April-November, 1941 – Australian and British forces are besieged by the Afrika Korps in the vital Libyan port of Tobruk. Without it, Axis forces can only resupply their troops via a tortuous 1800-kilometre overland route, which is prone to flooding and vulnerable to attack. Tobruk would provide them with a deep-water port close to their front line, enabling resupply via ship and greatly strengthening the position of the Afrika Korps.
Australian troops had captured Tobruk from the Italians in early 1941, but by April the Afrika Korps has forced the Allies out of Libya, leaving only a small force of Australian and British troops in Tobruk to prevent its capture.
From April to November, a ragged force of Australian and British troops holds out against the might of the Afrika Korps. Rommel calls them ‘Rats’, a name which they soon proudly adopt. By November the Germans have still not captured Tobruk, and Allied advances force them to withdraw.
The Australian 9th Division had originally been ordered to hold Tobruk for eight weeks – they have held it for five months.