In November 1941, the Operation Crusader made the axis forces positioned at Cyrenaica withdraw, but it was an incomplete victory. The enemy still occupied the Halfaya pass. The 1st Free French Brigade was sent there under the command of General Koenig, including four battalions, two of which were legionaries. Each of the Foreign Legion battalions were then supported by artillery, anti-tank defence, anti-aircraft guns and a section of trenchers, making it a modern and effective fighting force. In January 1942, Rommel resumed the offensive and the British saw themselves forced to withdraw south of Bengasi. The French established a defence line at El Gazala, but they could not establish contact with the enemy. On the 14th of February, they relieved the Indian 150th Brigade at Bir Hakeim. Colonel Amilakvari and his men immediately began reinforcing the defence of the position, which was located south of El Gazala, about 65 kilometres from the sea. 957 legionaries (a 30 percent of the 1st BFL force) took part in the battle. They soon organised many 'Jock' columns, supported by strongly armoured vehicles, anti-tank guns and Bren gun carriers suitable to get through minefields and carry out deep reconnaissance missions, a task the legionaries willingly accepted. The Axis troops launched their attack on Bir Hakeim on the 27th of May. The Italian 'Ariete' armoured division rallied against the 1st BFK positions and its tanks broke through the defence of the 2nd battalion of the 13th DBLE, but the legionaries recovered and destroyed 19 tanks in an operation where the Spanish Republicans, and especially a Basque -José Luis Artola, who fired his anti-tank gun against the Italian armoured vehicles- played a special role. That first attack was a failure, and soon afterwards they suffered intense air raids carried out by German planes and new offensive attempts. On the 3rd of June, Rommel ordered the defenders to surrender, but the Free French refused; the 90th German Light Infantry Division resumed attacks, but it was also repelled. In the end, it became a hopeless situation and General Koenig ordered the evacuation of the position in the night between the 10th and the 11th of June. The legionaries were given the honour to cover the withdrawal by clearing the way through the minefields with their Bren Carriers. As a result of the battle, the 13th DBLE lost 27.5 % of its men, and many legionaries ended up captured by the enemy. José Artazcoz perished, while Hermenegildo Huarte was taken prisoner and then died on the 17th of August when the boat that was to carry him to the Italian fields was torpedoed by the British. The 2nd and the 3rd battalions of the Legion took part in the battle, while the 1st battalion covered the Gazala line.
In the second battle of El Alamein, the 13th DBLE was again formed by only two battalions, since the 3rd one was disbanded, but the remaining men formed an anti-tank company. Since the 1st BFL- which provisionally adopted a 'more French' appearance after the occupation of the Vichy arsenals in Syria- had lost a great deal of ammunition and supplies at Bir Hakeim, it had to be fully reequipped by the British: Enfield rifles, FA Bren, mortars, etc. On the 13th of October, they were ordered to occupy the Himeimat ridge, located in the left side of the whole British offensive. The legionaries, after covering the 16 kilometres that separated them from their initial position, would have to face the Italians once more. The 2nd Battalion launched a hard attack against the Folgore Parachute Brigade, but since the defenders of the Himeimat soon received the support of some German armoured tanks, the 13th DBLE, lacking the appropriate artillery to counter-attack them, had to withdraw. It became a very harsh battle, in which the number of casualties increased by the hour. The legionaries had a terrible time under the severe fire of the German artillery and lost their most charismatic leader: Lieutenant-Colonel Amilakvari. The British called into question the behaviour of the Free French troops due to the defeat at Himeimat and pushed them into the background in the development of the operations at El Alamein. As a result, the 13th DBLE was relegated to second-line missions until April 1943. During that period, the French army displayed on Morocco and Algeria, after briefly opposing the Anglo-American disembarkation in November 1942 and allowing the rearmament of the Axis forces, finally declared itself at war with Germany and Italy and started fighting against them. In January 1943, the 3rd Foreign Legion Infantry Regiment, including around fifteen Basques, suffered the first casualties at Djebel Mansour, where Félix Tajada Lapeyra and Rafael Bilbao perished. Although they were condemned to understand each other, trouble soon arose between the old Vichy soldiers and the Free French veterans, whose outstanding figure was General Leclerc, who fought in the Sahara.
By the beginning of 1943, Rommel had recovered the offensive in Africa provisionally. He defeated the North Americans at Kasserine pass but, fully aware that he could not hold their advance much longer, saw himself forced to establish a new defence line, becoming trapped between them and the many nationalities under British command that threatened him from the East: British, Australians, South-Africans, New Zealanders, Indians, Polish, Greeks and French. The French soldiers were for the first time joined together in a big unit: the 1st Free French Division. On the 19th of March 1943, General Montgomery's Eight Army launched an offensive against the Mareth line. This was the opportunity the legionaries had been waiting for, now that they were under the wings of the 1st DFL, to leave behind a long, demoralising period of stagnation. On the 30th of April, they crossed the Tunisian border and, in the night between the 6th and the 7th of May, they started relieving the men of the 153rd British Brigade near Djebel Garci, some 15 kilometres West of Enfidaville. Facing them, there were elements from the 90th German Light Division -old acquaintances from the battle fields of Bir Hakeim- and the Trieste Italians. There were several surprise attacks with the enemy at nobody's land followed by exchanges of artillery fire. They lost 3 Bren Carriers and took some prisoners, but the front remained stable until the 11th of May, when there was a harsh battle in which 7 men died, 27 were wounded and 1 was lost. It was the Afrika Korps' swan song. On the 13th of May 1943, 3 years after the Bjerkvik victory, the columns of German soldiers started crossing the French lines to surrender. General Von Arnim had capitulated. It was the end of the African campaign.
Bir Hakeim, June 1942. Legionaries of the 13th DBLE charge in the desert in order to take an enemy position (Imperial War Museums).