October 31, 1917 — Turkish lines are broken at Beersheba

By 1917, British and Commonwealth forces under General Allenby were slowly progressing northward through Turkish-occupied Palestine, but stalled when they came to Gaza. In October 1917, the third battle of Gaza – the third attempt to wrest it from the Ottoman Empire – began.

The battle at Beersheba (or Birüssebi, as it was then known) was only one facet of this larger battle, but it was here that the critical breakthrough of the battle took place. The decisive moment came with the charge of the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade, who covered six miles to smash through the Turkish lines and capture the town and its strategically important wells more or less intact (15 of the 17 wells remained usable). This victory also marked the last successful horse cavalry charge in modern warfare.

April 10, 1941 – The siege of Tobruk begins

In early 1941, the Allied forces in North Africa, comprised mostly of British and Commonwealth units (the Australians being the largest of the Commonwealth contingents), were making very good progress in driving the Italian forces out of Libya (which the Italians had conquered in 1911). The port of Tobruk was captured by Australian forces from the 6th Division on January 22 along with 27,000 Italian troops.

But in March, Rommel and his Afrika Korps arrived in North Africa to bolster the Italian forces. On March 24, Operation Sonnenblume commenced, an opportunistic effort to push back the Allies. Rommel’s advance was very successful, as the British had sent many of the forces previously stationed in North Africa to fight in Greece, and much of what remained, especially the armour, had fallen back for maintenance and recovery. On April 4, the Axis forces recaptured Benghazi, and by April 10, had encircled Tobruk. An assault on April 11 proved inconclusive for both sides, and the siege commenced in earnest.

The 14,000 men who remained in Tobruk were primarily Australians, with some British and Polish soldiers among them. Collectively, they became known as ‘the Rats of Tobruk’, when the Australians adopted the name they had been given in German propaganda as a badge of honour. (They even made their own service medal in the likeness of a rat, using metal from a German Bomber that they had shot down.) Nearly 4000 of them would give their lives while the siege lasted. The first attempt to break the siege, Operation Battleaxe, was launched by the Allies on June 15, but failed in its goals. The siege was lifted on November 27, and Tobruk would eventually be relieved on December 7, 1941, the same day that the Pearl Harbor attacks brought the US into the war. The siege had lasted a total of 283 days.

AustraliansAtTobruk.jpg
By Smith, N (Lt), No 1 Army Film & Photographic Unit –
This is photograph E 4792 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 4700-32)
, Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

All the Fine Young Men — Eric Bogle

July 20, 1942 — the defence of the Kokoda Trail begins

It is one of Australia’s greatest military triumphs: a simple holding action across a narrow dirt trail that spanned the inhospitable mountains of the central spine of New Guinea. A much smaller Australian force aided by allied natives struck, fell back, harassed and repeated these steps against the might of the Japanese Army.

Although at almost every step the Australians gave ground, they slowed down the Japanese advance to a crawl, while nibbling away at their forces until the invaders’ supply lines were hopelessly over-extended – and until the Australians could be reinforced. The tide of battle swiftly reversed, but the retreat of the Japanese was much less a fighting retreat than that of the Australians had been.

Soldiers on parade in front of a hut in a tropical setting. An officer in a steel helmet with a walking stick stands in front facing away from them, while the men behind him are wearing a various assortment of uniforms including steel helmets, slouch hats, shorts and are carrying rifles
By Parer, Damien Peter – This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information., Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

All the Fine Young Men — Eric Bogle