I recently came across Jeff Danelek’s article discussing the “Top 10 Greatest Military Blunders of World War II.” The article reviews decisions at Anzio, the reliance on the Maginot Line, the Japanese surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, and other well known episodes. However, in reading the article, I was struck by the absence of any mention of Hitler’s refusal reinforce Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps.
The North African theater was never a major concern of Hitler’s. German forces were present not to conquer, but to support its Italian ally. Thus, Rommel was only supplied with elements of the 5th Light Division, around half the troops he commanded during the invasion of France.
Seeing the possibilities of operations in Egypt and the strategic value of the Suez Canal, Rommel traveled to Germany in March, 1941 to request more troops. He was confident that with two additional panzer divisions, he would be able to push the British out of Egypt. More concerned with the coming invasion of Russia, the German high command dismissed the Desert Fox’ request. Even after initial German victories, the North African frontier never became a priority.
The next year brought no change. Admiral Erich Raeder saw the possibilities of African operations and stressed their importance. Nevertheless, strategy did not change and the German war machine ground away at the Russian bear, losing irreplaceable troops at alarming rates.
It is easy and dangerous to get sucked into the “what ifs” of history. However, the German situation in North Africa throughout 1941 and 1942 presented real opportunities that Hitler refused to explore. This failure must be included in any account of the various blunders of World War II.
For more information on this topic, see Alexander, Bevin, “How Hitler Could Have Won World War II: The Fatal Erros that Led to Nazi Defeat,” Three Rivers Press 2000.