Tobruk Cover

An account of the siege of Tobruk, Libya – the longest siege in British imperial military history.

The Longest Siege: Tobruk and the Battle for Africa, 1941
Pan Macmillan, published 2009

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Review by Major General Gordon Maitland
As one might expect from an historian who also has masters degrees in strategic, war and military studies, what Lyman has written in Tobruk: The Longest Siege is ‘spot on’, not only in explaining the strategies and tactics involved, and getting all the detail correct, but in his account of the sweep of the battle.

What is more, while most books on Tobruk start with Rommel’s arrival in the desert and the British withdrawal to Tobruk, Lyman conveys his readers back to the start of the war, providing a graphic picture of the country (with its rats and fleas), the combatants, and events before and after Rommel’s appearance ‘on the stage’. The book is certainly better for it.

Unlike any other book I have read on the subject, he not only tells the story of the British tanks and artillery as well as that of the [Australian] 9th Division, but he encompasses the whole scale of the forces involved in those tumultuous days – the air force, the navy, the Germans and the Italians, all with their own stories. The book also explains Lyman’s success as a writer, for he has a natural flair to bring history alive. Interwoven into the comprehensive, factual, chronological framework of events are individual stories packed with the emotions of young enlistees and old hands, both exposed to all the horrors wreaked by shell and bayonet.

Plenty of authors use personal accounts by way of manufacturing realism, but what Lyman achieves is rather different; it is journalism, but based on historical accuracy, without the errors, omissions and additions that journalists seem to find necessary to generate sales. He actually transports you into battle so that you almost shudder as the bombs go off and swallow to get rid of the sand. Major

General Gordon Maitland, Order of Australia, OBE
A veteran, author and military commentator, General Gordon Maitland knew many of the Australians who fought at Tobruk, and was a good friend of Lieutenant Austin Mackell, MC.

Packed with analysis and first-hand accounts, this book paints a vivid picture of the 240-day siege of Tobruk. It details the resistance of the 24,000 British and Australian defenders against Rommel’s Africa Corps, as well as those privations common to all in desert warfare; flies, disease, hunger and thirst.

I found this a thoroughly interesting and informative read, pitched at the right level with a good balance between the detail and the story of the battle.

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