The Shrine of Remembrance, in partnership with the Institute of National Remembrance, Poland, presents a digital event honouring the enduring legacy of the Australian and Polish Rats of Tobruk.
Join Dr Mark Johnston, Professor Marek Wierzbicki and Lucyna Artymiuk as they discuss the shared experiences of the Australians and Poles in Tobruk. Hear how the friendships forged in a small, coastal town in northern Africa influenced Australia’s post-war migration policies.
Between April and November 1941, 14,000 Australians were besieged within the Libyan fortress of Tobruk by a powerful Italo-German army. Ordered to deny Tobruk to the enemy for eight weeks, the men held out for five months. Pro-Nazi propagandist and broadcaster Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce) described the defenders as ‘rats’ – an insult which they adopted as a badge of honour.
Exhausted, the Australian troops were progressively withdrawn from Tobruk between August and November 1941. Other troops including the Carpathian Brigade, comprising soldiers who had escaped Poland after its conquest by the Nazis and Soviets in 1939, relieved them.
It was the Poles who finally ended the siege when they captured Acroma and linked up with the British 8th Army. In recognition of this feat, the Australians shared with the Poles their most venerated title. Henceforth, the Poles too would be ‘Rats of Tobruk’.
Between 1947 and 1948, Australian veterans of Tobruk helped sponsor the migration of 1,500 Polish soldiers to Australia when it became impossible for these men to return to their homeland, due to Soviet occupation.
Watch the live stream here
Presented in partnership with the Institute of National Remembrance.
Reviewed 15 November 2021