Relief of Tobruk

This subsidiary Engagement was an unsuccessful attempt by the 7th Armoured Division, and 11th Indian Brigade, to overcome the enemy’s position in the vicinity of El Gubi.

The Honour has been awarded to the 8th Hussars.


Once again the 8th Hussars was very heavily involved in the relief of Tobruk that was an element of the Eighth Army’s ‘Operation Crusader’.

Tobruk was the only deepwater port in Eastern Libya and as a consequence, it had been heavily fortified by its former Italian garrison. The capture of Tobruk was essential for an advance on Alexandria and Suez.

In April 1941, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel made its capture the main objective of his first offensive in North Africa. British forces in Libya’s eastern coastal region of Cyrenaica were caught completely by surprise and retreated several hundred miles across the desert towards Tobruk.

Realising that he had a chance to capture Tobruk before the Allies had time to organise a defence, Rommel pushed forward. The 9th Australian Division, supported by British tanks and artillery, repulsed initial German assaults on 10-14 April 1941, and even when the fresh 15th Panzer Division was committed to the attack on 30 April, the defenders held on.

Under siege, the defenders had to adjust to life in stifling heat, under constant artillery and air bombardment. Supplies of food and water decreased, and the troops were plagued by flies, fleas and illness. Nevertheless, morale remained high – the Australians adopting the ironic nickname ‘The Rats of Tobruk’, in response to reports that Nazi radio propagandist ‘Lord Haw Haw’ had described them as being caught ‘like rats in a trap’ in one of his broadcasts.

The siege was lifted on the 10th of December 1941.

Related topics

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  2. Middle East (Egypt and Libya) timeline
  3. Vickers-Armstrong Mk VIB light tank