Ludwig Cruewell, 1892-1958

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Ludwig Cruewell (1892-1958) was the German general who succeeded Rommel as commander of the Africa Corp, but his military career ended when he was captured by the British in May 1942. Cruewell's family were in publishing, but he chose the army as a career, enlisting as an officer candidate with the 9th Dragoons, based at Metz. He was a lieutenant in the cavalry at the outbreak of the First World War, was promoted to oberleutnant in 1916 and served as a regimental adjutant.

During the interwar period Cruewell served in the Reichswehr, and had been promoted to colonel by 1939. He took part in the invasions of Poland and France, and on 1 August 1940 was promoted to Generalmajor and given command of the newly formed 11th Panzer Division.

This division formed part of General von Wietersheim's 14th Panzer Corps, in von Kleists 1st Panzer Group, during the invasion of Yugoslavia. Cruewell's division formed the spearhead of this corps, and was one of three columns to enter Belgrade on the morning of 13 April 1941. Cruewell was awarded the Knight's Cross for this success.

During Operation Barbarossa Cruewell's division formed part of Kleist's 1st Panzer Group, within Army Group South, and took part in the fighting in the Ukraine. Cruewell was promoted to Generalleutnant for his actions, and on 1 September 1941 became the first divisional commander to receive the Oakleaves to his Knight's Cross.

He also came to Rommel's attention. The Desert Fox had recently been promoted from command of the Africa Corps to command of Panzer Group Africa, and needed a new commander for his former unit. He requested Cruewell, and was even willing to leave the Africa Corps without a commander for two months while Cruewell recovered from a period in hospital.

Cruewell arrived in Africa in October 1941. Ably supported by his Chief of Staff, Fritz Bayerlein, he confirmed Rommel's initial high opinion, and was given a surprising degree of independence. He arrived just before General Auchinleck launched Operation Crusader (November-December 1941), one of the more successful Allied offensives in the Western Desert. Rommel was forced back from Tobruk, ending up at El Agheila.

Rommel's second offensive, which began in January 1942 (just before Panzer Group Africa became Panzer Army Africa), pushed the British back to Gazala. Cruewell briefly took command of the entire army while Rommel was on sick leave in March.

On 28 May Rommel began his assault on the Gazala Line. He led his armoured units around the southern end of the Allied flanks, and was in some danger of being trapped. On 29 May Cruewell was attempting to fly across Allied lines to reach Rommel at Bir el Harmat when his plane was shot down. Cruewell survived the crash, but was captured by the British and spent the rest of the war as a POW. 

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (26 October 2011), Ludwig Cruewell, 1892-1958 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_cruewell_ludwig.html

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