Name at birth: Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel
Field Marshall Erwin Rommel was one of the most celebrated Nazi commanders during World War II, a sly tactician whose exploits in North Africa earned him the nickname "The Desert Fox." Rommel joined the German army in 1910 and served with distinction during World War I, in campaigns in France, Romania and Italy. His courage and daring gave him a reputation among German soldiers that spawned the saying, "Where Rommel is, there is the front." After the war he remained in the German army as an instructor, a role that led to his publishing a book on infantry tactics in 1936. Around this time he caught the attention of Adolf Hitler, who put him in charge of security for the rallies at Nüremberg. In the early part of World War II, Rommel commanded Hitler's personal military escort, but in 1940 he was given command of the 7th Panzer Division for the invasion of France. In 1941 Rommel was directed to shore up Italian defenses in Libya; instead of merely holding the line, he attacked British forces and soon drove them as far as Egypt. His fearlessness on the battlefield and his skill at deceiving the Allies made him a Hitler favorite and the most talked-about Nazi commander throughout 1941 and 1942. Even his loss to Britain's Bernard "Monty" Montgomery at El Alamein (October of 1942) is considered proof of his tactical skill: Rommel led his army on a rapid 700-mile retreat with minimal losses.
In late 1943 Rommel was sent to France to direct the defenses for an expected Allied invasion. In July 1944 a British aircraft fired on Rommel's car, killing his driver and causing a crash that gave Rommel a serious head injury. While recuperating he found out he had been implicated in a plot to assassinate Hitler (an attempt on 20 July 1944 by Claus von Stauffenberg failed). Rather than face trial, Rommel was allowed to take a fatal dose of poison on 14 October 1944. The public was told he had died of complications from his head wound, and Rommel was given a state funeral. It is generally agreed that Rommel was not involved in the plot against Hitler, and he has gone down in history as an admired military tactician loyal to Hitler and the German army.