As a result of the strained situation in France at the end of 1940 I had to break off my Christmas leave before it was up and drive quickly back over the snow-covered and icy roads to Bordeaux, where my division was then stationed. Nothing, however, came of the scare and we did not go into action.
Weeks of intensive training followed. I intended to make up for my spoiled Christmas by taking some leave at the beginning of February, but it was again abortive, for on my second evening at home I was informed by an adjutant from the Fuehrer's H.Q. that I was to cut short my leave and report to Field Marshal von Brauchitsch and the Fuehrer immediately. On the 6th February Field Marshal von Brauchitsch inducted me into my new task.
In view of the highly critical situation with our Italian allies, two German divisions—one light and one panzer - were to be sent to Libya to their help. I was to take command of this German Afrika Korps and was to move off as soon as possible to Libya to reconnoitre the ground.
The middle of February would see the arrival of the first German troops in Africa; the movement of the 5th Light Division would be complete by mid-April and of the 15th Panzer Division at the end of May.
The basic condition for providing this help was that the Italian Government should agree to undertake the defence of Tripolitania in the Gulf of Sirte area, on a line running south from about Buerat, in order to secure the necessary space for the employment of the German Luftwaffe in Africa. This represented a departure from the previous Italian plan, which had been limited to holding the Tripoli defence line.