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Afrikakorps diary translation reveals German ambitions and intelligence in Africa


The Afrikakorps diary was prized by friend and foe alike for its useful information, generous proportions, and stylish interior. For the first time since Wolrd War Two, a new edition of the Afrikakorps diary has been published, with all the original German content, alongside English translations.

The original diary was issued to soldiers of the Afrikakorps – the legendary formation established in January 1941 to save the Italians from losing Libya. Its commander was Erwin Rommel – the  General who had led a Panzer division on an advance through France in 1940. Within months, he was chasing the Allies as far as the Egyptian border, despite a much inferior force, and escaping their counters, earning him the nickname “Desert Fox.”

The Afrikakorps diary contains many references to these early achievements. On the second page is a photograph of Rommel receiving Germany’s highest military honour (the Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross to the Iron Cross) from Adolf Hitler. The date was March 20, 1941.

Josef Goebbels, the Minister for Propaganda, wrote two pages in the diary, extolling the bravery, skills, and successes of the German soldiers in Africa. At one point, he writes: “Whenever the heroism of the German soldier is mentioned, the German Africa Corps always will be named first.” However, he warned that “in coming years, the fighters of the Africa Corps will take on tasks that will demand hardships and earnest efforts from everyone.” How true that would prove in 1942 and 1943.

By August 1941, a new field army was being formed over the Afrikakorps and two Italian corps. This new army was called Panzergruppe Afrika, and its commander would be Rommel. The content of the diary remains addressed to the Afrikakorps, although the diary’s cover and title page were printed with the legend of Panzergruppe Afrika, whose emblem was similar (a profile of a palm tree, in front of a swastika).

Many historians have marvelled at how quickly the Germans mastered desert warfare. The Afrikakorps diary provides part of the answer: it was packed with intelligence on African geography, politics, economics, history, culture, languages, wildlife, desert hazards, personal health, weights, and measures, plus an impressive phrase book in seven languages.

Bruce Oliver Newsome, Ph.D., a Lecturer at the University of San Diego, who translated the diary, was impressed with the attention to what is now called “human terrain.” Although some of the content is unabashedly partisan (such as Goebbels’ praise of Hitler’s command), the other sections repeatedly instruct soldiers to be mindful of their environment. One section paralleled notes issued to Western soldiers heading to Afghanistan and Iraq in recent decades: “The inhabitants are different in way of life, manners, and customs than our people. They have a different religion. Do not disregard all this when dealing with local children. Then you will have it much easier.”

Newsome was also amazed at the extent of German ambitions revealed by the diary ­– including the reconquest of former German colonies from East Africa to South-West Africa. One section is a retelling of Germany’s early colonies, and how the Allies “stole” them on false pretences during and after World War One.

Probably the most useful sections from the soldiers’ perspective were about tracking and hunting wild game, avoiding diseases and dangerous animals, and keeping well in the harsh terrain and climate.

Some of the advice provides evidence for otherwise shady subjects, such as official sponsorship of prostitution: the “Health Information Sheet” warns soldiers to use only approved brothels.

Perhaps the most operationally significant insert was a map of the northern stars – the only reference points for navigation at night. The veterans of the peacetime garrison of Egypt were experts in desert navigation, but the huge numbers of Allied soldiers arriving in 1941 and 1942 received no such training. And they were not issued any document so useful as the Afrikakorps diary, which is why it came to be prized by both sides.

The new edition of the Afrikakorps diary presents uncensored facsimiles of all original informational pages, with English translations. The calendar and weekly diary/planner for 1942 are updated to 2020, with the original anniversaries, festivals, and holidays, adjusted.

Book details

Publisher: Tank Archives Press

ISBN: 9781951171025

Binding: Paperback

Price: £13.99

Pages: 194

Specification: 17.8cm x 12.7cm

Year: 2019


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