General Erwin Rommel was probably the most famous German Field
Marshal of World War II and was commander of the Deutsches Afrika
Korps. He became known by the nickname “The Desert Fox”
for his skillful military campaigns waged on behalf of the German
Army in North Africa that featured some of the finest strategies of
World War II. His legacy also includes a reputation as being a
chivalrous and humane military officer in contrast to many other
figures of Nazi Germany.
It is the character Erwin Rommel that is the driving force behind
KILLING ROMMEL. Steven Pressfield’s career has been dominated
by bestselling works of historical fiction, most famously with
GATES OF FIRE (which has been optioned by George Clooney for a film
treatment) about the Spartans’ battle with the Persian army.
He also wrote the non-military novel THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE,
which was made into the Robert Redford movie starring Matt Damon
and Will Smith.
KILLING ROMMEL is told from the perspective of R. Lawrence Chapman,
and the story that proceeds from a brief introductory chapter
allegedly comes from Chapman’s diaries of his experiences
with the British Army during World War II. Chapman is not a
traditional military type and, in this story, went on to become a
famous publisher following the end of WWII. Pressfield does a nice
job of blending fact with fiction and features real-life British
Army heroes like Jake Easonsmith, Paddy Mayne, Nick Wilder and Ron
Tinker. Others represent composites or fictional
Chapman is selected to join a secret unit known as the Long Range
Desert Group (LRDG), and they are identified by their scorpion
insignia. The LRDG is tasked with infiltrating the German troops in
North Africa and killing their leader, General Rommel. They
recognize that this may indeed be a suicide mission but one that is
necessary to alter the outcome of the war. General Rommel had just
routed the British forces in a series of battles in the Western
African Desert and is in the process of marching on to the gates of
Alexandria. If the German troops are successful in this course,
they threaten to push from the Suez into the Middle East oilfields.
With Arab oil in their control, Hitler’s army could very well
break the backs of the European Allied Forces and Russian
What follows during Chapman’s recounting of his time with the
LRDG is some very engaging historical and fictional accounts of the
challenges and struggles that this secret unit faces against not
only the Nazi Army but also the conditions of the African desert
and their own vehicular limitations. It is during this point that
you will forget you are reading a work of fiction and actually feel
like you are there with this desperate British unit, as they
valiantly struggle to overcome many obstacles in an effort to reach
their goal of killing General Rommel.
With the British Eighth Army, led by General Bernard Montgomery,
surging and a push from the recently landed American Allied Army
led by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the LRDG realizes how critical
it is for them to succeed and provide intelligence that will allow
their overall forces to succeed in stopping the Nazi desert push.
The historical battle at El Alamein is an important turning point
in this effort, and Pressfield again puts the reader right there
with the LRDG. The eventual face-to-face confrontation between
Chapman’s team and General Rommel himself is powerful and
contains enough nervous tension to make the best military history
buff forget the eventual documented outcome.
It is a known fact that Rommel was defeated in his efforts to drive
through to the Middle East, and this failure led to his eventual
falling out with Hitler himself. Rommel’s life ended with his
suicide when he was fingered as part of a Nazi mutiny that plotted
to kill Hitler. Pressfield succeeds greatly in making you feel
distinctly what these young British soldiers went through during
this North African campaign (which actually lasted from
1940–1943), and knowing the outcome of the battle ahead of
time makes this novel no less interesting a read.
KILLING ROMMEL is a thoroughly engaging book --- and not just for
military history buffs.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 22, 2011