A Rat in Tobruk

Published on LEUT Darren Watkins (author), LEUT Darren Watkins (photographer)

Commanding Officer HMAS Tobruk, Commander Leif Maxfield and Officer Commanding Ships Army Detachment HMAS Tobruk, Major Nick Aplin, pictured with Mr Henry Tranter and his family on the Vehicle Deck of HMAS Tobruk.  (photo: LEUT Darren Watkins)
Commanding Officer HMAS Tobruk, Commander Leif Maxfield and Officer Commanding Ships Army Detachment HMAS Tobruk, Major Nick Aplin, pictured with Mr Henry Tranter and his family on the Vehicle Deck of HMAS Tobruk.

HMAS ­Tobruk recently had the privilege of hosting someone with direct links to the battle after which the ship is named.

'Rat of Tobruk', Mr Henry Tranter, and his family were welcomed onboard by Commanding Officer, Commander Leif Maxfield, whilst Tobruk was alongside in Cairns.   

“I was extremely honoured to hear his first hand experiences from Tobruk and El Alamein during the Second World War,” Commander Maxfield said.

“Mr Tranter’s courage, devotion to duty and personal sacrifice are outstanding and were representative of so many men and women who fought and served during this period.

“The name Tobruk continues to carry with it the values of determination and courage shown by the Australian and Allied forces in the desert war. 

“As HMAS Tobruk comes closer to decommissioning, the history behind her name will live on through the Australian Defence Force,” Commander Maxfield said.

Mr Tranter spoke candidly about his experiences with the 8th Army and 'Rats of Tobruk' while he and his family were given a tour with the assistance of the head of the Ship's Army Detachment, Major Nick Aplin.

Born in Atherton in North Queensland, Mr Tranter, now 97 years old, enlisted with the Australian Imperial Forces as a signaller at the age of 21 and served from 1940–1944. He served in the Middle East, including El Alamein and Tobruk. There, throughout the main part of the Siege of Tobruk, Mr Tranter was wounded in action whilst establishing a communications position in territory taken from the Germans. He was subsequently evacuated by a Royal Australian Navy Destroyer but his dedication to serving his country endured and he returned to active service in New Guinea until his discharge. 

It was whilst serving in New Guinea that Mr Tranter met his wife, who was posted there as an Army Nurse.  

Between April and August 1941, around 14,000 Australian soldiers were besieged in Tobruk by a German–Italian army commanded by General Erwin Rommel. The 'Rats of Tobruk' was the name given to the soldiers of the garrison who held the Libyan port of Tobruk against the Afrika Corps, during the Siege of Tobruk. 

HMAS Tobruk is due to be decommissioned later this year after serving the Royal Australian Navy since 1981, true to her motto - 'faithful and strong'.