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Desert Generals

Tobruk: Triumph and Disaster

Series 1, Episode 1

Tobruk: Triumph and Disaster

In 1942 Britain faced the very real prospect of losing the Second World War. Everywhere British forces were in retreat and nowhere was the situation worse than in North Africa.

The German forces were under the command of Erwin Rommel, ‘the Desert Fox’ and were pushing towards Egypt. Yet in their way stood Tobruk, a vital seaport that supplied men, food, ammunition and oil to the British.

To the British Tobruk was a bastion that could not be lost: if Tobruk fell then the gateway to Egypt and the Persian Gulf beyond it would lie open for Rommel – his aim being to seize control of the lucrative oil fields in the Middle East that would be able to feed the German war machine indefinitely.

Britain and her allies stared into an abyss, knowing defeat in the Desert was not an option. If the Desert War was lost, then the Second World War was unwinnable.

The Siege of Tobruk lasted for 241 days during 1941 – from 10 April to 27 November. The British had captured the city from the Italians in January 1941, but Rommel and his Afrika Corps – supported by Italian troops – soon cancelled out any gains the British had made, forcing them back to the borders of Egypt by April 1941.

To prevent Tobruk falling into the hands of the Axis the British left a garrison, consisting mostly of Australians, to defend the city until it could be relieved. In the long months that followed the defenders desperately struggled to keep back their enemy.

British and Empire troops made numerous attempts to relieve Tobruk. Yet in Erwin Rommel, the Allies were facing perhaps the most formidable German general of the war, as they soon found out.

In this exclusive documentary Tim Collins re-investigates Britain’s critical desert campaign during the Second World War, and the controversial battle tactics needed to take on Germany’s panzers in total war and prevent Hitler from gaining Egypt, Iraq and the oilfields. He begins by reflecting on the Siege of Tobruk – when Rommel struck a blow against Allied forces.

 Read more Read less Duration: 48 Min