Tobruk is a 1967 American war film starring Rock Hudson and George Peppard and directed by Arthur Hiller. The film was written by Leo Gordon and released through Universal Pictures.
Set in North Africa during the North African Campaign of the Second World War it is a fictionalized story of members of the British Army’s Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) and the Special Identification Group (SIG) who endeavour to destroy the fuel bunkers of Erwin Rommel’s Panzer Army Africa in Tobruk.
Story In September 1942, with the troops of German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel 90 miles (144 km) from the Suez Canal, the staff of the British Eighth Army approve a plan to destroy the German fuel bunkers at Tobruk.
The original author of the plan, Major Donald Craig (Rock Hudson) has been captured by Vichy French forces and is interned at the port of Algiers. Craig is a Canadian expert on desert topography, desert exploration, and has extensive practical knowledge of the Sahara, so he is considered essential to the success of the planned raid on Tobruk.
Craig is liberated by Captain Kurt Bergman (George Peppard) of the SIG and some of his men, who are Palestinian Jews. They then join up with the LRDG, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Harker (Nigel Green), at Kufra.
Colonel Harker explains that they have eight days to get to Tobruk and destroy the fuel depot and German field guns protecting the harbor, before a scheduled amphibious landing. The plan calls for the LRDG to pose as POWs being escorted by the SIG posing as German soldiers. Harker is antisemitic, which he makes known to Craig at several points (he warns Craig to not trust the SIG – “A little trust is alright, but there’s no point in overdoing it. Six years in Palestine taught me that,” Harker says to Craig), hardening Craig to sympathy for Bergman; Craig is noticeably frustrated at Bergman when the Captain seems to simply accept Harker’s bigotry and also his seeming disregard for the lives being risked – when Craig asks Bergman why he does not speak up in his own defense, Bergman’s reply (“‘Begin thinking of death and you’re no longer sure of your life.’ It’s a Hebrew proverb”) is rejected by Craig (“A dead martyr is just another corpse”).
On the way to Tobruk, they encounter a patrol of Italians and Germans and trick them into attacking each other, then they navigate a German minefield before being mistakenly attacked by a British fighter, which destroys both of their radios. When they shoot it down, they are spotted by Tuareg, who request guns.
It is from the Tuareg that group is saddled with two British prisoners, Henry Portman and his daughter Cheryl, who are traveling from Benghazi to Cairo on behalf of Germany. They have papers signed by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (Mohammad Amin al-Husayni) and German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, on behalf of the Führer, which is an agreement between the Reich and a group of “important” Egyptian army officers, that the Egyptians will rise up against the British in Jihad, a “Holy War”. The movie implies that the Egyptian revolt, similar to the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, could be enough to mobilize the entire Muslim world to fight for Germany. “The Turks alone could put four million men into the war against Russia,” Cheryl Portman pointedly notes to Bergman.
But the Portmans are forced at gunpoint by a mysterious member of the SIG to trek to an underground communication cable in the desert, where they are spotted and shot by Italian soldiers. Bergman and his men retrieve the injured Cheryl and it becomes clear that one of Bergman’s men is a traitor. Harker humiliates Bergman by disarming him and having his own men do the same to the SIG (a pointed bit of dialogue ensues between the film’s comedic relief characters, Alfie (Norman Rossington) and Dolan (Percy Herbert) when Alfie sneers, “Once a jerry, always a jerry,” and Dolan defends the SIG by pointing to Alfie’s past as a thief) and giving them two hours to find the traitor. It is believed that the traitor is found when one of Bergman’s closest friends, Bruckner, is found stabbed to death in an underground sewer and his suicide tablet is gone, though Bergman is not convinced.
The group finally reaches Tobruk, but discover to their horror that Rommel has amassed reserves of two divisions of tanks undetected by British intelligence. This makes the mission even more important, as Rommel’s reserves are enough to conquer Egypt, but the British commandos “have the key” of going after Rommel’s underground fuel tanks. In the ensuing battle two of the German harbor guns are blown up and the landing force is turned back, but the commando unit comes under attack from German tanks led by Rommel himself. Bergman and several men use flame throwers to help Harker evacuate some of his men, while Craig, Sergeant Krug, and two others escape and jump a German tank well inland, with which they charge into the distant underground fuel depot.