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Australia's War 1939 - 1945
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Bardia
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Bardia (action leading to the fall of Post 11), Ivor Hele 1967.
[AWMART 27576]
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Sketches of maps of the Middle East including Army positions at Bardia on 3 January 1941.
[AWM 100290]

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Bardia
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Driver Butcher, 2/2nd Battalion, with his issue of comforts funds received on Christmas Day, 1940 near Bardia.
[AWM 004953]

On 3 January 1941, the 2nd AIF took part in the first major Australian battle of World War II at Bardia, Libya, when battalions of the 6th Australian Division penetrated the defences of the Italian stronghold. Despite some heavy resistance the town fell to the Australians just two days later. The Australians captured Italian war materiel as well as thousands of Italian prisoners of war (POWs), many of whom were shipped to prison camps in Australia.

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A recipe for 'Finistrone Soup'
[The Australasian, 8 March 1941]

Bardia, a small harbour town on the Mediterranean coast of Libya, is about 30 kilometres from the Egyptian border. It was developed as a military outpost during Italy's colonisation of Libya at the beginning of the 20th century and the Italians had fortified both the harbour and the town before World War II.

In June 1940, Italy declared war on the Allies and began to build up her troops in Libya. In September 1940, the Italian 10th Army invaded Sidi Barrani in British held Egypt, threatening British control of the Middle East and most particularly, the Suez Canal and British supply routes. British forces under General Sir Archibald Wavell expelled the Italians from Sidi Barrani and pursued them back towards the Libyan border. In December 1940, the 6th Australian Division was moved forward from training camps around Alexandria to relieve British troops around Bardia and at the end of December they were ordered to prepare to attack.

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Australian troops in their greatcoats advance into Bardia.
[AWM 044455]

The allied attack was launched at 5.30 am on 3 January 1941.

The troops wore their greatcoats to keep out the intense cold of the desert at early morning and entered the fight singing and shouting. After blowing holes through wire obstacles, the infantry captured a number of enemy posts within half an hour – thus establishing a breach in the perimeter.

[Gavin Long, To Benghazi, Canberra, 1952]

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'The capture of Bardia'

The fighting continued on until 5 January when the Italian position had been cut almost into two. The allies took nearly 40,000 Italian prisoners and considerable amounts of enemy weapons, supplies and equipment. The battle for Bardia cost 130 Australian lives with 320 men wounded.

On 22 January 1941, the Italian held Tobruk fell to the AIF and 25,000 Italians became prisoners. During January and February 1941, the 6th Australian Division, together with British units, pushed the Italian army back across Libya, fighting successful actions at Tobruk, Derna and Benghazi. The Italian 10th Army, which had threatened Egypt, had been destroyed. In March 1941, the by-passed Italian force at the oasis of Giarabub was captured.

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An Italian 47 mm anti tank cannon used by the Italian Army in operations in the Western Desert and abandoned after their defeat by Allied forces.
[AWM 044455]

In early April 1941, the 6th Division was withdrawn from North Africa to defend Greece and replaced by the 9th Division which took part in the epic ‘Siege of Tobruk’ between April and November 1941 against Italian and German forces.

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'After Bardia'
[AWM F01062]

 

 

Australia at war 3 September 1939
Libya and the Siege of Tobruk 1941
Greece and Crete April-May 1941
Syria and Lebanon June 1941
Malaya December 1941 to Moresby May 1942
Australia under attack 1940-1945
Coral Sea, Kokoda, Milne Bay May-September 1942
El Alamein October-November 1942
The Home Front 1939-1945
The Coastwatchers 1941-1945
Australian prisoners of war 1940-1945
Little-known operations 1939-1945
Papua 1942-1943
The Japanese retreat March 1943-January 1944
War at sea 1939-1945
Air war Europe 1939-1945
Bougainville, Borneo, New Britain, New Guinea 1944-1945
8 May 1945/15 August 1945
Australia at war 3 September 1939
Libya and the Siege of Tobruk 1941
Greece and Crete April-May 1941
Syria and Lebanon June 1941
Malaya December 1941 to Moresby May 1942
Australia under attack 1940-1945
Coral Sea, Kokoda, Milne Bay May-September 1942
El Alamein October-November 1942
The Home Front 1939-1945
The Coastwatchers 1941-1945
Australian prisoners of war 1940-1945
Little-known operations 1939-1945
Papua 1942-1943
The Japanese retreat March 1943-January 1944
War at sea 1939-1945
Air war Europe 1939-1945
Bougainville, Borneo, New Britain, New Guinea 1944-1945
8 May 1945/15 August 1945
Bardia (action leading to the fall of Post 11), Ivor Hele 1967.
[Oil on canvas 153 x 275 cm AWMART 27576]

Sergeants Henry ('Jo') Gullett, Victor Maloney, Private Harold Brockley, Private Frederick Damm, all of 2/6th Battalion 2nd AIF, with unidentified Australian and Italian soldiers. Although Hele did not witness the important battle which led to the capture of Bardia, he did travel to the area in 1941 and made various studies of the town. Twenty five years after the battle the Australian War Memorial commissioned Hele to paint the scene. He based his painting on material and information provided by one of the survivors, Henry 'Jo' Gullett, shown as the figure in the centre of the composition being dragged from amongst the bodies.