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Posted on May 2, 2008 in Books and Movies

Killing Rommel – Book Review

By Jerry D. Morelock

Rommel and his staffAs the title suggests, “killing Rommel” is the intended purpose of the first mission that initiates Chap into the LRDG brotherhood; yet the unique nature of the desert war – in Pressfield’s (and Rommel’s) words, a “war without hate” – meant that the commandos set about their job with a calculating, businesslike efficiency, not overwhelmed by some intense desire to rid the world of a brutal, Nazi monster (see “POV – Rommel: War Without Hate” by Steven Pressfield in the ACG website blog section). Rommel was targeted because he was the driving force and battlefield genius behind the Afrika Korps’ and Axis forces’ success in the theater, and at the time the mission was planned, he had British and Commonwealth forces reeling on the ropes – his panzers were only a short drive from Cairo and the strategically important Suez Canal. “Killing Rommel” was devised as a bold stroke to reverse Britain’s North African battlefield fortunes, and the only military unit that offered any hope such a daring, risky mission might succeed was the LRDG. While British and Axis forces faced each other across the battlefield of El Alamein, an LRDG patrol (with Chap along) strikes out across the desert to find the Desert Fox and kill him – if they can.

Long Range Desert GroupPressfield’s thrilling story of how that raid and Chap’s subsequent adventures with the LRDG played out is both a rare “insider”s” look at the commandos’ operations and a cautionary tale of how incredibly difficult military operations are. A thousand things, big and small, can go terribly wrong and torpedo a military operation, especially one in which success – even survival – hangs on such a small thread. In Killing Rommel, “Murphy” (of Murphy’s Law) definitely goes along for the ride. Trucks break down, humans make seemingly small but potentially deadly errors, equipment fails or is destroyed, men fall to accidents, illness and German bullets – and to the egregiously misnamed “friendly fire” – and simply navigating across the desert (aptly compared to navigating at sea) is an incredibly complicated yet vitally important endeavor. After reading Pressfield’s description of desert navigation, finding the proverbial needle in a haystack now seems like child’s play compared to the nail-biting task of locating a life-saving cache of petrol in the desert wastes before darkness – and failure — arrives. And looming over all are the vagaries of the weather and, most importantly, the unforgiving desert itself: men (and equipment) bake in a 135-degree furnace in daytime, then shiver through freezing temperatures at night; flash floods come out of nowhere to wash away everything in their paths, trucks included; and simply crossing the endless series of dunes hundreds of feet high in the desert’s sand seas challenges the skill and endurance of even the best drivers. One mistake can prove fatal; the opportunities to make mistakes are virtually unlimited. That any of the LRDG commandos survived these daring raids seems remarkable – that they actually persevered to wreak havoc on Axis forces is a monumental tribute to their courage, skill, morale, initiative, innovation, and (for want of a better word) plain old guts.

Steven Pressfield’s Killing Rommel is a highly-recommended tour de force that deftly combines his well-known, much-acclaimed, finely honed skill as a compelling storyteller with an unmatched degree of historical accuracy and authenticity. Read it and you’ll know what it really felt like to be part of one of the greatest special operations outfits in military history. Armchair General rates this book 5 STARS, our highest rating.

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PHOTO CREDITS (in order of appearance)

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NATIONAL ARCHIVES
Special Air Service and Long Range Desert Group operators check their weapons before setting out on a mission in 1941. These two units often operated behind enemy lines for extended periods of time.

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ROMMEL FAMILY ARCHIVES
Rommel in North Africa.

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NATIONAL ARCHIVES
Soldiers of the Long Range Desert Group and Special Air Service patrol the desert looking for targets of opportunity.

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3 Comments

  1. Just finished the book, Killing Rommel; it was difficult to seperate fact from fiction, and hard to put down.

    Steven Pressfield took me right out there on the front lines, I felt the heat of the desert sun, shuddered at the terrifying thunder of the Panzer guns, and wept as the ordinary men of both sides of the conflict gave their lives in the North African campaign.

    Kudo’s to Steven on his ability to conduct such complete research, drawing into the story actual events and geographical setting.

    I’ll be looking for other books by this author.

  2. I am still not certain this book, Killing Rommel, is fiction, historical, or otherwise.

    I would accept that a few names have been invented, but that is about all. The story just seems too real to be made up.

    If the story line was invented in the authors head, I am impressed.

    I spent a couple of years in the area, (in oil), and the desert conditions descriptions just seem too real to be made up.

  3. I just don’t understand who the original narrator’s father is that was “close friends with Chap.” I’m sure I’ve must have missed it but I can’t find it, anyone know? Great read though.

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  1. Author POV - Rommel’s ‘War Without Hate’ » Armchair General Magazine - We Put YOU in Command! - [...] the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, Gates of Fire, The War of Art, and the upcoming (May…

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