Lieutenant Colonel Dimitri Amilakvari

The 24th of October 1942 marks the day when Lieutenant Colonel Dimitri Amilakvari, a French Foreign Legion officer, was killed during a battle with German forces in Africa, in the Second World War. This article was written in his memory.

“We foreigners have only one way to prove to France our gratitude for the welcome she has given us: to be killed for her.” – Dimitri Amilakvari.

Prince Dimitri Amilakvari (also Amilakhvari) was born on October 31, 1906 in Georgia, in the Russian Empire, as a member of the Georgian nobility from the House of Zedguinidze. Following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, he and his parents had to leave the country, occupied by the Red Army. They were first exiled to the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey), where the young Dimitri studied in a British institution in Constantinople (now Istanbul).

In 1922, the family arrived in France. At the age of eighteen, Amilakvari entered the Saint-Cyr Special Military School (ESM), France’s most prestigious military academy, where he attended the Rif 1924-1926 class. As a second lieutenant, he left the academy and was assigned to the Foreign Legion in Algeria, North Africa. There, he served in a training company with the 1st Foreign Regiment (1er REI) in Sidi Bel Abbès. During this period, in August 1927, he married a Georgian princess, Irene Dadiani (1904-1944).

Promoted to lieutenant in 1928, the young officer was transferred to the 4e REI in Morocco, the following year. Within the regiment’s 1st Battalion, he immediately took part in the ongoing pacification of the country. In late May 1932, during the operations in the High Atlas mountains, he gained his first mention in dispatches. He earned a second mention in August 1933, during the operations at Djebel Baddou. At the time, he commanded the 3rd Company. Lieutenant Amilakvari would eventually spend eight years in Morocco.

After being promoted to captain in January 1937, he returned to Bel Abbès in Algeria to command the Machine Gun Training Company, DCRE, which he would do until August 31, 1939. With this unit, he took part in the famous military parade of the white kepis on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, on July 14, 1939. Then, still in Algeria, he took command of the Support Company of the newly re-created 7th Battalion, 1er REI.

4e REI - Foreign Legion - Lieutenant Amilakvari - Morocco - June 1933
A very rare photo shows Lieutenant Amilakvari (left) in Morocco, in June 1933. At the time, he commanded the 3rd Company, 1st Battalion, 4e REI. Right, Major Vincent, the battalion commander.
1er REI - DCRE - Foreign Legion - Captain Amilakvari - Paris - Parade - Kepi blancs - 14 July - 1939
Captain Amilakvari (in the foreground) parades in Paris, on 14 July 1939. This was the very first time when legionnaires paraded with white kepis in the French capital.

 
At the same time, in early September 1939, the Second World War broke out. A large part of the Foreign Legion remained in its overseas garrisons to guard the French Empire. Nevertheless, other men of the Legion arrived in Metropolitan France to form new units. Among them, in March 1940, was Captain Amilakvari. He was put in charge of the Support Company, 2nd Battalion in a mountain half-brigade, which would become the 13e DBMLE (provisional half-brigade) the following month.

In May, Captain Amilakvari fought with his unit against Germans in the Norwegian campaign, where he was wounded. In June, the half-brigade returned to France. However, due to the German advance and the fall of Paris, the men reembarked for England. Here, with other men of the 13e DBMLE, Amilakvari joined the Free French Forces (FFL) of General de Gaulle, part of the British Army, and formed the 14e DBMLE.

In 1941, he was promoted to major and participated in the Eritrea campaign with his unit (which was renamed the 13e DBLE later that year), then operating with British troops in Syria. In Norway, Eritrea and Syria, Amilakvari confirmed his exceptional valor in combat with three new mentions in dispatches at the army level (the highest mention in France) and was awarded the Legion of Honor. Promoted to lieutenant colonel, he was given command of the 13e DBLE at the age of 35.

In December 1941, the two battalions of the half-brigade were attached to General Koenig‘s 1st French Brigade for the Libyan campaign, where the British 8th Army was preparing an offensive to push the Germans out of Africa. The units were equipped with British equipment, heavy weapons and anti-tank weapons to face the enemy in the desert. In June, the 13e DBLE stopped the advance of General Rommel‘s German Africa Corps at Bir Hakeim, Libya, and repelled all its attacks. For this heroic defense, Lt. Col. Amilakvari was awarded the Order of Liberation from the hands of General de Gaulle.

In Egypt in October 1942, the Second Battle of El Alamein began. General Koenig‘s brigade had the mission to seize the heights of El Himeimat, a cliff overlooking the battlefield, occupied by the enemy. The first echelon of attack was made up of two battalions of the 13e DBLE, but the strong enemy resistance forced Amilakvari to withdraw his men.

During this withdrawal, on October 24, 1942, at ten o’clock in the morning, a salvo of four shells exploded. The commander of the half-brigade, who had just refused to get into a British artillery officer’s armored car, fell to the ground. He had been struck by a piece of shrapnel that hit him in the eye and passed through his skull. Transported to the rear, Lieutenant Colonel Amilakvari died later that day in General Koenig‘s tent. The father of three was buried the next day on the slopes of El Himeimat.

13e DBLE - Foreign Legion - Lieutenant Colonel Amilakvari - Syria - General Catroux - 1941
Lieutenant Colonel Amilakvari receives the 13e DBLE colors from General Catroux, in Homs (Syria), on October 19, 1941.
13e DBLE - Foreign Legion - Lieutenant Colonel Amilakvari - General de Gaulle - 1942 - Captain de Sairigne
Lieutenant Colonel Amilakvari is awarded the Order of Liberation from the hands of General de Gaulle, in Egypt, on August 10, 1942. Right, Captain Seranville, a nom de guerre of future Lt. Col. de Sairigné, who himself would be killed at the head of the 13e DBLE, in 1948. The photo was published with the kind permission of Krzysztof Schramm, historian of the A.A.A.L.E. de Pologne veteran association and the author of Zygmunt Jatczak: I regret nothing.
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Lieutenant Colonel Amilakvari enjoying his leave while visiting relatives in Egypt, some time prior to his death.
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Lieutenant Colonel Amilakvari.
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The original grave of Lieutenant Colonel Amilakvari at El Himeimat, 1942. The rare photo was published with the kind permission of Andrew J. Mitchell, author of several books dedicated to the Legion, including their insignia.

 
After the war, the body of Dimitri Amilakvari was transferred to the War Cemetery of El Alamein, where we can find also his gravestone. As for his bloodstained kepi and the shrapnel that mortally wounded him, they are preserved in the Hall of Honor of the Foreign Legion Museum in Aubagne, Southern France.

The 1954-1956 graduating class of Saint-Cyr chose the name “Lieutenant Colonel Amilakvari.”

Lieutenant Colonel Amilakvari‘s decorations:

  • Knight of the Legion of Honor (1940)
  • Order of Liberation (1942)
  • War Cross 1939-1945 with four palms (5 mentions)
  • Foreign Theater Operations War Cross (2 mentions)
  • Escapees’ Medal
  • Colonial Medal with clasp “Morocco”
  • War Cross with Sword (Norway)
  • Officer of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite (Morocco)

 
As a matter of interest, Dimitri Amilakvari had an elder brother, Constantin Amilakvari. In 1928, he also joined the Foreign Legion, but as a simple legionnaire, under the surname of Eliko. He became an adjudant (Warrant Officer, a senior NCO) in the 1er REC in Morocco. With 13 years in the Legion, he left the institution at his own request, in mid-1941. Unlike Dimitri who had chosen the Allied side, Constantin joined, with a number of other Russian or Georgian former legionnaires, the LVF (Legion of French Volunteers against Bolshevism) and went to fight along German troops on the Eastern Front, against Stalin‘s Red Army. There, Prince Constantin Amilakvari was seriously wounded and died back in Paris in August 1943.

 

13e DBLE - Foreign Legion - Lieutenant Colonel Amilakvari - Egypt - El Alamein - gravestone - 1981
The headstone of Lieutenant Colonel Amilakvari at El Alamein, in 1981, when the Foreign Legion celebrated its 150th anniversary. The photo was taken by General Arnaud de Foïard, once a commanding officer of the 2e REP (1965-1967).

13e DBLE - Foreign Legion - Lieutenant Colonel Amilakvari - Egypt - El Alamein - war cemetery - 1981
The El Alamein War Cemetery, 1981. With the wreath, the war grave of Lt. Col. Amilakvari.
6e REG - Foreign Legion - Lieutenant Colonel Amilakvari - Egypt - El Alamein - war cemetery - 1997
A detachment of the then 6e REG (now 1er REG) visiting the grave of Lt. Col. Amilakvari at El Alamein, in 1997.
1er REC - Foreign Legion - Marechal des logis Eliko - Constantin Amilakvari - Morocco - 1933-1934
A very rare photo shows Prince Constantin Amilakvari (left, with mustache), the elder brother of Dimitri, while serving as an NCO with Armored Platoon, 5th Squadron, 1er REC in Morocco, around 1933. He served under the surname of Eliko. Unlike his brother, Constantin joined the pro-German LVF (Legion of French Volunteers against Bolshevism) and went to fight on the Eastern Front, along a number of other former legionnaires, against Stalin‘s Red Army. There, he was seriously wounded and died shortly afterwards, in August 1943.

 

 

La version française de cet article: Lieutenant-colonel Dimitri Amilakvari

 

 

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