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Thread: Australians in Tobruk

  1. #1
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    Default Australians in Tobruk

    Found these quotes about the 9th Australian Infantry Division who defended Tobruk for 242 days in 1941. They tend to be overlooked in Britain at least so here is what the Germans thought of them.

    A captured veteran of the early European campaigns stated:
    "I cannot understand you Australians. In Poland, France, and
    Belgium, once the tanks got through the soldiers took it for
    granted that they were beaten. But you are like demons. The
    tanks break through and your infantry still keep fighting."

    A German battalion commander wrote:
    The Australians, who are the men our troops have had opposite
    them so far, are extraordinarily tough fighters. The German is more
    active in the attack but the enemy stakes his life in the defense
    and fights to the last with extreme cunning. Our men, usually easy
    going and unsuspecting, fall easily into his traps especially as a
    result of their experiences in the closing stages of the Western
    [European] Campaign.
    The Australian is unquestionably superior to the German
    soldier:
    1. in the use of individual weapons, especially as snipers
    2. in the use of ground camouflage
    3. in his gift of observation, and the drawing of the correct conclusions from his observation
    4. in every means of taking us by surprise....

    Lt. Gen. Erwin Rommel was also impressed by the Australians. He said:
    Shortly afterwards a batch of some fifty or sixty Australian prisoners were marched off close behind us-immensely big and powerful
    men, who without question represented an elite formation of the
    British Empire, a fact that was also evident in battle. Enemy resistance was as stubborn as ever and violent actions were being fought
    at many points.

    9th_part1.pdf
    9th_part2.pdf
    Last edited by leccy; 07-05-2011 at 07:00 PM.
    IN the days of lace-ruffles, perukes and brocade
    Brown Bess was a partner whom none could despise
    An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade,
    With a habit of looking men straight in the eyes
    At Blenheim and Ramillies fops would confess
    They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Australians in Tobruk

    Quote Originally Posted by leccy View Post
    A captured veteran of the early European campaigns stated:
    "I cannot understand you Australians. In Poland, France, and
    Belgium, once the tanks got through the soldiers took it for
    granted that they were beaten. But you are like demons. The
    tanks break through and your infantry still keep fighting."
    Less a case of Aussies fighting like demons than a carefully thought out and well executed defence which deprived the Germans of their previous advantages of an armoured blitzkrieg attack.

    During 10-14 April 1941 and from 30 April to 4 May 1941, the newly formed 9th Australian Division repelled two major German Africa Corps tank assaults against their defensive posi tions around the strategic fortress at Tobruk, Libya. The 9th Division, although relatively untried, rushed from Palestine to North Africa in order to help delay the German attack on Egypt (see map 1).

    During both engagements, the Australians fought from a static defense in depth. Australian infantrymen occupying the first line of defense allowed the German tanks to pass through their initial perimeter into extensive minefields. British and Australian artillery and antitank gunners, deployed well to the rear of the infantry and supported by British tanks, then engaged the German tanks with devastating direct fire. As the
    German infantrymen, artillerymen, and machine gunners following the tanks passed through the perimeter, the Australian infantry, lying in wait on the flanks, moved in behind them with rifle fire and bayonets. At the same time, British fighter planes overhead, supported by antiaircraft artillery, attempted to fight off the attacking
    German dive-bombers and fighter aircraft.

    At the conclusion of the Easter Battle, known German and Italian losses were 150 killed in action (KIA), 250 prisoners of war (POWs), 29 tanks destroyed out of 112 available,1 and 17 aircraft destroyed.2 The Tobruk garrison losses were twenty-six KIA, twenty-four wounded in action (WIA), four tanks destroyed, one aircraft
    destroyed, and one artillery gun disabled.3

    In the second action, the Battle of the Salient, known German and Italian losses were 167 KIA, 574 WIA, and 213 missing in action (MIA). Out of eighty-one tanks available, twelve tanks were destroyed and thirty-two were damaged but recovered. The garrison had 59 KIA, 355 WIA, and 383 MIA.4

    In both battles, the German's combined arms attack featured tanks, infantry, engineers, artillery, and close air support. Their armaments were superior to Australian weapons in all categories except artillery, where the Australians possessed a marked advantage. Because of their edge in arms, the Germans were stunned by their defeat at the hands of the Australians. The Germans had rarely failed before, never encountered such defensive tactics, nor faced such a determined opponent. The accuracy and efficiency of the British artillery and antitank gunners and the discipline of the Australian infantry-who held their ground and fire until the German infantry and gunners advanced into a killing zone-had defeated the German blitzkrieg tactics.
    http://www.scribd.com/9th-Australian...941/d/35516907
    ..
    A rational army would run away.
    Montesquieu

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    Default Re: Australians in Tobruk

    Quote Originally Posted by leccy View Post
    Found these quotes about the 9th Australian Infantry Division who defended Tobruk for 242 days in 1941.
    There is a quote attributed to Rommel when Hitler was pressing him to advance. Hitler said something to the effect that there was only a division of colonial (i.e Australian) troops facing Rommel. Rommel replied along the lines "They are not colonial troops. They are Australian soldiers. Give me two divisions of them and I will conquer the world for you."

    While it has often been quoted, I've never been able to track down the source so I don't know if it's true.

    Quote Originally Posted by leccy View Post
    They tend to be overlooked in Britain at least so here is what the Germans thought of them.
    If they're overlooked in Britain, then the British are probably also overlooking the critical part played at Tobruk by British artillery and armour.
    ..
    A rational army would run away.
    Montesquieu

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    Default Re: Australians in Tobruk

    leccy

    My last link might have been to the same article you linked. My computer won't load your links (I'm in temporary accommodation and relying on wireless internet, which seems to have problems with some sites and downloads) but when I reduce it to the main site it comes up as the same one which was the original source for the article to which I linked, while the article to which I linked contains your quotes. Sorry if I've just come into the same article by the back door.
    Last edited by Rising Sun*; 07-06-2011 at 06:03 AM.
    ..
    A rational army would run away.
    Montesquieu

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    Default Re: Australians in Tobruk

    They are reports from on here. Quite a lot of post war analysis from the US Military covering around 100 years of military action and thinking.

    http://www.cgsc.edu/

    More specifically this part of it.

    http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/CSI/CSIPubs.asp

    I loved the comments that the Germans made about the Australians and yes the Desert War before The Battle of El Alamein and in fact afterwards is very overlooked by the public. Montgomery was the hero and everything was losses before then with rubbish kit.

    You tend to have Dunkirk, BoB, D Day, maybe Operation Market Garden and The Ardennes Offensive. The US contribution over shadows the USSR by a long way. Italians were all cowards along with the French. Lots of stereo types. Its not for nothing Slims 14th Army was called the Forgotten Army even during the War.
    IN the days of lace-ruffles, perukes and brocade
    Brown Bess was a partner whom none could despise
    An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade,
    With a habit of looking men straight in the eyes
    At Blenheim and Ramillies fops would confess
    They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Australians in Tobruk

    Rising Sun

    Just had a look at your scribd and yes its the same book. I just dont get on with scribd very well takes forever to load and annoying to log into to download stuff.
    IN the days of lace-ruffles, perukes and brocade
    Brown Bess was a partner whom none could despise
    An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade,
    With a habit of looking men straight in the eyes
    At Blenheim and Ramillies fops would confess
    They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Australians in Tobruk

    Quote Originally Posted by leccy View Post
    I loved the comments that the Germans made about the Australians
    One of your quotes is revealing in an unexpected sense, where the German battalion commander describes his troops as easy going and unsuspecting, which is the exact opposite of the stereotypical German soldier.

    Quote Originally Posted by leccy View Post
    and yes the Desert War before The Battle of El Alamein and in fact afterwards is very overlooked by the public. Montgomery was the hero and everything was losses before then with rubbish kit.
    And inadequate forces, thanks to one of Churchill's ill-conceived strategic blunders in diverting forces, including the Australian 6th Division, from North Africa to Greece where they were defeated at the same time they could have been much better and possibly decisively used against Rommel.

    Quote Originally Posted by leccy View Post
    You tend to have Dunkirk, BoB, D Day, maybe Operation Market Garden and The Ardennes Offensive.
    All of which have infected the public consciousness through cinema, while Tobruk and North Africa more generally have been largely neglected apart from some very good British films focusing on small aspects, such as Ice Cold in Alex and The Hill, which were really dramatic pieces which could have been set anywhere and which did nothing to illuminate public historical knowledge. To the limited extent it bothers to deal with it at all, US cinema tends to deal with North Africa as preliminary, or peripheral, to D Day and subsequent events, such as the treatment of the Kasserine Pass in The Big Red One (which was an unfortunate title in some circles in Australia, where a 'big red one' refers to part of a gentleman in a state of arousal).

    Quote Originally Posted by leccy View Post
    The US contribution over shadows the USSR by a long way.
    Well, it's the Russians' fault for not correcting the record by doing their own war films and exporting them to a sympathetic West during the Cold War.

    Quote Originally Posted by leccy View Post
    Italians were all cowards along with the French.
    I can't recall sources, but I've read several memoirs and various histories of Australians in North Africa who record that the good Italian units fought as hard and as well as any other nation and gave as good as they got. The same with the French, such as at Litani River.

    However, popular knowledge prefers to focus on Italian officers with nice dinner settings in the field (not unknown in the British Army at the time, while there were significant issues arising from some senior Australian officers bringing their wives to North Africa - or in some cases having affairs there while keeping their wives out of North Africa - while everyone below them was denied that privilege). There were well documented instances of such things, but it didn't necessarily follow that those officers were cowards or incompetent.

    The problem in comparing Italian and Vichy French troops with their Allied opponents is that the Italian grunts were often smart enough to see no point in fighting a war which was not to their or their families' benefit, while the Vichy French at all ranks were in the difficult position that even if they did not support the Vichy regime they were still patriotic French and they and their families could be jeopardised by opposing the Vichy regime. Meanwhile, the Australians were all volunteers a long way from home and whose actions could not put their families at risk of retribution by a regime or occupying force sympathetic to their enemies.

    Quote Originally Posted by leccy View Post
    Its not for nothing Slims 14th Army was called the Forgotten Army even during the War.
    That reflects, in part, Churchill's, and Roosevelt's, focus on the 'Germany first' strategy which relegated the war against Japan to the second rank.

    Montgomery was a great commander, along with scores of others on both sides in WWII, but just as flawed as all the rest in their own ways.

    So was Slim but, given the circumstances, resources and aims of his command, he did more with less in worse country against a worse enemy than Montgomery did, and with vastly longer lines of communication and often not all that much flowing along them.

    Which brings me to the popular knowledge of BoB, D Day etc compared with Slim's command and achievements, which are largely unknown just about everywhere nowadays outside reasonably serious students of WWII history.
    Last edited by Rising Sun*; 07-06-2011 at 08:28 AM.
    ..
    A rational army would run away.
    Montesquieu

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    Default Re: Australians in Tobruk

    I have read numerous accounts of Italian troops who fought very hard especially in the Artillery and Armoured Corps which had a different Espirit to the Infantry. Its too easy to blame troops who surrender without many losses but in reality they were completely out gunned and matched by the Commonwealth Forces in Africa at the time and had no wish to go to war for a Dictator (who made it a crime punishable by death to desert despite him being a deserter prior to WW1) it is also slightly Ironic that in 1911 he was jailed for campaigning against the Italian war in Libya denouncing it as Italy's "imperialist war".

    It is not so much different to the fall of Singapore yet even that is treated more factually than the early Italian campaign and Wavells response in the more common media. Maybe because it was the British winning one and the other was

    I love Ice Cold in Alex, watched it a couple of days ago again. not to be forgotten the great propaganda film from 1944 'The Rats of Tobruk' .
    IN the days of lace-ruffles, perukes and brocade
    Brown Bess was a partner whom none could despise
    An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade,
    With a habit of looking men straight in the eyes
    At Blenheim and Ramillies fops would confess
    They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.

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    Default Re: Australians in Tobruk

    Quote Originally Posted by leccy View Post
    I have read numerous accounts of Italian troops who fought very hard especially in the Artillery and Armoured Corps which had a different Espirit to the Infantry.
    I don't know about those differences in the Italian Army, but as a general observation if infantry's willingness to fight in any army is less than artillery and armour then that army is ****ed long before it takes the field.
    ..
    A rational army would run away.
    Montesquieu

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    Default Re: Australians in Tobruk

    Quote Originally Posted by Rising Sun* View Post
    I don't know about those differences in the Italian Army, but as a general observation if infantry's willingness to fight in any army is less than artillery and armour then that army is ****ed long before it takes the field.
    There was a very close relation between morale of Italian troops and the distance to the frontline.

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    Default Re: Australians in Tobruk

    Quote Originally Posted by Rising Sun* View Post
    And inadequate forces, thanks to one of Churchill's ill-conceived strategic blunders in diverting forces, including the Australian 6th Division, from North Africa to Greece where they were defeated at the same time they could have been much better and possibly decisively used against Rommel.
    One of the dangers of only looking at one theatre of war. The British gained in other ways from helping the Greeks, notably in getting control of the Greek merchant fleet at a time when tonnage sunk during the battle of the Atlantic was a real concern for the future of the war. Had we abandoned the Greeks, a Vichy-style regime in Athens (or even just the Greeks switching sides) was a real threat. The North African theatre was always secondary to all sides (since it doesn't really lead anywhere), while control of the Atlantic was critical to the outcome of the war.
    I have neither the time nor the inclination to differentiate between the incompetent and the merely unfortunate - Curtis E LeMay

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    Default Re: Australians in Tobruk

    Quote Originally Posted by Rising Sun* View Post
    I don't know about those differences in the Italian Army, but as a general observation if infantry's willingness to fight in any army is less than artillery and armour then that army is ****ed long before it takes the field.
    In the fighting for the frontier forts and when the Commonwealth forces chased them back to Beda Fomm the battle reports I read say that the Italian Infantry fought while the Artillery and Armour were fighting but would give up very quickly on there own. The Artillery seemed to be particularly good at inspiring a spirited defense despite the extremely obsolete guns they were largely equipped with at the start.
    IN the days of lace-ruffles, perukes and brocade
    Brown Bess was a partner whom none could despise
    An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade,
    With a habit of looking men straight in the eyes
    At Blenheim and Ramillies fops would confess
    They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.

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    Default Re: Australians in Tobruk

    Quote Originally Posted by Rising Sun* View Post
    I don't know about those differences in the Italian Army, but as a general observation if infantry's willingness to fight in any army is less than artillery and armour then that army is ****ed long before it takes the field.
    The Italian army wasn't any different than other armies in the field in that some units were very good and others very bad. There are plenty of reports of Italian units fighting very well against the UK forces in Africa and the Soviets in Russia as well. I've even read reports where the German forces fighting with the Italians in NA broke while the Italians continued to fight.

    The fact of the matter is that the Italian forces did not care for the war and they were poorly outfitted for it. If you compare the equipment with which they went to war to the other nations, you'll be surprised they bothered to put up a fight at all! It's notable that, once the better units of the army (the Ariete, RECAM troops and later the Folgore paratroops, which were considered as good as the German and UK paras) arrived in NA with Rommel, they performed admirably in most circumstances, even with poor to very poor equipment. Even the non-motorized infantry units often fought very well after the army received an influx of better troops and equipment (re: it was not all the arrival of the Germans).

    Back to the original thread: I did a bit of research (for the game Panzer Leader) on the forces in the NA campaign some time ago and came away with the understanding that the Australians were among the best troops, if not the best troops, on either side of the conflict. They were tough as nails, to put it simply.

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    Default Re: Australians in Tobruk

    Quote Originally Posted by Byron View Post
    Back to the original thread: I did a bit of research (for the game Panzer Leader) on the forces in the NA campaign some time ago and came away with the understanding that the Australians were among the best troops, if not the best troops, on either side of the conflict. They were tough as nails, to put it simply.
    Probably not inherently tougher than any other nation's soldiers of similarly diverse civilian backgrounds, but perhaps more committed as members of an all-volunteer force than some of their opponents. The presence of a good proportion of WWI veterans in the ranks and among officers probably helped to stiffen the newer soldiers. A wider consideration is at http://www.awm.gov.au/journal/j29/civils.asp
    ..
    A rational army would run away.
    Montesquieu

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    Default Re: Australians in Tobruk

    Newsreel showing the australian defenders of Tobruk:

    http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=51976

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