Volume 2, Chapter 7
“What! What did you say! Rommel’s dead? How? Where? When?”
Xu Jun was struck dumb. How did the legendary general, the master of tank-warfare die here? What a joke!
“General Rommel has indeed been killed. It was on that slope, the shells…” Müller pointed at the nearby hill and said solemnly.
“Okay slow down. From the beginning, what happened? Explain your current situation.”
“Yes, General.” Müller made an effort to explain everything in as much detail as possible.
“We advanced to the south of Arras, reaching it by morning. General Rommel took the 25th Panzer Regiment and the 37th Reconnaissance Battalion and went out to survey the surroundings. Then the reconnaissance group was followed by the 7th Motorcycle Battalion. Then we, the 7th Motorized Rifle Regiment was stationed near the back. The 42nd Anti-Tank Battalion guarded our immediate flacks, while the 78th Artillery Regiment and the 58th Engineer Battalion and logistical forces followed at the rear.
Originally, we went very smoothly, without any resistance even, besides two enemy reconnaissance aircraft flying over, nothing happened. However, the road was too difficult to traverse. Several months ago, we were supposed to receive some half-trackers but they were never delivered. So of the Sd.Kfz. 251. that we did have, they were all disabled because of those damn mines. Now, the main vehicles are those Mercedes trucks, which have trouble on these dirt roads. We had to wait for the 78th Artillery Regiment and those in logistics. Soon, the division slowed down to the speed of regular infantry.
Then, just after lunch, General Rommel returned to the rest of the division. Then rushed to our regiment, the time should have been 1:45, I was sitting in the car when I received the order. General Rommel ordered us to speed up the pace, he felt that we were too slow. However, not only could we not keep up with 25th Panzer Regiment, the distance between us got further.
Right after Rommel’s instruction, we received a report from the 42nd Anti-Tank Battalion that one of their reconnaissance vehicles saw a large number of British tanks and infantry approaching us. Then we started to receive fire from the British. As that was ongoing, the 42nd Anti-Tank Battalion had deployed their 37mm Pak 36 anti-tank guns, which should have been able enough to deal with those tanks. So General Rommel also sent our 7th Rifle Regiment’s 1st Battalion up to guard the 42nd Anti-Tank Battalion against the British Infantry. Then, the 7th Rifle Regiment also reported that their right wing had been attacked.
At that time, all the officers thought it was simply a British harassment [hit-and-run] and not a dedicated assault. However, we did not expect that the enemy had a new model tank that we’ve never seen before. The 37mm anti-tank guns were largely ineffective against them, I don’t think we could even slow them down. The moment the tanks reached the 1st Battalion, they routed. It was simply a massacre, barely half made it out. And then the tanks shredded the 42nd Anti-Tank Battalion’s positions. Grinding through the 37mm fire like nothing. I saw a brave artillery group shoot at a tank from only 5 meters away.
[Battalion: 400-1000 men]
Quite a few of the Anti-Tank Battalion died and the others were captured, those poor people…” Müller sighed and said.
Xu Jun patted his shoulder and frowned slightly. Then Muller went on to say, “Then those damn British rushed through the Anti-Tank Battalion’s positions to the road, appearing only 1000 meters away from us. Our light-support artillery and machine guns were still hanging on the trucks. There was no shelter and all we fled like scared mice. Luckily some of the armored vehicles and the 222‘s volunteered to be the rear-guard. Covering the disorganized retreat of the infantry. May God bless them, their bravery shall never be forgotten.
We retreated to the southeast, however, the trucks were still stuck in the soft dirt. The only choice we had was to push them every so often. Then we withdrew here, where we are now. Here, we found these trenches, it seems that the French dug them in the last war and didn’t fill them back. allowing us to make use of them.
General Rommel ordered the establishment of defensive positions on the spot. We only have the 2nd and 3rd Battalions left from the 7th Regiment, and the 58th Engineer Battalion. The 42nd Anti-Tank Battalion that guarded our left flank, and the non-combat troops and the communications unit. The 78th Artillery Regiment only had one 150mm self-propelled artillery piece and a traction-style 105mm heavy infantry artillery piece. And the 88mm artillery pieces were like it disappeared. The division was truly spread out too long when the order for withdrawal was issued, they were still far behind.
General Rommel ordered for the artillery to be placed in the woods behind this slope. Then General Rommel called most of the command and officers of the three regiments onto that hill. I was ordered to stick in the front and hold the position. The anti-tank gun was to fortify my left wing and on the right, were six 75mm infantry support guns. And in my position, was the 50mm mortar. General Rommel put his command car and communications camp just underneath the hill. Because the vehicles had at least 20mm machine guns mounted atop them, it made up for the lack of firepower. General Rommel actually placed near all of our heavy machine guns on the slope, under his personal command.
Soon after, the enemy began its attack. We successfully repulsed the first infantry charge, and later they sent a few tanks. As we were about to fire, the enemy wildly bombarded us with their artillery. General Rommel, the division staff, and regiment commanders were all hit in the first round of shelling. Furthermore, it also destroyed almost all of our 20mm guns. The second round of shelling followed soon after. Destroying the armored vehicles on the hillside, and the entirety of the communications camp was up in smoke. My attendant was inside. He wanted to get a spare battery, but the result was that he was killed.
All of our radio communications have been destroyed, so we have since lost contact with the other troops. The enemy tanks were still present and fortunately, the engineering battalion made a temporary anti-tank mine. Coupled with our light artillery, mortars, and of course the Me110’s that came out of nowhere. We finally made them retreat, for now at least. God bless those brave pilots. They disappeared as soon as they came. However, then your plane appeared in front of us.”
Sorry for the late release, this chapter took much more research than usual.
The map of the Battle of Arras (For those interested) NOT Accurate in this timeline.