Rats of Tobruk: Remembrance Day Service [7 April 1949]

[Editor: An article about the Australian and British defenders of Tobruk (Libya) during the Second World War. Published in The Townsville Daily Bulletin, 7 April 1949.]

Rats of Tobruk

Remembrance Day Service


A day truly of remembrance is Sunday, April 10, for on this day in the year 1941, the mighty armies of Germany and Italy, under the command of General Von Rommel, made a super effort in orthodox blitzkreig fashion upon the defenders of the Tobruk perimeter, “the thorn in the flesh” which had halted Rommel’s plan for the conquest of Africa.

In this mighty attack everything apparently went according to plan; the artillery incessantly shelled the front line positions held by Australian infantry, dive-bombers blasted repeatedly Tobruk town and the area within the seven-mile deep fortress. In rolled the mighty Panzer tanks, followed by the infantry. These same tactics had never failed. Hitler’s iron-heeled army had marched, unhalted, subjugating and conquering the armies of Europe. All seemed over but the shouting — but the shout this time came from the throats of the wiry Australian defenders, who emerged “rat-like” from their holes in the bare desert ground, over which the tanks had rolled but a few moments before.

Thus these Aussie infanteers met with indomitable courage and fortitude the oncoming enemy infantry, and, in mortal combat, mauled and mutilated these equally courageous assailants, defeating them again and again. What of the tanks. To them just another walk over, but alas, their dream of a captured Tobruk that day began to dim and fade in the realism of the shot and shell of the Australian and British Artillery’s withering fire. They had met their match in the stout hearts, steady hands of stolid British stock of whom Napoleon had said “Curse those British bulldogs. They are made of steel and don’t know when to stop.” There was to be no stopping this day, for now, out of hidden holes, came the remnants of “Monty’s” Desert Tank Corps to join in the chase of the once rather slick but now rather sick Panzers.

Truly the iron heels had been halted, now the iron wheels of the tanks were spragged, and for the first time in the history of what we now call the 39-45 War, Hitler’s mighty army had suffered defeat, and was now hastily retreating with sand-parched throats, to lick its many and varied shot-scarred sores, inflicted by men who had been disparagingly designated “Rats” by leaders of this once seemingly invincible army, per medium of its champion spokesman, Lord Haw Haw, who from Radio Berlin had Christened these Empire sons within the Tobruk perimeter, “You drunken sons of Inglorious Fathers” and “You Rats of Tobruk.” He had hurled over the air time and time again — surely he had forgotten Anzac, the men of Anzac; these were their sons, and true sons of glorious fathers, and on this day in April they vindicated their birthright and heritage.

The “Rats of Tobruk” failed not, for if it be said that Australia as a nation was born on the battle beaches of Anzac Cove, her sons on the sands of the desert proved that Australia had come through adolescence to virile manhood by the shed sacrificial blood of the “Rats of Tobruk” who held the fortress and kept the faith of their fathers inviolate.

In sacred remembrance of this memorable day the returned Rats of this campaign will hold a service at the War Memorial on the Strand next Sunday. All members of returned services are invited to join with them in this act of remembrance to fallen comrades, honouring their pledge, “We shall remember them.”

The Townsville Daily Bulletin (Townsville, Qld.), 7 April 1949, p. 2

Editor’s notes:
all over but the shouting = something which is not yet finished, but where the outcome is certain

infanteers = infantry

spragged = to immobilize a vehicle by using a sprag (a pointed bar or pole attached to a vehicle, especially a cart or wagon, which could be lowered and braced upon a road, so as to prevent the vehicle from rolling downhill)

wiery = an archaic form of “wiry” [however, in the context of this article, it is possible that the word was a misspelling of “wiry” or “weary”]

[Editor: Corrected “semed” to “seemed”.]

[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]

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