View Full Version : The Black Devils: US-Canadian 1st Special Service Force

01-24-2006, 08:07 PM
General information
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. Their formation patch was a red arrowhead with the words CANADA and USA.
They even had a specially designed fighting knife made for them called the V-42.


Their first scheduled operation was code named "Project Plough," a mission to parachute into German-held Norway to knock out strategic targets such as hydroelectric power plants. This operation 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. At Monte la Difensa 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 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." During the mountain campaign the Force suffered 77% casualties.

During Operation Shingle at Anzio, Italy, 1944, the Special Force were brought ashore on February 1st, after the decimation of the U.S. Rangers, to hold and raid from the right-hand flank of the beachhead marked by the Mussolini Canal/Pontine Marshes, which they did quite effectively.

It was at Anzio that the enemy dubbed the 1st Special Service Force as the "Devil's Brigade." The diary of a dead German soldier contained a passage that said, "The black devils (Die schwarze Teufeln) 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 Force fought for 99 days without relief, at the start of the campaign the Germans were only 100 yds away, two months later the Force pushed the Germans back 2 miles. It was also at Anzio that the Force used their trademark stickers, during night patrols Force men would carry stickers with the Force logo on it and beside it was written in German "Das ****e Ende Kommt Noch" which roughly translates to "The Worst is yet to Come", they would put these stickers on German corpses and doors. 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.
A 1St SSF "Forceman" firing the 1941 LMG at Anzio. Even in such a grainy photograph the weapon is instantly recognisable.

The first unit sent into Rome, the Devil's Brigade were given the assignment of capturing seven essential bridges in the city to prevent the Germans from blowing them up. During the night of June 4th, members of the Devil’s Brigade entered Rome. After they secured the bridges, they quickly moved north in pursuit of the retreating Germans. The following morning, throngs of grateful Romans lined the streets to give the long columns of American soldiers passing through the city a tumultuous reception. War photographers captured the scenes of joy on film to be seen back home, but the soldiers who actually liberated the city had passed through Rome during the early morning hours in darkness and near silence and were again in fierce combat with the Germans along a twenty-mile front on the Tiber River.

Following the taking of Italy, on August 14, 1944, the brigade was shipped to Îles d'Hyčres in the Mediterranean Sea just off the coast of southern France. As part of the U.S. 7th Army, it fought again with distinction in numerous battles. On September 7, it moved to the Franco-Italian border in what is called the "Rhineland Campaign." Members of the brigade, usually traveling by foot at night, made their way behind enemy lines to provide intelligence on German positions. This operation not only contributed to the liberation of Europe, but the information brigade members was able to pass back to headquarters saved many Allied soldiers' lives. 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 Devil's Brigade, a one-of-a-kind 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, the main highway between the city 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.
From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil's_Brigade
I learned about this unit watching a cheesy 1968 film called 'The Devil's Brigade' (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062886/) (starring William Holden, Claude Aikens, Cliff Robertson, and Richard Dawson.) The film is is a fun Saturday afternoon viewing, but is also filled with historical errors...

Man of Stoat
01-25-2006, 03:32 AM

Edited for being unobservant...

Did we not have a suggestion at some point that quoting pages and pages and pages from Wikipedia was unhelpful?

01-25-2006, 04:18 AM
Er Stoat, I think he did, look at the link at the bottom please.

01-25-2006, 11:04 AM
Sorry, the link is hard to see cause I over did it with the pics, but it's above the final picture...

01-25-2006, 11:19 AM
Did we not have a suggestion at some point that quoting pages and pages and pages from Wikipedia was unhelpful?

Yes, as pointed out by me on another thread today too, please just quote 1 parargraph and the photos and the link as it clutters up the Forum with over lengthy material that can be read elsewhere.

Good stuff though.

03-23-2006, 11:02 PM
I got to school with a guy whos grandfather was in the mixed unit. His last name was Sauve.

08-23-2006, 05:36 PM
Army Awards Bronze Star to Canadian 'Devil's Brigade' Vets
American Forces Press Service (http://www.military.com/features/0,15240,110724,00.html?ESRC=army.nl) | August 21, 2006
Washington D.C. - The Army has authorized award of the Bronze Star Medal for Service to the living Canadian veterans of the 1st Special Services Force for their service to the U.S. Army during World War II.

The unit was known as �the Devil�s Brigade� during the war and was one of the first U.S. special operations forces units in the war. The unit included U.S. Army soldiers and soldiers of the 2nd Canadian Parachute Battalion and 2nd Canadian Special Service Battalion of the Special Operations Group.

From 1942 to 1944, about 2,500 soldiers served in the unit under U.S. Army command. Members from both nations were assigned interchangeably to the squad level and below. The Canadians wore U.S. Army uniforms and carried American weapons. The unit deployed to the Aleutian Islands in 1943 and then moved to Italy. The force participated in actions at the Anzio beachhead, the liberation of Rome and into southern France. The unit took so many casualties that officials disbanded it in January 1945.

The unit earned the name the Devil's Brigade during the Italian Campaign from words found written in the diary of a dead German officer: "The black devils are all around us every time we come into line and we never hear them."

The award of the Bronze Star Medal for Service is a conversion award of the Combat Infantryman Badge authorized for almost 1,200 Canadian veterans in 2005. Under Army policies, only Combat Infantryman Badges and Combat Medic Badges awarded during World War II may be converted to the Bronze Star Medal for Service. �This is an added award to these Canadian veterans,� said Shari Lawrence, a spokeswoman for the Army�s Human Resources Command.

Although approved for the unit as a whole, the almost 120 eligible veterans must submit verification documents showing their complete name, rank, service number and dates of service when they apply for the medal.

Force veterans are meeting in Helena, Mont., this week for their last reunion. �It�s only fitting we make this announcement this week,� Lawrence said. The unit trained in at Helena�s Fort William Henry Harrison before leaving for war.

Eligible veterans may send their request and copies of their verification documents to: U.S. Army Human Resources Command; 200 Stovall Street, ATTN: AHRC-PDO-PA; Alexandria, VA 22332-4000.

08-31-2006, 08:40 PM

08-22-2012, 10:50 AM
Moving this thread back to active duty as some updates took place this past Spring that I missed...

08-22-2012, 10:54 AM
By Malia Rulon Herman - Gannett Washington Bureau
Posted : Thursday Mar 8, 2012 19:33:03 EST

WASHINGTON — World War II veteran Joe Glass of Helena was trained to do the impossible: scale a rock wall at midnight, sneak up on the enemy in broad daylight, parachute behind enemy lines.

“That’s all we did. We trained for nine months. We didn’t do anything except for learn how to kill properly,” said Glass, who turns 92 this month.

Glass is among about 220 veterans remaining of the 3,300 who made up the First Special Service Force, a joint American-Canadian commando unit created in 1942 during World War II to take on the most dangerous military missions.

The elite strike force, memorialized in the 1968 movie “The Devil’s Brigade,” trained at Fort Harrison near Helena. Now, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., is leading an effort in Congress to honor his hometown heroes with the Congressional Gold Medal.

“This may be a little delayed, but it’s so important. It has to be done,” Baucus said, describing the special force members as being “men of real hearty stock — lumberjacks, miners, just tough western Montana men who do the things tough Montana men do.”

They were known as the Devil’s Brigade or the Black Devils because they smeared shoe polish on their faces in order to sneak up on the enemy in the dark. The force is seen by many as the precursor of modern special forces units such as the Navy Seals, Green Berets and Delta Force.

Baucus said he hoped the attention paid to Navy Seal Team 6, which brought down Osama bin Laden, will help focus attention on the original special forces soldiers.

Glass declined to comment on the team that killed bin Laden. But he had plenty to say about his team’s first big mission — a midnight assault up the cliffs of Mount la Difensa in southern Italy in 1943. The mountain peak was a critical anchor of the German defense line.

“We were the first guys on that mountain,” Glass said. “We took that mountain in two hours of fighting. The whole Army couldn’t take it in weeks. I was so proud of them guys.”

Glass next took part in the siege of the Anzio beachhead south of Rome, where he was wounded during a reconnaissance raid.

“We made a couple of daylight raids before and I was on them and I never got hit. On this one, we were coming out and I jumped over a couple of bodies and these guys were coming after me. I was out of ammo anyway. The last two guys picked me up and said, ‘Oh Jesus, Joe is alive’ and dragged me out.”

After Anzio, members of the force were the first Allied troops to liberate Rome before moving on to another mission along the France-Italy border. The force was disbanded in 1944. In that short time — 251 days of combat — the force suffered 2,314 deaths, captured 30,000 prisoners, won five U.S. campaign stars and eight Canadian battle honors. Meanwhile, Glass returned to his native Ottawa, then moved to Helena, where he married and raised a family.

“We had a great fighting unit,” Glass said. “We were the only guys who never lost a battle. Never lost anything. It was really something.”

Earlier this month, the unit lost James “Stoney” Wines of Helena. He was 91. Other than Glass, only one other Montana veteran of the force remains: Mark Radcliffe, also of Helena.

Asked about the effort by Baucus and others to honor the First Special Service Force, Glass chuckled.

“I don’t know about honors. I don’t think much about medals,” he said.

Bill Woon, executive director of the First Special Service Force Association, based in Helena, said it’s not about the medal. Woon’s father, Dave Woon, was a member of the force.

“It’s about recognition for what they did 70 years ago, the legacy that they left and the lineage that they established that still lives on today with the U.S. special forces and Canadian special operation forces,” he said. “So, really, it’s recognition. For an entire generation.”

Under Baucus’ bill, two gold medals would be awarded on behalf of the 3,300 men who served. One would go to the Smithsonian Institution to be displayed; the other would go to the First Special Service Force Association in Helena.

Baucus said he’s hopes to get the bill passed before the force’s next reunion in September. The Senate bill already has 19 co-sponsors, including Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. A similar measure in the U.S. House has 53 co-sponsors, including Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.

TheArmyTimes (http://www.armytimes.com/news/2012/03/ap-lawmakers-seek-honor-world-war-2-special-force-030812/)

08-22-2012, 11:02 AM
Mark Radcliffe, 94, and Joe Glass, 92, passed away in Helena, Montana
Served with the feared First Special Service Force
Unit captured 27,000 Nazi prisoners

By Daily Mail Reporter

PUBLISHED: 18:51 EST, 3 April 2012 | UPDATED: 08:21 EST, 9 April 2012

Read more: TheDaileyMail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2124755/Black-Devils-veterans-served-World-War-II-die-12-hours-apart-Helena-Montana.html#ixzz24HsP8mue)

Two veterans, who survived in one of the deadliest commando units of World War Two, have died in their nineties within hours of each other.

Mark Radcliffe, 94, and 92-year-old Joe Glass both passed away within 12 hours of each other on Sunday.

They both lived in Helena, Montana and were among the last members of the First Special Service Force (FSSF) - an elite unit made up of American and Canadian soldiers who captured 27,000 enemy prisoners between 1942 and 1944.

The commandos were nicknamed the 'Black Devils' by the Nazis because of their formidable force.

'Mark and Joe were two of the original members of the First Special Service Force, and it’s appropriate that they were the last two survivors in the state,' FSSF aficionado Bill Woon told the Helena Independent Record.

Joe Glass was born in Ontario, Canada in 1920. After high school, he worked on a steamboat on the Great Lakes before signing up to the Canadian Army in 1940.

Mark Radcliffe was born in Farmington, New Mexico in 1918. He began active duty in 1941 and was deployed to the South Pacific. He was stationed in Hawaii when Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941.

Both men were selected in 1942 for the Plough Project - described as a 'suicide mission' and trained together at Fort Harrison in Helena, Montana.

Mr Radcliffe was married to his wife Edith for more than 60 years after they met while at a dance for the troops and local girls in the Montana town. The couple had two children Bob and Carolyn.

For his bravery Mr Radcliffe received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with cluster and the Purple Heart with two clusters.

He became a civil engineer, staying in the Army Reserves and helping with the Montana Military Museum. He retired from the reserves a full colonel.

His wartime friend, Mr Glass volunteered for the Devil's Brigade in 1940 to 'get into combat quicker'.

One of the unit's first assignments in the FSSF was a daring midnight assault up Mount la Difensa in southern Italy.

Mr Glass was injured during exchange of fire with a German sniper but was soon back on the frontline.

He was later badly injured by a mortar in March 1944 during the siege of Anzio beach in Italy.

According to the military website, Firstspecialserviceforce.net, Mr Glass said: 'A big piece of shrapnel... went through my chest and out my back.

'My lung collapsed, it broke all my ribs connected to the backbone and I was paralyzed from the waist down.

'When I started coughing up blood, I told a friend of mine, ''Say goodbye to my wife and kid.''

'They picked me up and dragged me out of there, and then another shell hit me in the arm,' he also told the local paper in Helena.

Mr Glass survived the horrifying injuries and returned to the town of Helena with his wife Dorothy and raised four children - Chuck, Bob, Victoria and Dottie.

He had a varied life, working as everything from a truck driver to selling insurance and delivering milk. In the 1950s, he operated the Valley Speedway stockcar race track and later owned his own fish and chip shop.