This wonderfully designed large-format propaganda broadside, or ‘wall newspaper’, celebrates the Western Desert Campaign (1941-3) of Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel, the ‘Desert Fox’, considered to be by far and way to best World War II German military commander and the only Nazi officer who was internationally esteemed. While ultimately unsuccessful, the exploits of his Afrikakorps in North Africa, often undertaken against numerically superior adversaries, are today the stuff of military legend. The broadside was printed in the Castilian language, as part of a series of pro-Axis propaganda wall newspapers issued in Fascist Spain.
A masterpiece of persuasive art, the broadside shows a full length portrait of General Rommel, labelled, ‘El guerrero victorioso, mariscal Rommel, en su automóvil de Campania durante la batalla’ [The victorious warrior, Marshal Rommel, in his campaign vehicle during the battle’], while the silhouette of a palm tree harkens the exotic nature of the Maghreb. To the right are a series of photographs of battle scenes and captions all designed to portray Rommel as lion and his Afrikakorps as all-conquering heroes. No mention is made of the fact that the contest between Rommel and the Allies was largely a hard-fought stalemate; here one gains the impression that the Germans were effortlessly mowing down the opposition.
The lower part of the composition features a map of the military theatre extending from Benghazi, Libya over to Alexandria Egypt, marking key battle points, notably the Siege of El Tobruk and the epic showdown at El Alamein. Arrows show the progress of Rommel’s army, for the east to the west.
Erwin Rommel’s Western Desert Campaign
The Western Desert Campaign (1941-3) was a German initiative to dominate North Africa and to cut-off and conquer British Egypt. Although it ultimately proved unsuccessful, the Germans gave the Allies a run for their money, and when this poster was printed in July 1942, it looked quite possible that Rommel might break through the last British lines of defence, taking the vital city of Alexandria, upon which the rest of the Egypt would fall like dominos.
In the winter of 1941, the British army had successfully beaten back Italian attempts to invade Egypt from their colony of Libya. The Italians were then on the back-foot and feared a successful British invasion of Libya. The German responded by sending a small, but highly trained, army known as the Afrikakorps to Libya with the intention of not only defending Libya, but also attacking British-Allied positions in Egypt. Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel (1891 – 1944) was by far and way the most talented German general, but Adolf Hitler despised and feared him, so decided to banish him to this far-away campaign.
The Afrikakorps quickly engaged the far larger British Allied forces, led by Rommel’s arch-nemesis and mutual admirer, General Bernard Montgomery. The Germans pinned the Allies down at the Siege of El Tobruk (April 10 to November 27, 1941), in far western Libya, whereupon the Allies withstood a siege of 241 days, before Rommel moved westwards into Egypt. The Allies tried, on numerous occasion to destroy the Afrikakorps with superior numbers and firepower, but every time Rommel slipped way only to head ever closer to Alexandria. This earned Rommel the nickname, the ‘Desert Fox’.
At the beginning of July 1942, Rommel’s forces arrived at El Alamein, Egypt, only a short distance east of Alexandria. There they fought a fierce, nearly month-long battle (July 1-27), which ultimately proved inconclusive. The present broadside was made in the middle of the First Battle of El Alamein, when the outcome was unclear, and when it still seemed quite possible that that Rommel would be able to take Alexandra.
As it would happen, that autumn, the Germans and the Allies enjoined another showdown, the Second Battle of El Alamein (October 23 November 11, 1942), whereupon the Allies scored a decisive victory. While Rommel escaped to fight another day, Germany’s plans to dominate North Africa were in ruins. Nevertheless, Rommel’s skill and tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds won him enduring admiration from friends and foe alike.
The present work was one of a series (no. 22) of an unknown number of broadsides published in 1942 in Fascist Spain to extoll Axis military achievements. During much that year, the Axis powers, in both Europe-North Africa and Asia, generally had the advantage over the Allies, so such propaganda seemed credible. Printed in Castilian by an unknown publisher, the broadsides were intended for a Spanish audience. While Spain, ruled by the Caudillo Francisco Franco, was technically neutral during World War II, Franco was an open admirer of Nazi Germany, and the two nations had collaborated on military affairs prior to the war. Famously, in 1937, at Franco’s behest, the Luftwaffe bombed the Basque town of Guernica, an atrocity immortalized by Pablo Picasso’s eponymous painting. While we have not been able to trace the identity of whoever was behind the publication of these wall newspapers, German agents based in Spain probably sponsored the series. Germany wanted the Spanish public to remain pro- Axis, so that Franco would be less likely to succumb to what was intense Allied pressure to switch sides.