Killing Rommel; by by Steve Pressfield

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MWSA Review

In “Killing Rommel” veteran author Steven Pressfield has written yet another vivid and exciting novel detailing the matter-of-fact heroics and actions by the warriors who fight and too-often die.

Set in North Africa during the British fight against Gen Erwin Rommel in 1942, Pressfield takes the exploits of the British Army’s little-known Long Range Desert Group, and presents the reader with yet another well-researched and exciting story of men at war.

As is Pressfield’s style, he tells the story from the viewpoint of one of the participants. Lt. Lawrence Chapman is one of Pressfield’s proverbial citizen-soldiers, a young man thrust into a war for which his middle-class collegiate upbringing has not at all prepared him. While normally in Pressfield’s books it’s the enlisted men who are the narrators and telling the story from the boots-on-the-ground perspective, it’s a unique change in approach as Lt. Chapman brings an officer’s point of view to the fight.

The war in 1942 in North Africa was going badly for the Allies. Gen Rommel’s strategy and tactics overwhelmed Gen Montgomery’s British troops, and the initial American Army reinforcements were routed at the Kasserine Pass. If Rommel could successfully capture Cairo, then the Germans would control the middle-eastern oil fields, the Suez Canal, and quick access to India and the Pacific, all of which would have horrific repercussions on the Allied war effort.

In a desperate response, the British formed the Long Range Desert Group in an attempt to kill Rommel, and Pressfield uses Lt. Chapman to narrate the war in the desert.

Historically accurate, “Killing Rommel” describes a war that most in Americans might only know through the old television show “Rat Patrol.” Driving old Chevrolet trucks that they up-armor themselves, often short on petrol, rations, water, and ammunition, Lt Chapman depicts the fight in North Africa between the beleaguered Brits and Rommel’s Afrika Corps as he learns to command as he learns to fight.

Those who have fought, and especially those Marines  and Soldiers who have fought at An-Nasiriyah, Fallujah, Haditha, Anbar Province, and the Diyala River Valley, will understand the pictures Pressfield paints of the thirst, heat, sand, and boredom – interrupted by intense combat – in the desert. He draws the reader into the action with Chapman and his men as they drive –often by stars and dead reckoning – to their rendezvous points and missions.

As Pressfield’s books are so famously noted, the characters in “Killing Rommel” possess a quiet courage and grow into a maturity far beyond their years. Similar to Xeo in “Gates of Fire,” and Matthais in “The Afghan Campaign,” the deep story here is how Chapman and his fellow Tommies are thrown into some extraordinarily ugly situations, and then respond.  It’s the story of these citizen-soldiers and how they react to the carnage around them that makes “Killing Rommel” one of Pressfield’s best books.

MWSA Reviewer: Andrew Lubin

Author's Synopsis

A thrilling WWII tale based on the real-life exploits of the Long Range Desert Group, an elite British special forces unit that took on the German Afrika Korps and its legendary commander, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, "the Desert Fox." 

Autumn 1942. Hitler’s legions have swept across Europe; France has fallen; Churchill and the English are isolated on their island. In North Africa, Rommel and his Panzers have routed the British Eighth Army and stand poised to overrun Egypt, Suez, and the oilfields of the Middle East. With the outcome of the war hanging in the balance, the British hatch a desperate plan—send a small, highly mobile, and heavily armed force behind German lines to strike the blow that will stop the Afrika Korps in its tracks. 

Narrated from the point of view of a young lieutenant, Killing Rommel brings to life the flair, agility, and daring of this extraordinary secret unit, the Long Range Desert Group. Stealthy and lethal as the scorpion that serves as their insignia, they live by their motto: Non Vi Sed Arte—Not by Strength, by Guile as they gather intelligence, set up ambushes, and execute raids. Killing Rommel chronicles the tactics, weaponry, and specialized skills needed for combat, under extreme desert conditions. And it captures the camaraderie of this “band of brothers” as they perform the acts of courage and cunning crucial to the Allies’ victory in North Africa. 

Combining scrupulous historical detail and accuracy with remarkable narrative momentum, Pressfield powerfully renders the drama and intensity of warfare, the bonds of men in close combat, and the surprising human emotions and frailties that come into play on the battlefield to create a vivid and authoritative depiction of the desert war.