In 1941 the siege of Tobruk had been a rallying cry for the Allied cause throughout the world. Now it was threatened again as Rommel’s forces swept back across the same territory that they had been pushed off in the Crusader campaign at the end of 1941. For many it seemed obvious that the port would once again be stoutly defended, to once again become a thorn in the side of the Afrika Korps.
But opinion was now divided in the British High Command about the value of retaining Tobruk. While it was being defended it was a major obstacle to Rommel moving further east and into Egypt. Yet it required a considerable diversion of resources just to keep supplied – many ships had been lost on the Tobruk run.
While politicians, not least Churchill recognised the symbolic value of Tobruk others considered that it was too costly to attempt to defend it again – better to have a consolidated defence line further east.
In the wake of the shock breakthrough of the Gazala Line the British were still arguing about the importance of holding Tobruk, resulting in confused and contradictory orders being sent to those on the ground. Rommel meanwhile had a very clear idea about what he wanted this time:
Mopping up of the area between Tobruk and Gambut was completed on 18th June and the necessary moves carried out to close in Tobruk.
An excellent piece of organisational work was now done in building up supplies for the assault. During our advance we had found some of the artillery depots and ammunition dumps, which we had been forced to abandon during the Cunningham offensive in 1941. They were still where we had left them, and were now put to good use.
The Afrika Korps moved into its new position on the afternoon of 19th June, while the 90th Light Division thrust east to take possession of British supply dumps between Bardia and Tobruk. The movement of this division was particularly important to increase still further British uncertainty about our true intentions.
In addition the Pavia Division and Littorio Armoured Division, units of which were just arriving, were to screen the attack on Tobruk to the west and south.
We had the impression that evening that our movements had only been partially and inaccurately observed by the enemy, and there was therefore every chance that our attack would achieve complete surprise.
Outside the fortress of Tobruk, there was no British armour of any consequence left in the Western Desert and we could therefore look forward with great hopes to the forthcoming enterprise.
In spite of the hard time we had been through, the army was on its toes and confident of victory. On the eve of the battle every man was keyed up and tense for attack.
See The Rommel Papers .