Tank versus tank inside Tobruk

A German Mk IV tank, its turret blown off by a 25-pounder during the battle within Tobruk on the 14th April.

The German tanks that had broken through the perimeter of Tobruk on the night of the 13th had become disorientated in the darkness and had paused their assault. As dawn broke on the morning of the 14th they renewed their attack and it seemed that they would break through the line of artillery. Fortunately the few British tanks within Tobruk had come forward and were now poised to intervene. Rea Leakey was a tank commander with 1RTR:

Some forty German tanks were now clearly visible, and they were indeed busily engaged in destroying these guns. There would be nothing to stop them driving down to Tobruk harbour, only 3 miles away. We swung right into battle line.

I handed Milligan his cigarette, and told him to start shooting. There was no need for me to indicate the target to him. ‘Loaded,’ yelled Adams, and away went another solid shot, tearing at the thick enemy armour. The fumes of burning cordite made us cough, and our eyes water, and soon the turret was so thick with smoke that I could only just make out the figure of Adams as he loaded shell after shell into the breach. We were firing faster than ever before, and so were my other four cruiser tanks.

It must have been a minute before the Germans spotted us, and by then their tanks had received many hits from our shells. They appeared to panic, because they started to turn in all directions, many of them turned about and started moving back the way they had come.

But then they were on to us, and we could clearly see the flash of their guns. The tank to my left was hit several times, and ‘brewed up’. I saw some of the crew bale out. Then another of my valuable cruisers went up in flames, and there were only three of us left. I noticed one man of this crew dragging himself along the ground, badly wounded, and machine-gun bullets were hitting all round him. I felt I had to give him cover.

‘Driver advance, turn slightly left.’ My tank moved across to give this man protection. It was a stupid move, because by turning I presented the German tank gunners with a larger target, and they took full advantage of it. As we were turning back head-on to the enemy, the engine cut out, and we were left slightly ‘broadside on’. ‘She’s on fire, sir!’ shouted Adams, but he went on loading shells.

At the same moment Milligan’s head fell back against my knees, and looking down I saw that a shell had pierced the armour and removed most of his chest. He was dead. ‘Bale out,’ I yelled, and, as I pulled myself out of the turret, what few shells we had left in the turret started exploding, and the flames were already licking round my feet.

The German tanks were beaten off, and those that could retreated out of Tobruk. Read the whole account of the engagement in Leakey’s Luck: A Tank Commander with Nine Lives, in which he describes how bayonets were used to deal with the German infantry who didn’t surrender.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Editor April 15, 2011 at 8:31 am

@ Guillaume: the original caption suggests the turret was blown off. There was a discussion about this image at http://www.network54.com/Forum/47207/thread/1058678171/Mystery+Tobruk+Panzer++Picture

Chuck Halverson April 14, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Amazing post..It really makes you think of all the servicemen who served in tanks, the bravery involved and the horrible harm that happens to them when hit.

Currently reading Antony Beevors D-day book…..Its fantastic.

Guillaume April 14, 2011 at 12:40 pm

It seems to be more a Munitionspanzer or Bergepanzer IV (recovery tank) depicted. The turret was removed to make more room for shells, tools, etc. You can also see an unusual second bow’s MG-34.

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