Tommy guns and Fusiliers, 73 years on

French villagers welcome French Naval Commandos (Commandos Marins) of the 1st BFMC (Battalion de Fusiliers Marins Commandos) who arrived in Normandy during the D-Day landings. Near Amfreville, Calvados, Lower Normandy, France. 17 June 1944. Note the Lend-Lease U.S. M1 Thompson submachine gun, Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife tucked down the leg and British-style commando tabs on the sleeve.

The Naval Commandos were formed by Free French troops in exile in the U.K. and were modeled after the British Commandos, who were founded in 1940. They were formed mainly from Free French Navy Fusiliers-Marins (naval infantry) as well as a smattering of other Free French volunteers and trained at the Commando Basic Training Centre Achnacarry, Scotland.

Besides fighting in France, the 1st BFMC saw service in Holland where they ended the war. Immediatly after VE Day, the unit split, with the bulk heading to Indochina where the French remained very busy for another decade, and a cadre set up the Commando Training School, Siroco Center, Matifou Cape, in Algeria in 1946.

By 1947, the CM were set up in seven units, each named for a fallen WWII commando, and endure today.

Their motto is Honneur, Patrie, Valeur, Discipline.

One member who landed on D-Day remained standing tall as late as 2014:

Leon Gautier, 91, former member of Captain Philippe Kieffer’s 1er BFM Commando unit, attends a ceremony in Colleville-Montgomery, France. 4 June 2014. Gautier landed at Sword Beach with 1er BFM Commando on D-Day and was among the first Free French personnel to enter Paris.

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