Clement, an unrepentant murderer, narrowly escapes the guillotine when a German bombing raid levels the prison in Tours, France. As the Nazis march on Paris, Clement joins some soldiers leaving the French capital to regroup in the south, and soon after, a German plane bombs their truck, killing most of the men. Clement steals the uniform and papers of Sergeant Maurice LaFarge, then assumes the dead soldier's identity. Along with the remains of the defeated French army, Clement arrives in the seacoast town of St. Jean De Luz, where he boards a freighter bound for Dakar, along with soldiers Bouteau, Hafner, Cochery and Monge. Learning that DeGalle is organizing a new army, the soldiers, led by Lieutenant Vareene, asks the captain to re-route the ship. The freighter then lands at Pointe Noire, in French Equatorial Africa, where the soldiers enlist in the Free French Army. Clement continually searches for ways to escape his new unit, but is soon promoted to adjutant by Vareene. The soldiers then head up the Congo on a steamship to Bangui, where they join a troop convoy and travel into the jungles of North Africa. Because of Hafner's expertise, the unit is ordered to set up a radio outpost, rather than join the troops fighting farther north in Libya. With no contact with the outside world other than radio reports and an occasional air shipment, the soldiers soon begin to get on each other's nerves. Vareene contracts jungle fever, and in a fit of madness, accidentally shoots Monge. To raise the spirits of the recovering Monge, the soldiers stage a Christmas celebration, during which they also express their gratitude to Clement for his leadership during Vareene's illness. After four months, the unit, except for the wounded Monge, is ordered to Brazzaville, and Clement is promoted to 2nd lieutenant. Along the way, they are attacked by a German patrol and assumed dead, but only Hafner is killed. While the three enlisted men return to their jungle outpost, a wounded Vareene is taken to the military hospital, where he meets Clauzel, a good friend of the real LaFarge. Clement, in the meantime, is decorated for his heroism and promoted to 1st lieutenant. Later, Yvonne, LaFarge's fiancée, arrives at the jungle outpost to visit her beloved, only to find Clement. The fugitive confesses all to her, but, after learning about Clement's bravery from his comrades, she decides to keep his secret. A celebration is then held at Fort Lamy to commemorate the first anniversary of Free French Army, honoring heroes like Clement. Clauzel is there as well, and recognizes the fugitive. He tells Vareene all, but the lieutenant refuses to do anything until Clement finds him and insists on confessing. During his courtmartial, Clement refuses to reveal his true identity, and is defended by Vareene, who points out his feats of heroism and rebirth of spirit. Clement is then stripped of his rank, demoted to private and sent to the Libyan front. There, Clement distinguishes himself one final time by sacrificing himself to destroy a machine-gun nest.