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Scipio vs. Rommel

Discussion in 'World History' started by Red Stranger, Feb 9, 2007.

  1. Red Stranger

    Red Stranger Emperor

    Aug 28, 2005
    In History and in Off Topics you can find a lot of threads that compare and contrast the skills of generals or civilizations from different eras be it Romans vs. Mongolians, Romans vs. Zulus, Romans vs. Chinese, or Romans vs. Medieval Armies.

    Who do you think will win a war between Scipio Africanus and "Desert Fox" Rommel assuming they have access to the same weapons?

    -Defeated a long feared enemy, and good general, Hannibal. This would give morale boost to his troops.
    -The Roman army had the best logistics of their time and well pass their time.
    -The Roman army were the masters of adaptation. They can figure out how to defeat any enemy very quickly.

    -Considered one of the best tank commanders. Emerged victorious even after initial set backs.
    -The Blitzkreig was so fast that it makes it hard for the enemy to adapt before they were defeated.
    -Was admired even by his enemies.

    This is hard pitting the master of adaptation against the master of speed. Scipio will give his troops extra morale, but the fact that Rommel earns the respect of even his enemies might neutralize that. I think in the end though Scipio would win because the Roman Empire had the political structure to support a lasting empire (comparing the duration of the Roman empire to the Third Reich). The Romans were very good at defense too, so they can hold back the enemy long enough to discover the enemy tactics. This would neutralize the advantage of Blitzkrieg. What do you think? Discuss.
  2. ainwood

    ainwood Consultant. Administrator

    Oct 5, 2001
    Moderator Action: Moved to history.
  3. Old Spice

    Old Spice King

    Jan 5, 2007
    North Korea
    On long term Scipio could come back after the first phase of Rommel's attack, with a stead and well supported counter attack. If Rommel doesn't complete wipe out Scipio in his first attack I think he might lose when his logistics come under fire from Scipio.
  4. Evil Tyrant

    Evil Tyrant Eccentric Dictator

    May 22, 2005
    My secret underground bunker.
    I'm going with the desert fox on this one. Rommel probably knew about ancient tactics, and how Scipio conducts himself in battle. If the battle is being fought with ancient weapons Rommel would know how his enemy operates, and be able to counteract it. Scipio doesn't know anything about his enemy, and if modern weapons are being used, he would not know how to use them to their best advantage, while Rommel would. So with modern or ancient weapons, I'm going with Rommel.
  5. scipian

    scipian Czar

    Apr 8, 2006
    Arizona, US
    Scipio! (That's where my name came from). Seriously, I have absolutely no idea.
  6. History_Buff

    History_Buff Knight of Cydonia

    Aug 12, 2001
    Calgary, Alberta
    Rommel FTW. I'm sure Cavalry would've been his weapon of choice, which was something the Romans were typically unable to fight back against. Light Cavalry Archers were the bane of many a Roman Legion.

    That's for a single battle anyway. As for a whole war, it's an impossible question without more information about the societies, and their locations.
  7. Panda

    Panda Metal head

    Sep 24, 2001
    Turku, Finland
    My money is on the Desert Fox. :)

    People seem to errenously think that the Afrika Korps' support nightmare was the fault of Rommel's flawed logistical skills, thus giving him little chance to win a campaign.
  8. Mon Mauler

    Mon Mauler Warlord

    Nov 29, 2005
    And it's not even close...

    When Scipio assumed command of the Roman army in Iberia, the Romans had already faced several setbacks, and the southern half of the peninsula was held by the three Carthaginian armies of Hasdrubal, Mago and Gisco, each of which, individually, was stronger than Scipio's force. Technologically, the Romans had better infantry, but Carthage held the advantage in Cavalry.

    Scipio excelled strategically, and was able to wrest control of Carthago Novo by manuever rather than battle. This act succeeded in securing an effective base of operations and also went to maintain his lines of supply and communications, a problem that Rommel would frequently run into in his operations.

    The vastly outnumbered Scipio knew that his force could not stand up to the combined Carthaginian armies so, after securing his base, he went about separating them by manuever so that they could be defeated in detail. It took a year of manuever, but Scipio finally succeeded in separating Hasdrubal from Mago and Gisco at Baecula. Unfortunately, the Carthaginians held the stronger position, but Scipio had the greater force. Thus, he deployed some cavalry around Hadrubal's position, attacked at the front before ordering a flanking attack, and brought in the previously deployed cavalry to complete the victory. Hasdrubal retreated from the field, but moved north to continue his march on Italy. Shrewdly, however, Scipio chose not to pursue the force into a risky mountain campaign that would likely trap his force between the now separate armies of Carthage.

    For the next three years, Scipio continued his subjugation of Hispania and attempted to hold the still numerically superior Carthaginian forces at bay by manuever. This was no small feat because, similar to Rommel's African campaign, Scipio's Iberian campaign was also of secondary importance. Rome was much more concerned with Hannibal in Italy. The Romans would weary similarly to the French in the Peninsula two milennia later; nevertheless, Scipio, again by march, separated the armies, which had joined following Baecula, and sent Silvanus to meet Mago. After Silvanus defeated Mago, Gisco found himself unsupported so divided his forces and spread them out along a wide front in an attempt to neglect battle. This was successful, but the next year, the reinforced Carthaginians resolved to resume the fight. The ensuing Battle of Ilipa was a crowning victory for Scipio. The whole battle was a mastery of tactics and technique, with Scipio severely outnumbered but several steps ahead of his Carthaginian counterpart at every move. With the successful conclusion of the Iberian campaign, Scipio had defeated three Carthaginian armies and ejected them from the peninsula, never to return.

    On returning to Rome Scipio endeavored to begin a campaign in Africa, but the politicians were not ready for such an ambitious move, and they permitted him to travel to Sicily, but no further. They also would not provide him with financial or material support.

    Still, Scipio endeavored to make the invasion a reality and began raising and training a strong nucleus, specifically of cavalry, to supplement an invasion. After waiting for a year or so Scipio finally got permission to cross into Africa.

    There, he first laid siege to Utica, which drew the Numidians, an ally of Carthage, to intervene. Then, by secreting the movement of his army along a stealthy route, he fell on the allied camp to destroy the armies of Carthage and Syphax. Carthage's allies were knocked out of the war, Carthage began negotiating for peace, and Hannibal had to return from his campaign in Italy.

    When Hannibal met him it was at Zama, where Carthage again had a significant numerical advantage. There, Scipio used Reverse Cannae tactics to harass the wings of the Carthaginian lines and confuse the Punic center. Then, when his center joined battle it all looked lost for Carthage. When his cavalry returned to complete the encirclement, the battle turned into a rout. And Publius Scipio went down in history as Scipio Africanus, one of the greatest military commanders in the history of warfare. Not only did he never lose a battle, but he also defeated a man that many would say is the greatest of all generals in history, Hannibal.

    Rommel, on the other hand, was excellent, but overall just not in Scipio's league. First off, Rommel consistently had problems outrunning his supply lines. Others have argued that this is a result of Africa being a secondary theatre, and Rommel not receiving the support he required from Berlin. This is largely true, but as commander, one of Rommel's goals is to realize the limitations of his situation and work within those limitations. On the initial drive through France, when Rommel commanded the generally successful "Ghost Division," but ran into problems initially when he outran his support around Arras. Rommel brilliantly turned his 88's against the BEF Matildas, but the ensuing action stalled the Germans long enough for Dynamo to succeed. Other problems also plagued Rommel in the Battle for France, and when he returned to Berlin he was threatened with a court martial for misappropriating other divisions' supplies throughout the campaign.

    In Africa, though, the wide open desert warfare played directly into Rommel's strengths in attack and mobility, and he drove the allies through Libya in a wonderfully coordinated attack. Then, against orders, and over the objections of his staff, Rommel endeavored to outflank the port of Tobruk, but his logistical capabilities failed him, and he was forced to begin a siege. Two attempts, Brevity and Battleaxe, to relieve the besieged forces were cut down mercilessly by Rommel's forces, but the third, Crusader, succeeded, and Rommel had to withdraw across the desert.

    Taking the setback in step, Rommel reorganized and counter-attacked. In classic blitzkreig fashion the Nazis stormed across the desert, outmanuevering all in their path. This time Tobruk fell, and Rommel pushed the Allies all the way to El Alamein. There, the offensive ground to a halt.

    Now, by this time the Allies had sea superiority, and were consistently intercepting Rommel's supply ships. As a result, the supplies had to travel overland, through the desert, a vast distance, to the forward lines. This made the position precarious, and Monty cautiously designed a breakout.

    When it finally came, interestingly enough, Rommel was in Europe on sick leave. He returned for the final phase of the battle, but any chance he would've had to reverse the outcome (which is doubtful) had already passed.

    Against orders, Rommel withdrew all the way back to Tunis. When the Americans came to deliver the coup, he fought them off with higher mobility and meticulously prepared defensive positions around Fa'id and Kasserine. But, with his sea routes largely useless, and confronted by a now well-equipped and supplied foe, it became only a matter of time. Rommel tried one last, desperate counter attack at Medenine. It was repulsed easily by Monty who said that he had to be mad for even attempting it.

    After that Rommel's career as commander was effectively over. He didn't receive a command for some time, a byproduct of the failures in North Africa. When he did he was charged with fortifying the Atlantic Wall. He approached this job with much vigor, and notably suggested that the Panzer divisions be positioned closer to the beaches so that they could stop an invasion as it began. His advice was not taken. Eventually, he was implicated in a plot against Hitler and committed suicide.

    All-in-all, I think that it must be said that Scipio was a better commander than Rommel. Both men fought secondary campaigns, with little support, against severe disadvantages. In the end, Scipio achieved ultimate victory, while Rommel's successes were only temporary. Scipio not only never lost a battle, but he also didn't generally invest positions he couldn't take and hold. Rommel, on the other hand, frequently stretched his forces so thin as to make his forward positions untenable, as at Tobruk and El Alamein.

    Also illustrative is how the men took orders. When Scipio was robbed of an army and told not to proceed past Italy, he raised and trained a volunteer army by himself, and waited for permission before commencing the African campaign. When Rommel misappropriated the resources of other divisions in the Battle for France he controverted the very rules of the chain of command and placed other divisions at serious risk. When Rommel was told not to assail from Libya, he ignored the order and begun the long and costly siege of Tobruk. When he was told to hold his position around El Alamein in the face of Monty's onslaught, he began a withdrawal that didn't stop until he reached Tunis.

    Make no mistake about it. Both of these men are great commanders. In a cumulative ranking of the greatest military commanders in history both would certainly be in the top hundred. And Rommel would probably make it into the top 50, but Scipio makes the top 20.

    At least that's my perspective...

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