14 - 20 October 1999
Issue No. 451
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
The long journey
A Border Passage: From Cairo to America -- A Woman's Journey, Leila Ahmed, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999. pp307
Tales of the desert fox
The Armies of Rommel, George Forty, London: Arms and Armour, 1999. pp254
A peace with no winners
Ya Salam (Peace!), Nagwa Barakat, Beirut: Dar Al-Adab, 1999. pp190
Rural migrant workers in Egypt
Rural Labor Movements in Egypt, 1961-1992, James Toth, Cairo: AUC Press, 1999. pp246
Secret and moral histories
Al-Qame' fil-Khitab Al-Rowa'i Al-Arabi (Repression in the Discourse of the Arabic Novel), Abdel-Rahman Abu Ouf. Cairo: Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, 1999. pp263
New guide for the virtual traveller
The Splendours of Archaeology, ed. Fabio Bourbon, Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1999. pp352
When the sea changed its colour
Youghiyar Alouanah Al-Bahr ( The sea changes its colours), Nazik Al-Malaika, Cairo: Afaq Al-Kitaba (Writing Horizons) series of the Cultural Palaces Organisation, 1999. pp211
Next week, the Supreme Council for Culture will hold an international symposium to mark the passing of a century since the publication of Qasim Amin's The Liberation of Women. Here, Al-Ahram Weekly remembers Mai Ziyada, one of the most remarkable advocates of women's liberation in the Arab world
The mirror of Mai
Bahithat Al-Badia and Aisha Al-Taymouriya, Al-Anissa Mai (Mai Ziyada), edited and introduced by Safynaz Kazem, Cairo: Al-Hilal, 1999. pp372
Introducing Miss Mai
By Safynaz Kazem
At a glance
By Mahmoud El-Wardani
Magazines and Periodicals:
* Alif : Journal of Comparative Poetics, No. 19, Cairo: The American University in Cairo, 1999
* Dafatir Thaqafiya (Cultural Notebooks), No. 22, Ramallah: The Palestinian Ministry of Culture, August 1999
* Nizwa , No. 19, Oman: Oman Institution for Journalism, News, Publication and Advertising, Summer 1999
* Fusul (Seasons), quarterly issued by the General Egyptian Book Organisation
* Al-Romouz Al-Tashkiliya fil Sehr Al-Sha'bi (Plastic Symbols in Popular Magic), Soliman Mahmoud Hassan, Cairo: General Organisation for Cultural Palaces, 1999. pp.231
* Islam in the Balkans , H. T. Norris, trans. Abdel-Wahab Aloub, ed. Mohamed Khalifa Hassan, Cairo: Supreme Council for Culture, 1999. pp299
* Leonardo, Edmundo Solmi, trans. Taha Fawzi, Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organisation, 1999. pp223
* St Mark and the Foundation of the Alexandrian Church, Samir Fawzi Girgis, trans. Nassim Megali, Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organisation, 1999. pp159.
To see other book supplements go to the ARCHIVES index.
Illustrations courtesy of International Commitee of the Red Cross
"Folk drawings and tales", Cairo, 1996
Tales of the desert foxThe Armies of Rommel, George Forty, London: Arms and Armour, 1999. pp254
Hitler with Major-General Erwin Rommel, who led the Axis troops at the battle of Al-Alamein, which started on 23 October 1941
Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox who gave the British such a run for their money in North Africa, was a hero to friend and foe alike. One of the best field commanders of the Second World War, he was a man of great courage and determination who always led from the front. In North Africa he showed himself to be a Panzer general of the same calibre as Guderian or Moth.
Military historian George Forty's new book, The Armies of Rommel, is a welcome addition to the books I already have on this great German general: Rommel by Charles Douglas-Home, On the Trail of the Fox by David Irving, Rommel by Desmond Young, Hitler's Generals by Richard Brett-Smith, The Other Side of the Hill by Lidell Hart, Three Against Rommel by Alexander Clifford, The Foxes of the Desert by Paul Carrell, Battles of the Great Commanders by Antony Livesey (this covers only the Battle of Gazzala in which Rommel inflicts a telling defeat on the Eighth Army commanded by Major-General Neil Ritchie), and finally The Rommel Papers edited by Liddell Hart (this is the main source book for all the others). Despite the grandiose title, which creates the impression that Rommel was some sort of medieval warlord, Forty's book is really nothing more than the barest outline of Rommel's career and military campaigns. But, strangely, the author devotes quite a bit of space to army structures, personnel, weapons and equipment, all of which are explained in fine detail.
Rommel was first noticed during the First World War, when he was awarded the highest German decoration for capturing Monte Major, a key Italian position, which resulted in a major Italian defeat and rout. Next we see him as commander of the Seventh Panzer Division, known as the Guest Division, during the Second World War, taking part in Guderian's brilliant armoured thrust into France that resulted in the breakthrough at Sedan and a dash to the channel ports which outmanoeuvred the entire French army and led to its surrender. In this campaign Rommel undoubtedly learned a lot from Guderian's unprecedented use of massed armour, based on theories of armoured warfare laid down by Captain Liddell Hart, and neither the Poles nor the French could stand up to Guderian's combined onslaught of panzers and Stukas. These formidable dive bombers were frequently fitted with sirens for a demoralising effect on their targets. But while outflanking the French, Guderian's own flanks were exposed to French counter-attacks, something which led to Hitler and his armchair generals Keitel and Jodl having attacks of nerves in Berlin. Hitler actually ordered Guderian to stop his advance more than once, but was ignored by the tough, uncompromising general, who told his Fuehrer that he was not advancing, merely sending out reconnaissance missions.
Although French counter attacks were easily repulsed by Guderian's advancing formations, a determined British counter attack at Arras (19-21 May 1940) caused more problems for the Germans, and Rommel was summoned to deal with it. The British counter attack was mounted by units of the First Army Tank Brigade and the 151st Infantry Brigade. Rommel quickly set up a screen of anti-tank guns, but watched with dismay as shells from the standard German 37mm anti-tank guns bounced harmlessly off the heavily armoured British Matilda tanks. It was only when 88s were brought in that the British attack was stopped. But this was no easy victory. Forty tells us that when the British withdrew there were 30 burned out tanks on the battlefield, mostly German. And the casualties suffered by Rommel's troops in this one encounter were four times larger than those suffered during the breakthrough in France. This was Rommel's first encounter with the British. Later, as commander of the German Afrika Korps in North Africa (15th and 21st Panzer Divisions, 90th Light Division) along with eight Italian divisions, Rommel demonstrated his dash as a commander, and his two victories over the British Eighth Army led to General Wavell's dismissal.
In Operation Crusader, launched by the British General Cunningham, Rommel again displayed his brilliance on the battlefield and inflicted such heavy casualties on the British Eighth Army that Cunningham was about to order a general withdrawal, and was only stopped by his superior Auchinleck, who replaced him with General Ritchie. However, although Rommel had won the battle on paper, his forces were too weak to continue and had to withdraw. But Rommel was soon on the attack once again, this time against a new opponent: Montgomery. Alam Halfa, fought against British forces under Montgomery's direction, was the first armoured battle Rommel failed to win. It was Allied superiority at Alam Halfa, and later at Al-Alamein, that dictated Rommel's later conviction in France in 1944 that the enemy must be met at the beach-heads. He never forgot how the tide of battle had turned against him on these two occasions due to superior British air power.
With Rommel back in Germany following the defeat at Alam Halfa, command of the Afrika Korps went to General George Stumme. But when the Battle of Al-Alamein opened on 23 October 1941, Stumme died of a heart attack while under attack in his command car. Rommel flew back to resume command on the evening of 25 September with promises from Hitler for more tanks and guns -- which never arrived. Montgomery had the advantage of an almost two-to-one superiority in tanks and men -- 195,000 troops against 50,000 German and 54,000 Italian, and over 1,000 tanks against the German 510, 300 of which were inferior Italian ones. The air situation was even less favourable to the Axis powers, for the British Desert Air Force had complete air superiority. Al-Alamein was a bloody, bitter and costly set-piece battle and it was only when Montgomery switched his main punch to the south that a breakthrough was achieved. By the night of 4 November the Germans and Italians were in full retreat. Al-Alamein destroyed the power of the Afrika Korps. From now on Rommel knew that he was fighting a losing battle and ceased to believe in the possibility of German victory in the war.
A new German army was created in Tunisia but Rommel was not in full command, and when this was defeated, Rommel's next worthwhile command was as C-in-C Army Group B under Rundstedt, charged with coastal defence from Holland to the Bay of Biscay. Rommel timelessly travelled round the Low Countries and France inspecting the German defences. On 23 April 1944 he wrote to General Jodl, urging him to place the panzer divisions under his command, but his pleas went unheeded. "My functions in Normandy," Rommel wrote later, "were so restricted by Hitler that any sergeant-major could have carried them out."
When the Allies landed in France on 6 June 1944 Rommel was away from the front. By August, Montgomery relates with gusto, 40 German divisions had been eliminated or badly mauled, and the Normandy battle was over. Over 20 German generals had been killed or taken prisoner and Rundstedt and von Kluge dismissed. How right Rommel's assessment of the situation had proved to be: if the Allies were not defeated on the beach-heads, they would not be defeated at all.
Although Rommel thought the 1944 attempt on Hitler's life in Berlin stupid, believing that peace negotiations should have been arranged in the west with the Allies, his enforced suicide following the German defeat in France was a tragedy for his country. Forty has written a welcome new account of the great German general's life and military career. Having said that, however, he has not added much that is new to enhance our understanding of this important historical figure.
Reviewed by Mamdouh El-Dakhakhni