When Hitler and the German High Command sent Wehrmacht General Erwin Rommel to Libya to command the Afrika Korps, their purpose was primarily to assist their incompetent Italian allies and “hold a line” defensively in the desert sands. But Hitler underestimated Rommel’s command ability and his resourcefulness, not to mention the loyalty and dedication of his soldiers. Outwitting his British opponents at every turn, Rommel was able to conquer the Libyan port of Tobruk, against far superior numbers. Tobruk was Britain’s most important outpost in western Africa. Not only did it become a vital asset for the Afrika Korps, but Tobruk also provided Rommel with vast stores of fuel, food and other critical supplies, thereby countering Rommel’s biggest handicap: the difficulty of getting supplies to his forces across the Mediterranean Sea, which was mostly controlled by the British Navy.
Conquering Tobruk earned Rommel the coveted baton of a “Field Marshal.” But the “Desert Fox” had far greater prizes in mind. He saw Tobruk as opening the gateway for the Axis advance into Egypt, and then the Near East, Persia and the Caucasus region of Russia. Without Tobruk, his forces would never be able to reach the Egyptian border… where a fated encounter awaited him with the British General Bernard Montgomery at an obscure little railway station called El Alamein… one that would change the course of history.