Attacks is a classic in military literature. First published in Germany in 1937 under the title Infanterie Greift An, it became a great success before World War II and played a major role in launching Rommel on the road to fame. The book went through at least eighteen printings by 1944, when the legendary soldier was forced to commit suicide because of his implication in the plot against Hitler.
The U.S. Army translated the book in 1943 and General George Patton became familiar with it. Patton was reportedly “electrified” by the book, and read it again and again until he knew it by heart. Other Amercian officers also took a keen interest in the book and an abridged edition was published in 1944 by the Infantry Journal under the title “Infantry Attacks.”
Today, 35 years after its initial publication in the United States, the book is mentioned frequently as a magnificent account of imaginative and successful combat leadership. Copies of the wartime English edition are among the most valued works in private collections. All copies in the Library of Congress and in the Army Library in the Pentagon have, however, mysteriously disappeared.
This edition of Attacks is the first complete and unabridged edition of the book published in the United States. Earlier editions omitted passages potentially embarrassing to our allies as well as a large number of drawings and sketch maps. The Army translation, understandably, also suffered from a hurried wartime effort.
In preparing this edition J.R. Driscoll retranslated the original German work and revised hundreds of passages in the Army translation. Bob Heittman, working with the German and American wartime editions, painstakingly revised the sketches and sketch maps. Where possible they were compared to large scale maps of the areas involved to resolve questions of detail and provide approximate scales. In a few instances additional details have been added. The drawing of scenes are taken from the original and may have been done by Rommel himself.
As the autobiographical record of a Great Captain, Attacks is a book of historical interest and importance. In tracing Rommel’s development from a green lieutenant to a confident, seasoned and singularly successful commander, it provides keen insight into his mind and character.
It is, as well, an important treatise on combat leadership and psychology, and contains many valuable lessons for those who would raise and train armies. Prime among these lessons is the reminder that men are the key element in combat; that it is the will, spirit and skill of men, led by competent and courageous officers that win battles; that high morale is developed by the accomplishment of difficult tasks.
Sixty-one years after the fact and forty-two years after writing this book, Erwin Rommel’s message is as clear and important today as it was then.