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Tobruk On The Screen May Raise "A Bit Of A Howl" . Stage Notes . Records
Witt Startle A.I.F.
HOLLYWOOD has just finished filming "The Desert Rats," which sets out to honour the Australian Ninth Division and its role at Tobruk. But it is a fictional story which seems likely to arouse fierce criticism in both
Australia and Britain.
DESPITE expert ad-
vice, and the presence in the cast of a number of Australians, the film apparently will contain many minor in- accuracies, and at least some serious distortion of the role of key troops.
One of the Australian actors, "Chips" Rafferty, said dubiously in New York last
"It's up to the boys of the
Ninth Division. I'm not going to pass judgment until 1 hear what they have to say when it is shown in Australia.
"But to tell the truth, I think there's going to be a bit of a howl."
Rafferty takes the impor- tant role of Sergeant "Blue" Smith in the film.
Another Australian actor, Charles Tingwell, now back in Sydney, also had some doubts. He said the Ameri- cans had gone to great trouble but some of the Australian objections had been over- ruled.
Other Australians in the film are Michael Pate and John O'Malley.
Robert Newton, Richard Burton and James Mason are the leading players.
Twentieth - Century Fox, who made the film, sent tech- nicians into the sand dunes of Southern California, 200
miles south-east of Hollywood,! to build part of the outer de- fences of Tobruk, complete with dugouts, trenches, re- doubts, and mortar and machine-gun emplacements.
The terrain is familiar to Fox technicians.
Here last year they built
desert roads and redoubts for Nazi General Rommel's tanks and armour for "The Desert
Fox," starring James Mason,I
which was criticised in some quarters in Britain, Australia and the United States for glorifying a Nazi General.
'The Desert Rats" is Holly- wood's attempt to build up the Ninth Division to placate the anti-Rommel critics.
To do that it has provided a highly coloured fictional story of the domestic affairs
and practical operations of one Australian company.
The whole battle for Tobruk is crystallised in the operations of this one "green"
And the Australians are depicted in Canadian Army uniforms and South African hats. i
(In New York, "Chips" Rafferty said: "I tried to have Fox use Austra- lian uniforms, but I didn't do any good.")
Twentieth Century Fox ad- mits the exploits of the com- pany are fictional, but claims
its treatment of the defence of Tobruk itself is historically
It says it used reports by an Australian correspondent, Alan Moorchead, as a source of much of the factual in- formation.
Some of the background scenes are from the documen- tary "Desert Victory."
Some of the establishing shots will be recognised as coming from the Rommel film 'The Desert Fox." James Mason again plays Rommel, but this time he speaks Ger- man, or English with a heavy German accent. He wears the same uniform, drives the
[same car, and has the same
officers surrounding him as in "The Desert Fox."
An Englishman now in the Canadian Army, Lieutenant George Aclund, who took part in the defence of Tobruk, assisted the producer, Robert Jacks, as technical adviser.
The writer of the screen-
play, Richard Murphy, served
in New Guinea with the U.S. Army and got to know some of the Australians fighting
("Chips" Rafferty said: "The script was full of Cockney idiom. 1 was invited to look over it a week before shoot- ing began, and managed to get some of it changed into Australian slang."
The General Has A Plan
The General in command of the Ninth Division (played by Robert Douglas) is not named in the story, but Australians will be able to identify him with ^.ieulenant-General Mors-
The story shows Rommel's drive towards Egypt.
Australian infantry in action-a battle scene from "The Desert Rats."
James Mason as Rommel studies the map of North Africa.
But at Tobruk the Aus- tralians are dug in.
The Australian General holds a briefing at which he orders minefields and outer defences to be strengthened. He startles his staff by telling them that he intends to expose the blitzkrieg for what it is, in his opinion, a highly limited
His battle plan is to allow
Rommel's tanks to enter
thiough the logical point in the perimeter defences of Tobruk, then to destroy them at point-blank range with artillery in the inner defence area, and contain the attack- ing force with infantry.
(Charles Tingwell said: "To my knowledge there was no such plan to let the Germans in through the outer defences. But whenever difficul- ties of that sort were mentioned the Holly- wood experts claimed to be working on a script based on the actual battle plans of the campaign.")
No Military Discipline
A company of Australian reinforcements arrives. It in- cludes Sergeant "Blue" Smith ("Chips" Rafferty), Barlett (Robert Newton) and Lieuten- ant Carstairs (Chai les Ting well).
They are met at the dock by Captain Tammy Mac Roberts (Richard Burton), a British officer, who is riled with the lack of miltary dis- cipline among the new com- pany, and suggests to the officer in charge. Captain Currie (Michael Pate), that they move out in combat inter-
(In New York, "Chips" Rafferty explained: "There's one scene in which the sergeant - myself-refuses to obey the colonel's order, while two lieutenants
MacRoberts (second from left) at the General's briefing before the battle.
I stand idly by. That
will raise some Ninth Division eyebrows.")
' It is revealed that Bartlett
was MacRoberts's school- master in Britain. Sacked for chronic drunkenness, Bartlett went to Australia to try his luck. On the day war was de- clared he "./as in a pub, and enlisted on a wave of beer suds.
MacRoberts gets the new company into combat position on the perimeter, inspects trenches, dugouts and camou- flage and finds that his sug- gestions-and orders-are not
Rommel attacks in a sand- storm. The battle proceeds according to the Australian general's plan.
First veering from the anticipated point of attack, Rommel's armour swings in sharply and is allowed to go through until the Australian artillery, using captured Italian guns, blasts the tanks at point-blank range.
The newly arrived infantry.
holding a hill flanked by ex- perienced troops, acquit them- selves magnificently under their baptism of fire. In hand to-hand combat, using bayonets, the Australians hold their positions, and the Ger- mans retreat in disorder.
The General promotes Mac Roberts to Lieutenant-Colonel and gives him command of the Australian battalion over Australian officers.
The General says: "I'm giv- ing you the battalion-you'll have three Australian com- panies. 1 don't like the dis- patches on our magnificent de- fence. Defence is a state of mind."
Then an Australian Intelli- gence officer extracts from a prisoner information that Rommel now has long-range guns. He also learns the loca- tion of a vital ammunition dump, underground, beyond range of Australian artillery.
and impervious to air bom- bardment.
Disguised as Italians, com- mandos from Tobruk male their way through the Ger- man lines and destroy the underground dump.
MacRoberts and others m the raid are captured but dur- ing a British air-strafing man- age to escape.
For months, Rommel tries to smash Tobruk, using his Luftwaffe, his Panzer bat- talions, his aitillery.
Then the British break out of Egypt, and smash Rommel back through Cyrenaica. On November 17, the defenders of Tobruk are called on for their last and most desperale effort. They are asked to hold a hill called El Duda com- manding the junction of the road down which the British are battling and the road into the harbour of Tobruk b/ which vitally needed ammu- nition and petrol can be sup- plied.
They hold it, and after 242 days the siege, of Tobruk ii
Tobruk Leaders Caustic
. And here are the opinions of th e two Australians who should know belter than anyone else just what did happen at Tobruk.
IN Sydney last week
Major-General W. J. V. Windeyer, who is presi- dent of the Ninth Division Council (N.S.W.) which re- presents the various regi-
mental associations of former Ninth Division units in New South Wales, said:
"1 have only read descrip- tions of the film. I have not seen it. From the 'description it appears to be a Hollywood distortion of history which will be disappointing to those of us who have proud memories of Tobruk and of the men who died there. It is a pity a worth-while picture could not have been made."
who commanded a battalion of the Ninth Division during the siege of Tobruk and later served throughout the war as an infantry brigadier with thal
division, went on:
"The film is said to honour the Ninth Division and its role at Tobruk. All members of the division will, however, hope it is made very clear that the garrison on Tobruk consisted not only of the Ninth
"The garrison was never purely Australian, nor were all the Australian units strictly part of the Ninth Division, al- though for the time being they were under command of that formation. During the whole of the siege British troops made up a great part of the force, and there were also, at various times, a Polish brigade and an Indian regiment.
"The Australian infantry can perhaps fairly claim the greatest share of honour, but they would not have suc- ceeded without the grand support of the Royal North- umberland Fusiliers, the British artillery, and other supporting arms.
"By the time the siege was raised in December, 1941, all the Australians except one battalion (2/13th) had been
relieved by fresh British units and by Poles, who came in by sea during the months of Sep- tember and October. It is therefore not strictly correct to say that the Australian troops held the fortress for 242 days.
"As for the details of the film as described to me, the Australian general in com- mand is not named, but the men who served under Gene- ral Morshead and who have a great respect for his resolute leadership will expect that his actions, orders, and remarks will not be unreal and absurd as in parts they seem to have been made.
Garrison Should Stand Firm
"General Morshead ' never planned to let Rommel's tanks in. All his plans were through- out based on a simple deter- mination that the garrison shoul ' stand firm and by offensive patrolling actively harass the enemy. If any- where a penetration was made through our line by enemy tanks they would be dealt with by guns and minefields sited in depth in accordance with normal defensive practice; and the infantry posts were to stand firm and deal with enemy infantry seeking to
follow the tanks.
"The various parts of the line in Tobruk were manned from the outset by formed units under their own com- manders. Australian officers and non-commissioned officers were not incompetent. Aus- tralian troops were inexper- ienced, but not undisciplined. If they had been, they could not have held Tobruk.
"The account of the pene- tration by enemy tanks ap- pears to be a Hollywood ver- sion of the Easter battle, April, 1941. But it bears no
real resemblance to what oc- curred or to the reality of war. The tanks wcic not 'allowed' to go through. They simply went on (there being no minefields at that place lo prevent them) until they wet« stopped by the 25-poundcrs of the British Royal Horse Artil-
lery shooting over open sights'
in the early dawn.
"No British officer was ever
placed in command of an Aus- tralian battalion in Tobruk, What, incidentally, had hap- pened to the battalion com-
"As for the story of the raid on the ammunition dump, it is plain nonsense. The ver- sion of the relief is unreal.
"It is a pity that the Aus- tralian Army should have lo suffer from 'tributes' like this,
and that Hollywood has not. even dressed Australians as Australians, or made them talk like Australians."
Morshead: "Not Th» Tobruk I Knew''
Sir Leslie Morshead, who has been in Melbourne, said on his return to Sydney lal« last week: .
"I have just very hurriedly scanned through 'The Sunday Herald's' report of "The Desert Rats' film.
"There are so many un- realities, absurd inaccuracies and distortions that I can on y
say this: The story is wholly foreign to the Tobruk I kne«, and to its force which corn
prised almost as many gal- lant, purposeful British troops as those of the Ninth Divi- sion, all of whom 1 had th! honour to command.
"I fully agree with au Major-General Windeyer has said, but I should welcome
an opportunity to examiw, fully the information avail- able about this film belo« offering my own comment, and time does not permit tai
before you go to press." ïj