2011 marks the 70th anniversary of Australia’s first major battles of the Second World War. These actions and campaigns were fought in the Middle East and the Mediterranean where the three Australian services were continuously in action throughout 1941.

The second year of the war had begun with a series of impressive British and Commonwealth successes against the Italians in Libya. Australian troops led the advance. But a rapid German offensive quickly reversed these early victories. All that stopped the Germans’ march on Egypt was the defiant garrison at Tobruk.

For eight long months, surrounded by German and Italian forces, 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.

The defenders of Tobruk did not surrender, they did not retreat. Their determination, bravery, and humour, combined with the aggressive tactics of their commanders, became a source of inspiration during some of the war’s darkest days. In so doing, they achieved lasting fame as the “Rats of Tobruk”.

This special anniversary exhibition is on display in the Memorial until 16 November 2011.

Exhibition dates

18 March 2011 - 16 November 2011

More information

Watch our video

War stories: The Rats of Tobruk, featuring Memorial historian Dr Karl James discussing the exhibition "Rats of Tobruk 1941".

Eygpt, September 1941:

Men of the 24th Infantry

Brigade after their

voyage from Tobruk.

Members of the 2/13th

Battalion on patrol

along the anti-tank


Engineers in a dugout

furnished with bits from

wrecked ships.

Members of the 2/17

infantry battalion.


Department of Veterans Affairs Department of Veterans Affairs