- Point of Interest
- 27 Boulevard Aristide Briand, 14150 Ouistreham, France
On 6 June 1944, 177 French commandos landed in the first wave on Sword Beach in Colleville. Their objective was to capture the German fortified casino in Ouistreham and to join with troops of the 6th Airborne Division at Benouville. Led by Philippe Kieffer, these were the only French soldiers to land on French soil on D-Day.
Commando Kieffer was the common name given to the 1st Battalion Marine Commando Fusiliers, which was created in the spring of 1944. The battalion’s first elements joined in Britain under Lieutenant Philippe Kieffer at the turn of the year of 1942. Made up of volunteers from around the globe, an initial muster of some 20 men grew to 80 at the end of 1942. These were selected and trained in British military schools and placed at the disposal of the British army by the Free French authority. They were integrated into the 10th Commando in 1943 and then, with D-Day in view, into the 4th Commando in the spring of 1944.
On the eve of D-Day 177 men were readied for combat and they joined Lord Lovat’s 1st Special Brigade. Commando Kieffer landed on Colleville beach at 7.30 in the morning of 6 June, in a place known as La Brèche. After participating in the taking of Ouistreham Casino and having destroyed the blockhouse of Riva Bella, the French commandos reached the bridge of Benouville by early afternoon, where they encountered Allied airborne troops under General Gale. The last mission of 6 June saw the French gain the heights of Amfreville to the west of the river Orne. By the evening of D-Day Kieffer had lost 10 men, while 30 wounded were evacuated to England. The remainder held the sectors of Amfreville, Brevant, Breville until 16 August 1944. They then participated in Operation Paddle and in the drive towards the Seine. They returned to England at the outset of September 1944.
Only rarely do military units assume the name of their commanders. The Commando Kieffer owes its name to a banker born in Haiti who, at the age of 40, decided to join the military. ‘Civilian in Uniform’ Philippe Kieffer was
During the Second World War the Frenchman René Rossey volunteered for a military career, at first in the Free French Forces. In 1943, 17 years old, he joined the famous Kieffer Commando and participated in the Allied landing in Normandy. After the liberation of France his unit continued fighting the Germans and finally succeeded in the liberation of Holland.