Section 4: Conclusion; supply and operations in Africa

Main purpose:

This section summarizes logistics in Rommelís North African campaigns. It consists mostly of Van Creveld using statistics to dismiss claims made by other writers, especially by a bitter and defeated Rommel, that Rommelís failure was all everybody elseís fault.

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Van Creveld starts with the aftermath of Rommelís failure. Hitler desperately poured forces and resources on Tunisia, trying to prevent a total defeat in Africa. Rommel whined that if heíd only been supported with a fraction of what Hitler put into Tunisia, he could have easily beaten the British. Van Creveld rejects this by showing that the ability to put all these forces into Tunisia was only a result of developments that came after Rommelís defeat (the seizure of the entire French merchant fleet, additional ports at Bizerta and Toulon, etc.). After this first jab at Rommel, Van Creveld starts ticking off the things weíve learned from looking at his campaigns in North Africa. He mentions a lot of things, but they really amount to only two problems.

First, Rommelís supply problems were mainly the result of the size of his ports. Even when the sinking of ships became an issue, there were still roughly enough supplies reaching Africa (including fuel) to support Rommelís troops. The fact that Malta was preying on Axis shipping wasnít nearly as important as the small size of Tobruk or the ability of British aircraft to limit Tobrukís capacity.

Second, the distances between the ports and the front lines were too big to be covered by the limited motor vehicles available to the Germans. Coastal shipping wasnít a solution due to both capacity and the danger from air attack, so the only proper solution would have been a railway. However, the Italians didnít think to build one, and, even if they had, nothing we know about Rommel suggests that he would have waited for it to be finished.

Finally, Van Creveld returns to Rommelís claim that Hitler didnít support him with enough forces, and basically laughs at it, pointing out that, in addition to what we know about the logistics problems that would have resulted from adding more forces, in August of 1942 Rommelís own G-2 estimated that Rommel had more tanks and heavy artillery than the British.

Van Creveld concludes by saying that, due to the German armyís limited number of trucks, the political requirement to carry the useless Italians, and the low capacity of the ports in Libya, Hitlerís decision to send a very limited force to protect a very limited area in North Africa was the right one, especially since his main effort was Operation Barbarossa. Unfortunately for Hitler, Rommel either didnít have the grasp of logistics to understand why his objectives were limited, or didnít have the humility to execute those limited objectives (or both).

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Capt Palmer's favorite quote:

(Quoting Rommel) "The first essential condition for an army to be able to stand the strain of battle is an adequate stock of weapons, petrol, and ammunition. In fact, the battle is decided by the quartermasters before the shooting begins. The bravest men can do nothing without guns, the guns can do nothing without ammunition; and neither guns nor ammunition are of much use in mobile warfare unless there are vehicles with sufficient petrol to haul them around."