Smuts’s spirit not dimmed by To­bruk

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

AN IN­TENSE ar­tillery bar­rage in the early hours of Satur­day, June 20, 1942, pre­saged German Gen­eral Er­win Rom­mel’s swift as­sault on the har­bour of To­bruk in Libya, and, a day later, the ca­pit­u­la­tion of the gar­ri­son.

Af­ter the sur­ren­der of Sin­ga­pore’s 80 000-strong force to the Ja­panese ear­lier that year, To­bruk was the Al­lies’ sec­ond worst disaster in the war thus far.

The fall of To­bruk handed to the Axis – German and Ital­ian – forces thou­sands of vehicles, heaps of fuel, am­mu­ni­tion and ra­tions and no fewer than 33 000 pris­on­ers, among them, the 10 722 men of the 2nd South African In­fantry Divi­sion.

To­bruk’s com­man­der, South African Gen­eral Hen­drik Klop­per – who es­caped from cap­tiv­ity in 1943 – was later ex­on­er­ated for the disaster, though, at the time, his own troops thought he’d caved in.

The fol­low­ing re­port brought news of the calamity to Cape Town read­ers. lat­est re­ports leave lit­tle hope that any sub­stan­tial numbers of the Sec­ond South African Divi­sion have suc­ceeded in mak­ing good their es­cape from To­bruk. We know how deeply the peo­ple of South Africa will feel this blow, and I has­ten on be­half of the gov­ern­ment and peo­ple of this coun­try to con­vey our pro­found sym­pa­thy.

“We have all seen with the great­est ad­mi­ra­tion the heroic deeds of the South African forces in Libya and re­mem­ber them with lively grat­i­tude.

“We have suf­fered a bit­ter re­verse, but our de­ter­mi­na­tion to achieve fi­nal vic­tory is un­shaken.”

Field-Mar­shall Smuts replied: “I very much ap­pre­ci­ate your mes­sage of sym­pa­thy with the Union gov­ern­ment and peo­ple on our re­verse and losses at To­bruk. Our sor­row will but har­den our de­ter­mi­na­tion. The spirit of South Africa matches that of its men at the front, and no set­backs or losses will af­fect our un­al­ter­able re­solve to fight till fi­nal vic­tory is won.”

Ma­jor Gen­eral HB Klop­per

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