Some enemy spies in Tobruk were Australians

Name: LJ Boyd
Date: 1941
Unit: 3 Field Company RAE
Location: Tobruk

Spies are a real menace during war, particularly when they are members of your own side. You just don't expect to find someone who you have shared a yarn or a beer with, passing information to the enemy.

In Tobruk, the Australians came across their fair share of spies and they weren't all foreigners, as Sapper L J Boyd recorded in his diary in 1941. But once detected, retribution was generally swift and deadly.

"More than one German agent was found in Tobruk, both English and Australian," Sapper Boyd wrote. "When caught, they were found guilty and shut up in a room with a revolver and one bullet, with orders to shoot themselves. The official report of their deaths was 'killed in action'."

Sapper Boyd reports that one Australian lieutenant frequently went to the wire saying he was observing the Germans.

"Two signallers went out one night, dug themselves in and watched him," he wrote. "He was sending information to the Germans with a shiny tin.

"The signallers wrote down his message and gave it to headquarters. The next time the officer went to the wire to signal the Germans, a shot was fired and he was hit by a bullet in the heart.

"Nobody ever knew just where the shot was fired from - but it had been arranged before hand."

Sapper Boyd was clearly upset at what he described as the lack of air support from the RAF and RAAF during the siege of Tobruk.

"The biggest disappointment of the war was the way in which we were deserted by the RAF and RAAF," he wrote. "[We] had to fight the German and Italian planes as best we could. Their [the RAF and RAAF] glorious showing here as well as Greece and Crete has earned them the contempt & distrust of the Army & the Navy.

"It is a bad name that a great force will find it hard to live down. The real saviours of Tobruk were the RN and RAN. We all dip our lids to the Navy, the service which saved us all."

But that wasn't all that upset Sapper Boyd.

"You have probably heard Australia's claim to have the most democratic army in the world," he wrote. "Well, don't believe a word of it. It has more red tape than any other that I know of.

"There always has to be a distinction between men & officers. Wherever we go we see such signs as 'Officers Only', 'Out of bounds to ranks below Sergeant' at cafes, clubs, pubs etc, and I find it even more so at AIF HQ and 6th AGH.

"Headquarters is where we find officers & men who usually haven't got what it takes to go where the steel flies about, yet they give all the cheek in the world about fighting.

"Also located here is the world's leading thieves. The gang from the kit store who wait until we go into a stoush, leaving our kitbags in their keeping, and then go through by smashing locks, slitting bags open etc and pinching souvenirs that men with guts have risked their lives to get.

"Then they tell great yarns of how they got them during some battle - the bloody liars. They come second on our list of enemies, first being the Base Provos but I will not say anything about them, they are too low to be worried about.

"I might also make slight mention of the VADs stationed at 6th AGH, but not much. They are doing a very good job but outside of that their only interest lies in having a good time with officers and sergeants, mainly of the base area crowd.

"Any man serving in the ranks is hardly to the liking of most of them. With few exceptions, they are society girls who came over here for a holiday and romance.

"The sisters are to be praised for their work, but like the VADs have not got time to spend with men who can't keep the whisky and entertainment up to them.

"But what romance some of them found, getting engaged to men who are already married, only to find that out when it is too late. Some of them have already gone home with a little family of their own."

The material for this article was supplied by Guy Watkins from Tasmania

Last updated: 3 June 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Some enemy spies in Tobruk were Australians, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 25 September 2020,
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