France’s Naval Commandos (or Commandos Marine in French) are a unit of Special Forces that operate under the Naval Rifle and Special Forces Command as well as the Special Operations Command. They have bases across the country, but mainly in the Northern (Brittany) area.
Officially active since 1947, the Naval Commandos can trace their lineage back to World War II, when the famous Phillipe Kieffer modeled a unit of Free French navy volunteers upon the British commandos. Kieffer led these men ashore on June 6, 1944 as part of the D-Day operation and assaulted the resort town of Ouistreham. This action remains their most famous battle.
Candidates who wish to enter the modern Naval Commandos must be Fusiliers Marins with at least 9 months service. What they enter is widely regarded as one of the toughest courses in NATO Special Operations Forces.
Called Stage Commando, it entails one week of physical and mental testing, 6 weeks of preparatory training, 4 weeks evaluation, commando skills for 7 weeks, and 2 weeks paratrooper training. Any mistake made by the candidate may mean instant disqualification. Every effort is made to uncover strengths and weaknesses of each recruit. Some of the tasks they endure include heavy pack marches dozens of kilometers in length, marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat, counter-terrorism, explosives, navigation, special combat etiquette and waterborne combat strokes.
All of these take place with little rest between, and only two hours sleep per night are permitted. Recruits are awakened to the sound of grenade simulators, and little comfort is permitted by the instructors, who reward mistakes with grueling physical exercises.
For those who complete the training, the reward is donning the bérets verts (Green berets, of which the French nicknamed the commandos), and joining a small group of approximately 500 men to carry on the legacy of Phillipe Kieffer’s creation. For this, they will be assigned to one of six specialized commando units named after former officers killed in action:
- Commando Hubert: Combat divers/Underwater operations
- Commando Jaubert: Seaborne assault/Exfiltration/Close quarter battle at sea
- Commando Trepel: Seaborne assault/Exfiltration
- Commando De Montfort: Long range attack/ Fire support (Missile, Mortar, Sniper).
- Commando Kieffer: C3I (Command, Control Communications, Intelligence) and Military dogs.
Though united under the motto of Honneur, Patrie, Valeur, Discipline (Honor, Homeland, Valor, Discipline), each commando detachment has a different badge, which the members wear on berets stationed on the left side, which keeps with the English commando style of World War II. This is the only French unit that does so.