Fall of Tobruk



Fall of Tobruk


Sub headlines: perimeter breached by air and tank attack, defenders determined resistance, Bardia reported in enemy hands. Article contains account of fall of Tobruk to German forces on 21 June 1942. States 25000 prisoners and German forces in Bardia and Bir El Gobi. Sections: Sheer weight of metal, defence lines crushed, Rommel's manoeuvre, victory of prestige.



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Spatial Coverage




One newspaper cutting mounted on a scrapbook page


The Times
IBCC Digital Archive


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The War Office confirmed early this morning that Tobruk has fallen.

The German and Italian High Commands claim that the fortress was captured yesterday morning. Earlier British announcement said that the enemy, attacking in great strength, had penetrated the defences on Saturday, and, in spite of determined resistance, had occupied a large area within the perimeter.

The Axis reports stated that 25,000 prisoners and much booty had been taken and that Rommel’s forces had pressed eastward and occupied Bardia and Bir el Gobi.



From Our Special Correspondent


The Libyan battle suddenly took a new turn yesterday. After a pause of two or three days the enemy attacked Tobruk in full force and achieved such successes as to render it impossible to hold that port Attacking in a north-easterly direction the enemy penetrated the outer perimete[missing letter] defences to a considerable depth.

The assault started soon after the firs[missing letter] light yesterday, when enemy aircraft fle[missing letter] over in large numbers and opened a concentrated bombing attack as the gun stationed round the defences rained in [missing word] hail of shells. When this barrage die[missing letter] down, tanks, believed to be the bulk o[missing letter] the enemy’s armoured strength, comin[missing letter] up from the El Adem and Ed Duda directions, drove through the defences, crushing down the gallant and determined resistance by sheer weight of metal. Following the tanks, infantry in lorries, with machine-guns, consolidated the gains while tanks drew off to refuel and replenish their ammunition; the tanks then went in again and made further advances.

By nightfall great gaps had been made in our defences and the enemy troops were preparing their dispositions to renew the attack to-day. Round the western side of the perimeter, it is believed, the Italian troops were formed up, not so much to join in the attack as to prevent a break-out in that direction and also to hold any positions taken. Undoubtedly Rommel threw all his forces into this attack.


The attack on Tobruk came suddenly after two or three days in which there had been relatively little fighting but a considerable movement of troops. The Eighth Army was regrouping, taking up new positions, and gathering together the units scattered in the confusion of the battle last week-end. Rommel, the morning after the Free French forces had withdrawn from Bir Hakeim, dispatched his armoured units to the north-east, with the intention of resuming the drive against El Adem, Acroma, and then Tobruk. Greater success greeted his arms than had been the case in the opening days of the campaign, and after bitter fighting the first objectives were taken.

It might then have been expected that he would go “all out” for Tobruk. By an exceedingly dashing and skilfully executed manoeuvre the threatened allied garrisons of the Gazala sector – the South Africans and the 50th Division – had been withdrawn safely eastwards, leaving the enemy no opposition along the western perimeter of Tobruk; our two strong points south of Tobruk had fallen; and the bulk of the Eighth Army had moved in the direction of the Egyptian frontier. There seemed to be nothing to hold up the immediate attack on Tobruk.

Instead the enemy columns advanced towards the frontier, as if to attack our new positions there, and came within striking distance of our forward troops. Not till then did he turn his attention to Tobruk, withdrawing his advanced columns from the frontier. What his losses were in yesterday’s attack is not yet known but they may have been considerable.


The capture of Tobruk is not only a victory of prestige for the enemy, of which the most will be made, but it will also give him clear lines of communication along the coastal road.

There are many well-informed people who consider that our defence of Tobruk last year, glorious though it was, was a mistaken policy, on the ground that the cost in various directions of keeping the garrison supplied far outweighed any advantages gained. This time no decision had been taken whether or not Tobruk would be defended. If there seemed a good prospect that we could be ready to counter-attack within a short space of time, it was thought that steps would be taken to reinforce the garrison and hold Tobruk. On the other hand there was no inclination to embark again upon a lengthy and costly defence.

Rommel forced our hand and made up our minds for us by striking with all his strength before the defences were perfected. The presence in this area of new heavy American bombers and of units of the American Navy, combined with the probability that our Mediterranean Fleet will before long be reinforced by the return to service of ships damaged in last year’s engagements give ground for hope that Tobruk will not be of much use to the enemy as a port.

Whether Rommel is in a position to follow up this latest success by marching on to Egypt is a matter for speculation. Exactly what his present strength may be is difficult to tell; but it is clear that we inflicted considerable damage in the earlier engagements, and these have now been increased by losses before Tobruk.

As the enemy is in possession of the battlefield, he will be able to recover a number of his own damaged tanks and some of ours. This will help him to build up his armoured strength; but in the meantime we shall be able to get up reserves from our bases and also to bring back to the field tanks which were too badly damaged for repair in the forward areas and had been sent back to the workshops.

The fall of Tobruk constitutes the crowning disappointment of a campaign which, after giving rise to high hopes that at last a decision would be reached in Libya, has now gone against us. The disappointment may be tempered by the consideration that in this see-saw of desert warfare the only way in which a lasting victory can be won is by the possession of overwhelming armoured and mobile superiority, sufficient not only to beat the enemy on the battlefield but to follow him up and destroy him. In the vast desert spaces, with few facilities for maintenance and supply, it is always the most mobile and most hard-hitting force that wins. Its tanks armed with a considerably heavier gun than ours and also equipped with much thicker armour, the Afrika Korps was able to recover from what was nearly a knock-out blow, delivered solely by the skill and dash of our tank commanders.

It might have been a vastly different story if after the third day of the battle all our remaining armour had been thrown in to administer the [italics] coup de grâce [/italics] to the enemy, who was visibly reeling, whose supplies were running short, and whose transport columns had suffered heavy losse[missing letter] and were utterly disorganized.


“Fall of Tobruk,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 28, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/20870.

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