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Seal of the Afrika Korps
|Active||21 February 1941 – 13 May 1943|
|Garrison/HQ||Tripoli, Italian Libya|
Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma
The Afrika Korps or German Africa Corps (German: Deutsches Afrikakorps, DAK listen (help·info)) 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 their 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.
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). 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.
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.
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.
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.
Composition and terminology
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.
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.
Persecution of Jews
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. 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.
Reforming of units
Certain divisions were reformed in Europe after the cessation of fighting in Tunisia:
- 15th Panzer Division (as 15th Panzergrenadier Division in Sicily, Italy and Western Front)
- 21st Panzer Division (in France)
- Hermann Göring Panzer Division (in Sicily and Italy)
- 90th Light Division (as 90th Panzergrenadier Division in Italy)
- Fliegerführer Afrika
- Ramcke Parachute Brigade
- Western Desert Campaign
- László Almásy
- Operation Salaam
- Beevor, Antony (2009). D-Day: The Battle for Normandy. London: Viking. p. 405. ISBN 978-0-670-88703-3.
- Pier Paolo Battistelli (20 January 2013). Rommel's Afrika Korps: Tobruk to El Alamein. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 12–. ISBN 978-1-4728-0081-7.
- Bruce Gudmundsson (30 August 2016). Inside the Afrika Korps: The Crusader Battles, 1941-1942. Frontline Books. pp. 19–. ISBN 978-1-84832-996-6.
- Beasley 2010, p. 262. sfn error: no target: CITEREFBeasley2010 (help)
- Lewin 1968, p. 54.
- Toppe 1952, p. 14.
- Ian Baxter (30 January 2019). The Armour of Rommel's Afrika Korps - Introduction. Pen and Sword. ISBN 978-1-5267-1380-3.
- Robert Satloff Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands 2006 page 44
- 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
- Cooper, Matthew (1990). The German Army 1933–1945. Scarborough House. Chelsea, MI, USA. ISBN 0-8128-8519-8.
- Lewin, Ronald (1998) . Rommel As Military Commander. New York: B&N Books. ISBN 978-0-7607-0861-3.
- Toppe, Generalmajor Alfred (1990) . German Experiences in Desert Warfare During World War II (PDF). The Black Vault (Report). II. Washington: U.S. Marine Corps: Historical Division, European Command. FMFRP 12-96-II. Retrieved 15 October 2013.