Military combat

Officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the Free French Forces 1st Brigade:

”You received the mission to hold the position of Bir Hakeim, the southern bastion of our defense in Libya.

In 15 days of nearly constant fighting, you decimated large enemy infantry forces, destroyed 50 tanks, 15 armoured cars and many vehicles of all kinds, shot down seven planes, and captured 154 Italian and 125 German prisoners.

Enraged by your progressive defense that thwarted its plans, the enemy has continuously increased its forces to wipe you out and, in three days, stepped up its attacks with fresh troops and intensified its artillery fire. Its air attacks have taken on an unprecedented ferocity: the last one, on the evening of the 10th, included six waves of 20 heavy bombers.

Three times the enemy ordered me to surrender in order to avoid, it said, our destruction. But I had faith in you.

I courteously but firmly replied to the first warning with a refusal. I did not even bother to answer the other two, and the enemy covered itself in ridicule.

For our mission was over; the general commanding the Eighth British Army gave me the order to join him.

On the night of 10 to 11 June, the 1st Brigade stormed the enemy lines, breaking through after a fierce four-hour battle. It returned with 75% of its men, weaponry and equipment and 200 of its wounded, leaving its positions behind intact.

Bir Hakeim is a French victory.

I salute our dead, our brothers in arms fallen on the field of honour whose precious memory will support us in our future struggles.

Brigadier General Koenig,

Commander of the Free French 1st Brigade”

General order sent by General Koenig, commander of the Free French 1st Brigade, to his troops, who had just fought those of Rommel, commander of the Afrika Korps, for the first time, after the victorious retreat from Bir Hakeim, Libya on the night of 10 to 11 June 1942.

General Koenig in La saga d'un Français Libre, General Jean SIMON, Presses de la Cité, 2000