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Devil's Brigade

World War II American-Canadian commando unit

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.


General Background

The volunteers for the 1600 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.

Force members received rigorous and intensive training in stealth tactics, hand-to-hand combat, the use of explosives for demolition, amphibious warfare, rock climbing and mountain fighting, and as ski troops. From the outset, the Force was armed with a variety of non-standard or limited issue weapons, such as the M41 Johnson LMG.[1] 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, a derivation of the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife.

The formation patch was a red arrowhead with the words CANADA and USA.



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 1st SSF arrived at Naples on November 19, 1943 and immediately went into the line with the U.S. 36th Infantry Division.

At Monte la Defensa, located in the ancient town of Rocca d'Evandro (about 10 miles south of Cassino), 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 Special Service Force wiped out a strategic enemy defensive position sitting 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. 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 Sammucro on December 25, and assaulted Monte Vischiataro on January 8, 1944. During the mountain campaign the 1st SSF suffered 77% casualties.

During Operation Shingle at Anzio, Italy, 1944, the Special Force were brought ashore on February 1, after the decimation of the 1st and 3rd Ranger battalions at Cisterna, 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 4th, 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 �les d'Hy�res 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 5th, 1944. 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. However, 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.

In September of 1999, Alberta provincial 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 valor, including Tommy Prince, Canada's most decorated aboriginal soldier of WW II.


Unique weapons

  • M41 Johnson LMG
  • 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 Defensa, Rocca d'Evandro - December 3-December 6, 1943
  • Monte la Remetanea, Rocca d'Evandro - December 6-December 9, 1943
  • Monte Sammucro, 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'Hy�res - August 14-August 17, 1944
  • Grasse - August 27, 1944
  • Villeneuve-Loubet - August 30, 1944
  • Vence - September 1, 1944
  • Drap - September 3, 1944
  • L'Escar�ne - September 5, 1944
  • La Turbie - September 6, 1944
  • Menton - September 7, 1944

Rhineland Campaign, 1944

  • Franco-Italian border - September 7 - November 30, 1944

Published on: 2006-09-25 (23798 reads)

submitted by: Canadaka

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