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The Road to Tobruk (The North African Campaign, 1940-1942)

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The Road to Tobruk | PDF | 98 Pages | 63 Megabytes

Tobruk 1940-42 (4E)

Note, December 2017 – This study was updated on Friday, December 8, 2017, resulting in an increase from 41 pages to 98, with updated art, cartography and information.

Tobruk Page Mockup

Tobruk Cover (Alternate)

When the German General, Erwin Rommel, landed in Libya in 1940, during the Second World War he found a strange land almost devoid of life. The majority of the population lived in small towns along the coast where the land was green and rich but where just a few miles inland, the burning desert reigned as master and deliverer.

The vast open space meant that civilians were largely out of the crossfire and that a war could be fought “cleanly” (a veritable oxymoron) between professional armies, who to their credit avoided the senseless butchery which marked the other campaigns of the war. Rommel would call this period of his military life, krieg ohne hasse, or “War without Hate,” a period in which he as a soldier conducted a proper war, on purely military terms, on lines of mutual respect.

The "krieg ohne hasse" (war without hate) in effect, mid-1942. A wounded British soldier accepts a light from a wounded German soldier of the Afrika Korps

The “krieg ohne hasse” (war without hate) in effect, mid-1942. A wounded British soldier accepts a light from a wounded German soldier of the Afrika Korps.

The high point of Rommel’s North African career revolved around the seaside town of Tobruk, the second city of Eastern Libya’s Cyrenaica province. After the failure of the Italians in 1940 to reach their dream of a new Roman Empire in the Mediterranean, Hitler was forced to send German troops to salvage Axis pride. Rommel’s orders were simple – recapture Cyrenaica and rout the British. The campaign captured the imagination of the world, as did the dashing Rommel who became a household name in Germany, England and the western world. Tobruk itself became a place of myth in 1941, as stories of its cavalierly heroic Allied garrison gained momentum. The myth eventually succumbed to Rommel’s will, who in the conquest of Tobruk saw a way to seize that most glittering of prizes — Egypt, the Suez Canal, and eventually the mystical Far East which Hitler so coveted as the birthplace of the Aryan race.

The methods which finally overcame the city would go on to inspire Coalition tactics in the invasion of Iraq during Operation “Desert Storm” half a century later.

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The attack on Tobruk 1942

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Addendum: Rommel’s Assessment of Allied troops

Australians: “Rough” men, but unlikely with a “bad heart.” Highly ranked as fighting troops but “inclined to get out of hand.”
Indians: “Well-disciplined and correct” professional soldiers.
New Zealanders: “The finest troops” on the Allied side.
South Africans: “Good material” but simply “too raw,” to be of much use early in the campaign, although their armoured car units were a credit.
British: “Promising amateurs,” although their special forces are “better than Germans.”

(Source: Young, Desmond, Rommel: The Desert Fox, New York: Quill/William Morrow, 1987)

Note – In the interests of historical accuracy it must be noted that Rommel also had vaguely denigrating things to say about eastern troops and especially black soldiers who accompanied the South Africans (apparently for propaganda reasons). Added to this, Desmond Young, the World War II British officer who collected the assessments above, was something of a Rommel admirer, and his book, something of a hagiography, so it possible that some of the judgments were cleaned up.

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