Afrika Korps

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Deutsches Afrikakorps
Afrika Korps emblem.svg
Seal of the Afrika Korps
Active21 February 1941 – 13 May 1943
Country Germany
TypeExpeditionary force
RoleDesert warfare
Expeditionary warfare
Garrison/HQTripoli, Italian Libya
Erwin Rommel
Ludwig Crüwell
Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma
Walther Nehring

The Afrika Korps or German Africa Corps (German: Deutsches Afrikakorps, DAK About this soundlisten ) was the German expeditionary force in Africa during the North African Campaign of World War II. First sent as a holding force to shore up the Italian defense of its African colonies, the formation fought on in Africa, under various appellations, from March 1941 until its surrender in May 1943. The unit's best known commander was Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.



The Afrika Korps formed on 11 January 1941 and one of Hitler's favourite generals, Erwin Rommel, was designated as commander on 11 February. Originally Hans von Funck was to have commanded it, but Hitler loathed von Funck, as he had been a personal staff officer of Werner von Fritsch until von Fritsch was dismissed in 1938.[1]

The German Armed Forces High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, OKW) had decided to send a "blocking force" to Italian Libya to support the Italian army. The Italian 10th Army had been routed by the British Commonwealth Western Desert Force in Operation Compass (9 December 1940 – 9 February 1941) and captured at the Battle of Beda Fomm. The German blocking force, commanded by Rommel, at first consisted of a force based only on Panzer Regiment 5, which was put together from the second regiment of the 3rd Panzer Division. These elements were organized into the 5th Light Division when they arrived in Africa from 10 February – 12 March 1941. In late April and into May, the 5th Light Division was joined by elements of 15th Panzer Division, transferred from Italy. At this time, the Afrika Korps consisted of the two divisions, and was subordinated to the Italian chain of command in Africa.[2]

On 15 August 1941, the German 5th Light Division was redesignated 21st Panzer Division, the higher formation of which was still the Afrika Korps. During the summer of 1941, the OKW increased the presence in Africa and created a new headquarters called Panzer Group Africa. On 15 August, the Panzer Group was activated with Rommel in command, and command of the Afrika Korps was turned over to Ludwig Crüwell. The Panzer Group comprised the Afrika Korps, with some additional German units now in North Africa, plus two corps of Italian units. The Panzer Group was, in turn, redesignated as Panzer Army Africa on 30 January 1942.[3]

After the German defeat in the Second Battle of El Alamein and the Allied landings in Morocco and Algeria (Operation Torch), the OKW once more upgraded the presence in Africa by adding first the XC Army Corps, under Nehring, in Tunisia on 19 November 1942, then an additional 5th Panzer Army on 8 December, under the command of Colonel-General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim.

1943 drawing by US army artist Rudolph von Ripper of Afrika Corps prisoners of war, captioned "laden with the loot of many country's, the Africa-Corps is brought into captivity."

On 23 February 1943, the original Panzer Army Africa, which had since been re-styled as the German-Italian Panzer Army, was now redesignated as the Italian 1st Army and put under the command of Italian general Giovanni Messe. Rommel, meanwhile, was placed in command of a new Army Group Africa, created to control both the Italian 1st Army and the 5th Panzer Army. The remnants of the Afrika Korps and surviving units of the 1st Italian Army retreated into Tunisia. Command of the Army Group was turned over to Arnim in March. On 13 May, the Afrika Korps surrendered, along with all other remaining Axis forces in North Africa.

Most Afrika Korps POWs were transported to the United States and held in Camp Shelby in Mississippi, Camp Hearne in Texas and other POW camps until the end of the war.[4]

Composition and terminology[edit]

When Rommel was promoted to the newly formed Panzer Army Africa, his command included a number of Italian units, including four infantry divisions. Two Italian armoured divisions, Ariete and Trieste, initially remained under Italian control as the Italian XX Motorized Corps under the command of General Gastone Gambara.[5]

The Afrika Korps was restructured and renamed in August 1941. "Afrikakorps" was the official name of the force for less than six months but the officers and men used it for the duration. The Afrika Korps was the major German component of Panzerarmee Afrika, which was later renamed the Deutsch-Italienische Panzerarmee and finally renamed Heeresgruppe Afrika (Army Group Africa) during the 27 months of the Desert campaign.[6][7]

Persecution of Jews[edit]

Initially, the Afrika Korps gained a reputation by the Allies and by many historians as being clean. Many historians have used the term "War without hate" to describe the North African Campaign as a whole. [8] However, newer research has shown that there is much evidence of the Afrika Korps being involved in war crimes. The Afrika Korps was used as an essential part of the wider Myth of the Clean Wehrmacht which sought to integrate German war criminals back into post-war West German society.

Giordana Terracina writes that: "On April 3, the Italians recaptured Benghazi and a few months later the Afrika Korps led by Rommel was sent to Libya and began the deportation of the Jews of Cyrenaica in the concentration camp of Giado and other smaller towns in Tripolitania. This measure was accompanied by shooting, also in Benghazi, of some Jews guilty of having welcomed the British troops, on their arrival, treating them as liberators."[9]

Jewish prisoners were also deported to Italy where they were forced to do forced labour. A Jewish concentration camp survivor, Sion Burbea, tesifies that he witnessed Rommel inspecting their work with Albert Kesselring.[10]

According to German historian Wolfgang Proske, Rommel forbade his soldiers from buying anything from the Jewish population of Tripoli, used Jewish slave labour and commanded Jews to clear out minefields by walking on them ahead of his forces. [11] According to Proske, some of the Libyan Jews were eventually sent to concentration camps.[12]

According to the publication Jewish Communities of the World edited by Anthony Lerman, in 1942 during the German occupation, the Benghazi quarter that housed the Jewish population was plundered and 2000 Jews were deported across the desert, out of which circa a fifth of them had perished.[13] The DAK also initiated a pogrom against the Jews in Benghazi.[14] Moment Magazine reports: "on orders from the German military commander, the Axis forces, in 1942, plundered Jewish shops and deported 2,600 Benghazi Jews to Giado".[15]

Robert Satloff writes in his book Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands that as the German and Italian forces retreated across Libya towards Tunisia, the Jewish population became victims upon which they released their anger and frustration. According to Satloff, Afrika Korps soldiers plundered Jewish property all along the Libyan coast. This violence and persecution only came to an end with the arrival of General Montgomery in Tripoli on January 23 1943.[16] German historian Clemens Vollnhals writes that the use of Jews by Afrika Korps as forced labour is barely known, but it did happen alongside persecution of Jewish population (although on smaller scale than in Europe) and some of the labourers were worked to death.[17]

Re-forming of units[edit]

Certain divisions were re-formed in Europe after the cessation of fighting in Tunisia:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Beevor, Antony (2009). D-Day: The Battle for Normandy. London: Viking. p. 405. ISBN 978-0-670-88703-3.
  2. ^ Pier Paolo Battistelli (20 January 2013). Rommel's Afrika Korps: Tobruk to El Alamein. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 12–. ISBN 978-1-4728-0081-7.
  3. ^ Bruce Gudmundsson (30 August 2016). Inside the Afrika Korps: The Crusader Battles, 1941-1942. Frontline Books. pp. 19–. ISBN 978-1-84832-996-6.
  4. ^ Beasley 2010, p. 262.
  5. ^ Lewin 1968, p. 54.
  6. ^ Toppe 1952, p. 14.
  7. ^ Ian Baxter (30 January 2019). The Armour of Rommel's Afrika Korps - Introduction. Pen and Sword. ISBN 978-1-5267-1380-3.
  8. ^ Bierman, John; Smith, Colin (2004). War Without Hate: The Desert Campaign of 1940–43. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-200394-7.
  9. ^ Hidden responsibilities. The deportation of Libyan Jews in the concentration camp of Civitella del Tronto and the confinement town of Camerino Giordana Terracina Trauma and Memory, 2016, Volume 4, no. 3, pp. 9–31. page 12
  10. ^ Hidden responsibilities. The deportation of Libyan Jews in the concentration camp of Civitella del Tronto and the confinement town of Camerino Giordana Terracina Trauma and Memory, 2016, Volume 4, no. 3, page "Another day we saw the German senior officers scour the area thoroughly with binoculars. Josif,a Romanian enlisted in the Wehrmacht who occasionally passed me the cigarettes, he shouted to hoe without looking up. Then, slowly, he told me that, closer to us, was General Albert Kesselring,50 meters away there was General Erwin Rommel."
  11. ^ Paterson, Tony (4 December 2011), "Was the Desert Fox an honest soldier or just another Nazi?", The Independent
  12. ^ Schramm, Joachim, "Zum Traditionsverständnis der Bundeswehr Zurück auf dem Weg zurück in altes militärisches Denken und Handel" (PDF), Konferenz Rommel und das Traditionsverständnis der Bundeswehr Bielefeld, 17. November 2018 (in German), DFG-VK
  13. ^ The Jewish Communities of the World by Anthony Lerman,pages 100–101, Palgrave Macmillan UK,1989 German occupation: "the Jewish Quarter of Benghazi was sacked and 2000 Jews were deported across the desert, a fifth of whom died."
  14. ^ The Illustrated Atlas of Jewish Civilization: 4,000 Years of Jewish History, Martin Gilbert, Macmillan, 1990 page 147 "'German occupation led to the first anti – Jewish pogrom in 1942(...)"
  15. ^ David Harris, In the Trenches: Selected Speeches and Writings of an American Jewish Activist, 2008, page 148
  16. ^ Robert Satloff, Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands, 2006 page 44
  17. ^ Kaum bekannt ist, dass auch das deutsche Afrikakorps Juden zur Zwangsarbeit heranziehen ließ. Die Judenverfolgung gestaltete sich in Nordafrika nicht so mörderisch wie in Europa, doch starben einige der Zwangsarbeiter doch starben einige der Zwangsarbeiter Wehrmacht, Verbrechen, Widerstand: vier Beiträge zum nationalsozialistischen Weltanschauungskrieg, page 55 Clemens Vollnhals Hannah-Arendt-Institut für Totalitarismusforschung e.V. an der Technischen Universität Dresden, 2003


Further reading[edit]