Australia in the War of 1939–1945: Series One: Army

Volume 3

Tobruk and El Alamein

by Barton Maughan

Australian War Memorial



The writers of these volumes have been given full access to official documents, but they and the general editor are alone responsible for the statements and opinions which the volumes contain.

“Poor souls! to have never known the immortal will

That never owns defeat, the heroic deed

Whose doing is its only glory still.”

(C. J. Brennan)

Table of Contents


List of Events from March 1941 to December 1942

Chapter 1: The “Minimum Possible Force” Guards Cyrenaica

Chapter 2: Defence Based on Mobility

Chapter 3: The “Benghazi Handicap”

Chapter 4: At Bay – The Easter Battle

Chapter 5: Striking Back

Chapter 6: Assault Withstood

Chapter 7: Midsummer in the Fortress

Chapter 8: Last Counter-Attack and a Controversial Relief

Chapter 9: Parting Shots and Farewell Salutes

Chapter 10: Ed Duda

Chapter 11: In Palestine, Syria and the Lebanon

Chapter 12: At El Alamein under Auchinleck

Chapter 13: Alam el Halfa and “Bulimba”

Chapter 14: Launching the Battle

Chapter 15: The Dog Fight


Appendix 1: Prisoners of the Germans and Italians

Appendix 2: The Haifa–Beirut–Tripoli Railway

Appendix 3: Abbreviations



Benghazi Harbour – Headquarters 26th Brigade area, 4th April 1941 – Tobruk port and town, April 1941 – Major-General L. J. Morshead and his senior commanders at Tobruk – Headquarters 2/24th Battalion at Tobruk, April 1941 – Rommel in the Western Desert – Looking across to the Derna Road from Post S17 – Aerial view of Post R39 – Lieut.-Colonel J. W. Crawford, commanding the 2/17th Battalion, with a knocked-out German tank – German dive-bombing attack on the 2/24th Battalion – Headquarters 2/23rd Battalion, in the Salient – A rubble-littered street in Tobruk – A bomb-damaged ship in the harbour – The 2/17th Battalion “bush artillery” firing an Italian 75-mm field gun – A gun position of the 3rd Australian Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment – Tobruk Truth printing press – A soldier reading Tobruk Truth – “Aldershot” ovens at Tobruk – Drawing water from a well in Tobruk – Loading stores at a 9th Divisional AASC supply depot – A camouflaged headquarters at Tobruk – The “Garden of Eden” – Post R25, manned by the 2/13th Battalion – Men of 2/13th Battalion in Post R8, during a truce – Bombs bursting among shipping, August 1941 – Underground headquarters of the 9th Division at Tobruk – The Fig Tree – Sandbagged sangars near the El Adem Road – Shells from “Bardia Bill” falling near anti-aircraft positions – An Australian infantry section on the move at Tobruk – Night air raid, September 1941 – Brigadier J. J. Murray, commanding the 20th Brigade, with his battalion commanders – Men of the 9th Divisional AASC manning Post Z84 – Brigadier A. H. L. Godfrey, commanding the 24th Brigade, with his battalion commanders – Camouflaged hangars at El Gubbi, September 1941 – Major-General Morshead with Major-General R. MacK. Scobie – The Australian memorial at the Tobruk War Cemetery – Australian and Polish soldiers at Tobruk – Australian troops on a destroyer bound for Alexandria, after the relief – Salum bay and township – Men of the 19th New Zealand Battalion and 4th Royal Tank Regiment at – Ed Duda – Looking towards Tripoli (Syria) and Chekka village – On the Turkish-Syrian border – In Syria at the time when the 9th Division was relieving the 7th Division – The Nahr el Kelb in Syria, showing bridges under construction by the Australians – Crusader tanks of the 9th Divisional Cavalry Regiment on their way to the El Alamein front – Dispersed British vehicles at El Alamein, July 1942 – The railway cutting at Tel el Eisa – Tel el Eisa railway station – German trucks destroyed near the Tel el Eisa cutting, July 1942 – Ruin Ridge, November 1942 – Mr Winston Churchill and General Morshead – A 2/2nd Machine Gun Battalion position at El Alamein – Interrogating a German officer captured at El Alamein – General Sir Claude Auchinleck and Lieut-General W. H. C. Ramsden – Bombs bursting near the 9th Divisional Cavalry Regiment headquarters at El Alamein – A Bofors gun crew of the 4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment at El Alamein – General Sir Harold Alexander meets Australian officers at 20th Brigade head-quarters – Lieut.-General B. L. Montgomery with General Morshead and other Australian officers during a visit to the 9th Division – Preparing barbed-wire defences at El Alamein – Brigadier Godfrey inspecting a Russian anti-tank gun – German leaflets dropped over Australian positions at El Alamein – Laying armoured signal cable, October 1942 – A roadside security sign in the Australian sector – An Australian salvage notice near El Alamein – Brigadiers D. A. Whitehead and A. H. Ramsay – Brigadier R. W. Tovell, commanding the 26th Brigade, with his battalion commanders – A tank with a false truck body attached, as part of the British deception arrangements at El Alamein – A dummy light anti-aircraft gun position – Australian positions near the sea, El Alamein, September 1942 – A church service at El Alamein, September 1942 – El Alamein, 9.40 p.m. 23rd October 1942 – British bombers over the battle area, El Alamein – Enemy night raid on Alexandria, October 1942 – “Scorpions”, manned by Australian engineers, at El Alamein – Captured enemy anti-tank guns at El Daba, November 1942 – A German tank destroyed at El Alamein – Feeding captured Italians – Positions of the 24th Brigade, west of Tel el Eisa, under enemy shell fire – A Sherman tank – Abandoned German positions at Ring Contour 25 – Transport moving in the wake of Rommel’s retreating army, 13th November 1942 – Scene of a decisive tank battle near the Blockhouse, west of Tel el Eisa – German 88-mm gun and tractor destroyed by fire from the 2/7th Field Regiment – The ceremonial parade of the 9th Division at Gaza, 22nd December 1942 – General Sir Harold Alexander taking the salute at the parade – Stowing kits on to a lighter for trans-shipment to the Queen Mary – Troops of the 9th Division aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam, homeward bound – Prisoners of war in transit by cattle truck from Italy to Germany – Stalag 383, Hohenfels – “Anzac Avenue”, Stalag 383 – A play presented at Oflag VIIB, Eichstatt – Men from Stalag 383 halt during their forced march southwards – Recovered prisoners of war at a transit centre at Brussels.


The Eastern Mediterranean – The Western Desert – Dispositions, Tobruk, afternoon 5th May 1941 – Dawn at El Alamein, 24th October 1942 – Prisoner-of-war camps in Europe

Sketch Maps and Diagrams

The Mediterranean and Middle East – The 20th Brigade dispositions, 11th March 1941 – The Jebel Achdar – General Morshead’s proposed defence line – The 2/13th Battalion’s dispositions, 4th April – The German thrust into Cyrenaica – Tobruk defence lines – An outer perimeter post – The Egyptian frontier area – The German attack, 13th–14th April – The 2/48th Battalion raid on Carrier Hill – The 2/23rd Battalion raid, 22nd April 1941 – Dispositions of the 2/24th Battalion, 30th April – Panoramic view Bianca–Medauuar, looking south-west – The garrison counter-attacks, 1st May – The Salient, morning 2nd May – The 18th Brigade attack, 3rd–4th May – The 2/12th Battalion sally, White Knoll area, 15th May – The 2/23rd Battalion attacks on Posts S6 and S7 – Panoramic view of the Water Tower–Post S7 area – Dispositions, 20th Brigade, 11th–12th June – Operation BATTLEAXE – Advancing the left flank of the Salient, 29th June–3rd July – Shortening the Salient, May–July 1941 – Tobruk outposts, eastern sector – The 2/28th Battalion attacks on S6 and S7, 2nd–3rd August – The 2/43rd Battalion attack on R7, 2nd–3rd August – “Summer Night’s Dream”, 14th September 1941 – The 2/32nd Battalion attack on Dalby Square, 13th–14th September – The 2/28th Battalion attack on White Cairn, 13th–14th September – Diagram showing battalion reliefs, October 1941 – The Wadi Sehel – A 2/1st Pioneer Battalion patrol, 29th June – The 2/28th Battalion raid, 17th–18th July – A 2/32nd Battalion patrol, 24th–25th July – A 2/43rd Battalion patrol, 22nd–23rd July – Patrols of the 2/10th Battalion, 19th–20th July – A 2/12th Battalion patrol, lath July – A 2/15th Battalion patrol, 31st August – A 2/43rd Battalion patrol, 10th May – A 2/23rd Battalion patrol, 9th–10th July – The Tobruk break-out, 21st November 1941 – Dispositions 18th November 1941 – The capture of Sidi Rezegh airfield, 19th November – Situation 20th November 1941 – Enemy dispositions in the Sidi Rezegh area – Defeat at Sidi Rezegh, 22nd November – The German frontier foray, 24th–25th November – Westward advance of the New Zealand Division, 21st–26th November – Movements of armoured formations, 27th November – Attacks on Ed Duda and Point 175, 29th November – The 2/13th Battalion, Ed Duda area – Enemy and Allied movements, 30th November–lst December – Turkey, Syria and the Lebanon – Syrian–Turkish frontier area – The Tripoli area of Syria – El Alamein – Dispositions, 24th and 26th Brigades, 1st July 1942 – Situation, noon 5th July – Movements 10th–12th July – The attack on Ruweisat Ridge, 14th–15th July – The 2/23rd Battalion attack on the double Point 24 feature, 16th July – The 24th Brigade attacks, 17th July – Dispositions, 24th Brigade, 18th July – The 26th Brigade attack, 22nd–23rd July – The 2/28th Battalion attack, 22nd–23rd July – Plan of attack, Miteiriya Ridge, 26th–27th July – Australian dispositions, noon 7th August 1942 – The Battle of Alam el Halfa, 30th–31st August 1942 – Operation BULIMBA, 1st September 1942 – The XXX Corps’ objectives, 23rd–24th October – Situation, 23rd October 1942 – Dispositions, XXX Corps, dawn 24th October – Australian dispositions, dawn 25th October – Dawn, 26th October – Dawn, 29th October – The 26th Brigade attack, 30th–31st October – Australian dispositions, dawn 1st November 1942 – Operation SUPERCHARGE, 2nd November 1942 – The 2nd, 8th and 22nd Armoured Brigades, 2nd–4th November – Australian dispositions, dawn 3rd November 1942 – Dawn, 5th November 1942 – Movements of prisoners of war in Europe, 1944–45 – The Beirut–Tripoli railway