Battle of Bir-el Harmat

Battle of Bir-el Harmat

Start Date: Tuesday, 2 Jun 1942
End Date: Thursday, 11 Jun 1942
 
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The Battle of Bir-el Harmat was an action during the Western Desert Campaign of World War II between 2 June and 11 June 1942. A small position at Bir-el Harmat was defended by a Zionist company composed of 400 volunteers from the Jewish Brigade under the orders of Major Liebmann. The unit was assigned there on May 1942 in the middle of the Libyan desert, without any heavy weapons nor anti-aircraft equipment, to set up minefields to prevent an encircling maneuver from the Axis forces. The action took place at the same time as the siege of Bir Hakeim, and north of it, and was in many ways a parallel complementary siege. This position, south of Bir-el Harmat, a dozen of kilometers north-northwest of Bir Hakeim, received on 2 June the visit of a German armored column, and an officer asked for the capitulation of the position. Liebmann refused, and a few hours later, a first Stuka raid bombed his company. Without any specific anti-aircraft defense, they suffered heavy casualties. The two next days, the position was attacked by the Fiat M13/40 tanks of the Italian Ariete armored division, the same that attacked 5 days earlier, with no effect, Bir Hakeim's fortifications. Several of these tanks were destroyed by the mines barrage; a few tanks reached the center of the position, and the light-equipped volunteers had no other choices but to repulse them using Molotov cocktails. They had no radio contacts with the other allied forces, but they turned to resist as relentlessly as the Free French Forces of Bir Hakeim did. The Axis armored forces attacked the position the 5 June and 6 June, but the attacks were very ineffective since the defenders were hidden in personal dug holes; from the 7 June, the armored divisions stopped attacking, and the position was bombed daily both by Stukas and by German artillery. Their well was bombed, but despite deprivation of water, the company did not surrender. On 10 June, the British campaign headquarters of the British 8th Army issued a retreat order for both this position and Bir Hakeim's. The Jewish company lost 75% of its men contributing, along with the Free French, to delay Rommel's offensive for 10 days (16 days of siege for Bir Hakeim). Liebmann and his hundred surviving men abandoned their position on the 11th, rejoining during the night at Gasr-el-Abid the French and British forces. Yet, on 11 June morning, General Marie Pierre Koenig, in charge of Bir Hakeim fort, not even knowing about the Jewish presence in the surroundings, discovered with surprise that friendly unit which shared the same destiny as 1st Free French Division's. In perfect French, Major Liebmann told him that his men and himself were fighters from Palestine, but that they could not serve under their flag because of British rules. Koenig then told him to raise their Star of David flag, and all Free French officers around him saluted it.

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