Sword beach is the easternmost beach on the D-day Normandy frontline. Attacking this zone was given to English troops who were accompanied by “Commando Kieffer.” Interestingly, it’s the only unit of French soldiers who participated in the Allied landings. Visiting Normandy is an opportunity to discover this beach.
This is the term used to designate the amphibious attacks on the beaches of Normandy. Gold Beach, one of the five strategic places chosen to begin the Battle of Normandy, spreads out over 8 kilometers between Ouistreham and Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer.
Occupied by the German Army since the 1940 armistice, the city of Ouistreham and its beach -- and most notably the risks it presented for possible landings -- were noticed by Commander Rommel. He ordered the removal of seafront homes and their subsequent replacement by anti-disembarkment obstacles. Bunkers were installed all along the coastline as well as a watchtower equipped with artillery to survey and defend the coast.
The fight that followed the landing of Allied troops was a bloody one, and finished with battles on the streets of Ouistreham. Allied soldiers managed, however, to take control of the city and to disable German assault tanks, rendering them unable to counterattack.
English troops moved on to their next objective, taking control over the bridges of Bénouville (such as its famous Pegasus Bridge) and Ranville.
Commando Kieffer headed the Special Service Brigade of the British Army, a total of 177 marines. These soldiers were the only French ones to fight during the Normandy beach landings, more specifically at Sword Beach.
The marines were trained alongside British troops at the Achnacarry Castle in Scotland, thus becoming known as “Green Berets.” Commander Kieffer’s men underwent rigorous training, both physical and psychological. In fact, when arriving at the base future commanders are obliged to pass in front of a fake cemetery of recruits who died during their training.
Among the 177 French who fought at Sword Beach on D-day, 10 lost their lives. Survivors of the Battle of Normandy were decorated with the Legion of Honor several decades later.
Today, Ouistreham is a dynamic town and popular beach resort. Numerous streets are named after the grand battles fought during the Battle of Normandy. Visiting the N°4 Commando Museum is a great way to learn more about the town’s history and about Commando Kieffer and his men. The bunker-cum-museum is also open to the public.