Tobruk by Peter Fitzsimons

tobruk Recently I’ve been reading Peter Fitzsimons’ Tobruk. It’s the second of his books that I’ve read and it’s been a helpful way of learning about a significant part of Australian military history that has been overshadowed by the more well-known Gallipoli campaign.

Fitzsimons makes history readable, using colloquial language and style and incorporating personal anecdotes picked up from the men involved.

In Tobruk he follows the progression of events via the personal experiences of combatants from both sides of the conflict and, where possible, their loved ones at home. Like in his Gallipoli he provides a lengthy section of notes to provide references pointing to diaries, letters and documents as sources for the personal experiences he describes. His books aren’t about war and battles, they are about the men and women affected by war and battles.

Gallipoli, Peter Fitzsimons

gallipoliPeter Fitzsimons’ book is probably the Gallipoli account I should have read first.

It covers the major aspects of the Gallipoli campaign, from its planning, through the battles and then on to the evacuation that brought it to an end. There are also the differing viewpoints of the main combatants involved: Turks and Germans, as well as men of various ranks among the British and Anzac “invaders”.

It was Fitzsimons who first made me aware of the blatantly obvious (but mostly overlooked) reality, that the last word in my previous sentence is a very appropriate description of the Gallipoli campaign. The Turkish fighters were in fact defending their homeland against an invasion force.

Arguably, Fitzsimon’s style makes this book a better general introduction to Gallipoli than the Les Carlyon book of the same title* that marked the starting point my Anzac journey. Both books are lengthy and cover a large number of complex inter-related events and the actions of many individuals and groups, but Fitzsimons seems to do it in a more accessible way.

Then again, his book had an advantage – I had already become familiar with a lot of the Anzac story before I picked it up. When I started Carlyon’s book I knew nothing at all about the subject, so the process of piecing events together wasn’t so simple and therefore the book took more effort to follow. Maybe Fitzsimons’ book was easier because of what I’d already learned through Carlyon.

Troops, supplies and tents along the beach at Anzac Cove not long after the landing

Troops and supplies at Anzac Cove not long after the landing

Fitzsimons is a journalist, and throughout Gallipoli he divides chapters into smaller sections with “newspaper headlines” marking out different topics or viewpoints within the text. These headlines start with the relevant date and then give a hint of the events covered in the section that follows, such as this one leading up to the landing of ANZAC troops:


I found these headlined sections helpful, not only as cryptic teasers regarding what I was about to read, but also as convenient resting points, where I could pick up or put down the book depending on the amount of time available for reading.

Fitzsimons shows a lot of respect for the Anzac men and the place in the story of Australia’s sense of identity, but he does so without glorifying the campaign into which they were thrown. He leaves no doubt that the invasion was ill-conceived, poorly managed, incompetently led and destined to fail. He shows that the troops persisted against impossible odds that saw a large percentage of them killed or seriously wounded, while often those directing their actions remained in safety, making decisions without actually knowing what was being faced by the men they were sending to their deaths.

fromelles-pozieresI still have two or three more Gallipoli books to get through including Gallipoli Air War by Hugh Dolan and In Great Spirits, the WWI diary of Archie Barwick, but I’m now looking forward to Fitzsimons’ next book Fromelles & Pozieres which I’ll use as my introduction to the Anzac involvement on the Western Front. I already have an autographed copy pre-ordered.

gallipoli PF


* see here: Les Carlyon