The Rats of Tobruk
Written by Tim Nash
World War II - WW II GroundOne of the lesser know battles of World War 2, fought by a small yet stubborn force of mostly Australians in the port city of Tobruk, in Libya. Australian troops of the 9th Division, the 18th Brigade of the 7th Australian Division, the 18th Indian Cavalry Regiment, the British 3rd Armoured Brigade and 4 artillery regiments.The force was some 14,000 strong with Australian troops making up half of the contingent. In august the Polish independent Carpathian Brigade and the Czechoslovak 11th Infantry Battalion. Commandered by Lieutenant General Leslie Morshead.
In a battle that lasted some 240 days between the Axis forces of Italy and Germany, fighting against a stubborn Allied force of Australians, defending the port city of Tobruk. Commandered by Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel German forces had not yet been defeated in battle in World War 2.
Early in 1941 Allied forces were involved in Operation Compass, an attempt to drive the Italian forces out of North Africa. In January Australian forces captures the port city of Tobruk, the Italian forces surrendered quickly with the loss of very few lives. By the end of February Italian force were in full retreat and the Italian tenth army had already surrendered.
At this time German forces were invading Greece, Winston Churchill ordered most of the allied desert army to Greece to assist in it’s defence, not allowing the allies to capitalise on their victories thus far against ltaly.The desert forces were left ill equipped, meanwhile Rommel’s Africa Korps was were attempting to prevent the collapse of the Italian position in north Africa. With most allied forces committed to Greece dessert intelligence was scarce, Rommel was having success in North Africa and moving into Libya.
Allied forces began withdrawing into Egypt leaving a small mostly Australian force to defend Tobruk. (14,000) other than Benghazi Tobruk was important to the allied war effort as it was the only other large port were they could resupply the north African forces from. Rommel and the Italian, German force thought the defending troop would surrender easily, Rommel’s original plan was to incircle the city and slowly tighten the noose. The defender were well intrenched and fought hard counter attacking whenever possible, becoming very successful at small gurellia actions waring down the enemy force and refusing to surrender the port to the amazement of both Rommel and Allied command.
The Royal Navy played a crucial part in the defence of Tobruk resupplying the embattled troop and evacuating the wounded. Also giving important gun support to the port. Australian forces held the city for eight long months finally being relieved by operation Crusader in December when they advanced on Tobruk.
The Siege of Tobruk was important for many reasons, it allowed the allied force to regroup and resupply in Egypt preparing and planning for operation Crusader, left the Africa Korps in no position to take the cities of Cairo and Alexandria, it also tied many valuable axis resources and many lives were lost. The axis withdrew from Tobruk in December 1941, German forces suffering there first defeat of World War Two, also the start of the end for the Africa Korps, the surrender of Italy, Ultimately the surrender of Nazi Germany some 4 years later, thru moment like this in world history Peace was eventually restored.
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