Siege Of Tobruk Memorial Honours Aussie Diggers' 'Courage And Endurance'

10/04/2016 2:26 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Tobruk, strategic Libyan port abandoned by the Nazis, was reoccupied by the British, Nov. 13, 1942. This photo shows Tobruk harbor and the city beyond, with fires burning, when it was previously captured by British forces early in 1941. British tanks wait in foreground. (AP Photo)

A handful of Australian World War II veterans who fought in the siege of Tobruk have been honoured in Canberra on the 75th anniversary of the battle.

The so-called "Rats of Tobruk" fought the Germans and Italians in the north African city for eight months in 1941, sheltering against the enemy in caves, tunnels and dugouts in the blistering Libyan Desert.

Around 14,000 Australian soldiers were involved in the siege, with 749 killed and nearly 2,000 wounded.

It became one of the best known events in WWII and was vital for the Allies' defence of Egypt and the Suez Canal.

Veterans Affairs Minister Dan Tehan said Sunday's memorial service was to acknowledge the courage and endurance of the men who defended Tobruk.

“The eight month-long siege of Tobruk is one of the Second World War’s best known events. Allied forces, two thirds of whom were Australian, held out in the scorching heat of the Libyan Desert against the German Afrika Korps," he said.

“The bravery of these men and the sailors who supported them stalled the enemy’s advance on Egypt and denied the Germans the use of Tobruk’s harbour."

The diggers' underground survival earned them the colourful nickname as "rats" -- a term coined by Nazi propagandists.

Many of the Allied force at Tobruk were Australian and they served with soldiers from Britain, India, New Zealand, South Africa, Czechoslovakia and Poland.

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