Siege of Tobruk - The Resistance of "The Rats"

April 10, 2018

On this day, 10 April in 1941, the long and famous Siege of Tobruk began. The 6-month siege was a pivotal WWII battle between the Allied and Axis forces in Northern Africa. Up to 14,000 Australian troops and 12,000 British and Indian troops resisted the siege until an Allied counter-attack eventually re-took the surrounding territory and the siege was lifted.

Early in the siege - after withstanding Axis assaults and digging in - Nazi propaganda radio described the Tobruk resistance as coming from 'rats' living in the ground. In great Aussie style, the key Australian 9th Division embraced this sledge as a nickname and defiantly wore it as a badge of honour – hence the now famous phrase, “The Rats of Tobruk”.

Australia suffered heavy casualties at Tobruk, with up to 750 killed, 2000 wounded and 500 missing - far exceeding the casualties from all the other Allied ground forces combined.

Tobruk was one of the first successful resistances against - and retreats imposed on - the Nazi forces by the Allies in WWII. Breaking the Siege of Tobruk boosted Allied morale that they could beat the seemingly invincible German machine. 1941 became a year in which the Axis’ ascendency began to crumble. Tobruk was an important contributor to that emerging trend.

Commemorate the 14,000 Australian soldiers that held out against repeated German attacks in the Libyan port of Tobruk in WWII from 10 April in 1941 – and in particular, the “Rats of Tobruk” – by:

  • visiting the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and checking out the displays in relation to Tobruk and other pivotal WWII battles
  • honouring our fallen defending our values and way of life
  • having a drink and a meal down at your local RSL Club this week
  • catch a movie online about the Tobruk siege – eg “The Desert Rats” (1953)
  • spending some time online searching about acts of Australian bravery and defiance that bolstered the Allies and helped change the course of WWII, and/or
  • read more about the great siege on the Australian War Memorial site
  • sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends, veterans and other patriotic Aussies.

More information:

Tobruk was a port city on Libya's eastern Mediterranean coast, near the border of Egypt. It was strategically important for its deep port for large ship access, steep escarpments to fortify against land attacks, access to oil fields to fuel the military effort and a base from which to attack occupied Europe.

Being near the Egyptian border, it was also a last bastion preventing the Axis forces from advancing east along the Mediterranean coast into Egypt and on to the prized Suez Canal.

After taking Libyan border port Bardia and then Tobruk in January 1941 from the Italians, the Allies’ advance west through coastal Libya was halted in March by one of Hitler’s best generals, Erwin Rommel, and his Afrika Korps. By early April, to avoid encirclement, the Allied forces had retreated to their now garrison, Tobruk where the long siege began.

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