During World WarII, and probably any war, port cities are vital for the transportation of weapons, machinery, and personnel. The port city of Tobruk on Libya’s eastern Mediterranean coast is near the border with Egypt. In World War II, that may not have seemed like a particularly important port, but the Germans must have seen it as such, because in November of 1941, the Nazis laid siege to the capital of the Butnan District (previously the Tobruk District), and home to approximately 120,000 people today (although the population in 1941 was likely less).

Tobruk began its existence as an ancient Greek colony, but later became a Roman fortress guarding the frontier of Cyrenaica. I suppose that qualifies as an important port. Tobruk became a waystation along the coastal caravan route, over the centuries. It became an Italian military post by 1911. Then, during World War II, Allied forces, mainly the Australian 6th Division, saw it a the perfect spot for a military base, and they took Tobruk on January 22, 1941. They reached Tobruk on April 9, 1941. At that time, there was prolonged fighting against German and Italian forces. Tobruk has a strong, naturally protected deep harbor. It is probably the best natural port in northern Africa. It wasn’t as popular, because it wasn’t near any landsites.

In 1941, Axis forces took over Tobruk, in a siege that would last for 241 days. The Axis forces advanced through Cyrenaica from El Agheila in Operation Sonnenblume against Allied forces in Libya, during the Western Desert Campaign of 1940–1943 in World War II. The Allies had defeated the Italian 10th Army during Operation Compass that took place between December 9, 1940 and February 9, 1941, and trapped the remnants of the troops at Beda Fomm. Much of the Western Desert Force (WDF) was sent to the Greek and Syrian campaign in early 1941. By the time German troops and Italian reinforcements reached Libya, only a skeleton Allied force remained, and they were short of equipment and supplies. It was then that the Australian 9th Division became known as “The Rats of Tobruk” when they pulled back to Tobruk to avoid encirclement after actions at Er Regima and Mechili. Although the siege was lifted by Operation Crusader in November 1941, a renewed offensive by Axis forces under Erwin Rommel the following year resulted in Tobruk being re-captured in June 1942 and held by the Axis forces until November 1942, when it was finally recaptured by the Allies. Rebuilt after World War II, Tobruk was later expanded during the 1960s to include a port terminal linked by an oil pipeline to the Sarir oil field.

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