Watching the ‘fireworks’ over Tobruk

A British anti aircraft gun crew in Tobruk using a captured Italian Breda 20mm gun.

Geoffrey Nowland was with the 9th Australian Division besieged in Tobruk. His diary paints a broad picture of the privations and daily life within the garrison, as well as some of the battles:

31st July 1941

Last night I witnessed the most spectacular fireworks display I have yet seen. It was Tobruk’s elaborate reception to the enemy bombers that visited us and duly departed, rather hurriedly, after depositing their contributions to the show.

Thousand pound bombs and big ack’ack’ guns with accompanying loud bangs, did their best to rival an outback Aussie thunderstorm; while long inquisitive fingers of light from the searchlight batteries wove fantastic mathematical designs against the clear sky. Order amongst chaos!

Smaller guns filled the heavens with multi-coloured tracers that must have given the raiders the jitters, but that was to us an impressive, heartening sight. Occasionally a thin silver stream of tracers would strangely flow down against the luminous tide, as some optimistic invisible raider dared to pit his guns against the formidable ground defences.

These displays are naturally best appreciated from a distance, where descending flak and shrapnel are the chief hazard, but in any case where heavy bombs are likely to be dropped there is usually an adequate shelter; which is just as well, because in Tobruk are to be seen reinforced concrete walls two feet thick, caved in as though they were matchwood, under the impact of a heavy bomb.

See Kenneth Rankin, Editor Lest We Forget : Fifty Years On

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