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  • In 1942 the Allies had a serious problem.

  • Germany was believed to be moving full-steam ahead on its program to create a nuclear weapon,

  • and the Russian front was increasingly looking like a lost cause.

  • Something had to be done, and fast, or the war might soon be lost.

  • That something would be the creation of the US's first special forces force.

  • Norway was of great strategic importance to Germany, as it gave them access to iron and

  • other minerals needed for the war effort, but also to heavy water facilities which were

  • used in their nuclear weapons program.

  • Further, their control of Norway prevented the Allies from having an easy year-round

  • route to Russia, which the United States was steadily feeding as many military supplies

  • and food as it could fit into cargo ships.

  • Without this aid, Russia would collapse under the Nazi onslaught.

  • If the Allies could take Norway, it would open up a direct route to Russia and severely

  • hamper the Nazi war effort- but Norway was easily fortified, and a major assault would

  • be disastrous.

  • Instead, an English intellectual proposed a bold idea: land a small, but highly trained

  • and well-equipped force onto the mountain glaciers of Norway, from which they could

  • conduct raids on vital German targets and retreat back into the safety of their mountain

  • bases.

  • The British high command thought highly of the idea, but ultimately realized it didn't

  • have the manpower or logistics to pull off such a daring feat.

  • So instead, they kicked the idea over to the Americans.

  • For the Americans, forcing the Nazis out of Norway could spell the end of the European

  • war, something they wanted very much as it would free up the allies to fight in the Pacific.

  • Plans to land an elite commando force behind enemy lines which would live off the mountains

  • were quickly adopted, and the First Special Service Force was born.

  • Recruitment for the FSSF was undertaken via posters at various military bases.

  • The advertisements asked for daring individuals in good physical shape and who had experience

  • as mountaineers, skiiers, hunters, game wardens, lumberjacks and the sort.

  • The US wouldn't undertake this effort alone though, and the unit would end up being made

  • up of half Americans and half Canadians.

  • The FSSF would consist of 3 regiments and one services battalion, with half of the officers

  • and one third of the enlisted men being Canadian.

  • While remaining members of the Canadian military, all expenses were paid for by the US Army

  • and the men would wear American uniforms.

  • An American officer was placed in charge of the unit, but a Canadian officer was made

  • second in command.

  • The FSSF's training was brutal, even by modern standards.

  • Within 48 hours of arrival at Helena, Montana- chosen for its difficult terrain and cold

  • weather- FSSF recruits would earn their parachutist wings.

  • The men spent nearly a full year in training, with August through October dedicated to parachuting,

  • weapons and demolitions usage, small unit tactics and physical training.

  • October to November was spent on unit tactics and problem solving.

  • November to July consisted of skiing, rock climbing, adaptation to cold climates, and

  • the operation of the specially constructed all-terrain vehicle the M29 Weasel

  • Training consisted of not just American and Canadian equipment and tactics, but also of

  • the use of German equipment, until the men were as proficient with German weapons as

  • they were with their own.

  • They were trained in hand-to-hand combat and bayonet fighting techniques, even sparring

  • against each other with unsheathed bayonets- leading to many injuries.

  • Once the snows fell, Norwegian ski instructors took over, and within two weeks the Americans

  • and Canadians had mastered the basics.

  • The training would continue until their Norwegian instructors were confident the men were up

  • to Norwegian army standards.

  • It was an irregular unit which would soon be fighting in highly irregular ways.

  • The FSSF's first combat deployment would be to the Aleutian Islands in 1943.

  • Their wintertime and mountain training made them perfect for the Alaskan environment,

  • but upon reaching their destination it was discovered the Japanese had already evacuated

  • the island.

  • The FSSF was then redeployed to Europe, where the possibility of an insertion into Norway

  • had come and gone.

  • Instead, the men would ship off to Italy, to join in the stab at Hitler's soft underbelly.

  • Here they would have their baptism by fire, trying to take an objective many Allied troops

  • had lost their lives trying to take.

  • Immediately upon arrival, the FSSF had their mountaineering skills put to the test.

  • The Allied push into Italy was being severely hampered by two strong German defensive positions,

  • one at Monte La Difensa, and another at Monte La Remetanea.

  • Previous assaults on these strongholds had yielded nothing but terrible losses for the

  • Allies.

  • The FSSF would have to prove they could succeed where everyone else had failed.

  • If they didn't, the Allied push to Rome would falter.

  • La Difensa would be the first target to be attacked.

  • On 2nd December, the 2nd Regiment was trucked to within 6 miles of the base of the mountain,

  • after which the men disembarked and moved on foot through the forest.

  • Ahead of them lay a six hour march, uphill, through difficult terrain, with a hornet's

  • nest full of Nazis waiting for them.

  • A force of 600 men reached the base of the mountain and took a rest, then under the cover

  • of dusk began their ascent of La Difensa.

  • The assault was covered by a brutal Allied bombardment, with one soldier remarking that

  • it looked as if they were marching into hell, as if the entire mountain was on fire.

  • The men managed to sneak all the way to the base of the final cliff they would have to

  • climb without the Germans ever realizing they were there- such was the intensity of the

  • incoming artillery.

  • But Mother Nature helped too, lashing out at all the combatants with freezing rain,

  • which helped cover the approaching soldiers as they climbed a 1,000 foot cliff- but it

  • also exhausted the men and threatened to blow them off their perilous holds and to a very

  • ugly death on the rocks below.

  • Incredibly, the men climbed to the top of the cliff and then moved into position in

  • a shallow depression just across from the enemy's lines.

  • They were supposed to hold their fire until dawn, when the assault would begin, but the

  • loose gravel giving way under the feet of the soldiers gave their positions away to

  • the Germans.

  • Flares shot into the air, revealing to the utter shock of the defending Germans the 600

  • Americans and Canadians that had scaled a cliff to reach them.

  • The FSSF put up a fierce battle, and despite Allied commanders expecting that the fighting

  • would last for up to a week, the Germans retreated to their second defensive position in only

  • two hours.

  • Such was the ferocity of the Devil's Brigade attack, through terrain so treacherous no

  • regular infantry unit could have managed the feat.

  • The follow on attack on Monte La Remetanea had to be briefly halted due to the death

  • of 1st Battalion CO Lt. Colonel T.C.

  • MacWilliam.

  • Instead, the men were ordered to wait for resupply and dug in, expecting a German counter-attack

  • at any time.

  • The Germans however would be unable to mount a counter-attack due to the fierce pounding

  • they received from Allied artillery.

  • The flooding of two nearby rivers also prevented them from regrouping during their retreat,

  • leaving the Nazis off-balance and allowing British forces to break through German lines

  • at Monte Camino.

  • With the British breakthrough, the FSSF continued its attack on La Remetanea, taking three days

  • to seize their objective.

  • The next month, the FSSF would continue showcasing its mountain fighting expertise by taking

  • several more Nazi positions.

  • They would be pulled out of the mountains to join a new allied beachhead at Anzio which

  • sought to flank the German line, but they paid dearly for their time in the Italian

  • mountains, with a whopping 77% casualty rate.

  • 91 men lay dead, 9 were missing in action, 313 were wounded, and 116 had to be hospitalized

  • for exhaustion.

  • After a brief recovery and replenishment period, the FSSF replaced the 1st and 3rd Ranger Battalions

  • at Anzio, which had suffered heavy casualties as well.

  • Their job was to hold the line while also launching raids into enemy territory in order

  • to keep the Germans off-balance.

  • This is where the FSSF would earn their nickname of the Black Devils, for their propensity

  • to launch daring night raids with completely blacked out faces.

  • The night raids undertaken by the FSSF were so aggressive in fact, that the Germans were

  • forced to retreat a full half-mile from their original positions in order to avoid their

  • patrols.

  • But the very presence of the FSSF in the area led the Germans to reinforce their positions

  • with more men than were necessary, tying down German forces desperately needed to counter

  • Allied attacks elsewhere.

  • The Black Devils had earned a reputation amongst the Germans, who believed they were facing

  • a full on division rather than three under-strength regiments.

  • One note found on a German prisoner warned that they would befighting an elite Canadian-American

  • Force.

  • They are treacherous, unmerciful, and clever.

  • You cannot afford to relax.

  • The first soldier or groups of soldiers capturing one of these men will be given a 10-day furlough.”

  • With their raids penetrating deep behind enemy lines, the Germans grew increasingly fearful

  • of these Canadian and American night devils.

  • To further wreak havoc on German morale, the FSSF began to leave a unique calling card

  • on the corpses of Germans killed and equipment destroyed in the middle of the night- a sticker

  • with the unit's patch which read in German, “The worst is yet to come.”

  • That summer, the FSSF would have the honor of being one of the first Allied units to

  • enter an enemy capital, as they rushed into Rome under the cover of night in order to

  • ensure that the retreating Germans didn't blow up key bridges.

  • With Italy falling to the Allies, the FSSF would be shipped to the sunny southern coast

  • of France- but they weren't there for a vacation.

  • With the successful Allied landings at Normandy, the FSSF would help envelop German forces

  • in France in a pincer movement, but first the Axis had to be kicked out of the Mediterranean

  • for good.

  • This would require the taking of several key islands along the southern French coast, eliminating

  • German airfields and naval facilities.

  • Here, the FSSF would prove they could not just fight in mountains or invade from the

  • sea, but bring victory from the sky as well as they were air-dropped onto the island of

  • Port-Cros.

  • The Nazis had fortified the strategically important island with five forts, but their

  • naval support was quickly eliminated by a single American destroyer as it surprised

  • two German ships defending the island.

  • After sinking both, the USS Somers turned its attention to providing fire support for

  • the airborne assault on the island's forts.

  • In just one single day of fighting, the FSSF captured three of the five forts, with the

  • other two surrendering without resistance.

  • They suffered only nine dead for their efforts.

  • Soon, the FSSF was joining in the invasion of southern Italy, where it fought several

  • tough-won skirmishes against the German occupiers.

  • As the war swung against Germany, the FSSF was moved for a well-earned rest along the

  • French and German border to act as a blocking force and deterrent against a German breakout

  • as the Allies pushed into Germany itself.

  • On the 5th of December, 1944, the FSSF was officially disbanded.

  • There was no more need for its specific expertise, and both the Canadian and American military

  • would be better served by having the men moved to other units within their respective militaries.

  • On the day of disbandment, the American troops honored their Canadian brethren with a Pass

  • in Review, eyes right, officers salute.

  • The FSSF would be the direct descendant of the US Army Special Forces, and laid the groundwork

  • for training, doctrine, and tactics employed by American special forces to this day.

  • Every 5th December, American and Canadian special forces still celebrate December 5th,

  • along with surviving members of the FSSF.

  • Now go watch Hitler's Secret Weapon- Germany's Most Dangerous Black Ops Soldier, or click

  • this other link instead.

In 1942 the Allies had a serious problem.

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Why Nazis Were Terrified of The Devil's Brigade

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