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Another Time, Another Battle At Tobruk

  • April 12th, 2011
  • Posted by EUEditor

tobruk-trench.jpgAs chaotic events unfold in modern-day Libya, old soldiers have paused to commemorate one of the notable battles of World War II, at Tobruk in 1941.

The port became a strategic enclave as German forces drove East towards Egypt, and was held doggedly by a mainly Australian force during a siege lasting 242 days.

The initial defensive force of 20000 included 14000 Australians, mostly the 9th Division and a Brigade from the 7th Division.

They were eventually reinforced with British and other allied troops who held out until the siege was lifted.

Dug in against attacking forces including tanks, despite near-constant shelling they heard the Nazi broadcaster, William Joyce (“Lord Haw-haw”), call them “rats”; and thinking that sounded  alright took up the name “Rats of Tobruk”.

Casualties included over 550 Australian dead, with 900 taken prisoner.

A supply run to Tobruk was conducted by naval units including the Australian destroyers Napier, Nizam, Stuart, Vendetta and Voyager.

Smaller ships included two that were lost, HMAS Waterhen (known to soldiers as “the chook”), and HMAS Parramatta.

Tobruk in Eastern Libya is in the hands of opposition forces during the conflict in 2011.

The commander at Tobruk was Lt. General Leslie Morshead, from Ballarat, who’d been a junior officer in the First World War.

A commemorative service was held on Sunday for the 70th anniversary of the siege of Tobruk, in Canberra, attended by a party of survivors of the battle, from the Rats of Tobruk Association, and an anniversary exhibition has opened at the National War Memorial.


Tom Arup, “A day to remember the Rats of Tobruk”, SMH, Sydney, 11.4.11., (11.4.11).

Australian War Memorial, Canberra, Encyclopaedia: Siege of Tobruk., (11.4.11).

Michael Inman, “Rats gather to mark 70th anniversary of Siege of Tobruk”, Canberra Times, Canberra, 10.4.11., (11.4.11).

Picture  War Memorial Canberra