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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 June, 2004, 09:19 GMT 10:19 UK
D-Day memories: Rommel's defeat
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was Hitler's man in charge of repelling the Allied invasion on D-Day.

Here his son Manfred Rommel recounts how the landings caused divisions in the German command, and led to the downfall of both the German forces and his father.

Manfred Rommel
Manfred Rommel joined the German forces aged just 15

In June 1944 I was an auxiliary soldier in an anti-aircraft unit. I was 15-years-old then. I was drafted a week after my 15th birthday.

On 6 June I was at our home at Herrlingen, because my father was coming to spend the night on his way to visit Hitler at Berchtesgaden, and it was my mother's 50th birthday.

My father came home because he was convinced that no landing would occur, as the Navy had told him the sea was much too rough.

But at 0800 he received a telephone call from his chief of staff announcing that the landing had begun.

He immediately took his car and went back to France - it was too dangerous for him to fly as the Allies had huge air superiority.

He was upset that he was not in his headquarters at the time, but he had felt it very important to go to Hitler and ask his permission to reassign the troops in France.

Way out

My father entered the German Army long before Hitler came to power.
My father had known Germany could not win the war since the battle of El Alamein against Montgomery in 1942, but was seeking a way out
Manfred Rommel

He was a professional soldier all his life, which of course meant that he could not vote in the elections which led to Hitler coming to power.

When my father was home on leave, often for only three days or so, he would go hunting. Political matters were not discussed in our home.

My father had known Germany could not win the war since the battle of El Alamein against Montgomery in 1942, but was seeking a way out.

He became more and more aware of the concentration camps, and hoped that if there was a victory in France then Germany could negotiate peace with America and Britain, possibly also with Russia.

But this was a dream, because in the first week of the battle in Normandy it became absolutely clear that the Germans would not be able to push the British and Americans back into the sea and that Germany would have to surrender.

In general, the other army commanders in France shared my father's opinion, because the superiority of the British and Americans became greater and greater.

In the summer of 1944 my father thought it would be better to end the war in France, perhaps even surrender unconditionally, to avoid many more casualties.

He spoke to Hitler, but became aware that Hitler was not prepared to surrender at any cost.

Hitler intended to take the German people with him to the grave.

So in July, my father spoke to some of his military commanders and discussed whether they should end the war in France without Hitler's permission.

Plot against Hitler

On 17 July my father was wounded in France by British aircraft and went home to recuperate.

In the meantime there were investigations into people who opposed the regime, and a lot of trials and executions by hanging of people who had criticised Hitler.

Then on 20 July there was the attempt on Hitler's life by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, which failed and left the army rather helpless.

Field Marshall Erwin Rommel
Rommel considered surrendering without Hitler's permission

My father was at home and he understood then that he would probably not survive the war.

My father did not agree with the Stauffenberg plot because he thought that the risk of failure was too high, and that a dead Hitler could be more dangerous than him living.

He hoped that the troops in France, Stalingrad and Tunisia would surrender, but there was a problem because Hitler sent six of his SS divisions to France and they were very loyal to Hitler.

My father even spoke to two of the SS generals and asked them if the plan was to continue until the Russians were in Berlin and Germany destroyed.

They said no, and one of them promised my father that should he decide to go his own way he would follow him.

'Bad position'

Regarding the extent of my father's knowledge about the crimes taking place on the Eastern Front (where he never held a command), I know that in the first months of 1944 he met a lot of officers who had witnessed mass executions and so on, and so he knew by then that Germany was in a very bad position.

So although he was hoping for peace the conditions could not have helped very much.

I was at home when my father was there injured and I helped him to read papers because he could not read himself for a while.

Afterwards I went back to my battery, and my father was murdered.

Later I served in the infantry and ended my military career as a prisoner of the French army.

I had completed 21 months of military service and was still only 16.

After the war I went back to school and became a lawyer and a civil servant, ending up as Under Secretary of State in the Ministry of Finance.

I was elected Mayor of Stuttgart and now I am retired.

I think that the chancellor has been invited to take part in the D-Day anniversary ceremony this year as a gesture of reconciliation.

After 60 years it is important that we became friends, remain friends and that we remember the battle in Normandy is history.


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