We are currently improving the navigational structure of the website. This might result in lost links. If you come across a lost link, Please let us know.

Commandos de France

Page Created
February 20th, 2024
Last Updated
February 21st, 2024
French Flag
Additional Information
Order of Battle
Badge of Commandos de France
May 1944
October 1st, 1945
Theater of Operations
Organisational History

In May 1945, the Commandos de France are established through the collaborative efforts of three distinguished figures at the Consultative Assembly of Algiers. These men are known as Henri d’Astier de la Vigerie, Louis Vallon, and René Cerf-Ferrière. The Commandos de France are tasked with a dual mission: to infiltrate France via parachute to bolster the resistance movement and to provide military instruction and guidance to fleeing individuals, including minors, who have escaped France, typically through Spain and the Miranda camp.

Drawing inspiration from the seasoned Bataillon d’Afrique, the Commandos de France undergo rigorous training at Staoueli, Algeria, mastering essential skills such as parachuting, sabotage, and close-quarters combat. Their operational scope is distinct, focusing on clandestine infiltrations, surprise assaults, and the execution of precision raids behind enemy lines, diverging from conventional frontline warfare.

Initially led by officers hailing from the Bataillion de Choc under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Gambiez, the Commandos endeavour to emulate the ethos and combat effectiveness of their sister unit, the Bataillion de Choc.

Notwithstanding the endorsement of de Lattre, logistical hurdles, compounded by staunch opposition from American forces, impede the Commandos’ deployment to France. In response, Squadron Leader Astier de la Vigerie orchestrates a clandestine mission aboard the Marietta Madre, a sailboat, ferrying approximately forty personnel who land covertly in Saint Tropez in mid-August. This elite detachment spearheads a series of daring missions and skirmishes before reuniting with the main unit, ultimately facing their fate at Durrenentzen.

At its inception, the unit comprises three Commandos Légers (Light Commandos), each composed of four platoons, each comprising 25 men, alongside two Commandos Lourds or Commandos d’Accompagnement (Heavy Commandos). The heavy commandos, characterised by fewer numbers but heavier armament, include the 1er Commandos Lourds led by Captain Fournier. Transported to Corsica, this commando unit eventually arrives in France independently on September 11th, 1944. Its primary role is to provide support to the Bataillon de Choc.

In September 1944, under the leadership of Commander Vallon, the Commandos de France merge with the Bataillon de Choc to form the Choc Demi-Brigade, entrusted to the capable command of Lieutenant-Colonel Gambiez. Initially assigned to the operational purview of General de Monsabert’s 2nd Army Corps, the demi-brigade later transitions to General Bonjour’s Tactical Group No. 4. After which Commander de Foucaucourt assumes command after Commander Vallon is recalled to Paris.

The Demi-Brigade plays a crucial role in the pivotal battles that paved the way to Belfort. On October 3rd, 1944, the unit is reinforced by the 1er Commandos Lourds (Heavy Commandos) led by Captain Fournier from the Commandos of France.

They later joined forces with the 1re Division Française Libre (DFL) tasked with securing the passages of Haute-Alsace. This included engagements in Masevaux and Thann, as well as the occupation of Hundsrück. Night patrols in forests laden with mines led to further heavy casualties.

On October 3rd, 1944, the unit is reinforced by one of the heavy commandos from the Commandos of France. On October 25th, 1944, Captain Lefort takes command.

In early November, the Choc Demi-Brigade, engages in deadly combat at Haut du Tôt south of Gérardmer, then moves to the Belfort region to participate in the city’s liberation.

On November 3rd, 1944, they are engaged in combat at Haut du Tôt in the Vosges region. Here, they are deployed in frontal infantry assaults, lacking adequate artillery support, and confronted a well-entrenched enemy with formidable firepower, resulting in significant casualties.

On November 20th, 1944, the companies first engage in Cravanche, then Coudray and Essert, and enter Belfort, which is fully liberated by November 25th, 1944.

From November 23rd, 1944, to December 3rd, 1944, the Demi-Brigade engages in a succession of battles in Upper Alsace between Belfort and Mulhouse.

On January 5th, 1945, several units are reorganised into six Bataillons de Choc. The original Bataillon de Choc becomes the 1er Bataillon de Choc, 1er Choc. The Janson de Sailly Batallion is reformed as the 2e Bataillon de Choc, 2e Choc. The Commandos de France are transformed into the 3e Bataillon de Choc, 3e Choc. The Commandos de Cluny establish the 4e Bataillon de Choc, 4e Choc. The Commandos d’Afrique is reorganised into the 5e Bataillon de Choc, 5e Choc under Commander Ducournau, while the Groupement de Commandos de Provence and the Commandos de Paris/Bataillon Désiré become the 6e Bataillon de Choc, 6e Choc.

On January 18th, 1945, these six Bataillons de Choc form three Groupements de Commandos de Choc, each comprising two Bataillons.

  • The 1er Groupement de Commandos de Choc, led by Lieutenant Colonel Gambiez, includes the 1re and 3e Bataillon de Choc.
  • The 2e Groupement de Commandos de Choc, under Commander Quinche, consists of the 2e and 4e Bataillon de Choc.
  • The 3e Groupement de Commandos de Choc, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Bouvet, encompasses the 5e and 6e Bataillon de Choc.

Throughout their campaign, the 1er Groupement de Commandos de Choc play roles in various engagements. Notably the battles around Belfort, Haut du Tôt, Essert, Masevaux, Thann, and the Colmar Pocket. These encounters are characterised by adverse conditions, scarce resources, and grievous casualties.

On January 31st, 1945 the 3e Bataillon de Coc launches an assault on the heavily fortified village of Durrenentzen. The Germans, supported by superior tanks with extended firing capabilities, pose formidable resistance. Regrettably, the attack results in a devastating failure for the commandos.

Following the tragic events at Durrenentzen, the cumulative losses incurred between the beginning of November and January 31st, 1945, amount to 21 officers, 17 non-commissioned officers, 14 corporals, and 51 enlisted personnel killed in action.

In the wake of significant losses, Commander Henri d’Astier de la Vigerie assumes command, succeeding Commander de Foucaucourt. Under his leadership, the 3e Bataillon de Choc undergoes reorganisation and reinforcement, with the addition of young resistance fighters. Subsequently, a fourth commando unit is established to accommodate the increased manpower and strengthen the unit’s capabilities.

During that same time, continues to actively participate in operations across Germany.

On April 3rd, 1945 the 3e Bataillon de Coc cross the Rhine River and actively participate in the seizure of Karlsruhe. Following this success, the commandos are dispersed into separate units, primarily attached to armoured divisions, with Commander Astier serving as a liaison between them. Subsequently, they engage in a series of skirmishes, facilitating a swift advancement towards Königsbach and later Pforzheim, which respectively fall on April 6th, 1945 and April 8th, 1945.

The capture of Pforzheim opened the gateway to the left bank of the Enz River, leading to a succession of battles in the Black Forest region. Notable engagements include the capture of Dennach, Unterotenbad, Waldrennach, and Langenbrand.

Fully regrouped by April 20th, 1945 the commandos participate in several confrontations along the route to Lake Constance, including battles at Altenburg, Wannweil, Reutlingen, and Pfullingen. Their objective is to secure the right bank of the lake and block the passage to Austria, thwarting German units seeking refuge in that direction.

On May 1st, 1945, they take part in the assault on Bregenz, a strongly fortified position. Despite the formidable defences, Bregenz falls within the day. Following their success, the commandos cross the Bregenzer Ach, establishing a bridgehead at Wolfurt on the opposite bank, and continue their advance through the Arlberg defiles. Progress is swift and decisive.

On May 7th, 1945, with the announcement of capitulation imminent, Lieutenant-Colonel Gambiez is determined to commemorate the furthest point of the 1er Groupement de Commandos de Choc’s advance. He dispatches ten skilled skiers from the Choc units and commandos to the summit of the Arlberg. There, they plant a colossal French flag, adorned with the banner of the French Commandos and the distinctive black star featuring the red Lorraine cross of the Free Corps. This act serves as a symbolic marker of their triumph and marked the culmination of their courageous campaign.

Following Germany’s capitulation, the Groupements de Commandos are stationed in the Ravensburg area until late 1945, when they moves to La Pallu near Bordeaux.

On October 1st, 1945, the three Groupements de Commandos are reformed to the three Bataillons of the 1er Régiment d’Infanterie de Choc Aéroporté, 1er RICAP near Wurtemberg, Germany.

  • 1er bataillon: consisting of the 1er Bataillon de Choc and 2e Bataillon de Choc
  • 2e bataillon: consisting of the 5e Bataillon de Choc and 6e Bataillon de Choc
  • 3e bataillon: consisting of the 3e Bataillon de Choc and 4e Bataillon de Choc.

During their campaign the Commandos de France and its succesor, the 3e Bataillon de France suffer 134 killed (comprising twenty-five officers and twenty-six non-commissioned officers), 293 wounded (including thirty officers and thirty-three non-commissioned officers) and twenty-one missing.