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The Desert Rats (1953)

 -  Action | Adventure | Drama  -  20 May 1953 (USA)
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Richard Burton plays a Scottish Army officer put in charge of a disparate band of ANZAC troops on the perimeter of Tobruk with the German Army doing their best to dislodge them.



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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 1 win. See more awards »



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Complete credited cast:
Robert Douglas ...
Torin Thatcher ...
Chips Rafferty ...
Charles 'Bud' Tingwell ...
Lt. Harry Carstairs (as Charles Tingwell)
Charles Davis ...
Ben Wright ...


Rommel has the British in retreat on his way to the Suez Canal. All that stands in his way is Tobruk, held by a vastly out numbered force of Australian troops. Richard Burton leads these troops on daring raids against Rommel, keeping him off balance as they earn the nickname 'The Desert Rats'. Written by Derek Picken <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


They crawled their way across the blazing sands of Africa... to turn disaster into victory!


Action | Adventure | Drama | War


Approved | See all certifications »





Release Date:

20 May 1953 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Les rats du désert  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


This was among the last films produced by 20th Century Fox in the standard academy format. Only four months later they would begin releasing films in their CinemaScope format, starting with "The Robe" (1953) which also starred Richard Burton. See more »


When the captured MacRoberts requests a doctor the German soldiers calls for the "Oberarzt". An "Oberarzt" only can be found in civilian hospitals. The military rank would be "Oberstarzt" referring to a military surgeon in the rank of a Colonel. Otherwise he could have meant "Oberstabsarzt" which would have been a Major then. See more »

Crazy Credits

Opening credits prologue: 1941 LIBYAN DESERT NORTH AFRICA See more »


Follows The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951) See more »


The Campbells Are Coming
Played on the bagpipes
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

One of the most realistic and best of the fifties war movies with excellent direction by Robert Wise
20 November 2007 | by See all my reviews

1941 Lybian desert, North Africa. German forces are pushing through to Suez, the key to the Middle East , only Tobruk is still holding out, there's a considerable unit there. With the British in full retreat, nothing stood in Rommel's way but the tiny garrison of Empire troops cut off in the fortress won of Tobruk.Meantime, Germans dropping leaflets captioning : Surrender! German forces have surrounded Tobruk, it is useless to try to escape. Single soldiers waving handkerchiefs will not be fired upon. not sacrifice yourselves needlessly. Lay down your arms. Surrender! . The picture is the story of Tobruk and the men who made up its garrison, of the fight they made against the pick of Hitler's troops and of the nickname they won with blood and bore with pride: ¨The Deser Rats¨. British headquarter Cairo's ordered to take up defensive positions for two months ,reunited the officers(Robert Douglas, Torin Thatcher, among others) deal the Tobruk 's defense : the positions are the following, the first line of defense ,using the old Italian perimeter, the second line by Colonel White's supporting artillery and the inner fortification. The British plan of defense is based chiefly on the belief of a Bilzkrieg by Rommel(a splendid James Mason reprise his role from ¨The Desert fox¨). The general proposes to let Rommel's tanks come through here unopposed, leaving the tanks to proceed up this avenue alone. Colonel White will have moved artillery to line both sides of the avenue.Meanwhile the soldiers are already digging positions for the captured Italian field-pieces. So, the longer we hold our fire, the deeper Rommel's tanks will advance into this box and the easier they will be to destroy. The General assigns to McRoberts, an infantry captain with battle experience, twice decorated, he must put into the line.The crusty captain( a stiff but sensitive acting by Richard Burton) takes a charge of an Australian division formed by valiant soldiers and a kind-hearted schoolmaster alcoholic(sensible performance by Robert Newton steal the show as drunk turned reluctant soldier) fighting a desperate rearguard action against overwhelming German forces.

This reconstruction of a phase in the battle of Tobruk(deeds also filmed by Arthur Hiller in ¨Tobruk¨ with Rock Hudson) is correctly based on true events, though excessive importance for the Aussies. The actual deeds are based on series of engagements between British and Axis forces over Libyan port. Occupied by Italy 1911, Tobruk was taken by Britain in Operation Battleaxe 1941.It was captured by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel June 1942 after the retreat of the main British force to Egypt, and this precipitated General Sir Claude Auchinleck's replacement by General Bernard Montgomery as British commander. Montgomery recovered it after the second of Battle of El Alamein and it remained in British hands for the rest of the war.

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