Allied casualties.
Rommel stayed on in France to lead the German forces in Normandy under the overall command of Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. Even without air support–and with virtually no naval forces to counter the invasion fleet–the German defenders fought ferociously. They managed to inflict heavy casualties on the Allied forces and upset the invasion timetable to a degree that very nearly proved disastrous to the Allies.
One of the fascinating aspects of this book is the number of “what ifs” that are brought to light and explored. What if Rommel had had more time to build more static defenses? What if Hitler had not retained control of vital reserve forces until it was too late? What if Rommel had not been absent from his post at the time of the invasion?
This is a well-written and concientiously researched historical work that provides new insights into the cross-Channel invasion and the tragic fate of Field Marshal Rommel.