Bir Hakeim

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For other uses, see Bir Hakeim (disambiguation).
Bir Hakeim in 1990.

Bir Hakeim (Arabic pronunciation: [biʔr ħaˈkiːm]; sometimes written Bir Hacheim) is in the Libyan desert at 31°36′00″N 23°29′00″E / 31.60000°N 23.48333°E / 31.60000; 23.48333, and the site of a former Ottoman Empire fort built around the site of an ancient Roman well, dating to the period when the oasis was part of Ottoman Tripolitania. It is about 160 kilometres (99 mi) west of Sollum on the Libyan coast, and 80 kilometres (50 mi) south-east of Gazala. Bir Hakeim is best known for the battle of Bir Hakeim, which took place there during World War II.

The battle occurred during the Battle of Gazala (26 May – 21 June 1942) when the 1st Free French Brigade of Général de brigade Marie Pierre Kœnig defended the site from 26 May – 11 June against much larger German and Italian forces, commanded by Generaloberst Erwin Rommel. Although the Afrika Corps captured Tobruk ten days later, the delay imposed on the Axis offensive by the defence of Bir Hakeim influenced the cancellation of Operation Herkules, the planned German invasion of Malta. The stand by the Free French gave the retreating British Eighth Army time to reorganize. The British then stopped the German advance at the First Battle of El Alamein.

This battle would serve as the namesake for Bir-Hakeim (Paris Métro), a station on the Paris Métro, and Pont de Bir-Hakeim, a bridge.

Bir Hakeim was also the site of a daring rescue during World War I. On 14 March 1916, Major Hugh Grosvenor led an armoured car squadron, part of the Western Frontier Force, to Bir Hakeim after having traveled 120 miles across the desert from Sollum. There they rescued 91 British POWs from HMS Tara and HMT Moorina. German U-boats had captured the British sailors after torpedoing their vessels and had turned their prisoners over to the local Senussi, who were allied with the Germans.

As a result of the Italo-Turkish War, Italy captured the Ottoman Tripolitania Vilayet (province), which became known as Italian Libya. The Italian army stationed a unit of its Zaptié Meharista at Bir Hakeim.

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