In the spring of 1940 Nazi Germany burst through the French and British armies and forced them to evacuate at Dunkirk. One French naval officer, Philippe Kieffer, fled to Great Britain in order to carry on the fight against the Nazis. While he was in Great Britain he became enthralled with a force of special elite soldiers– commandos– who were training to conduct raids in Nazi occupied France. Kieffer volunteered to raise a force of French patriots to join these commandos.
At first he could only find 20 men. But with those 20 they went to Achnacarry Scotland to train with the British as well as Dutch, Polish, and Norwegian refugees who hated the Nazis as much as he did. Soon his little force of French troops grew to hundreds of men. The commando school was so severe that men actually died in training! But Kieffer and his men were lusting for the day to attack the Germans.
June 6, 1944 was D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy. Kieffer and his 176 troops were now called “1st Company of Naval Rifles” and they were part of “No. 4 Commando” unit of the British military. On June 6, the French commandos were given the honor of being the very first to touch French soil and liberate their beloved homeland.
At 7:31 a.m. they landed on Sword Beach and raced through a storm of shot and shell. Their objective was to capture an old casino in Ouistraham that had been turned into a fortress. If they could take this strongpoint, that would open up a huge gap for British troops to pour through.
The French commandos fought their way right up to the front door of the fortress, but could not punch through because they were too lightly armed. So, Lt. Commander Kieffer went looking for something that would do the job. Half an hour later, who comes down the road riding on a British tank liked he owned it? Lt. Commander Kieffer was directing the tank (through impeccable English) to use its 75 mm cannon to reduce the fortress. The tank silenced the Nazi’s heavy guns, and the French troops eliminated the Germans.
The French has lost 21 dead and 93 wounded in the fight, Kieffer being one of those wounded. But he ignored the wound so he could inspire his men. And inspire them he did! They continued to fight in France all summer long, finally participating in the liberation of Paris in August. By the end of that summer, of the original 177 men, only 23 remained unscathed.
Philippe Kieffer and his men fought the Germans in other battles, and after the war he stayed in the French navy. He just loved serving his country. He passed away in 1962, a hero of France.