The French military cemetery in Tobrouk (Libya)

In 1941, with the first Italian offensives against British positions in Egypt, Africa became a new battleground in the Second World War.

From Chad and the territories of French Equatorial Africa that had joined the French cause, the soldiers of Free France took up the fight against the Axis forces, carrying out multiple raids against the enemy. So it was that on 1 March 1941, 80 years ago, a handful of men launched a bold “coup de main” attack to capture the fort of Kufra, the southernmost Italian position in Libya.

For Colonel Leclerc’s men, it was the start of an epic journey that would lead them to Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” in Berchtesgaden in 1945, having first liberated Strasbourg to fulfil the oath sworn on 2 March 1941 in this distant Libyan oasis.

Le cimetière militaire français de Tobrouk (Libye)

Le cimetière militaire français de Tobrouk (Libye)

The military cemetery here is built in the style of a Saharan bordj (Ottoman military citadel). It lies 1 000 miles from the Libyan capital, Tripoli, on the Tripoli-Cairo highway.  The cemetery contains the remains of 218 French soldiers:

  • the first four French soldiers killed in Cyrenaica in January 1941,
  • eight French soldiers killed in Kufra in 1941,
  • and 206 soldiers of Free France killed in the Battle of Bir Hakeim in 1942.

The graves are laid out on either side of a central avenue leading to a monument eight metres high framed by two artillery pieces.

Behind the monument are eight individual graves containing the bodies of the soldiers of the Leclerc Column killed at Kufra.

The French Ministry of the Armed Forces, through the Directorate for Heritage, Remembrance and Archives (DPMA), ensures the upkeep of the site. The cemetery was completely restored in 2012, then part-restored in 2020 (graves and gate), after suffering damage between 2014 and 2018.

Find out more:

Visit our page dedicated to the 80th anniversary of 1941