The siege of Tobruk begins

A Junkers 87 dive bomber brought down near Tobruk.

The German forces finally surrounded the port of Tobruk, which had been captured from the Italians on the 22nd January, on the 11th April. Defended by around 14,000 men, mainly from the 9th Australian Division, the port became the the scene of sustained fighting throughout 1941. The opening phases saw the Germans continuing to break down the defences with air attacks, as Kenneth Rankin had already experienced:

11th April 1941 – Good Friday

Worked hard levelling the guns and getting things ready, all morning. At lunch time we were in the thick of it again and Junkers dive-bombers appeared all over the sky. We engaged one by shrapnel control, but our fuse was too short. Then one came, sensationally straight at us, dived to a few feet off the ground and went clean through our position with machine-guns blazing. We filled him up with machine gun bullets and smoke came pouring from him as he staggered and side-slipped, regained control and disappeared over the brow of the hill. This we claimed as ours without dispute.

A Hurricane came tearing in, shot one down, banked steeply and pounced on another which he shot down in flames – we cheered madly. Then four Messerschmitt 109s appeared from nowhere and all went for our lone Hurricane, which put up a terrific dog fight, but turned tail and rushed for the aerodrome with smoke coming out, but still under control. We engaged the Me.109 which had been chasing the Hurricane and put in some effective bursts, the result of which could not be properly observed owing to clouds of dust. 153 battery shot one down in the harbour too – so it was a great party.

Unfortunately they got a supply ship in the harbour, which the Navy made desperate efforts to save. A fair amount of artillery fire was going on, but we were beginning to get used to this, and hardly noticed it – like trains running along the bottom of a garden.

See Kenneth Rankin: Top Hats in Tobruk

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