Desert Rats, The
The Desert Rats is a 1953 war movie about the dramatic events that took place in 1941 in the North African theatre. After initial victories against the Italians who had colonized the area, the Allied troops were now being chased eastwards by the Germans under the command of General Rommel (James Mason), later in WWII to be promoted to Field Marshal.
The Australian 9th Division (whose nickname is in fact "The Rats of Tobruk", and not as the movie title incorrectly suggests "The Desert Rats") pulls back to the coastal town of Tobruk. They seek to avoid encirclement and become trapped with Rommel’s troops seeking to take the town as it is a thorn in their side on their way to the Suez Canal. The movie deals with the hardships endured during the siege by the unit of Capt. 'Tammy' MacRoberts (Richard Burton), who is from Scotland and thus has understandable challenges exercising his command upon an Australian army unit. The highlight of the movie is a commando raid led by Capt. 'Tammy' MacRoberts on an underground German ammunition dump.
The movie does not seem to have had an expert armorer since there’s an extraordinary number of errors in the use of military hardware. Only in a few scenes do the Germans actually use a German gun (the Mauser Gewehr 1898 rifle), for the rest they are using Allied weapons such as the Thompson submachine gun and the Vickers/Browning 1917 machine guns. In one memorable scene, a German truck convoy is attacked by a plane that’s first a Spitfire with D-Day stripes (not to appear until June 1944) and a second later it’s an American Grumman Avenger (not to appear until 1942)…
The following guns were used in the film The Desert Rats:
Colt Official Police
A Colt Official Police is carried by Capt. 'Tammy' MacRoberts (Richard Burton) on most occasions. It was not surprising for an English officer at the time to carry an American revolver since the British military actually purchased several thousand Colt Official Police revolvers directly from Colt in 1940-41 chambered in 38/200.
A small number of Enfield No.2’s are seen carried by Allied officers on several occasions, most notably by Lt. Harry Carstairs (Charles Tingwell). Even though they are not shown clearly, they can be identified by the typical ‘hooked’ front sight and the design of the area between the trigger guard and the barrel.
The M1928A1 Thompson submachine gun, with smooth barrel, is seen in the hands of the Allied commandos under Capt. 'Tammy' MacRoberts (Richard Burton) when they blow up an underground German ammunition dump. Surprisingly, some Germans can also be seen using it instead of the MP40. Although this is understandable as German troops sometimes used captured weapons.
Lee-Enfield No.1 Mk.III
The Lee-Enfield No.1 Mk.III rifle is the most prominent gun in this movie, seen in the hands of almost all Allied troops. On a number of occasions bayonets are seen mounted and surprisingly, it is also seen in the hands of German soldiers during one of the attacks on Tobruk.
Mauser Gewehr 1898
The only (…) German gun that the Germans actually use is the Mauser Gewehr 1898 rifle. Even though a successor model for this rifle had been introduced in the 1930’s, the Karabiner 98k carbine, this rifle still saw use in several theatres.
The Vickers MK1 machine gun has a strong presence in the movie, most notably in fixed positions in trenches across the Australian defences of Tobruk.
A Bren Mk2 is used as one of the supporting weapons for the raid on the ammunition dump. It can also be seen in earlier scenes when Australian troops harass Germans with lethal night-time raids.
A Lewis Gun is seen being loaded into a truck during the preparations for the raid on the ammunition dump but not seen afterwards.