Erwin Rommel was a highly decorated officer of World War I who wrote a book on military tactics called Infantry Attacks. It was said Hitler read the book himself, too, but it was not until the second World War that he became well-known.

At the time, Hitler rose to power and placed Rommel as one of his trusted allies. He distinguished himself as the commander of the 7th Panzer Division during the 1940 invasion of France. During the North American campaign, his leadership of German and Italian forces established his reputation as one of the best tank commanders of the war, earning his nickname, “the Desert FoThe enemy commanders of Britain even admired his reputation. However, because of his hands-on approach as a Nazi commander, it was no surprise that he brushed skin with death numerous times.

Here are some of those instances.

Almost Shot to Oblivion

In 1940, Rommel was the tank commander in France of the 7th Panzer Divison, later known as the “Ghost Division.” Composed of about 218 tanks, Rommel was basically unprepared for a new style of warfare during the period between assuming command of the division at Bad Godesberg, Germany, and the German invasion of France that happened in early May. Wanting to see some action after his long break from combat, he moved in and out of tanks and onto combat vehicles to lead the troops forward personally.

General Erwin Rommel during the generals’ briefing. (Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe , Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

On May 14, 1940, his tank had just reached the edge of a forest and was about to cross a low plantation when he came under heavy enemy artillery and anti-tank fire near Onhaye, Belgium. He wrote later on, “Shells landed all around us, and my tank received two hits one after the other, the first on the upper edge of the turret and the second in the periscope.”

A small splinter wounded his right cheek that caused some bleeding. The tank driver sped up in an attempt to take cover in the bushes but ended up sliding over a steep slope and landing on its side, exposed to the enemy gunners in all its glory. Rommel tried to swing the turret gun, but it would not budge. So, the French started to open fire on their helpless state.

Fortunately, just a split second before they were shot to oblivion, Rommel and the crew managed to exit the tank and ran for dear life amidst the firing bullets and explosions.

Not-So-Friendly Fire

Friendly fire was pretty common, especially in the middle of a chaotic battle, and Rommel had been quite a frequent victim. On May 28, 1940, his Divisional Headquarters came under fire from the heavy artillery of none of than… a German division.

Upon recognizing their shells, they attempted to signal their not-so-friendly attackers with green flares to tell them they were allies. Then, they thought of using their radio contact, but the problem was that it was in a signal truck parked where the firing was, which meant trying to retrieve it was a matter of life and death.

To Rommel, he would get killed in the friendly barrage or while trying to retrieve the radio. He chose the latter when he sprinted into the shelling zone, along with the commander of the 37th Reconnaissance Battalion, Major Erdmann.

Unfortunately, Erdmann was hit, and Rommel described what happened to him,

When the smoke cleared, Major Erdmann … lay face to the ground, dead, with his back shattered. He was bleeding from the head and from an enormous wound in his back. His left hand was still grasping his leather gloves… I had escaped unscathed, though the same shell had wounded several other officers and men.

Mistaken Identity

On April 7, 1941, Rommel arrived in North Africa just two months prior. That day, he almost landed his reconnaissance plane among British troops after they had him mistaken as an ally and politely invited him to come down by laying out a landing cross for him in the desert. Coincidentally, he was looking for an errant German column that he lost and thought that the British were the troops he was looking for. He ordered his plane to land and only noticed the mistake when he saw the flat helmets of the British troops. They immediately took off, followed by machine-gun fire from the British soldiers, who also figured out what just happened. He wrote,

At the last moment I suddenly spotted the flat helmets of British troops. We immediately banked and made off, followed by machine-gun fire from the British troops. We were lucky to get away practically unscathed, with only one hit in the tail.

North Africa: Erwin Rommel with officers. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-786-0327-19 / Otto / CC-BY-SA 3.0CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons)

Of all the times that Rommel managed to escape death, who would have thought it was a cyanide pill from his beloved Nazi Germany that would take his life.