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 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 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. 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.
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 Iles d'Hyères in the Mediterranean Sea just off the coast of Southern France. As part of the U.S. 7th Army, they fought again with distinction in numerous battles. On September 7th, they 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 were able to pass back to headquarters saved many Allied soldier's lives.
The Devil's Brigade, a one-of-a-kind military unit that never failed to achieve its objective, was disbanded by the end of the War. However, in 1952 Col. Aaron Bank would create another elite unit using the training, the strategies, and the lessons learned from the Devil's Brigade's missions. This force would evolve into specialized forces such as the Green Berets, Delta Force, and the Navy SEAL. In Canada, today's elite and highly secretive JTF2 military unit is also modeled on the Devil's Brigade. Like World War II, Canadian JTF2 members and American Deta Force members were united 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.
Aleutians Campaign, 1943 :
Battles of the First Special Service Force :
Southern France, (Alpes-Maritimes) Campaign, 1944 :
Rhineland Campaign, 1944 :
Aleutians Campaign, 1943 :Italian (Naples-Foggia-Rome) Campaign 1943-1944 :