Properly designated as the 1st Special Service Force, the Devil's Brigade was a joint World War II American-Canadian commando unit trained at Fort Harrison near Helena, Montana in the United States. Many modern American and Canadian Special Forces units trace their heritage to this unit. For the movie of the same name, see The Devil's Brigade.
2.1 Italy 1943
2.2 Anzio 1944
2.3 France 1944
2.4 Disbandment 1944
2.5 Post World War II special forces legacy
2.6 First Special Force Memorial Highway
2.7 Wartime decorations
3 Unique weapons
4 Combat service
4.1 Aleutians campaign, 1943
4.2 Italian (Naples-Foggia, Anzio, Rome-Arno) campaigns 1943-1944
4.3 Southern France, (Alpes-Maritimes) campaign, 1944
4.4 Rhineland campaign, 1944
5 See also
6 Motion pictures
The volunteers for the 1800-man force consisted primarily of enlisted men recruited by advertising at Army posts, stating that preference was to be given to men previously employed as lumberjacks, forest rangers, hunters, game wardens, and the like. The 1st Special Service Force was officially activated on July 20, 1942 under the command of Lt. Colonel Robert T. Frederick. Much feared for their fighting prowess, the monicker "The Black Devils" was adopted after the discovery of the personal diary of a German officer referring to "die schwarzen Teufeln (the Black Devils)." With blackened faces, small units would often overwhelm German defenders without firing a shot, and then disappear into the night.
Force members received rigorous and intensive training in stealth tactics; hand-to-hand combat; the use of explosives for demolition; parachuting; amphibious warfare; rock-climbing; mountain warfare, and as ski troops. From the outset, the 1st Special Service Force was armed with a variety of non-standard or limited-issue weapons, such as the M1941 Johnson machine gun. The Johnson LMG in particular helped greatly increase the firepower of the unit and was highly regarded by those who used it in combat. Frederick himself participated in the design of a fighting knife made exclusively for the Force called the V-42 combat knife, a derivative of the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife.
The formation patch was a red spearhead with the words USA written horizontally and CANADA written vertically. The branch of service insignia was the crossed arrows formerly worn by the U.S. Army Indian Scouts. The unit wore red, white, and blue piping on their garrison cap and on the breast oval behind their parachutist wings. Members of the unit also wore a red, white, and blue fourragere, lanyard, or shoulder cord made out of parachute shroud lines.
The 1st Special Service Force was activated on July 9, 1942 as a joint Canadian-U.S. force of three small regiments and a service battalion. Following its initial training period in Montana, the 1st SSF relocated to Camp Bradford, Vermont, on April 15, 1943, and to Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont, on May 23, 1943. On July 4, 1943, it arrived at the San Francisco Port of Embarkation, and on July 10 sailed for the Aleutian Islands. On August 15, 1943, 1st SSF was part of the invasion force of the island of Kiska, but after the island was found evacuated, it re-embarked and returned to Fort Ethan Allen, arriving September 9.
A scheduled operation code named "Project Plough," a mission to parachute into German-held Norway to knock out strategic targets such as hydroelectric power plants, had to be abandoned, but in October of 1943, the commander of the U.S. Fifth Army, Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark, brought the 1st Special Service Force to Italy where its members demonstrated the value of their unique skills and training. The Devil's Brigade arrived in Casablanca in French Algeria in November 1943 and quickly moved to the Italian front arriving at Naples on November 19, 1943 and immediately going into the line with the U.S. 36th Infantry Division.
At Monte la Difensa, near which was located the ancient town of Rocca d'Evandro (about 10 miles south east of Cassino) and was part of the Bernhardt Line Defenses on the Camino hill mass, between December 3 and December 6, 1943, they immediately earned a reputation for being able to take impenetrable objectives when no one else could. Here, in the dead of winter, the 1st Special Service Force wiped out a strategic enemy defensive position that sat high atop a mountain surrounded by steep cliffs. Previously, American and British forces had suffered many casualties in futile attempts to take the important target. The 1st SSF was successful, and this incident was the basis for the 1968 motion picture titled "The Devil's Brigade."
The 1st SSF immediately continued its attack, assaulting Monte la Remetanea from December 6 to December 9. It captured Monte Sambúcaro on December 25, and assaulted Monte Vischiataro on January 8, 1944. During the mountain campaign the 1st SSF suffered 77% casualties.
The Special Force brigade was withdrawn from the mountains in January and on February 1 was landed at the beachhead created by Operation Shingle at Anzio, south of Rome, replacing the 1st and 3rd Ranger battalions which had been decimated at Cisterna. Their task was to hold and raid from the right-hand flank of the beachhead marked by the Mussolini Canal/Pontine Marshes. Shortly after the SSF took over the Mussolini Canal sector, German units pulled back up to a half-mile to avoid their aggressive patrols.
It was at Anzio that the Germans dubbed the 1st Special Service Force the "Devil's Brigade." The diary of a dead German soldier contained a passage that said, "The black devils (Die schwarzen Teufel) are all around us every time we come into the line." The soldier was referring to them as "black" because the brigade's members smeared their faces with black boot polish for their covert operations in the dark of the night. During Anzio, the 1st SSF fought for 99 days without relief. It was also at Anzio that the 1st SSF used their trademark stickers; during night patrols soldiers would carry stickers depicting the unit patch and a slogan written in German: "Das dicke Ende kommt noch," said to translate to "The Worst is yet to Come", placing these stickers on German corpses and fortifications. Canadian and American members of the Special Force who lost their lives are buried near the beach in the Commonwealth Anzio War Cemetery and the American Cemetery in Nettuno, just east of Anzio.
When the 5th Army breakout offensive began on May 25, 1944, the 1st SSF was sent against Monte Arrestino, and attacked Rocca Massima on May 27. The 1st SSF was given the assignment of capturing seven bridges in the city to prevent their demolition by the withdrawing Wehrmacht. During the night of June 4, members of the 1st SSF entered Rome. They are among the Allied units who claim to be the first to enter Rome. After they secured the bridges, they quickly moved north in pursuit of the retreating Germans.
On August 14, 1944, the 1st SSF landed at Îles d'Hyères during Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France. On August 22, it was attached to the 1st Airborne Task Force, a provisional Seventh Army airborne division, and later made part of the Task Force. On September 7, it moved with the 1st Airborne Task Force to defensive positions on the Franco-Italian border. During the war the 1800-man unit accounted for some 12,000 German casualties, captured some 7,000 prisoners, and sustained an attrition rate of over 600%.
The 1st SSF, a unique military unit that never failed to achieve its objective, was disbanded December 5, 1944 in a field near Villeneuve-Loubet. Villeneuve-Loubet holds a special place in the history of the Force, not only because the unit was broken up there, but also because it is one of the villages that the 1st SSF had the hardest time capturing in southern France, on August 26th 1944. The day the unit was disbanded, the American commander held a parade honouring the unit. To end the ceremony, the Canadian elements were dismissed by being honoured by the American troops with a marchpast, eyes right, officers saluting. On October 18th 2006, 14 bodies of German soldiers killed during the fighting for Villeneuve were found buried in a forgotten mass grave near the village by a local medical student. After the unit's break up, the Canadians would return to other Canadian units (most of them became replacements for the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion), some American members were sent to the Airborne Divisions as replacements, and others formed the 474th Infantry Regiment, which served with the Third Army and performed occupation duty in Norway.
Post World War II special forces legacy
In 1952, Col. Aaron Bank created another elite unit using the training, the strategies, and the lessons learned from the Devil's Brigade's missions. This force evolved into specialized forces such as the Green Berets, Delta Force, and the Navy SEALs. In Canada, today's elite and highly secretive JTF2 military unit is also modeled on the Devil's Brigade. As in World War II, Canadian JTF2 members and American Delta Force members were united once again into a special assignment force for the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. 1st Special Forces Group traces its origins to the devil's brigade.
First Special Force Memorial Highway
In September of 1999, Alberta Highway 4 and Interstate 15 in Montana, being the main highway between the cities of Lethbridge, Alberta Canada and Helena, Montana in the United States, was renamed the "First Special Service Force Memorial Highway". This highway was chosen because it was the route taken in 1942 by the Canadian volunteers to join their American counterparts for training at Fort Harrison.
A large number of the Devil's Brigade members were honored for their acts of valour, including Tommy Prince, Canada's most decorated aboriginal soldier of WW II. Also, U.S. member Wendell C. Johnson (Fifth Company, Third Regiment, serial # 37 168 437), risking his life to save a fellow Black Devil, walked into a mine field area and brought his brigade comrade to safety. When they tried to give him a medal for his act of heroism Wendell declined with the words: "Give it to the man who lost his leg".
M1941 Johnson machine gun
V-42 combat knife
Aleutians campaign, 1943
Kiska & Little Kiska - August 15-August 19, 1943
Segula Island - August 17, 1943
Italian (Naples-Foggia, Anzio, Rome-Arno) campaigns 1943-1944
Monte la Difensa, Rocca d'Evandro - December 3-December 6, 1943
Monte la Remetanea, Rocca d'Evandro - December 6-December 9, 1943
Monte Sambúcaro, S.Pietro-S.Vittore - December 25 (Christmas Day), 1943
Radicosa, S.Vittore - January 4, 1944
Monte Majo - January 6, 1944
Monte Vischiataro - January 8, 1944
Anzio - February 2-May 10, 1944
Monte Arrestino - May 25, 1944
Rocca Massima - May 27, 1944
Colle Ferro - June 2, 1944
Rome - June 4, 1944
Southern France, (Alpes-Maritimes) campaign, 1944
Iles d'Hyères - August 14-August 17, 1944
Grasse - August 24, 1944
Villeneuve-Loubet - August 26, 1944
Vence - September 1, 1944
Drap - September 3, 1944
L'Escarène - September 5, 1944
La Turbie - September 6, 1944
Menton - September 7, 1944
Rhineland campaign, 1944
Franco-Italian border - September 7 - November 30, 1944
Operation Shingle / Battle of Anzio
The Devil's Brigade (1968) - starring William Holden, Cliff Robertson, Vince Edwards
Daring to Die: The Story of the Black Devils
Devil's Brigade (2006) - A TV mini-series produced by Frantic Films.
^ Pikula, Sam (Maj.), The Armalite AR-10, 1998
^ This name usually appears as "Sammucro" on Allied military maps of the period.
Adleman, Robert H.; Colonel George Walton (1966). The Devil's Brigade. Philadelphia, PA: Chilton Books.
Burhans, Robert D., The First Special Service Force: A Canadian/American Wartime Alliance: The Devil's Brigade (Washington: Infantry Journal Press Inc. 1947)
Cottingham, Peter Layton Once Upon a Wartime: A Canadian Who Survived the Devil's Brigade (P.L. Cottingham, Manitoba Canada, 1996)
Joyce, Kenneth H. (2006). Snow Plough and the Jupiter Deception - The Story of the 1st Special Service Force and the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion - 1942-1945. St. Catharines, ON: Vanwell Publishing.
Nadler, John (2005). A Perfect Hell: The true story of the FSSF, Forgotten Commandos of the Second World War. PA: Double Day Canada.
Hicks, Anne. "The Last Fighting General: The Biography of Robert Tryon Frederick" (Schiffer Pub Ltd, 2006) ISBN 0764324306.
Ross, Robert Todd, The Supercommandos First Special Service Force, 1942-1942, An Illustrated History (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd. 2000).
Springer, Joseph, The Black Devil Brigade: The True Story of the First Special Service Force, (Pacifica Military History, 2001).
Werner, Brett. "First Special Service Force 1942 - 44" (Osprey Publishing, 2006) ISBN 1841769681.
Wickham, Kenneth. "An Adjutant General Remembers" (Adjutant General's Corps Regimental Association, 1991).
Wood, James. “‘Matters Canadian’ and the Problem with Being Special: Robert T. Frederick on the First Special Service Force.” Canadian Military History 12, no. 4 (Autumn 2003): 17-33.
Wood, James A. We Move Only Forward: Canada, the United States, and the First Special Service Force, 1942-1944 (St. Catharines, ON: Vanwell Publishing, 2006).
The Devil's Brigade, at PHW Online, written and created by amateur Canadian comic maker Andres Lapena, is about a fictitious squad in the F.S.S.F. The characters each tell one part of the story, which spans the squad's tour from the shores of Italy to the mountains of France (only three parts have been created as of now). The series is not yet completed. An older, low-quality version is also available at PHW Online.
The First Special Service Force is represented by at least one military reenactment group. The First Special Service Force Living History Group is made up of men from both Canada and the United States. Members of this group in 2006 ventured to Monte La Difensa and placed a memorial plaque dedicated to the men of the force.
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