Hitler's Disastrous Desert War (2021) Movie Script


NARRATOR: November 1942.
An armada of 200 British
and American ships appears off
the coast of North Africa.
Operation Torch
is about to begin.
Right before the eyes
of the local people,
100,000 men pour onto the beaches of
Morocco and Algeria.
It is this singular theater,
North Africa, that
between 1940 and 1943
was written a famous chapter of
the Second World War:
The Desert War.
(gusting winds)
Why have the great
powers come to fight in
the challenging desert
conditions of North Africa,
so far from the
epicenter of the World War?
And how, there in the
furnace of the desert,
will the allies manage to inflict one of
the first major setbacks
on the forces of the Reich?
The Desert War, the
war that nobody wanted,
was to turn the
World War upside down.
(theme music playing)
NARRATOR: It all begins with a big
gamble by a little dictator
who dreams of greatness:
Benito Mussolini.
He proclaims,
"Italy is in truth a prisoner
of the Mediterranean."
Il Duce wants to restore the
splendors of the Roman Empire.
He dreams of controlling
the Mediterranean Sea,
and expanding his
empire into Africa.
Mussolini is suffocating
in an Africa dominated by
the old imperial powers,
France and the United Kingdom.
The modesty of his own
empire is a very sore point.
In the east, it
controls only Somalia,
Ethiopia and Eritrea.
In the north, Libya was
conquered by iron and blood.
Italy's victory was won back in 1912by
means of multiple massacres and abuses.
In summer 1940,
World War II
sets Europe on fire.
After taking over
a part of Europe,
the Third Reich troops
overrun France in a few weeks.
(sirens blaring)
England, under siege,
fears succumbing to
the Nazi threat as well.
German and Italians,
united under the Axis banner,
are in a position of strength.
It's a chance that Il Duce
doesn't intend to pass up on.
He wants to see the
old colonial powers
that dominate Africa driven out.
Italy's time has come.
From Libya, he orders
his troops to enter Egypt,
a kingdom controlled
by Great Britain.
(rapid gunfire)
A force of 80,000 men
advances about 60 miles
into Egyptian territory.
The Italian generals
are hesitant.
In their eyes, their
army is under-equipped,
and not ready for
such an adventure.
Winston Churchill doesn't
want to let go of Egypt.
Not at any price.
Ever since France surrendered,
the Reich has been
extending its grip on Europe.
For the British Prime Minister,
another defeat
would be unacceptable.
Especially since the Luftwaffe
is relentlessly
pounding England.
Churchill knows that Britain's
salvation depends more than
ever on the
resources of its Empire.
The Suez Canal belongs to Egypt.
For London, it is a vital
artery for transporting
its raw materials.
(boat horn wailing)
For Churchill, it's a
very serious situation.
So the old bulldog sounds
the alarm and mobilizes all
the Commonwealth's resources.
(overlapping chatter)
NARRATOR: Thousands of Australian,
New Zealand and South African soldiers
flock to Cairo
and join the British.
These men left their families
and their jobs to come and
fight in the desert sands.
In December, the
British go on the attack.
To their great surprise,
it's like a stroll in the park.
The Italians are disorganized,
and have retreated
500 miles back into Libya.
The British even take Tobruk,
a highly strategic port.
His Majesty's generals know
that in these desert lands,
he who controls
the ports, is master.
In a matter of just a few weeks,
Commonwealth troops have
won an outright victory.
At the beginning of 1941,
they occupy eastern Libya.
And the Muslim population
celebrates its liberators.
It has not forgotten
the 100,000 deaths
the Italian conquest
was responsible for.
The Arabs and the British
even come to an agreement.
Thousands of Libyans accept
to fight for Great Britain.
(overlapping chatter)
NARRATOR: Churchill
promises them independence
once victory is achieved.
It's a good way to undermine
the influence of Rome.
Il Duce was yearning for glory,
but now reaps nothing
but shameful defeat.
He leaves 400 tanks
and 130,000 prisons behind
on the battlefield.
Mussolini wanted to
impose his law in Africa.
Now he has to call for help.
(overlapping chatter)
beginning of 1941,
Hitler has turned
his gaze to the east.
Along with his generals,
he's devoting himself
to his great project,
Operation Barbarossa,
the conquest of
the Soviet Union.
In his eyes, his victory
will be sealed out there
on the Russian Steppes.
Mussolini, devastated, knows
that his timing is not good.
But he needs his ally's help
if he's not to
lose Libya entirely.
Such a humiliation
would ruin his reputation.
On the strategic plan,
Hitler considers North Africa
as a secondary
theater of operations.
But he fears that a weakened
Mussoliniwill lose his grip on power.
The fall of Il Duce would
threaten the security of
the southern flank of
his European fortress.
He agrees to help his ally,
but on his terms.
Any German
intervention must not,
under any circumstances,
disrupt its
operation in the east,
which is expected to be
launched in just a few months.
(speaking in native language)
NARRATOR: The Fuhrer sends only a
smallexpeditionary force to Mussolini's rescue.
The Afrika Korps has only
45,000 men and 174 tanks.
It lands in Tripoli, the
capital of the Italian colony.
Its mission is a limited one,
to help the Italians
recapture eastern Libya,
and to protect
it from a British onslaught.

But the real game changer
is having General Rommel at
the head of those troops.
At 49, Rommel is
young for a general,
but he's the Fuhrer's favorite.
He arrives in Tripoli,
trailing clouds of glory
from the French campaign.
Officially, Rommel is
under Italian command,
but he's ambitious,
and has no intention of
playing a supporting role.
In Africa,
Rommel dreams of glory,
even if it means
disobeying his superiors.

NARRATOR: The Afrika Korps
has only been present on
the African soil
for a few weeks.
But Rommel is already impatient.
On March 24, 1941,
without even warning
either Rome or Berlin,
he suddenly launches
an attack eastward.
His intentions are clear.
"My first objective," he says,
"Is the recapture
of eastern Libya.
My second, northern Egypt
and the Suez Canal."
It's a grand plan.
From the land of the Pharaohs,
he can head for
Baku in the Caucasus and
get his hands on
the precious oil resources.
Then, he can rendezvous
with the Wehrmacht troops
to strike at Russia.
It's pure megalomania,
and far from anything his
leaders are expecting of him.
But his troops are all for it,
for the Afrika Korps is
partly made up of volunteers,
all of them deeply
committed to the Reich.
North Africa provides
Rommel with the ideal setting
to rehearse it all.
On these vast expanses,
his Panzers can
get up to full speed.
His technique is to
push straight ahead,
and not worry about
his flanks or his rear.
He counts on the
element of surprise and
on his own intuition,
and that's what's earned
him the Fuhrer's admiration.
(rapid gunfire)
(rapid gunfire)
Rommel's sudden offensive
comesas a shock to the British.
The Germans aren't the same
thing as the Italians at all.
Faced with such a
formidable adversary,
the worrying weaknesses of the
British army start to emerge.
The men are under-trained and
their equipment is dilapidated.
As the British doctor
James Graham observes,
the Afrika Korps
is wreaking havoc.
"It was a blitz.
We were devoured.
The whole area was
marked by smoking remains,
bodies scattered around.
Some living, some not.
Our principal task
was to relieve suffering.
There was little
room for sentiment.
Interment being carried
out near the fatal spot by
a man's comrades,
enemy permitting."
Noticing that the
British are retreating,
Rommel decides to advance
towards Egypt heading deeper
into the desert.
He's well aware that
he's now disobeying orders.
To his wife Lucie, he confesses,
"My darling Lucie,
we are attacking
with remarkable success.
I've taken the
risk of moving forward,
despite all previous
orders and instructions,
in order to seize
such a great opportunity."
Rommel's goal is Tobruk.
It's his modest aim to bring
it down in a matter of days.
He considers it
a mere formality.
To avoid disaster, the British retreat
to the Egyptian border.
They abandon all the territory
they've taken in Libya with
the exception of Tobruk.
Tobruk is defended by
25,000 Commonwealth soldiers.
Their supplies arrive by sea.
The British will never leave this
deep-water port to Rommel.
If it were to
fall into his hands,
he'd use it to
supply his own troops,
which would allow them
to advance into Egypt.
On the front line, life's
hard when you're under siege.
The men shelter from the
bombingin flea-infested holes.
"Like rats," as the
German radio propaganda
is always saying.
So they defiantly refer to
themselves as the Tobruk Rats.
(sirens blaring)
They are daily raided.
(sirens blaring)
(rapid gunfire)
For the time being,
Tobruk's still holding on.
(airplane rumbling)
is struggling.
He spends his days visiting
his units scattered around
Tobruk and on
the Egyptian border.
Unlike the
officers of the Wehrmacht,
he despises state duties.
He wants to see the
battles from the front lines.
And tirelessly keeps ordering
his men to break through,
whatever the cost.
German Lieutenant
Robert Witzke is fighting on
the front line.
He writes to his wife,
"Dear Inge, every
day there are attacks.
(rapid gunfire)
We can only ask ourselves
every day who is still alive
from the comrades.
Many are dead, but
even more are wounded.
Inge, keep thinking of me."
After a 15 day siege,
Rommel has consumed an astronomical
amount of ammunition and
the fuel is about to run out.
It doesn't matter, to a
battalion of machine guns,
he declares, "We will be in
Cairo in eight days from now.
Pass the word around."
Rommel is waging an overly
ambitious war without a care
for one decisive element:
fuel and supplies.
Yet delivering the 53,000 tons
of monthly supplies that his
relentless attacks
require is a daunting task,
because the Axis supply
lines are long and dangerous.
In the Mediterranean, the
British are tracking down
Italian cargo ships
trying to reach Tripoli,
the only port controlled
by the Afrika Korps.
All the same, 80% of supplies
are still getting through.
Petrol, water, food, ammunition.
Every day once unloaded,
the supplies have
to reach the front.
It's quite a challenge.
It takes 14 days to travel
the 750 miles from Tripoli
to the front.
It's a real trial for the men.
Ironically, the trucks consume
half of the petrol they carry.
Rommel is impatient with all
these logistical constraints.
He exhausts his troops
and fails to take Tobruk.
His attitude costs
the lives of 53 officers,
and 1,200 men.
The Afrika Korps
is very weakened,
but holds its ground.
It's far from its bases though,
and difficult to refuel.
It is dangerously exposed.
A counter attack by the
enemy might well destroy it.
(gusting winds)
The Khamsin, the burning wind that can
blow for long days at a time,
heralds the beginning
of the strong heat.
(gusting winds)
From May to October,
it is impossible to fight
between 12:00 am and 4:00 pm.
In daytime, the
heat is overwhelming.
At night, the cold is glacial.
Lieutenant Witzke
survived the hell of Tobruk,
and now he's
facing fresh ordeals.
In June 1941, he
confides to his wife,
"Hot is not the word.
For the past ten days,
we've had 58 to
60 degrees in the sun.
I've already lost 20 pounds.
If they don't
get us out of here,
it'll drive us all mad."
"The biggest problem was water,"
laments another soldier.
"Drinking, always drinking.
That was the be-all and end-all of
our desert existence."
(flies buzzing)
The soldiers are also confronted with
the scourge of the desert:
the flies.
(flies buzzing)
Shortly after sunrise,
they arrive in hordes,
attracted by human sweat,
the only moisture available
in these arid lands.
(flies buzzing)
There is no way to escape them.
(flies buzzing)
Rommel's men find no
comfort in the food.
It's insufficient in
both quality and quantity.
They try to improve the
quality of their meals by
buying from the Bedouins.
This trade may improve
Robert Witzke's daily life,
but above all, it
confirms his loathsome racism.
"These dogs are so wily, that
they ask a fortune for an egg.
We all reckon they're spies."
"If you look at
these filthy bastards,
then there is only one thing,
away with the riff raff."

NARRATOR: At the height of summer,
in the Libyan desert,
the crushing heat
immobilizes the armies.
While the men of the
Afrika Korps suffer from
the lack of supplies, opposite,
in the British units camped
on the Egyptian border,
it's depression
that's tormenting the men.
They have been living in
isolation in the desert for
eight months now and have
no way to distract themselves.
Overwhelmed with boredom, a
soldier writes in his diary,
"Every day it's
the same old thing.
The desert's everywhere.
It drains your spirit.
There's nothing here to look at,
nothing to listen to.
The only thing that keeps us holding on
is thoughts of home."
(overlapping chatter)
NARRATOR: Churchill
is exasperated.
Everything suggests that his
worn-out troops are incapable
of beating Rommel.
So the Prime Minister decides
to send the reinforcements
that have been called up over the months
from all over the Empire.
From now on, North Africa has
become a major theater of war.
Indians, Africans, Maltese,
Jews from Palestine,
In the autumn of 1941
more than 150,000 men
come to swell the British ranks.
(train horn blaring)
They are joined
by the Free French.
Responding to the call
of General De Gaulle,
they will carry on the fight
to restore France's honor.
By engaging his massive forces,
Churchill forces
Hitler to raise the stakes.
(rapid gunfire)
Nearly 2,000 miles from
the burning sands of Africa,
the great offensive
against the USSR is entering
a decisive phase.
At temperatures of
minus 22 Fahrenheit
the Wehrmacht are
trying to take Moscow.
At the very moment when the eastis
taking up all his attention however,
Hitler decides to send
reinforcements to his protg.
He can't afford to
lose North Africa.
By entrusting command to
an uncontrollable general,
the Fuhrer has turned
the desert into a trap,
because Rommel hasn't
given up on his fantasies.
On the contrary.
In January 1942, Hitler's
promised reinforcements
finally arrive.
That's barely enough to
solve his logistical problems,
but just enough to let him
dream of a new raid on Cairo.
Once again, to
everyone's surprise,
Rommel resumes his mad dash.
Overexcited, he
writes to his wife Lucie,
"Dear Lucie, I have several
plans in mind that I would
never dare talk to my
officers about at the moment
or they might think
I was going crazy.
You know me, it's
the wee small hours that
my best plans come to me."
There is no
guarantee that the British
will be able to stop it.
Their new General,
Claude Auchinleck,
has a clear superiority
in both men and equipment.
But Churchill's not
betting on the right horse.
Auchinleck does not know
how to surround himself with
the right people.
He had served for a
long time in India,
and has chosen his
subordinates poorly.
For months, he sends hundreds
of tanks to the slaughterhouse
by charging
frontal assaults worthy of
old fashioned cavalry charges.
In May 1942, Rommel
tries an unprecedented and
very risky maneuver to put
his enemy out of the game.
He decides to bypass the
defense line protecting Tobruk
in order to catch him
from behind and crush him.
But in a remote area,
he comes across an
unexpected obstacle,
Bir Hakeim.
It's a position that
the Free French under
General Koenig
have been holding onto.
Just a handful of them:
3,700 men.
Despite the deluge of fire unleashed by
the Panzers and Stukas,
they managed, by
their heroic resistance,
to block the
Afrika Korps for 15 days.
(overlapping chatter)
NARRATOR: The British,
grateful, salute the exploit.
Thanks to the precious hours
gained by De Gaulle's men,
Auchinleck's 8th Army,
in the midst of a debacle,
has avoided being surrounded.
It withdraws its troops behind
the Egyptian border but,
for the second time,
abandons the east
of Libya to the enemy.

MAN: Here is Tobruk.
NARRATOR: Rommel has
achieved his main objective,
to capture the port of Tobruk.
(singing in native language)
NARRATOR: Robert Witzke
plays a leading role
in this victory.
"Our battalion," he exults,
"Had once again
the honorable task
to form the lead.
Jesus Christ, Tobruk is ours!
It's still hard to believe."
Two days after his triumph,
Robert Witzke is
severely injured.
He is evacuated to Germany.
MAN: Marshal Rommel
inspects positions in the city's harbor.
There are still dense
clouds of smoke above Tobruk.
REPORTER (over radio):
Marshal Rommel...
NARRATOR: German war
reporters followed Rommel's
every step during the
last phase of the battle.
Their images give his
exploit a global impact.

The Desert Fox myth has begun.
(overlapping chatter)
NARRATOR: And while the cameras are
all focused on Rommel,
they're careful not
to film the vendetta of
the Italian settles.
The Arab people
chose the British camp.
(overlapping chatter)
They pay the price.
The looting and the
murders are multiplying.
One Italian rejoices,
"No sooner had
the English fled than
any Arab we found got
a bullet in the head or
a grenade in the stomach.
Our soldiers are here now,
finishing the job."
(overlapping chatter)
NARRATOR: There's violence too
against Libya's 30,000 Jews,
whether they supported
the British or not.
Fascist racial laws have
previously been applied only
mildly to these
Italian citizens,
but military setbacks
provoke a radicalization of
the fascist regime.
Il Duce decides to intern
all the Jews in the region.
Entire families
are being arrested,
loaded into trucks and dumped
in concentration camps set up
on the edge of the desert.
The worst of these
detention camps is in Giado,
150 miles south of Tripoli.
About 3,000 prisoners
will be held there,
a quarter of them will
die of undernourishment
and ill treatment.
The disaster of Tobruk
strikes Churchill as he meets
Franklin Roosevelt
at the White House.
"It is one of the heaviest blows I can
recall during the war.
Defeat is one thing,
disgrace is another."
Churchill's way of
ruling is openly questioned.
The British don't trust theirPrime
Minister to lead the war anymore.
As Mussolini did with Hitler,
Churchill must now win
the support of his ally.
His political
survival is at stake.
In meeting after meeting,
he harasses Roosevelt to
help him annihilate
the Afrika Korps.
His plan is to
land in North Africa.
Like Hitler, the
American generals have
no desire to
intervene in this region.
They believe that
to defeat Germany,
you have to strike at
its heart, in Europe.
So they're planning a
landing on the French coast
that could happen in
barely a year's time.
(overlapping chatter)
convince his host,
Churchill insists that it would
beharmful to remain inactive for a year,
with public opinion
in the U.S. impatient
and hungry for victories.
It's an argument that doesn't leavethe
American President indifferent,
and it's true that he
is soon to face elections.
The Desert Fox
ignores all this scheming.
At the end of June 1942, he
decides to advance into Egypt,
with Hitler's
blessing this time.
The Fuhrer now considers
the conquest of Egypt as a
historic opportunity to
bring down the British Empire.
El Alamein is a small railway station
on the Egyptian coast.
Nobody could guess this lost place would
soon go down in history.
Yet this is where
the British will change
the course of the war.
Claude Auchinleck has chosen
this position so as not to be
surrounded again
by the Desert Fox.
It has impassable
obstacles on every side.
The sea to the north,
a vast area of
soft sand to the south.
In July 1942, Rommel
launches what he hopes would
be a decisive
offensive at El Alamein.
NARRATOR: As soon as the German offensive
was launched at El Alamein,
things go very wrong
for the British soldiers.
Over the past year, they
suffered defeat after defeat,
despite their superior numbers.
The inept strategies
of their leaders and
their fear of Rommel
have undermined their resolve.
(overlapping chatter)
his field hospital,
Dr. James Graham is
seeing a flood of soldiers,
all wounded and unable
to continue the fight.
(distant gunfire)
He discovers that some would
rather mutilate themselves
than go back to the front line.
"The tricks used was to
break up a rifle cartridge and
swallow the explosive,
a poison for the liver.
After a few weeks in hospital,
there's a chance you might
get a non-combatant job."
In the summer of 1942,
Auchinleck sees his men
surrender in
droves to the enemy.
Such defeatism is unacceptable.
He calls for the
reintroduction of
the death penalty for deserters.
Auchinleck managed to contain the
Axisoffensive but falls into disgrace.
He is held responsible for
the collapse of
his troops' morale.
Devoured by anxiety,
Winston Churchill rushes to
Cairo in early August.
He abruptly dismisses
Claude Auchinleck.
(overlapping chatter)
NARRATOR: To replace him,
he opts for
General Bernard Montgomery.
Churchill finds him proud,
but he chooses Montgomerybecause
he has a precious quality:
an immense self confidence that
he is able to communicate
to those around him.
James Graham is attached to
Montgomery's headquarters.
He sees him scrambling
to cure the ailments that
plague his men.
"Montgomery is out every day.
He goes assiduously
around all the units to
introduce himself
to the soldiers.
Never before has a
commander done that."
Montgomery's message to his
troops is simple but firm,
"The defense of Egypt
lies here at Alamein.
Here we will stand and fight.
There will be no
further withdrawal."
(overlapping chatter)
NARRATOR: Clearly under him,
they'll not give an
inch of ground to Rommel.
James Graham confirms it.
"That was enough to
earn their loyalty.
Everyone likes to be
on the winning side."
Strategically, Montgomery is the
absolute opposite of Rommel.
The British strategist,
for his part, likes to
prepare his plans meticulously.
At the end of August when
Rommel goes on the offensive,
Montgomery is waiting for him.
Rather than gamble on an
unlikely decisive battle,
Montgomery decides to
wear his opponent out.
He does, after all, have a
clear material superiority.
"My plan is to contain the enemy's
tanks while we carry out
a methodical destruction
of his defensive system.
The enemy will be
cut from his supplies."
(rapid gunfire)
Montgomery's target
is Rommel's weak point:
his petrol supply convoys.
(rapid gunfire)
Werner Mork drives a supply truck
for the Afrika Korps.
He suffers another air attack
that will mark him for
the rest of his life.
"The attack only
lasted a few moments.
I'm pretty messed up."
(rapid gunfire)
"Ever since, I've been overwhelmed by
a mindless sense of panic.
It's with me now, the
war in all its cruelty,
all its horror."
Montgomery's wear and
tear strategy has paid off.
After a month of fighting,
the Afrika Korps has only
a few days of fuel left.
On October 27, 1942,
the Desert Fox is
finally done for.
(radio static)
British intelligence
intercepts a German message
indicating the imminent
arrival of two Italian tankers
in the port of Tobruk.
As they prepare to drop anchor,
the ships are sunk by
Royal Air Force bombers.
So, due to a lack of fuel,
Rommel can simply no
longer afford to act.
Rommel has suffered a
terrible defeat at El Alamein.
He knows that this will ruin
his Fuhrer's
ambitions in Africa.
It's a broken man
who writes to his wife.
"God only knows whether I
will survive this defeat.
If I never return,
I would like from
the bottom of my heart,
to thank you and our
son for all the love and
happiness you
have brought me."
The victory at El Alamein
marks a turning point
in World War II.
CHURCHILL (over speaker):
Rommel's army has been defeated.
NARRATOR: The British Prime Minister
doesn't hide his pleasure.
CHURCHILL (over speaker):
Now, this is not the end.
It is not even the
beginning of the end.
But it is perhaps the
end of the beginning.
(bells ringing)
NARRATOR: Churchill gloats.
He knows that the Reich's days
in Africa are now numbered.
American troops have just
disembarked in North Africa.
On the beaches of
Morocco and Algeria,
two French colonies.
Despite opposition
from his staff,
Roosevelt yields to Churchill.
The U.S. President wants to
win the midterm elections.
He has promised his public an easy victory
on the African continent.
Initially scheduled
to last six weeks,
Operation Torch, the
epilogue of the Desert War,
will in fact last
for six long months.
The British and American
forces and Montgomery's army
have planned to
meet up in Tunisia.
It's an ideal
springboard to hit Europe.
A project Hitler wants
to prevent by all means.
The Fuhrer had hesitated
to support the Afrika Korps.
He now sends heavy
reinforcements to Tunisia,
and even transfers some of
the Luftwaffe bombers from
the Russian front.
The ferocity of the fighting
dullsthe Americans' enthusiasm,
especially since
their first clash with
the Wehrmacht in
February 1943 in Kasserine.
It was a disaster.
But that terrible baptism of
fire has toughened them up.
Now the battle-hardened
American forces can
join up with
Montgomery's British army.
(overlapping chatter)
overwhelming superiority now,
the British and Americans
launch their final offensive
in central Tunisia.
The British enter Tunis,
while the Americans
enter Bizerte.
The Axis troops, crammed
into their final refuge,
surrender unconditionally.
The Allies take
275,000 prisoners,
far more than the 90,000 men
takenat the fall of Stalingrad.
These thousands of soldiers
won't now be able to repel
the allies at the
Normandy landing.
And so ends the Desert War.
It's a victory that drives
the Germans out of Africa.
Now the Allies are
ready to engage in
the great confrontation
in western Europe.
Along with Montgomery,
they've tamed modern warfare.
The lesson has been learned,
by the leaders as
well as their men,
at the cost of
unspeakable suffering.
The people
celebrate their liberators,
but all the
jubilation is ambiguous.
The Allied victory may have rid Africa
of the plague of Nazism,
but despite all the promises,
it has not broken the
chains of colonialism.
The Desert War will lead
to the defeat of the Reich.
It will also herald a new era:
that of the liberation
of colonized nation.

Captioned by Cotter Media Group.