Tobruk defences 1941

Discussion in 'North Africa & the Med' started by Some Chicken, Oct 1, 2010.

  1. Some Chicken

    Some Chicken Member

    I am looking for some information about the Tobruk defensive positions on the Red Line during the 1941 siege.

    The permanent fortifications were concrete, pre-war and Italian built. From what I have read and seen, a typical position had 3 weapons pits linked by a communication trench. The Australian offical history mentions that:

    - the communications trenches were deep and covered over with wood
    - the weapons pits were comparatively small which limited the number of troops who could defend the post

    Does anyone know whether the Australians built firing steps in the trenches so they could be used?

    Most of the photos I've seen of Australian infantry at Tobruk show them in improvised slit trenches. As the permanent positions were approximately 750 yards apart, I assume the slit trenches were sited in the gaps between but I've never read this anywhere. Can anyone point me to a source which covers this?

    Detailed information I know but I thought I might as well ask!
     
  2. ozjohn39

    ozjohn39 Senior Member

    Cannot answer those questions, but I suggest a look via Google Earth at the Tobruk perimeter.

    The are still clearly visible, especially to the south.



    John.
     
  3. idler

    idler GeneralList Patron

    This is displayed at Eden Camp, I think it was a pull-out special from a newspaper, or something like that (I forgot to snap the caption). It is set in a brief history of the siege but I couldn't get a clear shot of the whole. It's a bit general but hope it helps.

    (I must show it to my father: while he was on exercise in Libya in the 60's, he visited his father's slit trench. My grandfather was there with the King's Dragoon Guards element of the 'Composite Regiment'.)
     

    Attached Files:

  4. ozjohn39

    ozjohn39 Senior Member

    Interesting to see "Eagle Corner" on the Derna Rd.

    Someone shot an eagle and strung its body on the wire fence there, thus giving the spot its name. My father in law spoke of it from time to time. it was a bit of a meeting place to have a yarn with mates.

    Further west was 'The Fig Tree', just south of the Derna Rd and it is still there, probably healthier than in 1941.



    John.
     
  5. Some Chicken

    Some Chicken Member

    idler - thanks for posting the map. I hadn't seen it before and it is helpful. The detail looks right and it is clear.

    ozjohn - thanks for the suggestion. I did try google earth but couldn't make out much of anything. Obviously I would have been a total failure as a recce photo interpreter
     
  6. ozjohn39

    ozjohn39 Senior Member

    SC,

    Go to the Tobruk township and scan south, drop down to about 2 or 3,000' and the zig-zag anti-tank ditch will become apparent. Every 500 or 700 meters you will see an oval weapons pit just inside (50 metre or so) the ditch. I think the Red Line perimeter was about 20 kms from town.

    You can follow that to both ends, where it fizzles out near the Derna Rd heading west and the Bardia Rd heading east. The terrain at the ends near the coast was bad tank country so they did not bother with a ditch.


    John.
     
  7. spider

    spider Very Senior Member

  8. Some Chicken

    Some Chicken Member

    Spider - thanks for the link. The best information on the Tobruk defences I've found so far is in Vol III "Tobruk and El Alamein". I've had a look at "To Bengazi", in particular chapter 9 with deals with the capture of Tobruk, but didn't spot anything more detailed. Am I missing something specific?

    Steve
     
  9. spider

    spider Very Senior Member

    Am I missing something specific?
    Steve

    I see you are looking at the siege in 1941, not the 21 January 1941 attack and capture.

    The Italian posts were well documented and were not used to a large degree during the siege, plus they were rodent and bug ridden due to the previous occupants.

    In areas where they could not dig in, sangers were built.
     
  10. Some Chicken

    Some Chicken Member

    The Italian posts were well documented and were not used to a large degree during the siege

    Interesting - I've not heard that before. The Aussie official history gives the impression that the posts were used as does other books I've read, eg Frank Harrison's Tobruk which was written by someone who served throughout the first (1941) siege. Can you let me know where you read that - I'd like to follow it up.
    Thanks
     
  11. Kuno

    Kuno Very Senior Member

    The Italian posts were well documented and were not used to a large degree during the siege, plus they were rodent and bug ridden due to the previous occupants.

    I have my difficulties to believe this. The Italian posts were perfectly dug in and I cannot believe that they were just ignored by the Allied forces during the siege.

    Bug ridden? Where's the problem? An open trench in perfect smooth concrete is about the easiest thing to be cleaned out - does not need an expert. Further I cannot imagne that the Allies had enjoyed better hygienic conditions during the seven months of the siege than befo the Italians who had occupied the positions only for a fairly short time.

    The trenches were traps for all sort of animals - not only bugs. Such is simply the nature of the structure and has nothing to do with the humans occupying them.

    Another thing: Read te German accounts; why would they have mentioned that they have attacked for example post S.7 if nobody would have occupied it?

    And then: I am not aware of a lot of fortificationns around Tobruk which are not of Italian origin. There are some - they were in fact 'copies' of Italian posts. Moer or less.... not so nicely built :)
     
  12. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

  13. Cobber

    Cobber Senior Member

    I agree with 'Kuno' every thing i have read about the siege says that the system built by the Italians (S & R posts etc) was used by the Australian and other defenders. They of course also built their own slit trenches and semi permanent type fortifications where they were needed.

    As for bugs and rodents their are not many fortifications anywhere during war time that are not full of fleas, lice, rats and so on.

    When the Aussies and Brits first took Tobruk they found the system quite bad in regards to cleaniness and it probably stayed that way till after the defenders went into them. The Aussies as well would of through no choice of their own, lived amongst their own mess while occupying the positions. I would imagine any soldiers in a small defensive area like these posts would end up living amongst their own mess.
     
  14. Some Chicken

    Some Chicken Member

    Andreas - thanks for the link to the map, which is very interesting. It seems to suggest (in that sector at least) that the temporary positions and slit trenches were set further back and were not part of the permanent posts on the red line itself. Do you happen to know what the "4" symbol (eg between R74 and R76) and the shape behind R68 represent?
     
  15. Some Chicken

    Some Chicken Member

    I would still like to know whether the Aussies built firing steps in the communication trenches that linked the weapons pits in the permanent posts. Does anyone know the answer?
     
  16. tango sierra

    tango sierra Junior Member

    I have my difficulties to believe this. The Italian posts were perfectly dug in and I cannot believe that they were just ignored by the Allied forces during the siege.

    Bug ridden? Where's the problem? An open trench in perfect smooth concrete is about the easiest thing to be cleaned out - does not need an expert. Further I cannot imagne that the Allies had enjoyed better hygienic conditions during the seven months of the siege than befo the Italians who had occupied the positions only for a fairly short time.

    The trenches were traps for all sort of animals - not only bugs. Such is simply the nature of the structure and has nothing to do with the humans occupying them.

    Another thing: Read te German accounts; why would they have mentioned that they have attacked for example post S.7 if nobody would have occupied it?

    And then: I am not aware of a lot of fortificationns around Tobruk which are not of Italian origin. There are some - they were in fact 'copies' of Italian posts. Moer or less.... not so nicely built :)

    I agree that bugs etc could have easily been removed, although with time would probably re-established themselves.

    One reason for them not being reused (if that was indeed the case) could have been that the Germans may have had a detailed plan of the defences from the Italians. In which case individual trenches etc could be accurately targeted.
     
  17. Some Chicken

    Some Chicken Member

    One reason for them not being reused (if that was indeed the case) could have been that the Germans may have had a detailed plan of the defences from the Italians. In which case individual trenches etc could be accurately targeted.

    That wasn't the case, at least initially. Although a map of the defences was eventually obtained from the Italians, the first Afrikakorps attempt to take Tobruk off the march failed when the panzers unexpectedly encountered the anti- tank ditch. The Germans also seem to have unaware that the ditch was not uniform in depth and was quite shallow in some places. Aggressive Aussie patrolling probably played a big part in this.

    From everything I've read on the subject, 9th Division's defence of Tobruk was based on the existing Italian built positions and a big effort was made to repair deficiencies (more mines, wire etc) before the Germans arrived.
     
  18. Kuno

    Kuno Very Senior Member

    Colleagues;

    Personally I believe that the story about the Germans having not received any information from the Italians about the location and details of the Tobruk defences is one of the myths of the Desert Campaign of WW2. Even German sources accuse Rommel to have sent his forces against Tobruk without doing any reconnaissance in advance. Another myth.

    In the meantime it is known that the German aerial reconaissance was ordered to take photographs - and that they have done so is evident from their flight-logs.

    The ptoblem with the tobruk defences is that they are hardly visible - even today. They are even with the surrounding soil and this has the effect that still today, you hardly recognice them until you stand directly in front of them. It happened to me already several times that I had difficulties to find the poistions again on the spot...

    ...although it was not the first time I was there!

    Imagine that originally these positions were camouflaged (the hooks etc. to fix the camouflage can still be seen today) and that the A/T trench was covered with wooden planks or camouflage-netting.

    An approaching tank, even if the commander had the best map in the world, would have overlooked the trench. Respectively he would not have recognized it.
     
  19. Kuno

    Kuno Very Senior Member

    ...this is all what an attacker can see of a perimeter-post from a distance of about 50m. And: There is no camouflage anymore!
     

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  20. Kuno

    Kuno Very Senior Member

    ...10m distance - there is still hardly anything to be seen. The pic has been taken in standing position. Attacking infantry advancing a defended post would not move forward in this upright position - and could still see nothing.
     

    Attached Files:

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