French hero of Normandy landings
Hubert Faure, who died April 17 at 106, was one of the last two survivors of a 177-man French commando unit that landed alongside British forces under withering German machine-gun, mortar and shellfire on Sword Beach, Normandy, on June 6, 1944.
With the rank of chief warrant officer, Faure was part of the 1st Battalion Marine Commando Fusiliers — known as “Kieffer commandos” after its leader, Lt. Philippe Kieffer. It was the only French unit to take part in the D-day landings.
The Frenchmen were assigned to a special British commando brigade led by Brig. Simon Fraser, a Scottish Highlander also known by the inherited title of Lord Lovat. Lovat's men stormed ashore close to the Frenchmen they had trained, and Lovat allowed the French to be the first ashore as a symbolic gesture to liberate their homeland. The French-british assault featured prominently in the all-star 1962 Hollywood war drama The Longest Day, in which Peter Lawford played the Scot.
Faure rarely spoke of the war, but one of his comrades, René Rossey, who was 17 during the landing and died in 2016, recalled: “We were pinned down on the beach, many of our comrades killed or missing. But when Lovat's piper walked up and down the beach, piping his lungs out, the Germans seemed stunned, as if they had seen a ghost. They briefly stopped firing, perhaps even to laugh, and in that brief moment we made it through the barbed wire at the top of the beach.”
Facing German artillery, tank, machine-gun, mortar and rifle fire, as well as flame-throwers, from blockhaus bunkers, Faure and his comrades took only a few hours to reach their first goal: the fishing port of Ouistreham.
At Ouistreham, they drove the German defenders from a casino they had turned into a fortress, a major breakthrough in the Normandy landings.
Over the next nine hours, the Kieffer commandos fought their way along the Caen Canal to the critical Pegasus Bridge that had been captured by British glider-borne troops.
On July 7, Faure was wounded by shrapnel and medevaced to England, but he was back on the front lines the next month.
During the 12-week Battle of Normandy, 140 of the 177-man Kieffer commandos were killed or seriously wounded.