British officers and Australian soldiers manage to hold Tobruk from attacks by Rommel’s tank battalions for eight months in a key turning point in the North African war.
In April 1941 in the Libyan desert Field Marshal Erwin von Rommel (James Mason) has his German army attack Tobruk. The British general (Robert Douglas) tells Col. Barney White (Torin Thatcher) how they will let Rommel’s tanks in to be trapped.
Captain Tammy MacRoberts (Richard Burton) finds Private Tom Bartlett (Robert Newton) drunk in inspection of his Australian troops. Tom was Tammy’s teacher in England, and they drive to the front. The men dig in. During a sandstorm the German tanks advance. The Allies hold their fire until the tanks are in the trap. Lt. Harry Carsairs (Charles Tingwell) questions German prisoners and says they tell lies.
Tom and MacRoberts suggest a daring raid, and the General approves. Tom asks MacRoberts to let him go on the raid, but Tammy makes Tom his secretary. Tom learns that Tammy got married in 1939 and has a son.
MacRoberts leads the raid to blow up an ammunition dump. They advance on a road in trucks. They stop, and MacRoberts sends the men on foot. They sneak up and kill German soldiers. After a flare, shooting begins. MacRoberts and his men take over a German machine-gun. They cause ammunition to explode and burn, but Germans capture MacRoberts who is now a Lt. Colonel. He insists on seeing a doctor who removes a bullet from his left arm. Rommel is treated too, and he talks with MacRoberts. Rommel says he can crush Tobruk. MacRoberts says they won’t and that without Suez the Germans will lose the war.
MacRoberts is transported in a truck that is strafed by a plane and overturns. He escapes with another man in the desert. They hike at night. MacRoberts’ companion is killed by friendly fire as MacRoberts returns to their lines.
Rommel keeps attacking Tobruk for eight months. In November the General gives orders, and MacRoberts sends his men. They hold Ed Duda for eight days. MacRoberts gets reports of their losses and learns they will get no relief for four more hours. He tells Tom they must retreat from the advancing artillery. Tom argues, but MacRoberts orders a pull-out. Tom and the Australians refuse to go, and they take cover from the artillery. After it stops, MacRoberts gathers his men. They see the Allied tanks arriving and cheer. After 242 days the siege of Tobruk is over.
This war drama celebrates the Australian and British defense of Tobruk that stopped the brilliant Rommel’s march toward Cairo and the Suez canal.