Bir Hakeim. A place in the Libyan desert which can mean "the old man's well", "the chief's well" or "the wise man's well". There are many translations, and they are all as uncertain as the spelling or pronunciation of the name of this old, abandoned fort surrounding two cisterns covered in sand, which have been nicknamed "the udders".
The position located 80 km from Tobruk and entrusted to the 1st Free French Brigade of General Koenig formed, in May 1942, the southern end of a fortified line of minefields blocking the road to Egypt. For General Rommel, who commanded the Afrika Korps, Bir Hakeim had to be taken in a few hours, at the very beginning of an offensive which was to open the gates to Egypt. However, the combatants of Bir Hakeim resisted for 15 days the attacks of a German-Italian force ten times greater in number, and they then succeeded in breaking the encirclement during the night of 10 to 11 June.
This feat of arms was the first direct confrontation between French and German soldiers since the disaster of June 1940. It delayed Rommel's advance and enabled the British to retreat. Its impact considerably strengthened the image and prestige of Free France and of its leader among the Allies and occupied French.
Vincent Giraudier, Head of the Historial Charles de Gaulle Department, musée de l'Armée
- Fondation de la France Libre
- musée de l’Ordre de la Libération