Friday 18 June 2010 by Karl James. 6 comments
Exhibitions, 1941, Tobruk, Tobruk, 1941, North Africa

 

1941 was a year of battle. It was a time of victories and defeat. Australian soldiers, sailors, and airmen fought their first major battles of the Second World War in North Africa and in the Mediterranean. Australian and British troops won a series of early successes in Libya and later in Syria. But they also suffered greatly on mainland Greece and on Crete. When a rapid German offensive swept the British from Libya, all that stopped the Germans from continuing into Egypt was the defiant garrison at Tobruk.

Members of the 2/11th Battalion, having penetrated the outer defences of Tobruk, assemble again on the escarpment on the south side of the harbour after attacking ack ack gun positions. The men were all from C Company, mostly from 14 platoon, 22 January 1941. Members of the 2/11th Battalion, having penetrated the outer defences of Tobruk, assemble again on the escarpment on the south side of the harbour after attacking ack ack gun positions. The men were all from C Company, mostly from 14 platoon, 22 January 1941. 005392

For the eight months from April until December 1941, Australian and British soldiers – with Indian, Polish, and Czech troops – held Tobruk against besieging German and Italian forces. British and Australian warships helped keep the defenders supplied, bringing in food, ammunition, and reinforcements, and evacuating the wounded. Australian airmen, meanwhile, made an important contribution to the air war fought above the desert battlefields. 

When the Australians captured Tobruk in January 1941, they found large amounts of abandoned Italian equipment and stockpiles of ammunition. In part to relieve boredom and in part to help support the British artillery, the Australian infantrymen became part-time gunners using captured Italian guns. Learning largely through trial and error, the “bush artillery” quickly became a feature of Tobruk’s defences. Infantrymen from the 2/17th Battalion with an Italian 75mm gun wait to go into action, 27 August 1941. When the Australians captured Tobruk in January 1941, they found large amounts of abandoned Italian equipment and stockpiles of ammunition. In part to relieve boredom and in part to help support the British artillery, the Australian infantrymen became part-time gunners using captured Italian guns. Learning largely through trial and error, the “bush artillery” quickly became a feature of Tobruk’s defences. Infantrymen from the 2/17th Battalion with an Italian 75mm gun wait to go into action, 27 August 1941. 020277

2011 marks the 70th anniversary of the first Australian battles of the war. To commemorate these significant events, planning is now well under way for a special anniversary exhibition that will open at the Memorial in March 2011. Drawing on the Memorial’s rich collection of war relics, photographs, artworks, and documents, this exhibition will highlight Australia’s involvement in these early campaigns with a specific focus on the famous siege of Tobruk. 

In the weeks and months to come, the Memorial’s historians and curators will be featuring some of the stories and experiences of different men and women who served in the Middle East during 1941 as we prepare for the exhibition’s opening next year.

Comments

Dr John Mackenzie-Smith

I have had much interaction with the AWM re the Nazi flag I donated - taken at Tobrukn by 2/15th Battalion on 14 April 1941. Several family members wish to know whether it will be shown at the exhibition as they wish to be present. For travel arrangements, when will the exhibition open and close. Thanks for your effort and enthusiasm in arranging the proposed exhibition. John

Dr Karl James

The Nazi vehicle flag captured by the 2/15th Battalion and presented to Captain Alfred Smith by his company is certainly one of the relics we're strongly considering using for the exhibition. The exhibition will be open to the public next year, from 11 March until 24 August. Karl

Dr John Mackenzie-Smith

Thanks for your positive reply, Karl John Mackenzie-Smith

Dr Sophie Psychologist Perth

I would love to see some of the artifacts from the Middle East and get some more understanding of how the troops interacted with this culture - to see how that resonates with today's relationship with the Middle East. Will there be many personal stories about this relationship in the exhibition? I hope so!

Dr John Mackenzie-Smith

Dr Karl James With reference to the citation REL398783 for the Nazi vehicle recognition flag I presented some time ago, I would like to point out an erroneous fact therein. On the occasion that that flag was captured (the easter Battle 1941) the 2/15 Battalion was not located with the 2/13 and 2/17 on the southern perimeter, but was dug in south-west of the El Adem road junction, as reserve battalion, around the RHA's 25 pounders - the opposite end of the arena. a recent interview with a 'participant' in that battle confirms this. I have rebutted that supposition in a book which I hope to have published in 2011. That error is at the basis of the 2/15th's comparative neglect in most histories written over the past 70 years. Hoping you see fit to change that section, John Mackenzie-Smith PhD

Dr John Mackenzie-Smith

Karl While you are considering my comments on the Nazi flag citation, please also note that The Queen Mary set sail on 28 December. John