20th June 1942: The British suffer a serious reverse as the port of Tobruk, famous for its stand in 1941, finally falls to the Germans
The British defence of Tobruk had gained attention around the world while it held out between April-November 1941. Rommel’s first advance towards Egypt had left the coastal enclave besieged, only being resupplied by sea. During that time it had been a stumbling block that prevented Rommel making a more concerted attack on the main British lines.
On the third attempt the British had managed to relieve Tobruk in November 1941 and it had been an important British supply port, behind their lines, since then.
As Rommel resumed his attacks towards Egypt in May-June 1942, many assumed that Tobruk would be defended as tenaciously as it had been in 1941.
Clifford Spencer1 was amongst the troops defending Tobruk on the 20th June 1942. The day started with a massive bombing attack on the perimeter as nearly 200 planes heralded the start of the German assault. The defences were not as well prepared as the previous year, many guns had been removed to establish the Gazala Line.
Perhaps more significantly the resolve to defend the port was missing at the highest levels. Within two hours the Panzers had broken through:
The 20th June
What a day, which I and many others will never forget.
6.30 a.m. gun 88 and M.Es started the battle for Tobruk, we already knew that we were surrounded but never gave it a thought that we would be captured.
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