Anzac Day Posters 2011

70th Anniversary of the Battles for Greece and Crete

The poster features an image of four Australian soldiers at the Acropolis while on leave in Athens. The soldiers arrived in Greece in time to see some of the sights before joining the people of Greece and Crete in the fight for their country. Australian War Memorial 006797

70th Anniversary of the Siege of Tobruk

The poster of the Siege of Tobruk features an image of men of the Australian army at the edge of the harbour with oil tanks burning in the background. With the Italian defences penetrated, the troops secured the town and forced the surrender of the Italians. Australian War Memorial 005409

Series: Anzac Day posters

Wartime snapshot

70th Anniversary of the Siege of Tobruk

The Siege of Tobruk (April–December 1941) was a lengthy confrontation in Libya, North Africa, during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. Tobruk was strategically important as it has a deep and protected harbour, making it an excellent place to supply a desert campaign.

In January 1941, Australian and British forces captured Tobruk from the Italians and the town became their garrison. With the Italian forces on the verge of collapse in North Africa, the German commander, General Erwin Rommel, launched major offensives aimed at reclaiming a wider area. Striking with unexpected speed and mechanised strength, his 'blitzkrieg' approach proved unstoppable. The Allies were forced to retreat, and fell back to Tobruk. In April, the Germans surrounded the port city and the 'Siege of Tobruk' began. For more than six months the Allied forces, including the Australian 9th Division, held out with the support of the Royal Navy, the Royal Australian Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force. The odds were stacked against Tobruk's defenders. The German force was twice their size, better equipped and commanded by Rommel, who was respected by both sides and accustomed to success. Rommel expected the port city's defences to crumble but the Germans confronted an unexpectedly steadfast defence. The Australians' fighting style caused confusion and made it very difficult for Rommel's attacks to succeed.

Having established a strong defensive system and through aggressive patrolling Tobruk's defenders withstood a series of attacks.

When subjected to shelling and bombing, the Australians sheltered safely in Tobruk's network of tunnels. In an effort to destroy morale, German propaganda likened Tobruk's defenders to rats, a vermin that steals from the shadows. Far from being demoralised, the Allied soldiers wore the name 'Rats of Tobruk' as a badge of honour.

In their determination to defend and hold the town and port of Tobruk, the Australian forces suffered more than 3000 casualties. By the end of 1941, many of the Australians in the Mediterranean area had been withdrawn to fight in new theatres of war in the pacific.

References

  • Chester Wilmot, Tobruk, 1941, Penguin, Sydney, NSW 2009.
  • Barton Maughan, Australia in the war of 1939–1945. Series 1 (Army) ; Vol. 3 Tobruk and El Alamein, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1966.
  • Peter Fitzsimmons, Tobruk, Harper Collins, Sydney NSW, 2008.
  • Glenn Wahlert, The Western Desert Campaign 1940–41, Army History Unit, Canberra, 2006.

70th Anniversary of the Battles for Greece and Crete

The Greek campaign, in which Australian, British and New Zealand troops supported Greek forces against a German invasion, was ill-planned, disastrous and short.

Greece entered the Second World War on 28 October 1940, when the Italian army invaded from Albania. The Greek army proved much tougher than expected and the Italians were expelled from Greece and driven back to Albania. Germany, led by Hitler, was forced to send its own forces to overcome Greece, and on 6 April 1941 German forces attacked Greece and Yugoslavia simultaneously. The Allied forces, vastly outnumbered, were evacuated to Crete and to Egypt after conducting a fighting withdrawal from northern Greece to the southern part of the country.

The Germans then attacked Crete on 20 May 1941 in their largest airborne assault of the Second World War.

Britain was unable to commit more troops to the island due to the pressure of operations in North Africa, leaving the Allied forces in Crete ill-equipped and facing considerable difficulties in defending the island. Most of the Allied force had arrived exhausted from the failed Greek campaign with little equipment and too few weapons. However, while tired, they were not demoralised and by the end of the battle's first day, the Germans had not had the success they expected and had suffered far greater losses than anticipated. Only at the western end of Máleme airfield did German paratroops manage to set up a viable base. At first a German victory was uncertain and the campaign could have gone either way as Australian, British, New Zealand and Greek soldiers fought the Germans in a savage battle for possession of the island. However, with Máleme airfield in German hands, supplies and reinforcements poured in and the campaign swung against the Allies. The result was another evacuation by sea of defeated Allied soldiers.

References

  • A Great Risk in a good cause: Australians in Greece and Crete April–May 1941, DVA, Canberra, 2001.
  • Maria Hill, Diggers and Greeks: The Australian campaigns in Greece and Crete, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2010.
  • Gavin Long, Greece, Crete and Syria, Australia in the war of 1939–1945, Vol. II, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1953.
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