13 DBLE Bir Hakeim Nov 15, 2008 0:53:11 GMT -5
Post by legionnaire on Nov 15, 2008 0:53:11 GMT -5
13th Demi Brigade Legion Etrangere
With the collapse of the French forces in France, the 13th was recalled, departing from Norway on June 7. After its arrival at Brest, where it became evident that there was nothing, which could possibly be done, the 13th re-boarded its ships and sailed again from Brest. It arrived in England on June 21, 1941, and was sent to Trentham Park near Stoke-on-Trent, where a collection of French forces evacuated from Dunkirk was being kept. On June 16, the Reynaud government capitulated, with Marshal Petain as the new head of the state, announcing intentions to surrender to the Germans. Two days later General De Gaulle, a minor figure in the Reynaud government broadcasted an appeal for further French resistance. On July 1, the French soldiers at Trentham Park, were given the option of repatriation to the new French state or remaining in England under De Gaulle.
About half of the 13th opted for repatriation to North Africa. The rest chose to remain in England with Lt. Col. Margin-Vereney as their commander, and join the Free French Forces, where its ranks swelled with a furry of new recruits. The 13th DBLE in England was then redesignated the "14" DBLE, as the 13th DBLE was the designation for the unit of those who had chosen to be repatriated. However, by November, 1941, the repatriated 13th DBLE, which had returned to Morocco, had dispersed, and the "14th" in England reassumed its original title.
Legionnaire Philippe with brother legionnaires
The 13th remained in England for the next two months, being refitted by the British. On August 30, 1940, the unit departed from Liverpool. The 13th fought ruggedly against Vichy Forces in the Battle of Dakar, September 23-5, 1940, as well as the assault on Liberville. The 13th also participated in the assault against Italian positions in Eritrea, suffering 18 killed in action. On June 8, 1941, the 13th DBLE joined with the Damascus column of the British Army, crossing from Jordan into French Vichy Syria.
It was in Syria, that one of the more notable instances in the history of the 13th DBLE in World War Two took place. A large section of the Syria garrison was consisted of the 6th REI, a legion unit, which had opted to remain loyal to the Vichy Government.
The 13th DBLE entered into combat with fellow French legionnaires. The casualties were high, but it was noted that each side treated wounded soldiers of the other as fellow legionnaires first, and enemies second.
The 13th DBLE lost 21 killed in action with another 47 wounded, while the Vichy 6th REI lost 128 killed and 728 wounded. The July 14th peace, ended the fighting in Syria and roughly 1,000 former 6th REI legionnaires and two officers chose to join the 13th DBLE, and became consituted as the 13th's new Third Battalion, giving the 13th DBLE an overall strength of approximately 1,771.
Bir Hakeim Legion charge!
The 13th next saw service in Libya, and at the end of 1941, the 13th was posted in Northern Egypt, assigned to the British 8th Army, and saw combat thoughout the next couple of months. The unit was now under the command of Lt. Col. Dimitri Amilakvari, who had been promoted from Captain. In the late winter-early spring of 1942, the Free French Brigade, with the 13th comprising about half of its infantry strength, was ordered to fortify the positions at Bir Hakeim, at the southern tip of the British 8th Army's Gazala Line. The Brigade was commanded by Marie Perrie Koenig, a former officer of the 13th. From February to May, the 13th was busy preparing its positions in a vast barren area of desert, filled with around 50,000 landmines. The Free French Brigade had received a number of 75MM guns from the French stores in Syria, as well as an issue of Bren Gun Carriers, from the British. On May 26, the Germans assaulted the Gazala Line, penetrating it numerous locations. At first, Bir Hakeim was left unscaved, though the threat it posed to Axis supply lines, caused it to become the site of intense fighting. On May 27, an Italian armored group assaulted Bir Hakeim, and was bitterly pushed back, with the destruction of 32 Italian tanks of the Ariete Division. A lull in the fighting followed, which was broken with a second determined Axis attack on June 2. Bir Hakeim was surrounded, shelled, and bombed by the Luftwaffe. Surrender demands were rejected, and night convoys managed to remove French wounded and bring in supplies to the garrison, under the guises of the Axis forces. The fighting was continuous, with the 13th facing the Italian Trieste Division and the German 90th Light Division. The 361st Infantry Regiment of the 90th German Light Division was comprised of former German legionnaires, who had been removed from loyal Vichy Legion units by the Germans. Despite fierce resistance, the German-Italian forces were tightening their grip on Bir Hakeim. On the evening of June 9, Koenig received radio permission to breakout to the east. On the 11th of June the Free French Forces broke out after intense and costly fighting, making their way to British lines. The Free French Force losses were at around 1,000. The 13th suffered 25 killed in action, 49 wounded, and 152 missing.
The dogged defense and successful breakout at Bir Hakeim became an important moral and esteem rallying event for the Free French cause.
The 13th was again in combat at El Alamein, with an attack on German lines at El Himeimat on October 23, resulting in severe casualities. It was in this attack that the commander of the 13th, Lt. Col. Dimitri Amilakvari, was killed by an artillery explosion. The 13th remained with the 8th Army through their advance into Tunisia, and eventual defeat of Axis forces in North Africa.
Legio Patria Nostra!
info courtesy of
[glow=red,2,300] legionetranger.org/Real13thphotos.html [/glow]