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80 Years on - Siege of Tobruk

2021 marks the 80th anniversary of the Siege of Tobruk.

In 1941, Australians fought in land and air campaigns in Egypt and Libya in North Africa. Advancing west along the Libyan coast, the 6th Australian Division captured the Italian-controlled city of Tobruk – the only deep water port in Eastern Libya – in January, and it became a garrison for Australian and British forces.

German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps made its capture the main objective of his offensive in North Africa. By April, German forces had begun to cut off and surround the heavily fortified city. For eight months, from April to December 1941, Tobruk was besieged. Australian forces, notably the men of the 9th Division, the 18th Brigade of the 7th Division and Royal Australian Navy ships of the “scrap iron flotilla” played a prominent role in the town's defence. The Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy provided the garrison's link to the outside world, the “Tobruk ferry”.

“Early this morning we took a position inside the perimeter defences of Tobruk. It was the dustiest day I ever have seen and believe me it is uncomfortable.” ~ Warrant Officer Class II Arthur Francis Bryant

Defenders at Tobruk had to adjust to life in stifling heat, under constant artillery and air bombardment. Supplies of food and water decreased, and the troops were plagued by flies, fleas and illness. But spirits remained high. While the Germans conquered all else before them, Tobruk held out, standing in the way of Rommel’s advance towards Egypt and the Suez Canal. The Australians adopting the ironic nickname “The Rats of Tobruk” in response to German radio propagandist “Lord Haw Haw” describing them as being like rats underground.

Half the Australian garrison was relieved in August, the rest in September and October. However, the 2/13th Battalion could not be evacuated and was still present when the siege was lifted on 10 December, the only unit present for the entire siege.

Supplied by Australian War Memorial

The Rats of Tobruk

Although there is limited military information about Raymond Herring’s service during World War 2 (as the service archives have not been released), he was one of many Australian serviceman referred to as a Rat of Tobruk. As a young man sent to war, he served as a proud Artilleryman between 1941 and 1943, before he was medically discharged and settled in Willunga, South Australia. GNR Herring received the Star of Africa, which was the medal awarded to The Rats of Tobruk.

Enlistment photo with his parents, which was taken on his enlistment day in 1941.

Service photo with medals, which are still worn by Herring family members today.

Written by Deb Herring Committee Member The Top Ender Magazine


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