With Rommel in the Desert...


...Tripoli to El Alamein, a new 'Images of War' from Pen and Sword


Title: With Rommel in the Desert, Tripoli to El Alamein

Author: David Mitchelhill-Green

Publisher: Pen and Sword Books

ISBN: 978-1-47387-875-4

This new addition to the Images of War series from Pen and Sword is one I particularly like.  The author has put together a well chosen set of archive photos which provide an excellent reference for what it meant for the soldiers in the Afrika Korps to live and to fight a war in the harsh environment of the North African desert.  Under their famous commander, General Erwin Rommel, they made a reputation for themselves that survives to this day, alongside their Italian allies.  The bulk of the photos come from private collections, the photos of individual soldiers who served under Rommel

While it does follow a chronological sequence, the structure of the chapters provide more than that.  Following an introductory Background there are 9 chapters.  Starting with Intervention in North Africa it illustrates the arrival of German troops at Tripoli as they came to bolster the Italian forces already in theatre.  This is followed by Tourists in Uniform, as German troops both on their way to North Africa via Italy and Greece stopped to see ancient tourist sites, as they did at Roman ruins in North Africa and to be pictured riding camels in the sand.  Next comes Wuste (Desert), illustrating the factors that meant German troops had to learn a new style of war than they had faced in Europe.  Flat, wide expanses of land where you had to dig to find protection, and also to bury the day to day sanitary needs of the human body, or swarms of flies would quickly spread disease and infections.  Just a moving truck could generate large clouds of dust, easy to spot many miles away, so whole new habits had to be learnt.  Chapter 4 is a boon for figure modellers, re-enactors and military historians, looking at Tropical Uniforms and Awards, with some excellent close-up details.  Chapter 5 continues the them of life in the desert, Zeltlager (Tent Camp), tackling life in camp.  So many simple things that had to be considered, setting tents for sleeping accommodation and protection against the sun, the nightly cold, watching out for scorpions and insects, preparing food and eating, washing clothes, ironing and repairing uniforms.  So many of the little things that need to be done on a daily basis, let along fight a war.  Chapter 6 looks at 1941 and the events of that year.  Here we see more pictures of vehicles and artillery in action while fighting the war, including Italian tanks and captured Allied equipment.  This chapter also includes a section focussing on Tobruk.

In chapter 7, Gefallene Kameraden (Fallen Comrades) it covers the great sadness of war, the casualties.   As well as evacuation and hospital treatment there is also the time and care given to the burial and commemoration of their dead comrades.  Then we move on to 1942.  Knocked out and active vehicles, including a number of rarer Wehrmacht machines which saw use in North Africa, so military vehicle modellers will enjoy this section especially I think.  This chapter also includes coverage of the Fall of Tobruk.

Chapter 9 covers 1943 -The End, and does go beyond Alamein through to the end and final surrender in Tunisia, when an even greater number of German and Italian troops became prisoners of war than had been captured from the German 6th Army at Stalingrad just a short time earlier.  A final Appendix includes a couple of pages of wartime pencil sketches of soldiers of the Afrika Korps, and brings the 216 page to a fitting conclusion.

One of the many elements of the war in North Africa was the respect that each side had for the other.  My father fought as part of the 8th Army from 1940 through to 1943 and he felt that respect for his enemy, along with the hardships they all faced while living in the desert.  I feel certain that if he was able to look through these photos that it would have brought back many memories and shared experiences of his time in the desert.