Gunther E. Rothenberg

Last updated
Gunther Rothenberg
BornGunther Erich Rothenberg
11 July 1923
Berlin, Germany
Died26 April 2004(2004-04-26) (aged 80)
Canberra, Australia
Resting placeGungahlin Cemetery, Canberra, on 29 April 2004
Nationality United States
Occupation Military historian
Known forNapoleon's Greatest Adversaries: Archduke Charles and the Austrian Army and other books
Title Professor Emeritus , Purdue University
  • Eugenia (Jean) Jaeger (1952–1967 div.)
  • Ruth (Joy May) Gillah Smith (1969–1992 her death)
  • Eleanor Hancock (1995–2004 his death)
  • Erich Joseph Rothenberg (1888–<1948)
  • Charlotte (Lotte) Rothenberg née Cohn (1893–1990)
Military career
AllegianceFlag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
Years of service1941–1946
Unit Eighth Army (United Kingdom)

Gunther Erich Rothenberg (11 July 1923 – 26 April 2004) was an internationally known military historian, best known for his publications on the Habsburg military and Napoleonic Wars. He had a fifteen-year military career, as a British Army soldier in World War II, a Haganah officer in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, and in the United States Air Force during the Korean War.

Napoleonic Wars Series of early 19th century European wars

The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major conflicts pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of European powers formed into various coalitions, financed and usually led by the United Kingdom. The wars stemmed from the unresolved disputes associated with the French Revolution and its resultant conflict. The wars are often categorised into five conflicts, each termed after the coalition that fought Napoleon: the Third Coalition (1805), the Fourth (1806–07), the Fifth (1809), the Sixth (1813), and the Seventh (1815).

British Army land warfare branch of the British Armed Forces of the United Kingdom

The British Army is the principal land warfare force of the United Kingdom, a part of British Armed Forces. As of 2018, the British Army comprises just over 81,500 trained regular (full-time) personnel and just over 27,000 trained reserve (part-time) personnel.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.


Escape from Nazi Germany and military service

Gunther Erich Rothenberg was born in Berlin. His family was a culturally assimilated German Jewish family. [5] In 1937, Rothenberg moved to the Netherlands with his mother; his father later joined them. [6] The family moved next to Britain, where Rothenberg had some schooling. [5] In 1939, he moved to Mandatory Palestine, then under British rule. There he joined the Zionist movement and Hashomer Hatzair (The Youth Guard), a Socialist-Zionist youth movement. He retained his passion for a Jewish homeland throughout his life. [6]

Berlin Capital of Germany

Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,748,148 (2018) inhabitants make it the second most populous city proper of the European Union after London. The city is one of Germany's 16 federal states. It is surrounded by the state of Brandenburg, and contiguous with its capital, Potsdam. The two cities are at the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg capital region, which is, with about six million inhabitants and an area of more than 30,000 km², Germany's third-largest metropolitan region after the Rhine-Ruhr and Rhine-Main regions.

Netherlands Constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Europe

The Netherlands is a country located mainly in Northwestern Europe. The European portion of the Netherlands consists of twelve separate provinces that border Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, with maritime borders in the North Sea with Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. Together with three island territories in the Caribbean Sea—Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba— it forms a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The official language is Dutch, but a secondary official language in the province of Friesland is West Frisian.

Mandatory Palestine A former geopolitical entity in Palestine occupied from the Ottoman Empire in WW1 aiming to creat the conditions for the establishment of national home to the Jewish People. Ceased to exist with the establishment of the Jewish State -  Israel

Mandatory Palestine was a geopolitical entity established between 1920 and 1923 in the region of Palestine as part of the Partition of the Ottoman Empire under the terms of the British Mandate for Palestine.

On 13 July 1941, his parents emigrated to the United States on the Villa de Madrid, an overcrowded ocean-liner that left Barcelona on 20 June. [7] His father, Erich Joseph Rothenberg, was an importer, and both his parents spoke English, Hebrew, French, and German. Their visas, issued in Lisbon, Portugal, claimed Cuban citizenship. [8] At the age of 57, his father registered for the fourth draft in 1942, listing his residence as New York City, and his next of kin as his wife, Lotte. [9]

Barcelona City and municipality in Catalonia, Spain

Barcelona is a city in Spain. It is the capital and largest city of the autonomous community of Catalonia, as well as the second most populous municipality of Spain. With a population of 1.6 million within city limits, its urban area extends to numerous neighbouring municipalities within the Province of Barcelona and is home to around 4.8 million people, making it the sixth most populous urban area in the European Union after Paris, London, Madrid, the Ruhr area and Milan. It is one of the largest metropolises on the Mediterranean Sea, located on the coast between the mouths of the rivers Llobregat and Besòs, and bounded to the west by the Serra de Collserola mountain range, the tallest peak of which is 512 metres high.

Lisbon Capital city in Lisbon Metropolitan Area, Portugal

Lisbon is the capital and the largest city of Portugal, with an estimated population of 505,526 within its administrative limits in an area of 100.05 km2. Its urban area extends beyond the city's administrative limits with a population of around 2.8 million people, being the 11th-most populous urban area in the European Union. About 3 million people live in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area, including the Portuguese Riviera,. It is mainland Europe's westernmost capital city and the only one along the Atlantic coast. Lisbon lies in the western Iberian Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean and the River Tagus. The westernmost areas of its metro area form the westernmost point of Continental Europe, which is known as Cabo da Roca, located in the Sintra Mountains.

Cuba Country in the Caribbean

Cuba, officially the Republic of Cuba, is a country comprising the island of Cuba as well as Isla de la Juventud and several minor archipelagos. Cuba is located in the northern Caribbean where the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean meet. It is east of the Yucatán Peninsula (Mexico), south of both the U.S. state of Florida and the Bahamas, west of Haiti and north of both Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. Havana is the largest city and capital; other major cities include Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey. The area of the Republic of Cuba is 110,860 square kilometres (42,800 sq mi). The island of Cuba is the largest island in Cuba and in the Caribbean, with an area of 105,006 square kilometres (40,543 sq mi), and the second-most populous after Hispaniola, with over 11 million inhabitants.

In 1941, Gunther Rothenberg volunteered for the British army, serving in an all-Jewish unit. He was wounded in North Africa. [10] He transferred from the Royal Army Service Corps to the Intelligence Corps and fought with the Eighth Army. He served in the Italian campaign, in the Yugoslav war of liberation and in Austria. [6] His service continued in the occupation of Austria until 1946. He was a civilian employee of U.S. Intelligence 1946-1948. [1] Rothenberg returned to Palestine and joined the Haganah for Israel's War of Independence. [11] He rose to the rank of captain in the Israel Defense Forces. [6]

North African Campaign military campaign of World War II

The North African Campaign of the Second World War took place in North Africa from 10 June 1940 to 13 May 1943. It included campaigns fought in the Libyan and Egyptian deserts and in Morocco and Algeria, as well as Tunisia.

Royal Army Service Corps

The Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) was a corps of the British Army responsible for land, coastal and lake transport, air despatch, barracks administration, the Army Fire Service, staffing headquarters' units, supply of food, water, fuel and domestic materials such as clothing, furniture and stationery and the supply of technical and military equipment. In 1965 its functions were divided between other Corps and the RASC ceased to exist; subsequently, in 1993, they in their turn became the "Forming Corps" of the Royal Logistic Corps.

Eighth Army (United Kingdom) army of the British Army during World War II, engaged in the North Africa Campaign

The Eighth Army was a field army formation of the British Army during the Second World War, fighting in the North African and Italian campaigns. Units came from Australia, British India, Canada, Free French Forces, Greece, New Zealand, Poland, Rhodesia, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

By 1948, Rothenberg's father had died [6] and his mother, Lotte (1894–1990), [12] had become a naturalized United States citizen. [13] To be with her in New York City, [6] Rothenberg journeyed to Canada, arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia; traveling from there to Toronto, he lived for a while at Wycliffe College, where he worked briefly as a construction laborer. [14] On 19 November 1948, he crossed the international border into the United States at Buffalo, with $12.00 in his pocket. [14] In 1951, he volunteered for the United States Army, transferred to the Air Force, [6] and served in the Korean War. He left the Air Force in 1955. [10] He remained guided by a deep sense of duty and a strong sense of American patriotism throughout his life. [6]

Halifax Harbour Harbor in Canada

Halifax Harbour is a large natural harbour on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, Canada, located in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Toronto Provincial capital city in Ontario, Canada

Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the most populous city in Canada, with a population of 2,731,571 in 2016. Current to 2016, the Toronto census metropolitan area (CMA), of which the majority is within the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), held a population of 5,928,040, making it Canada's most populous CMA. Toronto is the anchor of an urban agglomeration, known as the Golden Horseshoe in Southern Ontario, located on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A global city, Toronto is a centre of business, finance, arts, and culture, and is recognized as one of the most multicultural and cosmopolitan cities in the world.

Buffalo, New York City in Western New York

Buffalo is the second largest city in the U.S. state of New York and the largest city in Western New York. As of July 2016, the population was 256,902. The city is the county seat of Erie County and a major gateway for commerce and travel across the Canada–United States border, forming part of the bi-national Buffalo Niagara Region.

Education and career

After military service in the United States Air Force, he graduated from the University of Illinois with an undergraduate degree. Two years later, he had a master's degree from the University of Chicago. In 1959 he finished his doctoral degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He retired from Purdue University, was appointed Professor Emeritus, and lived in Canberra, Australia, where he continued to write about the Napoleonic Wars.

University of Chicago Private research university in Chicago, Illinois, United States

The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois. Founded in 1890 by John D. Rockefeller, the school is located on a 217-acre campus in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, near Lake Michigan. The University of Chicago holds top-ten positions in various national and international rankings.

Purdue University public research university in West Lafayette, Indiana, United States

Purdue University is a public research university in West Lafayette, Indiana, and the flagship campus of the Purdue University system. The university was founded in 1869 after Lafayette businessman John Purdue donated land and money to establish a college of science, technology, and agriculture in his name. The first classes were held on September 16, 1874, with six instructors and 39 students.

Canberra capital city of Australia

Canberra is the capital city of Australia. With a population of 410,301, it is Australia's largest inland city and the eighth-largest city overall. The city is located at the northern end of the Australian Capital Territory, 280 km (170 mi) south-west of Sydney, and 660 km (410 mi) north-east of Melbourne. A resident of Canberra is known as a Canberran. Although Canberra is the capital and seat of government, many federal government ministries have secondary seats in state capital cities, as do the Governor-General and the Prime Minister.

He wrote several ground-breaking books on the organization of the Habsburg military and the military reforms of Archduke Charles in the first decade of the Napoleonic Wars. His last book, The Emperor's Last Victory, about the Battle of Wagram in 1809, was published posthumously. Although he had never finished high school, with the help of the GI Bill, Rothenberg completed a bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois [6] in 1954. He attended graduate school at the University of Chicago, [10] where he was recognized as an argumentative, sometimes abrasive, graduate student with a keen mind. [15] As a graduate student, Rothenberg reviewed W.E.D. Allen 's Caucasian Battlefields: A History of the Wars on the Turco-Caucasian Border, 1828–1921 (Cambridge University Press, 1953) for Journal of Modern History, [16] He wrote his 1956 masters' thesis entitled General Crook and the Apaches, 1871–1874: the campaign in the Tonto Basin. [17] Rothenberg received his doctorate from the University of Illinois: his 1959 dissertation, Antemurales Christianitatis: then military border in Croatia, 1522–1749, was published in 1960 by the University of Chicago Press, as The Military Border in Croatia, 1522–1749; he followed this with a second study, The Military Border in Croatia, 1750–1888: a study of an imperial institution in 1966, also published by University of Chicago Press. Both volumes were translated into German in 1970. [18]

In part-time temporary teaching positions in Illinois [15] and four years at the Southern Illinois University, [6] Rothenberg taught European and world history, and published an instructor's manual on history of the world, with Henry C. Boren. In 1962, Rothenberg joined the faculty of the University of New Mexico; over the following ten years, he rose to the position of full professor. [6] In 1972, he accepted a position at Purdue University. There, he taught courses in military and European history. As a teacher, his popular course on World War II attracted more than 250 undergraduates annually. [10]

In the 1970s, Rothenberg also established himself as an international Napoleonic scholar with The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon, published in 1977. He also mentored hundreds of graduate and doctoral students. He regularly published in such peer-reviewed publications as Journal of Military History and served on the editorial board of War in History. In 1985, Rothenberg was a visiting Fulbright fellow in the Department of History in the Faculty of Military Studies at the Australian Royal Military College, Duntroon. He retired from Purdue in 1999 and was named Professor Emeritus . [10]

From 1995–2001, Rothenberg was a visiting fellow at the School of Historical Studies, Monash University. After his retirement, he moved to Melbourne, Australia, and then to Canberra, where his third wife, Eleanor Hancock, taught at the Australian Defence Force Academy. [6] Although retired, he continued to teach, lecture, and publish reviews. [19] He also wrote two more books. [10]

Life in Australia did not always please him; he missed both his colleagues in North America and his Purdue students. His politics—he "was anything but politically correct"—did not mesh well with Australia's leftist atmosphere. [5] He wrote indignantly to a friend in the United States that he regretted moving to Australia when the authorities confiscated his muzzle loaders, which were prohibited "Down Under." [5]

In 2004, he returned to the United States to present the keynote address at the 34th Annual Conference of the Consortium on Revolutionary Europe. He had recently completed The Emperor’s Last Victory: Napoleon and the Battle of Wagram, which was published posthumously in November 2004. [10] He died at the age of 80. [6]


Rothenberg's legacy is not only the generations of scholars he prepared, but also his vast historiographical contribution to understanding the Revolutionary era. For many years, his Army of Francis Joseph (1976) was the standard and the only English language analysis of the Habsburg Army in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic wars. [20] He changed the widespread perception of Archduke Charles' military acumen. A masterful historian, [15] Rothenberg was known furthermore as an eminently fair scholar. After publishing a critique of a publication, the author contacted him, and proved the critique unjust; Rothenberg immediately wrote to a review retracting the criticism, and the two scholars remained friends for the remainder of his life. [5]

Some of his colleagues considered Rothenberg "the greatest scholar of the Napoleonic era of our day." [21] His adventurous life and diverse experiences gave him a deep understanding of human nature. [6] This made him a valuable colleague and a treasured mentor for his many graduate students. [5]

High Point University conducts the Gunther E. Rothenberg Seminar in Military History. [22]

Personal life and family

His first marriage in 1952 ended in a 1967 divorce. In 1969, Rothenberg married Ruth Gillah Smith, a widow with three daughters (Judith Goris, Laura Allman, Georgia Jones (all born Herron)), whom he helped to raise; she died in 1992. In 1995, he married for a third time, to Eleanor Hancock, a lecturer at Monash University in Australia. [1] [6] She is now a Senior Lecturer in History at the Australian Defence Force Academy at the University of New South Wales, and has written the first biography of Ernst Julius Röhm. [23] Her 1988 doctoral thesis, National Socialist Leadership And Total War, 1941–45 for the Australia National University [24] was published by St. Martin's Press in 1992. [25]


Rothenberg published hundreds of journal articles, reviews, and lectures. This is a partial list. [26]


Journal articles


  1. 1 2 3 "Gunther Erich Rothenberg 11 July 1923 - 26 April 2004". The Emperor's Last Victory: Napoleon and the Battle of Wagram. Retrieved 2014-02-01.
  2. "Gunther Eric Rothenberg". Contemporary Authors Online (fee, via Fairfax County Public Library)|format= requires |url= (help). Detroit: Gale. 2001. Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000085240. Retrieved 2014-02-01.(subscription required) Biography in Context.
  3. "Gunther Eric Rothenberg". Directory of American Scholars (fee, via Fairfax County Public Library). Gale. 1999. Gale Document Number: GALE|K1612517143. Retrieved 2014-02-01. Biography in Context. (subscription required)
  4. Dennis, Peter (Winter 2004). "Professor Gunther E. Rothenberg (1923–2004): in memoriam" (PDF). Australian Army Journal. 2 (1): 252–254. ISSN   1448-2843 . Retrieved 2014-02-02.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Thomas M. Barker. "Letters to the Editor." Project Muse. 2004. Accessed 31 May 2010.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Peter Dennis and Eleanor Hancock. "Gunther Rothenberg Obituary. Jewish News (Melbourne). Melbourne, Australia, 11 June 2004.
  7. Art Mahler, "Glory and Liberty: Recollections of WWII." Accessed 24 June 2012.
  8. Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820–1897. (National Archives Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls); Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  9. United States, Selective Service System. Selective Service Registration Cards, World War II: Fourth Registration. National Archives and Records Administration Branch locations: National Archives and Records Administration Region Branches.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Schneid, Frederick. "Gunther Rothenberg (1923-2004)". H-Net . Retrieved 2004-04-28.
  11. Charles Schneid. Hnet Obituary. 28 April 2004.
  12. Social Security Administration. Social Security Death Index, Master File. Social Security Administration. Accessed 31 May 2010.
  13. Soundex Index to Petitions for Naturalization filed in Federal, State, and Local Courts located in New York City, 1792–1989. New York, NY, USA: National Archives and Records Administration, Northeast Region.
  14. 1 2 Manifests of Alien Arrivals at Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and Rochester, New York, 1902–1954. (National Archives Micropublication M1480, 165 rolls); Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  15. 1 2 3 Earl A. Reitan, "Letter to the Editor." Journal of Military History. 68.4 (2004) 1343–1350.
  16. Caucasian Battlefields: A History of the Wars on the Turco-Caucasian Border, 1828–1921, for Journal of Modern History, September 1956, vol. 28, no. 3, p. 280–281.
  17. Gunther E(rich) Rothenberg. Accessed 31 May 2010.
  18. Published in Wien: Verl. Herold. See Gunther Rothenberg. Worldcat. Accessed 31 May 2010.
  19. See for example, Gunther E. Rothenberg, "Review: War for the Everyday, by Eric Lund." The Journal of Military History, Vol. 64, No. 2 (Apr., 2000), pp. 522–523.
  20. H. H. Herwig. "Rebirth of the Habsburg Army." Central European History (1997), 30: 116–117.
  21. Reed Browning. "Review: Rothenberg's The Emperor's Last Victory." European History Quarterly. 37:4, p. 638.
  22. "The Gunther E. Rothenberg Seminar in Military History". High Point University. March 19, 2011. Retrieved 2014-02-01.
  23. MacMillan Palgrave. "Eleanor Hancock". 2008 Macmillan. Accessed 31 May 2010.
  24. Worldcat, "Eleanor Hancock (thesis/dissertation)," Accessed 31 May 2010.
  25. Council on Foreign Relations. "Capsule Reviews." Accessed 31 May 2010.
  26. Gunther Rothenberg. Accessed 31 May 2010.

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