Tag Archives: Sailors captured at Tobruk 22.1.41

Memories from Tobruk

Antonino Lumia

Antonino was captured at Tobruk 22nd January 1941. His grandson Damiano Lumia recorded his nonno’s memories. Listen to Antonino as he tells us his story: A Voice from the Past

Emanuele Favoloro

In 1940, Emanuele was sent to Tobruk. “I was a sailor on a small boat that was used to ferry goods between ships on the harbour… I recall as soon as we reached the harbour, one midnight, the bombing began.  This bombing was to last nine months… The constant booms of the bombs drove us half crazy.

23rd January 1941 TOBRUK – THESE AUSTRALIANS ARE TAKEN BESIDE A WALL WHICH SHOWS DAMAGE CAUSED BY THE INTENSE BARRAGE FROM BRITISH FORCES PENETRATING THE ITALIAN DEFENCES. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

There were six ships in the harbour that night… the Liguria (passenger ship), the Serenitas (carrying cement), the Manzoni (carrying mechanics) and the Serenco (carrying wood). I’ve forgotten the other two.

23rd January 1941 TOBRUK – THE “SERENTATIS” ANOTHER ITALIAN SHIP SCUPPERED, A TRICK THAT THE ITALIANS SEEM TO HAVE LEARNT FROM THEIR AXIS FRIENDS. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

… Our role in Tobruk Harbour was to supply goods to all the Italian soldiers, Navy and Air Force…

My worst memory is the night before I was taken P.O.W. by the Australian soldiers. Our Commanders ordered us to destroy everything in Tobruk Harbour… The generals took the attitude, ‘The enemy must not have any of our goods,’ but in doing this they condemned their own men to death by starvation.

Tobruk was captured the next day. We had to destroy even the ships that were half sunk. Even the Italian cruiser, the San Giorgio was destroyed by us.

23rd January 1941 TOBRUK – ITALIAN PRISONERS LEAVING THE TOWN ON FOOT. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

That evening we found the Aussies waiting.  They greeted us with ‘hands up! Come down to the wharf!’.  They took us to an open area and we were surrounded.  They put us in a line and made us walk twelve kilometres to the operation field.  We had no food or drink…

23rd January 1941 TOBRUK – MOST OF THE ITALIANS CARRY POCKETSFUL OF GRENADES AND IT IS THEREFORE NECESSARY TO SEARCH PRISONERS FOR THESE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. NOT ONLY BECAUSE OF POSSIBLE TREACHERY BUT THEY FORGET THEY ARE CARRYING THEM ABOUT AND SOMETIMES THIS FORGETFULNESS IS DANGEROUS. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

I remember one night they [Germans] bombed us.  The Germans our friends, thought we were the enemy.  About two hundred and eighty-one Italians died that night.

After one week, the Aussie solders took about one thousand people and took us to the harbour of Tobruk again.  There was an Egyptian ship called Solum, and we went on board.  The ship sailed us to Egypt…Alexandria… when we neared Bardia, we saw three planes.. and they threw bombs at us. When the ship was hit by a bomb, the Captain tried to take the ship to shore. Being a fisherman, I knew how to swim. Many men drowned…. The trucks came to rescue us and took us to Alexandria in Egypt. My biggest horror from the war is the starvation and lack of water plus the horror of the deaths.  Here we were given a loaf of bread for tomorrow…. We had plenty of water. We got given five cigarettes and I sold my cigarettes for more bread. From Alessandria I was taken to Quassassin Camp.  We worked carrying light poles and then we were shipped to Suez… I was sent to Zonderwater (near a mining town). I worked as a kitchen hand for two years.” (from Boccia Cesarin-An Historial Link – Italy – Australia by Cesare Romane Stefanate)

Manlio Sulis

Manlio Sulis was at Tobruk and his son Giovanni Sulis provides insightful details about Tobruk and the journey: Tobruk -Sollum – Alexandria – Geneifia Camp 306 – Zonderwater

Battaglia di Tobruk

Tobruk-Zonderwater

Luigi Bortolotti

Luigi Bortolotti was an infantry sergeant who was captured on 21st January 1941 at Tobruk. His diary of 300 pages details his journey from ‘the sad day of my capture to that longed-for day of my release.’

Desmond O’Connor used Luigi’s diary to write: From Tobruk to Clare: the experiences of the Italian prisoners of war Luigi Bortolotti 1941-1946.

Luigi’s journey: Tobruk–Alessandria-Ismailia-Suez-Hay includes detailed sketches of Campo 9 Ismalia, Campo 2 Suez and Campo 7 Hay.

Naval Command Surrenders Tobruk

Click to watch images of Tobruk: British Pathe film footage

On 22nd January 1941, Tobruk capitulated to the Allies.

22nd January 1941 AN AERIAL VIEW OF TOBRUK, AFTER THE ITALIAN GARRISON HAD SURRENDERED. SHOWN, BLACK SMOKE ROLLING FROM BURNING OIL TANKS BEYOND WHICH, IN THE HARBOUR, THE ITALIAN CRUISER SAN GIORGIO IS ON FIRE.

General Enrico Pitassi Manella: Commander of Tobruk; General Umberto Barberis: Commander of Easter Section; General Vincenzo della Mura: Commander of Western Sector and General Adolfo de Leone: Chief of Staff XXII Corps surrendered in the field.

Commander of the Navy at Tobruk Garrison, Rear Admiral Massimillian Vietina surrendered his 1500 strong naval contingent to General Robertson and Lieutenant Hennessy. Through an interpreter, Vietina was asked where the Commander of the Army at the Tobruk Garrison was. It was reported  ‘the military commander of Toburk fortress had escaped by schooner.’

The town of Tobruk and naval headquarters was surrendered by Vietina.

22nd January 1941 View across the harbour of the town. Note the clouds of smoke from the bombed oil tankers and the cruiser San Giorgio. Members of 2/2nd Battalion camped later just past the area of bombardment. `B’ Company guarded the wharf with the crane and were bombed every night and morning. The Hotel Tobruk can be seen on the left.

22nd January 1941 A motor cyclist rides along the exit road of the wharf area beside the harbour where members of 2/2nd Battalion were stationed. Note the remains of the destroyed jetties and sunken Italian shipping in the background.

Below Navy Headquarters was a complex of deep underground shelters and passageways which had been concreted and fitted with electricity. Stairs descended about 60 – 70 feet underground.

About 500 marines appeared from these mazes of corridors and spilled out into the courtyard.

31st January 1941 TOBRUK – FOUR NAVAL RATINGS FROM THE ITALIAN SHIP SAN GIORGIO, CAPTURED DURING THE ACTION. (Photographer: James Francis Hurley)

The township of Tobruk was said to be a pleasant place of white brick and plaster buildings with services to accommodate a garrison of 10,000 or more men. After the surrender of Tobruk, the church was said to be the only building to escape major damage.  The church can be seen in the photo below.

23rd January 1941 TOBRUK – VIEW FROM THE VERANDAH OF A HOUSE IN TOBRUK SHOWING THE CHURCH – THE ONLY UNDAMAGED BUILDING IN THE TOWN AFTER THE BRITISH ATTACK. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

23rd January 1941 TOBRUK – AUSTRALIANS TEAR DOWN THE ITALIAN FLAG AFTER THEY HAVE PENETRATED THE ITALIAN DEFENCES AND ENTERED THE TOWN. Notice the fasces: symbols of fascism adorning the columns. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

The harbour had been damaged, but the Allied forces had it in running order within three days. One jetty was largely undamaged, and the flotilla of schooners, pontoons and launches were also in good order.

23rd January 1941 TOBRUK – ITALIAN MERCHANT SHIPS CAUGHT IN TOBRUK HARBOUR. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

TOBRUK – ITALIAN AIRCRAFT FLEW OVER THE ITALIAN CAMPS & DROPPED LEAFLETS EXHORTING THE BESIEGED TROOPS TO HANG ON FOR THE ASSISTANCE THAT WAS SURELY COMING. HERE AN ITALIAN OFFICER TRANSLATES THE LEAFLET FOR ALLEN ANDERSON OF THE PHOTOGRAPHIC UNIT. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

The Merchant ships Marco Polo and Liguria had been rendered worthless.

23rd January 1941 Tobruk Harbour, Libya. The Italian Merchant vessel Marco scuppered before the Italians surrounded the town. (Photographer: Frank Hurley)

5th September 1941 Two of the wrecks in Tobruk Harbour. The larger vessel is the Italian troopship “Liguria” and the smaller is the “Bankura” a Navy Army Air Force Institute (NAAFI) supply ship. (Photographer: Thomas Fisher)

The old cruiser, San Giorgio was seaworthy and had been used since June 1940 to supplement the anti-aircraft defences of Tobruk claiming 47 enemy aircraft. In January 1941 the San Giorgio was used as off-shore artillery with its guns pounding the Tobruk attackers.  At 4.15 am on the 22nd January 1941, the San Giorgio was scuttled by her captain Stefano Pugliese.

c. 22nd January 1941 The Italian Coast Defence Ship (former armoured cruiser), San Giorgio, scuttled and burning after attacks by Naval Aircraft and RAF bombers at Tobruk, June – January 1941. Note the anti-torpedo nets around the wreck.

Inspection of the San Giorgio’s torpedo nets after the fall of Tobruk, revealed that as many as 39 torpedoes had become stuck in the nets during her service in Tobruk.

Another ship in Tobruk harbour was RN Alberga/Albernga. Both Francesco Riva from Galbiate Como and Renzo Menicucci from Livorno served on this boat. Possibly the ship’s name has been misspelt. [There were light cruisers in service: Alberico de Barbiano and Alberto Da Giussano.]

January 1941 Italian prisoners of war (POWs) are marched along the harbour wharf prior to embarkation on the ship in the foreground. Note the destroyed Italian ships in the background. The view is as seen looking up towards the cage where the prisoners of war were housed. (Original housed in AWM Archive Store)

23rd January 1941 TOBRUK – HIGH OFFICERS OF THE ITALIAN NAVY & ARMY LED THEIR MEN OUT OF TOBRUK TO SURRENDER TO BRITISH FORCES. ALTHOUGH WITHOUT GUARDS, THIS COLUMN OF PRISONERS MARCHED WITH PERFECT DISCIPLINE TO THE PRISONERS CAMP WHERE THEY WERE HANDED OVER BY THEIR OWN OFFICERS. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).