Last Saturday (10 April) marked the 80th anniversary of the start of the Siege of Tobruk and to mark this, a Union Flag flown during the eight-month campaign and a huge, German swastika flag captured during the relief operation are to be exhibited for the first time at The Tank Museum.
They will feature in the new ‘World War Two: War Stories’ exhibition, which will be ready when the Dorset attraction in Bovington re-opens to visitors, expected to be on 17 May.
The siege of Tobruk began on 10 April 1941 when advancing German and Italian troops cut off a skeleton Allied force in the Libyan city in North Africa.
The main Allied force retreated to the Egyptian border leaving mainly Australian troops of the 9th Division to deny the strategically important port to the Germans.
Although low on supplies and equipment, they defiantly flew the Union Flag over Tobruk despite the German commander Erwin Rommel’s best efforts to take the port and shorten his own stretched supply lines.
Relief operations were launched, the Royal Air Force flew defensive sorties from Egyptian bases and at night the Royal Navy carried in reinforcements and extracted the injured.
Later, new units were rotated into the garrison to replace worn-out and exhausted troops.
But it wasn’t until Operation Crusader, carried out by the 8th Army in November 1941, that the siege was finally ended and the ‘Rats of Tobruk’ were freed.
As part of the plan the 70th Infantry Division broke out from Tobruk and disrupted German supply lines.
Rommel was surprised by this aggressive attack in his rear and was forced to retreat westwards to Gazala and try to rebuild his forces.
It was during the relief operations that the swastika flag was captured from an 88mm flak gun locker by the advancing 8th Royal Tank Regiment.
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