Next up on this short series is the German contribution to the desert campaign. In fact, the title of Afrika Korps was only used for a short period and Panzer Armee Afrika superceded this title once Hitler had committed significant forces to his Italian ally. Italian armoured and motorised formations were a significant part of the Afrika Korp and have often been ignored in histories and it is a mistake to look on the Axis successes as solely due to the German contribution. However, the German units were vital as they gave the experience, professionalism and mechanised firepower which Mussolini's forces lacked on their own.
Rommel dominates the history of the Afrika Korp, and even his British adversaries admired his brilliance. Absolutely ruthless in the pursuit of his own career, he had cultivated the support of the Nazi leadership who promoted him in-spite of opposition from the German General Staff. His subordinates were devoted to him but his colleagues and superiors found him a difficult General to work with. He was quick to play up his successes and found a ready scape-goat with his Italian allies for any failures. He was relentless on the attack and a leading exponent of Blitzkrieg but he had little interest in logistics relying on his subordinates and allies to keep him supplied. If his enemy was disorganised he instinctively exploited any weakness, but his defeats were largely due to overstretched lines of supply.
The German equipment was good but not significantly better than the British. The advantage lay in the earlier German rearmament of the 1930s which gave the Afrika Korp a more advanced industrial base from which to draw their armaments; but this was a diminishing asset as the campaign progressed and Allied war production soared.
The Germans were also handicapped with some poor equipment. Motorbikes were not ideal in the desert or really suitable for moving large formations, there were never enough trucks in the Afrika Korp and the Wehrmacht had absolutely no experience of fighting in the desert.
The first uniforms were poorly designed and reliant on the German textile industry copying ideas from other European colonial armies. However, experience was quickly gained and the German formations were fast to adapt to the unique battle conditions. The 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions were veteran formations which had won their laurels in Poland and France. The 90th Light Infantry Division was comprised of Germans who had joined the French Foreign Legion but who had been captured during the fall of France. They were ordered to redeem themselves in North Africa. Rommel had some of the toughest troops in the Wehrmacht upon whom he could totally rely.
Special mention must be made of the Flak 88. In the desert, over large open spaces, this high velocity weapon tore through British armoured formations. Crewed by the Luftwaffe, they were a small component in the Afrika Korps anti tank establishment but on several occasions they made a significant contribution to Axis battlefield successes. Rommel used them aggressively in attack and effectively in defence. I am reluctant to single out any weapon for special attention but psychologically and technically this weapon was very powerful during the campaign.
However, the success of the Afrika Korp was not reliant on a super weapon. Better training, better doctrine, superior battlefield drill, contributed to an all arms approach that initially outmatched 8th Army. This was a highly motivated and professional force under an aggressive General who knew how to use it.