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Thread: Tobruk, WWII and now

  1. #1
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    Default Tobruk, WWII and now

    I saw the name Tobruk on CNN just now, in the context of Gadhafi's Last Stand.

    My father's generation liberated what was termed the Western Desert from the German Nazis during the Second World War. Tobruk was, like (El) Alamein, surely one of the big battles of the struggle against Nazism that was being waged, not by the Russians, but by the Brits, Americans and other Allies, many of them English-speaking.

    I learnt the names Tripolitania and Cyranaeca from my father and, like all teenagers, didn't take that much notice of dad's WWII stories. But now he has been dead for twenty years, all those names are in the news again.

    What on Earth was the point of British and other Allied troops sacrificing their lives against the German Nazis, when the country then became a dictatorship run by a madman, to whom the Brits have been cosying up to for oil?

    *

    Incidentally, my father's generation of WWII British veterans respected Rommel, and indeed he was forced to kill himself if I remember rightly, as the war was gradually lost.

    If you don't know who Rommel was, shame on you. Your history teachers have been skimping again.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Tobruk, WWII and now

    P.S.

    Colonel Gadhafi said, according to the Daily Telegraph:

    16.19 Gaddafi says he has not used force yet but will do if needed. Surprising given the reports of mass casualties. Here are some extracts from his speech:
    I will fight to the last drop of my blood. The Libyan people are with me. Capture the rats

    15.59 Gaddafi:"Those bunch of rats and cats they have been paid to disfigure and tarnish the reputation of our country. I'm not going to leave this land . I am going to die here and die here as a martyr."
    One thing the eldricht loon has forgotten to mention was that he has had his job thanks to British 7th Armoured Division, nicknamed The Desert Rats. Otherwise his fatherland would have been a German colony. Fair's fair, Colonel.

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    Default Re: Tobruk, WWII and now

    A few minutes ago on the Radio Four Today programme John Humphrys was interviewing David Owen, the well-known former foreign secretary, and Sir Jeremy Greenstock, a former ambassador. Owen was fuming about what a tyrant Gaddafi was and how the Americans should take him out; Greenstock seemed to be trying to win a medal for bland diplomacy, murmuring about how oppressed peoples all over the world were making their own revolutions these days.

    Mind you, it's easy to be an armchair general from the safety of the House of Lords (Owen), and Greenstock would no doubt have the horror and carnage of the Iraq invasion and its aftermath in the forefront of his mind.

    After that item, Evan Davies carried out a most harrowing interview with a Scottish oilman trapped with hundreds of other Brits and Germans and other nationalities in the Libyan desert, where armed tribesmen were attacking them and stealing all their transport and food. They had tried using their mobile phones, while they still had them, to alert the British embassy as to what was going on, and you can imagine what the response was.

    The only time the British Foreign Office will get off its arse and help a British national in trouble abroad is when it's somebody like Mark Thatcher - who also got stuck in an African desert - and then it's no expense spared.

    Harry

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    Default Re: Tobruk, WWII and now

    Things haven't changed much since World War Two. Now you mention the tribesmen stealing transport, that is evidently exactly what people did in the Western Desert. I think it was the Germans who stole the Italians' vehicles when retreating, if I remember my dad's story rightly, not the other way round as legend would have it, regarding courage and Italians.

    As for the smooth-talking Greenstock, although he's a bit smarmy, the thought did cross my mind that he, with covert diplomacy, may have done a greater service to the country than those blusterers who always want to be right. That used to happen before WikiFreaks and Lasagna came along, clothed in the righteousness of hypocrisy, ruining chances of quiet diplomacy and turning information exchange into leaks and the work of semi-criminal and semi-adolescent hackers, plus the odd treacherous private in the military.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Tobruk, WWII and now

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    I saw the name Tobruk on CNN just now, in the context of Gadhafi's Last Stand.

    My father's generation liberated what was termed the Western Desert from the German Nazis during the Second World War. Tobruk was, like (El) Alamein, surely one of the big battles of the struggle against Nazism that was being waged, not by the Russians, but by the Brits, Americans and other Allies, many of them English-speaking.

    I learnt the names Tripolitania and Cyranaeca from my father and, like all teenagers, didn't take that much notice of dad's WWII stories. But now he has been dead for twenty years, all those names are in the news again.

    What on Earth was the point of British and other Allied troops sacrificing their lives against the German Nazis, when the country then became a dictatorship run by a madman, to whom the Brits have been cosying up to for oil?

    *

    Incidentally, my father's generation of WWII British veterans respected Rommel, and indeed he was forced to kill himself if I remember rightly, as the war was gradually lost.

    If you don't know who Rommel was, shame on you. Your history teachers have been skimping again.
    When I worked at Edinburgh University, my boss for several years was Dr. Jim Stevenson, a veteran of the 8th Army. Jim told me once that he just missed the Battle of El Alamein by accepting a teaching post at the University of Alexandria. That made me think of Guy Pringle, the central character in Olivia Manning's Balkan Trilogy, who is doggedly trying to fly the flag for British culture in Romania at the beginning of WWII while Europe collapses around him.

    Our "servitor", the Edinburgh University term for a porter/doorman, was also a veteran of the tank battles in the Western Desert. So was Jim Stevenson's good friend Sorley MacLean, the Gaelic poet. So was Hamish Henderson, the poet and folklore scholar, who occupied a room on the floor above us. I used to see Hamish every day, toiling up the stairs to his top-floor room. With his battered old hat on the back of his head, and his shirt open to the waist showing off his vest, he looked far from military, but during the war he served as a captain in the British Army, interrogating captured German and Italian officers, and eventually fighting with the Italian partisans in the mountains, and he was the man who personally accepted the surrender of all Italian forces in Italy from Marshal Graziani. He kept that piece of paper in his pocket for the rest of his life. His poems Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica are regarded as among the best of WWII poetry.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamish_Henderson

    My male relatives were all in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, and I had an aunt who was a petty office in the Wrens in charge of a squad of women packing parachutes for the Fleet Air Arm. I never thought I had any relatives in the Middle East conflict, but have recently discovered a cousin of one of my grannies who was a Company Quartermaster Serjeant [sic] in the Pioneer Corps and who was killed in Libya in 1942. I've seen his headstone online on the Commonwealth Graves Site.

    My wife had a grandfather who was in Egypt in WWI and she'd like to know more about that. Her dad was a bomber pilot in the RAF, and was the sole survivor of the bunch of young men he trained with.

    My eldest sister's husband had just done his National Service when the Suez crisis occurred (1956?), and as a reservist he was called up to go out there. They had to delay their wedding. He didn't talk about it much when he came back, but in his final illness, when they had him pumped full of drugs in hospital, he was raving about things he had seen out there.

    All of which has made me glad to be born when I was, a spoilt baby-boomer.

    Harry
    Last edited by hdw; 23-Feb-2011 at 16:03.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Tobruk, WWII and now

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    I saw the name Tobruk on CNN just now, in the context of Gadhafi's Last Stand.

    My father's generation liberated what was termed the Western Desert from the German Nazis during the Second World War. Tobruk was, like (El) Alamein, surely one of the big battles of the struggle against Nazism that was being waged, not by the Russians, but by the Brits, Americans and other Allies, many of them English-speaking.

    I learnt the names Tripolitania and Cyranaeca from my father and, like all teenagers, didn't take that much notice of dad's WWII stories. But now he has been dead for twenty years, all those names are in the news again.

    What on Earth was the point of British and other Allied troops sacrificing their lives against the German Nazis, when the country then became a dictatorship run by a madman, to whom the Brits have been cosying up to for oil?

    *

    Incidentally, my father's generation of WWII British veterans respected Rommel, and indeed he was forced to kill himself if I remember rightly, as the war was gradually lost.

    If you don't know who Rommel was, shame on you. Your history teachers have been skimping again.
    When I worked at Edinburgh University, my boss for several years was Dr. Jim Stevenson, a veteran of the 8th Army. Jim told me once that he just missed the Battle of El Alamein by accepting a teaching post at the University of Alexandria. That made me think of Guy Pringle, the central character in Olivia Manning's Balkan Trilogy, who is doggedly trying to fly the flag for British culture in Romania at the beginning of WWII while Europe collapses around him.

    Our "servitor", the Edinburgh University term for a porter/doorman, was also a veteran of the tank battles in the Western Desert. So was Jim Stevenson's good friend Sorley MacLean, the Gaelic poet. So was Hamish Henderson, the poet and folklore scholar, who occupied a room on the floor above us. I used to see Hamish every day, toiling up the stairs to his top-floor room. With his battered old hat on the back of his head, and his shirt open to the waist showing off his vest, he looked far from military, but during the war he served as a captain in the British Army, interrogating captured German and Italian officers, and eventually fighting with the Italian partisans in the mountains, and he was the man who personally accepted the surrender of all Italian forces in Italy from Marshal Graziani. He kept that piece of paper in his pocket for the rest of his life. His poems Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica are regarded as among the best of WWII poetry.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamish_Henderson

    My male relatives were all in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, and I had an aunt who was a petty office in the Wrens in charge of a squad of women packing parachutes for the Fleet Air Arm. I never thought I had any relatives in the Middle East conflict, but have recently discovered a cousin of one of my grannies who was a Company Quartermaster Serjeant [sic] in the Pioneer Corps and who was killed in Libya in 1942. I've seen his headstone online on the Commonwealth Graves Site.

    My wife had a grandfather who was in Egypt in WWI and she'd like to know more about that. Her dad was a bomber pilot in the RAF, and was the sole survivor of the bunch of young men he trained with.

    My eldest sister's husband had just done his National Service when the Suez crisis occurred (1956?), and as a reservist he was called up to go out there. They had to delay their wedding. He didn't talk about it much when he came back, but in his final illness, when they had him pumped full of drugs in hospital, he was raving about things he had seen out there.

    All of which has made me glad to be born when I was, a spoilt baby-boomer.

    Harry
    Last edited by hdw; 23-Feb-2011 at 16:02.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Tobruk, WWII and now

    I'm translating a bit more Revelli at the moment. Here's testimony from a peasant who went to Cyrenaica in 1912:

    We debarked in Benghazi—there was no port, and my ship stopped a long way from shore. We put the horses on scows, and in the turmoil my watch fell into the sea. I fished it out, but it no longer worked very well.

    On the square in Benghazi was a heap of salt as high as our cathedral—there were salt pans there, and a lot of women, tüte fumnase [all sluts] black, with foul mouths, filthy. They even gave off the smell of wild animals, and they were disgusting to look at, but then we got used to them. Oh, they were warm—it was like putting a small nail in an oven… Eh, there was the danger of disease. A warrant officer, ’n maraman from Grosseto, a Tuscan, was a blasphemer—every day in his hut he had himself one of those women.

    Our base was in Benghazi; we guarded the Bedouins. We went out to mop up—it was like here when the Germans went out to pick up the partisans. We set out on foot in a column. We burned all the barley stores in the country, swept up ewes and rams—oh, all the mutton we were always eating. We wanted to make the Bedouins lose, oh pütan. All of Cyrenaica is under the command of General Amerio, and Cantore was a major general in the Alpini—it was always Cantore who commanded the mop-up columns. We fired—damn it; opening fire wasn’t prohibited.

    Eh, the first time I didn’t go out on the round-up because my horse had a leg wound that wouldn’t heal. I later sold him to a coachman in Modena—he was a good racehorse I had grown fond of.

    The second time we were on horseback and the askaris on foot, and we had a little artillery with us, too. There was the Arab band, more than two hundred Arabs with their horses. We went out into the desert—all the wells were poisoned. We suffered terribly from thirst. At night, we put our mess tins outside our tents: the dew fell drop by drop and we scraped together a mess tin of water. To eat we got only dried food, canned food. You could say that there was fighting with dead and wounded every day. The askaris killed everybody, women and i masnaiun [children]. They used Abyssinian sabers to do their killing. “But he’s a child,” we said to the askaris. “He grow up, become Bedouin like others, and make more Bedouins.” The women wore jewels all over their arms and neck, pöi pà roba ’d valüta [cheap trinkets]; it was made of tin. The ascaris had rucksacks full of that stuff. Eh, the askaris had mercy on nothing. And how quick they were to grab the finest lambs in a herd! The planted their sabers in the back of the lambs and had them skinned in an instant. The Bedouins were armed with Mausers that fired long bullets. They were dressed in rags, with those baracana that covered them a bit. […]. General Amerio tamed the Bedouins! I know they had two or three Bedouins hanged—first they made them dig their graves. Rumor had it that Amerio had already been in Africa and that he’d been ’nciastralu, castrated, by the women. And yet he got married when he went back to Italy.

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