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Tuesday, 22 December 2009

WORLD WAR II IN FACT AND FICTION: Tobruk

THE DESERT RATS
1953 Directed by Robert Wise
Starring Richard Burton
84 minutes

The film is based on the Australian 9th Division, the Anzacs, who were charged with the defence of Tobruk under the command of General Leslie Morshead. Hoping to survive against overwhelming odds for two months, the garrison held off the best of Rommel's Afrika Korps for over eight months. The film's title is a little misleading as The Desert Rats were actually the British 7th Armoured division, whilst this Australian division were known as the Rats of Torbruk after German propaganda said they were trapped like rats by the advancing Rommel.

Richard Burton plays Captain McRoberts, a British soldier put in charge of the Australian unit which immediately brings him into conflict with several of the men under his command. James Mason, who had played Rommel in the 1951 movie, The Desert Fox reprises the role here though his performance is really several cameos.

The film was made in black and white in order that actual footage from the real battles could be depicted and this adds considerably to the documentary feel of the picture. The fact that the scenes with the Germans and Italians are in their native tongue, without subtitles also heightens the sense that we are watching real events. There are some stunning shots - the bit where the beleaguered commandos advance across the harsh desert landscape with flashes in the horizon is eerie in the extreme. And the film cranks up the tension. All in all it's an excellent film that depicts both the horror of war and the incredible acts of individual heroism that sheer terror can inspire.


COMMANDO: ANZACS AT WAR
THE BEST 12 ANZAC STORIES
Carlton Books

This book collects together the twelve best Anzac stories from the long running comic book's history. The stories were selected by the then Commando editor, George Low who also provides an introduction.
The twelve stories collected here take place in all the theatres of war, most are World War II based but there is one story involving an ANZAC soldier set during the Veitnam war and another set in the immediate post-war period.

The book is a great collection of the best in British comic book storytelling.




And in reality: Tobruk

The siege of Tobruk was no different to the sieges of ancient castles and forts in that the major issue was supply. A besieging army need do nothing strenuous in the way of attacking if they know the people within the walls only have enough water for a few days. It was lucky for the Allies that supplies could reach Tobruk by sea, with the strategically vital island of Malta sending support to help the ships get through.

TIMELINE

JAN 21-22 1941 - Australians assault and take Tobruk. 27,000 Italians surrender
Feb 12 1941- Rommel arrives in tripoli
Nov 18th 1941 - Beginning of Operation Crusader
Nov 20th 1941- Heavy fighting around Rezegh. Tobruk garrison begins breakout
Nov 28th - 30 1941- German armour attempts to break up Allied Link-up. Casualties are heavy on both sides.
Dec 8th 1941 -Rommel abandons the fight with only 40 tanks left. Tobruk relieved.

Below is the front page from the Daily Telegraph (click for a fill size readable version) Sat Nov 29 1941.

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