Tobruk, like Gallipoli, means much in the war annals of Australia. The Libyan port was held by Allied forces, which included more than 14,000 Australian soldiers, against Rommel’s besieging Afrika Corps for eight months during 1941.
As the Australian War Memorial recounts: “the men of the Tobruk garrison, mostly Australians, withstood tank attacks, artillery barrages, and daily bombings. They endured the desert’s searing heat, the bitterly cold nights, and hellish dust storms. They lived in dug-outs, caves, and crevasses.”
As the siege ground on, Nazi radio propagandist William Joyce (aka Lord Haw Haw) broadcasting from Berlin, said the Allies were “caught like rats in a trap”. The Australians accepted the title with pride.
Their determination, bravery, and humour was a source of inspiration during the dark days of war – and they would be forever remembered as the legendary ‘Rats of Tobruk’.
The garrison was relieved towards the end of the year, but many heroes were unable to answer the evacuation order. By then the siege had claimed hundreds of Australian lives, with many more wounded or taken prisoner.
It is now 70 years since the Seige of Tobruk and The Perth Mint is proud to honour the ‘Rats’ with the second release from its Famous Battles in Australian History series.
Previous issue: Gallipoli. Forthcoming issues: Kokoda, Kapyong, Long Tan.