Between the months of April and August 1941 around 14,000 Australian soldiers were besieged in Tobruk by a German–Italian army commanded by General Erwin Rommel. The garrison, commanded by Lieutenant General Leslie Morshead, consisted of the 9th Division (20th, 24th, and 26th Brigades and Ancillary Units), the 18th Brigade of the 7th Division, along with four regiments of British Artillery and the Indian 18th Cavalry Regiment.

It was vital for the Allies' defence of Egypt and the Suez Canal to hold the town of Tobruk with its harbour, as this forced the axis enemy to bring most of their supplies overland from the port of Tripoli, across 1500 km of desert, as well as diverting troops from their advance. Tobruk was subjected to repeated ground assaults and almost constant shelling and bombing. The Nazi propagandist Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce) derided the tenacious defenders as 'rats'; a term that the Australian soldiers embraced as an ironic compliment and Badge of Honour.

The Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy provided the garrison's link to the outside world, the so-called 'Tobruk Ferry'. These ships included the Australian destroyers Napier, Nizam, Stuart, Vendetta and Voyager. Losses comprised two destroyers, including HMAS Waterhen, three sloops, including HMAS Parramatta, and 21 smaller vessels.

Half the Australian garrison was relieved in August, the rest in September-October. However, 2/13 Battalion could not be evacuated due to their ship having been sunk by enemy aircraft and was still there when the Siege was lifted on 7 December, the only Australian unit present for the entire siege period of 241 days.

Australian casualties from the 9th Division from 8th April to 25th October numbered 749 killed, 1,996 wounded and 604 prisoners. The total losses in the 9th Division and attached troops from 1st March to 15th December amounted to 832 killed, 2,177 wounded and 941 prisoners.


AWM Link to the Siege of Tobruk.



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