As soon as my article on Michael Wittman opened the door to the possibility of Nazi badasses, I've received somewhere around a kajillion e-mails requesting a page on the most formidable and brilliant commander in Hitler's Wehrmacht - Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. In his brief career as a General in the German Army "The Desert Fox" made a name for himself as a tactical genius and a buster of Allied balls across two fronts.
Rommel first saw combat in World War I while he was serving in the elite German Alpine Corps, which was a unit of badass, highly-mobile mountain warfare experts trained in the art of high-altitude fighting across the northern border of Italy. The Alpenkorps soldiers were reknowned for being totally balls-out and Xtreme, and many of their military operations involved strapping on snowboards with battle axes and skulls painted on them, getting mad air coming out of a half-pipe and then hosing their enemies down with machine gun fire while doing bitchin' to the max 360-degree spinning jumps and wailing on their guitars with enough heavy metal power to cause army-devastating avalanches. Captain Rommel won the Iron Cross First Class for his actions commanding the Alpenkorps during the Battle of Caporetto, when he did a fakie backside 720 off a ramp while throwing hand grenades with deadly accuracy and then lead his company in the encirclement and capture of over 9,000 Italian soldiers. The P.O.W.s were then forced to serve as Alpenkorps roadies for the rest of the war, lugging heavy amplifiers and drum sets across the Alps so that the Korps could continue rocking it to the max and generally just being radical.
When Germany finally capitulated after World War I and signed the Treaty of Rape Germany in the Ass at Versailles, Rommel returned home and wrote what would become the definitive textbook on Germany infantry tactics. In the inter-war period he served as a military rifle instructor at a couple of different service academies and made some extra Deutchmarks serving in Hitler's personal bodyguard whenever the Führer decided to travel around the countryside. It wasn't until World War II broke out however that Rommel would have the chance to make a lasting name for himself as a capable military commander.
When the Blitzkrieg decided to rock France's collective pants back into the Stone Age, Erwin Rommel found himself in command of the German 7th Panzer Division. He quickly proved himself to be the most balls-out commander in the Wehrmacht, as his tanks tore ass head-first across the hedgerows covering something like 100 miles a day, busting through the French lines and hitting them from behind with massive large-scale assaults designed at crippling the enemy's combat capabilities. In the span of just a few months, he had managed to capture over 10,000 enemy soldier and destroy over 450 tanks while only losing a grand total of 42 of his own Panzers. His unit was nicknamed "The Ghost Division" by the French because it was fast, powerful and threw the awesomest Halloween parties, and Rommel was awarded the Knight's Cross for his successes.
But I know what you guys are thinking... getting a bunch of French and Italian soldiers to surrender is more like beating your girlfriend at armwrestling than it is like killing a lion with your bare hands. Well Rommel's victories in France earned him the rank of Field Marshal and a trip across the Mediterranean to command the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions in North Africa - the vaunted Afrikakorps - and it was in the desert that he would prove his badassitude to Germany and the rest of the world.
When Rommel arrived in Libya, he was ostensibly under the command of some jerkass Italian General and had strict orders to stay near the port of Tripoli and defend it against any potential attacks by the nearby British 8th Army, which was a fucking bullshit assignment. Well Rommel was like, "fuck that dude I'm fucking Erwin Rommel and I do whatever the fuck I want" and immediately set out to kick some asses. He sensed that the Brits had a tenuous hold on the territory surrounding Tripoli and immediately whipped out his ball-shooting machine guns and started rocking faces with his Panzers, launching a massive campaign across North Africa. With a small, ill-supplied force of German armor and mechanized infantry, Rommel was able to capture an astonishing amount of territory in a very short period of time and before the Brits had finished their afternoon tea they were in the process of being humped while Rommel captured all of Libya and laid seige to the Allied fortress of Tobruk, leaving a trail of charred rubble in his wake.
The Desert Fox was pretty much unbeatable in land warfare, but unfortunately for him the Afrikakorps didn't have a whole lot going for it besides it's hardcore tanks and a brilliant strategist at the helm. Due to Rommel's rapid advances and balls-out tactics, the Korps had trouble bringing in enough supplies and fuel from it's base in Tripoli, and he was facing a logistical nightmare as Allied naval and air superiority took out two-thirds of the beef jerky, Nintendo DS games, bullets and other random shit that he was supposed to have to re-supply his units. In addition to this, most of the German military might was focused on fucking up Josef Stalin's Communist buddies in the USSR, and German High Command didn't sentAfrikakorps much in the way of reinforcements. Rommel was always outnumbered at least two-to-one, but still managed to kick enough ass to win the day every single time. However right about this time, the fucking hardcore British 8th Army launched Operation Crusader - a massive effort to break the seige of Tobruk and eliminate the German presence in North Africa.
But Rommel wasn't just going to sit back like some fucking chumpburger and do lame shit like dig trenches and erect fortifications - he was going to go nutsack-to-the-wall and charge a force of over 700 tanks with his group of about 260 tanks and some Italian motorized infantrymen riding around on Vespa scooters eating canolis. He swept through the blistering heat of the desert, encircled the Commonwealth forces with his small group and completely fucked them in the ass (metaphorically speaking of course). He disrupted Allied supply lines, outflanked the enemy, drove into Egypt and overwhelmed the defenders at Tobruk. At the Battle of El Alamein he was stopped after several days of stalemated fighting after his tanks ran out of gas, all his reinforcements got wiped out by British air power and his soldiers had all broken their rifles in half while fighting hand-to-hand combat against rhinoceroses. Unable to press the attack, he held his position and awaited support from Berlin. Then he got sick and started barfing his guts out like a drunk frat boy and had to go back to Germany to seek medical attention.
While Rommel was in Germany, General Bernard Montgomery of the British 8th Army decided it would be the perfect time to counter-attack the Nazi forces since they were totally boned without their fearless leader. The Allies busted through the Afrikakorps lines at the Second Battle of El Alamein, forcing Rommel to come back to the front to start cracking skulls. When he showed up he saw that shit was out of hand and requested permission to withdraw to a more strategic position. His answer came directly from Hitler himself - victory or death. No retreat. So Rommel held his indefensible position and got his shit fucked up by a numerically superior force. Finally, he had enough of getting his ass kicked and fought a masterful withdrawl action 1,400 miles back to Tunisia, constantly keeping Montgomery at bay and preserving his now-dwindling army. Unfortunately he was completely outgunned, attacked on all sides by US and UK forces, he didn't get any reinforcements, he had no air power supporting him, and the German ULTRA encryption codes had been broken by the Allies. Basically he was completely and totally fucked, and even though he fought bravely he eventually had to abandon ship and retreat back to Germany.
Once he was back in the Vaterland, he was assigned to help defend the Western front against the inevitable Allied invasion. Rommel advocated bringing the powerful German Panzer Divisions up to the coast so that they could rapidly counter-attack any possible Allied landings and prevent the Democracies from establishing a beachhead, but since this was a really brilliant idea of course Hitler fucking vetoed it. Eventually Rommel got sick of Hitler's bullshit and joined up in a plot to overthrow him because the dude was really fucking up Germany. Rommel wasn't really down with assassinating the Fuhrer, but he did want to imprison him in a military coup. However his buddies decided to try and blow Hitler's shit up with a bomb and when the Gestapo found out about Rommel's involvement in the plot they forced him to commit suicide by eating some cyanide. While this certainly sucked for Rommel, it did work to give him some extra street cred with the Allies.
Rommel was reknowned for being a chivalrous and valorious commander, and a worthy adversary for the Allied forces in North Africa. I sort of see him as a modern-day Hector of Troy - he didn't really belive in all that Nazi bullshit, and he was respected and admired by friend and foe alike for his skill and bravery. He was noted for his humane and just treatment of captured enemy soldiers, and in his tenure as commander theAfrikakorps was never accused of committing any sort of war crimes. He ignored Nazi High Command's orders to execute all captured commandos and Jewish prisoners of war, he refused to conscript the local citizenry to perform slave labor without paying them for their work (a common tactic for German units), and he was a brilliant tactical mind hindered Hannibal-style by a complete and total lack of logistical support from his government.
"In the absence of orders, find something and kill it."
Jewish Virtual Library Entry