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History's Happenings for November 15

Congress Approves Articles of Confederation

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Pike Discovers His Peak

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Birth of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel

One of the Third Reich's greatest military tacticians and tank commanders, the "Desert Fox" -- Field Marshal Erwin Rommel -- was born on November 15, 1891 at Heidenheim, Germany.

Having joined the Imperial Army in 1910 and served valiantly in World War I, Rommel taught military school between the wars, and wrote about military tactics -- including a book on tank warfare.

With the opening of World War II in September, 1939, Rommel found himself assigned to Hitler's headquarters staff. When the attack on France came in May, 1940, then-Brigadier General Rommel was given command of a tank (Panzer) division, with which he distinguished himself.

The next thread history picks up in Rommel's career is the main one, almost a year later. In the fall of 1940, when Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's forces attempted to take Egypt, the British promptly pushed them into Libya and beat them to a standstill. To pull his pal's chestnuts out of the fire, in the spring of 1941 Hitler sent a Luftwaffe unit and a short armored corps to Libya under the command of now-General Rommel. Rommel was to take command of all Axis forces, which were then forged together into his Afrika Korps.

His first offensive opened on March 24, when he drove into Egypt, isolating the British supply base at the port of Tobruk in Libya. The Afrika Korps quickly made inroads in Egypt, approaching within about 60 miles of Alexandria -- but they were nagged in their rear by the feisty little fortress of Tobruk, which was being resupplied by sea, and which they couldn't seem to crack. The Desert War settled into a see-saw on miserable terrain that the Tommies called "miles and miles and bloody miles of absolutely damn all".

Fourteen months after Rommel had begun his push, Churchill sent General Bernard Montgomery into Egypt to take over the British Eighth Army, which had been formed the previous year. After two months of thinking about it, Monty attacked Rommel at the patch of nowhere called El Alamein on October 23, 1942, and routed the Afrika Korps. Newly promoted Field Marshal Rommel had been in Germany on sick leave, and flew back to survey his losses. Despite his Führer's orders to hold fast and fight to the last man, Rommel wisely ordered a retreat.

For almost three months the Afrika Korps fell back to the northwest, learning early on that American and British forces had landed at their front, in Morocco and Algeria, on November 8. Reaching the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia in early February, Rommel's forces pushed out a bulge that met and defeated units of the American II Corps. The victory was short-lived. The Americans learned fast from their defeat and, by the middle of May, only Rommel and a few hundred of his army had escaped Africa. Almost 300,000 had been captured, with all their armaments and supplies. The Afrika Korps was no more.

In the fall of 1943, with the invasion of Fortress Europe looming, Rommel was placed in charge of the French coastal defenses, under Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. He found them in sad shape and put a half million men to work for six months reinforcing them and adding pillboxes, booby-traps and hazards of all kinds. Nonetheless he had little faith in the static defenses -- in his opinion the invasion must be stopped on the beaches within twenty-four hours or they would be over-run.

When the invasion came on D-Day, June 6, 1944, Rommel was at home celebrating his wife's birthday -- a strange reprise to his absence at El Alamein. His defenses did not hold, though they exacted a terrible price on the first waves that morning. As he hurried back he tried to get reserve Panzer divisions brought into action, but was unable to get a decision from a napping Führer, and the Allies broke out.

The end of the Rommel story is an unusual twist for Hitler's favorite general.

When the plot against Hitler's life was unsuccessfully executed by Count von Stauffenberg in July, 1944, Rommel was implicated. Whether or not he was actually guilty has never been clear, but many believe that Rommel had come around to see the evil being perpetrated by his master's regime. And he had the backbone to resist.

At any rate evidence was not a key consideration in the mass retribution that occurred after the assassination attempt. But, being a war hero, Rommel was not subjected to the torture and slow strangulation meted out to thousands of guilty and maybe-guilty Germans. Arrested at his home in October, he was taken for a drive and offered poison in exchange for his family's lives. He took it.

The Reich was told that their hero had died from battle injuries.

NBC First Radio Network

Following on the heels of first-ever commercial radio broadcasts by Westinghouse and General Electric earlier in the decade, RCA's General Manager David Sarnoff sought and received permission develop the home radio market for his company.

In 1926 he organized the country's first radio network of twenty-four stations in concert with GE and Westinghouse, basing the network on two anchor stations -- WJZ in Newark, NJ anchoring the Blue Network, and WEAF in New York anchoring the Red Network. The RCA subsidiary was given the name National Broadcasting Company, or NBC, and went on air on November 15, 1926 with both advertiser-supported and public service programming.

In 1927 William Paley formed the competing Columbia Broadcasting System -- now CBS -- with 22 stations. When the FCC ruled that no company could own more than one network, NBC divested itself of the less profitable Blue Network, selling it to Life Saver owner Edward J. Noble in 1943, where it was merged into the fledgling American Broadcasting Company, or ABC.

A fourth network, the Mutual Broadcasting System, or MBS, went on the air in 1934. Of the four, it was the only one not to gravitate to television.

FDR Lays Cornerstone of Jefferson Memorial

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First Peacetime Draftees Enlisted

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