Tall, with a refined face resembling a statesman, Phillipe Kieffer was 40 years old when he volunteered for active military service in French Navy after it declared war on Germany in September 1940. He served aboard a battleship, then at Northern Fleet headquarters, as he watched his beloved France crumbled under the heel of German jackboots invading from Belgium.

He realized the gravity of the situation, when on May 31st, 1940, British and French forces began wading by the thousands out to ships of every size to evacuate them to England, knowing France was doomed.

Those left behind fought fiercely, but to little avail, so smaller evacuations continued. Among those leaving near the end was Kieffer, arriving in London on June 19, three days before the surrender. Here he waited and searched for another opportunity to carry the fight back, and was rewarded on July 1, when he joined the Free French Naval Forces.

Serving as a translator and cipher officer, Phillipe Kiefer became enamored of the newly formed British commandos to the point that he requested authorization to create an all-French unit adopting the same model of training and structure.

Their methods of selection typified the harshness of special forces training, and several men died as they struggled to complete the course. They become known as the ‘1st Company of Naval Rifles,’ organized into the No. 10 Inter Allied commando unit, made up of Dutch, Polish Belgian, Norwegian and Mediterranean units.

Men of Commando KiefferThis first company of Frenchman and those that followed proved the best of the remaining French military still able to fight the Germans. And unique in the fact that missions often took them into their occupied homeland, with the most famous of the early years being Operation Jubilee, the disastrous raid on the port city of Dieppe in August 1942. During the mission, the French fought alongside their Canadian comrades and also acted as interpreters before their withdrawal back to England.

By 1944, Phillipe Kieffer’s command had grown into two troops and had been integrated with Britain’s No.4 Commando as part of the 1st Special Service Brigade under Lord Lovat. It was this unit that came ashore on June 6, 1944 and provided the 176 men led by Kieffer himself, with its greatest challenge.

Sword beach was the easternmost of the designated landing areas on D-Day, and stretched from the coastal village of Saint Aubin-sur Mer to the small resort village of Ouistreham. Here lay the remains of a gambling casino that had been heavily fortified into a strongpoint containing Anti-Tank guns as well as machine gun nests.