View Full Version : Passage from 'Tobruk' by Peter Fitzsimons

09-13-2006, 08:44 AM
I got this book for my birthday - absolute beauty, Pitzy's a great writer, he did Kokoda and the White Mouse (Nancy Wake). Anyway, here's part of it that made me rock with mirth.

So it was late on the afternoon of 10 April, the 2/24th's second day in Tobruk, an extremeley pukka British Artillery officer, a Captain, turned up on the front lines with his batman in tow, looking every inch the part of a great military commander surveying the forward defences. Thanks, no doubt, to the midnight labours of the batman, the shorts of the captain had a crease in them, the shirt was spotless, the boots were highly polished and the Sam Browne belt positively gleamed. To complete the look right down to the last 't', the Brit had a map case slapping against one thigh while against the oppoing hip rested his service revolved, attacked to a lanyard around his neck. (Seriously, he would have done an Italian officer proud.)
Which was fine for him but clearly, to his dismay, none of the Australians gave a flying f^ck. As Australians under Australian command, it was neither here nor there to them that a British officer had turned up. They had a serious job to do and were getting on with it.
Finally, however, the British chappie could bear it no longer and, stopping in front of one Differ who was going flat out and completely ignoring him, rather theatrically cleared his throat. When the Digger looked up, the captain spoke, and, in the yarn that would go right through the battalion over the next few days - and even be recalled decades later - their interaction proceeded along the following lines...
Pommy Captain, in the very plummy English public school voice of one who had always known he was just born to rule: 'I've heard you Orstralians are a most undisciplined lot, but surely you know enough to salute an officer?'
Whereupon the Digger straightens up, leans nonchalatantly on his shovel and coolly surveys the Pom. Then, without a ward, he turns his back to him, picks up his shirt, puts it on, does up the buttons, tucks his shirt into his shorts and turns bacak to the Captain, showing for the first time his epauletters - which signify, instead of a mere nameless Digger, the man in question is actually a Major.
The colour drains from the Englishman's face, before it all comes rushing back in a blush...and then drains again. To this point it had been simply inconceivable that one who carried so high a rank would be found doing something lowly as digging. But now the Australian speaks: 'As you can see, Captain, I am a Major. What is more, I am the Commanding Officer of these men, and let me tell you they don't salute me, never mind about you. Now, as I outrank you, stand to attention and salute'.
The British Captain, blushing once more, immediately snaps off a very smart saulte, whereupon the Major dismisses him with a very curt 'P!ss off.'
Which the Captain promptly does, trailed by the batman who, throughout, had stood like an Easter Island statue with only his ears flapping, not knowing whether to laugh or cry - or wet his pants as a compromise. The one thing that was certain was that he had never heard anything like it. The way these Australians did things was so different from the British way that it was sometimes bloomin' incomprehensable.
The Major? He took his shirt off again and went back to digging the trenches with his men.

Man, I even got another chuckle just writing that. What's another fascinating thing about the book in that in the information it tells, I have painted a very different point of view of Erwin Rommel. While I have pretty much thought - and been reinforced by previous examples in the book - Rommel was a gentleman, one of the few generals were anti-Nazi (and partipated in the attempt on Hitler's life), and above all, a great tactician.
However, his general plans for battles were simply 'Angriff!' (Attack!) For example, in the Easter Battle of 41 in Tobruk, he didn't spend any time with recon elements trying to determine Australian and British trenches and gun positions. He assumed that once his Panzers got through, the battle would be up (However, when the Panzers got through, the British guns let them get within about 500 yards before firing their 25 pounders over open sights, then surrounded the Panzers with Cruisers, Matildas and 2 pounders and absolutely slaughtered them). About 1000 Germans were put out of the fight in that battle, with about 300 dead, 700 wounded and 150 captured. Also, just before the battle a General was killed because Rommel ordered him to go to the front to get things moving. Allied losses were about 50 dead. I mean, this was just the sort of stuff you'd expect from a C & C noob, not a trained General!
Nevertheless, it's a great book, and I recommend anyone who can get their hands on it to do so!

09-13-2006, 12:06 PM
Bump from a Pom http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/25.gif

09-13-2006, 04:03 PM
Im a Brit but that is funny as hell, if I had been in the major's shoes I would have done the same thing.

09-13-2006, 04:18 PM
The spring assaults on Tobruk and the Australians were definitely not Rommel's finest hour. What happened basically was that he was taught that the Australians could not be thrashed, routed, and bullied like the disorganized French units he met in France and the first Commonwealth units he encountered in Africa. You can see why he gave the General Staff officers the horrors---he was not a very systematic general.

09-13-2006, 10:51 PM
Hey ranger
looks like tobruk is a good read, know where i can get it

btw ive got kokoda lol http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_smile.gif
and am walking the track next year http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_biggrin.gif

09-14-2006, 07:47 AM
Tobruk will be in any decent book shop, about $50 hard cover.

As for the Kokoda Track...you lucky bastard! http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_biggrin.gif Which company are you going with?