Rommel’s Military Service in World War I
During World War I, Rommel was a part of campaigns in France, Italy and Romania. Rommel’s first combat experience took place in France, near Verdun, beginning on August 22, 1914. In this initial skirmish, Rommel and three of his men opened fire on a French garrison. Open combat continued throughout September. Rommel received the Iron Cross for his service in France that September.
He was promoted to first lieutenant and was made a company commander of the Royal Wurttemberg Mountain Battalion of the Alpenkorps in September 1915. In August 1917, the Mountain Battalion was involved in the fighting for Mount Cosna, on the border of Hungary and Romania.
After a victory at Mount Cosna, the Mountain Battalion was assigned to a mountainous region of Italy. Rommel commanded men in the Battle of Caporetto. In October 1917, Rommel, with his company of 150 men, took 81 guns and 9,000 men prisoner. He lost only six men, with another 30 wounded. Rommel used the terrain to his advantage in the Battle of Caporetto, attacking unexpectedly. His attack strategy kept his enemy off-guard and created the illusion of a much larger attacking force, merely waiting in the wings.
On November 9, 1917, the entire 1st Italian Infantry Division surrendered to Rommel. The 10,000 men believed that they were surrounded by an entire German division, rather than the small force Rommel actually commanded. He was honored for his service in Italy. This was another example of Rommel’s willingness to act with a small number of men against a much larger force.
After the surrender in November 1917, Rommel was promoted again, this time to Hauptmann (Captain). He was assigned to a staff position in the German army and served in that position for the remainder of World War I. He remained in a position of command throughout the interwar years, typically acting with care and moderation. He consistently avoided using force against protesters in Germany during these years. He taught for several years at a military academy, before an October 1933 promotion to Obersleutnant or lieutenant colonel. As lieutenant colonel, he was given a command position, and later assigned to the War Academy. He first met Adolf Hitler in 1934, during an inspection of his troops.