“Their enemies called them ‘Murdering Basterds’ and ‘Throat Slitters’. They haunted the nightmares of German troops in Italy and southern France. They took on missions that no other force could handle, nor would want to. They did routinely what others said could not be done. They killed 25 of their enemy for every man they lost. They captured 235 enemy soldiers for every man of theirs taken prisoner. They were one of the most feared and deadly allied combat units during the second World War. They are the First Special Service Force, or as they like to be called: The Black Devils.” – Daring to Die: The Story of the Black Devils
Remember that time little Johnny tried making fun of Canadians for being totally too nice, saying ‘eh far too often, and being overshadowed by the United States? Little Johnny got stuffed in a trashcan for all said accusations by Canadian members of the First Special Service Force. I say Canadians, because unfortunately all the American members have since passed away, the last two; Mark Radcliffe, 94 and Joe Glass, 92, from Helena, Montana, in 2012. And if I have to remind you nimrods of how badass Canadians are for the umpteenth time, look up who owns all the farthest sniper shots in history. It’s all those goddamn Canadians. Canadians have gotten the shaft far too long from shows like South Park and as an American
badass moron myself, allow me to drop some well-furbished knowledge bombs onto your eyeballs.
A mad scientist by the name of Geoffrey Pyke, suggested that a small force of soldiers were capable of kicking serious ass if they swan dive out of airplanes behind enemy lines into some of the worst conditions imaginable. The idea formed into a plan called Project Plough, where Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Chief of British Combined Operations Command, signed off on the concept because he knew it was seriously some badass shit. Unfortunately the Brits were already getting after it in multiple areas across Europe, so he handed the plan off to the Yankees located in the west.
Commanders in the US and Canada thought the idea was hogwash and planned to strategically bomb positions in Norway because that would be the smart and logical thing to do. But after using their brain power they couldn’t pass up on the idea of sending a bunch of goddamn pissed off American and Canadian hardasses who only wanted to drink beer, play baseball, and chase women. Take that away, the only smart and logical thing to do was train them to beat Satan to death with nothing more than a Squirt Gun, a styrofoam pool noodle, and a pair of flip flops.
Hitler, being the conniving son of a bitch that he was, teamed up with his evil fascist partners to enact a fury upon the world as the biggest dickheads of the 20th century. Because whenever shit hits the fizz-an the world looks to The World’s Police to fuck major shit up, Eisenhower himself assigned Brigadier General Robert T. Frederick, as the boss hog to forerun the impossible task of setting up an elite commando unit compiled of Canadian and American miners, farmers, former bodyguards of Chicago gangsters, hunters, ninjas, athletes, and patriots who simply wanted to do the right thing. Their mission: sabotage hydroelectric plants, oil fields, and kick fascists asses in occupied Norway.
Frederick thought to himself, “Since I’m an immortal God, I’m going to create a unit that’s so highly trained – so savagely terrifying – that the Nazi’s are going to poop their pants in their sleep at the thought of fighting us. We are a can of whoop-ass with dudes who just want to kill Nazis. Let’s do this shit!”
Frederick picked Montana because it was the perfect location to conduct airborne operations, mountain warfare, and
cold weather freeze-your-balls-off training. Because Frederick was tough as nails, his soldiers trained 6-days a week, unlike those weeny Navy SEALs who only train five… They recruited elite Norwegian skiers to teach them how to Pizza and how to French Fry, rock-climbers to mimic Tarzan, and hired Dermot (Pat) O’Neill an ex-Shanghai International Police Officer Ninja-Star-Throwing Ass-kicker to teach them how to RKO Krauts to death.
O’Neill even taught them how to quick-draw their pistols like Wyatt Earp, sweep the leg Karate Kid style, and fix bayonets, because according to the Chinese, or better yet Lewis Millett, “We had acquired some Chinese documents stating that Americans were afraid of hand-to-hand fighting and cold steel…when I read that, I thought, ‘I’ll show you, you sons of bitches!”.
Frederick was the type of no-nonsense officer that men wanted to follow into battle. He lead by example, always being the first guy into the fight sprinting towards the sound of gunfire. Many former members of the unit have stated that if Frederick was surrounded by enemy, they would do anything to get him out. Frederick is the only warrior from World War II to be awarded the Purple Heart EIGHT-Fucking-Times. He designed the V-42 combat knife specifically for the members of his unit, which became a trademark weapon used during night raids. The current Special Forces emblem has the knife featured front and center in homage.
During one of many of their successful night raids, the First Special Service Force captured a German soldier’s diary that read messages about Black Devils surrounding them, yet they never see nor hear them. Members of the unit would use black shoe polish on their faces to camouflage themselves as they snuck into German encampments undetected. They would tip-toe into Nazi-controlled areas under the cover of darkness, and at times not kill them, but use methods of psychological warfare like placing stickers on top of sleeping soldiers (top left image above) that translated in German, “The Worst is Yet to Come”.
During the Battle of Monte La Difensa, allied forces were stonewalled twice lasting several days suffering heavy casualties. Looked at as cowboys, overconfident and overly fit soldiers by conventional officers, The Devil’s Brigade took on the mission proving they were the perfect men for the job despite their already impressive reputation. They decided to march all night with over 70lbs of gear plus 20 extra pounds dragging their balls, until they reached the tree-line 300 meters short of German positions. They hid all throughout the day lying as still as they possibly could. Then when the moon came out, these savages pulled out their carabiners, attached ropes to themselves, and climbed up the goddamn mountain like they were trained to do months prior. They fixed bayonets, carrying their weapon in one hand and a grenade in the other, as they fanned out in search of those Nazi bastards. The Nazis didn’t expect a group of over 700 ninjas to scale the mountain face and attack them from behind.
Tommy Prince, one of the most decorated Canadian’s of the unit who often stole the shoes off of Nazi’s while they slept, led the charge. Suffering a 77% casualty rate: 511 total, 91 dead, 9 missing, 313 wounded with 116 exhaustion cases during the assault. The Black Devils slaughtered the Nazi’s in two hours. The next day, allied force strolled up the mountain after the brutal battle that took place the night before. It was at Anzio, where the Germans called the First Special Service Force the “Devil’s Brigade”.
Tommy Prince is just one of many balls-to-the-wall gunslingers of the unit, today many modern-day commando units mimic his tactics. One particular tactic Prince mastered was the art of disguise. In Anzio, Italy during the end of the units draw to fame in 1944, Prince was scouting enemy positions calling in artillery strikes. He grabbed as much of a 1500 meter wire connecting to a telegraph that he could and snuck into a farmhouse 200 meters from German positions. He pulled up a lawn chair, interlocked his hands together behind his head, put his feet up and watched allied artillery blow Nazi positions to smithereens.
All was going well, until everything went quiet. Prince sat up wondering why the show stopped and noticed one of the artillery shells knocked the wiring out disconnecting it from the telegraph. Unable to relay coordinates, Prince changed his clothes to look like a totally jacked Italian farmer. Walked into the middle of the field to the point where the wires split in front of on-looking Nazis patrols, reconnected the wires, and skipped his happy ass all the way back to the farmhouse and continued bombing the piss out of their positions.
Turns out Prince was later nominated Croix de Guerre, the highest medal for valor given to French Resistance fighters, when he saw a bunch of them getting shot at by a patrol of Nazis. Like any true Black Devil, Prince shouldered his sniper rifle and started plinking Nazis in the face like he was trying to win a super-sized stuffed panda at the local town fair on a Tuesday. The French Resistance fighters said the fire was so intense they thought a battalion of Rangers were coming to their rescue. They nearly passed out in the presence of Prince when they saw one dude could deliver the amount of suppressive fire seen from 50 soldiers. The courier sending the message for the award was killed in transit, thus Prince was never awarded the medal.
After the war, Prince got out of the Army, re-enlisted during the Korean War, was a member of a “snatch patrol”, captured 8 prisoners and two heavy machine guns, served two additional tours, and continued being one of the most kickass First Nation soldiers the planet has ever seen.
The Black Devils however, continued their fury as they conducted Monster Reconnaissance Patrols, 300 commandos often as far as 1,500 feet behind enemy lines. Imagine John Rambo, John Matrix, John McClane, Dirty Harry, Creasy, Bryan Mills, Jack Bauer, Jack Burton, Indiana Jones, and Jason Bourne. Then double them, double triple that, triple double triple that and you got 300 of the most hardcore death-dealing, blood thirsty, badasses with nearly 100 continuous days of Nazi killing under their belts walking behind enemy lines like ghosts.
On May 25, 1944, the US Army tasked the 1st SSF to attack Rocca Massima to capture seven bridges to prevent the Nazis from escaping. On June 4, the Black Devils entered Rome being some of the first soldiers to do so in the war. In August, Frederick received a promotion to Major General and was reassigned to command 1st Airborne Task Force. 1st SSF attached to the Task Force and was responsible for capturing five forts during the Battle of Port Cros, nine commandos were killed. Of the 1,800 members in the unit, they killed 12,000 Nazis, captured 7,000 prisoners and had an attrition rate of over 600%.
On December 5, 1944, the unit was disbanded in a field near Menton, on the Mediterranean coast of France. The need for small commando units wasn’t applicable for the rest of the war. Many in the unit went to airborne units, Ranger battalions, and some Black Devils were the first members to form the 474th Infantry Regiment. 1st Special Forces Group and Canadian Special Operations Command celebrate Menton Day every December 5th, combined with a formal ball and an honorary parachute jump.
The Devil’s Brigade had such a positive impact in the war that they were a major influence in the start of Army Special Forces also referred to as the Green Berets. Similar to the Americans, Canadians were proud of their lineage and their elite Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) was formed after seeing the effectiveness The Black Devils produced during the second World War.
On Feb. 3, 2015, Congress awarded the unit the Congressional Gold Medal, the nations highest award to civilians.
The movie Inglorious Basterds (2009), specifically Lt. Aldo Raine, were loosely based on members from the Devil’s Brigade
MG Federick’s V-42 combat knife is featured in the Army Special Forces emblem today paying homage to their predecessor’s, The Black Devils.
De Oppresso Liber translates to “Free from the oppressed”
“We were crazy men. The force horrified the men of these battle hardened German Regiments that had fought in places like Russia and North Africa, Italy and Greece. We shot a German off of his motorbike one night and found a letter written to his girlfriend in Berlin, where he had been on leave. In it it said, ‘I’m being sent back to Anzio and I fear for my life. As the angels with dirty faces are all around us in the night with their knives.'”
From the official FSSF website: “Here is one of the best documentaries about FSSF. It is no longer for sale and never will be again. It will also most likely NEVER be played on TV again. So enjoy!!!”
Trying to patronize war is one of the biggest disservices the media can portray upon history. Marveling at the sacrifice, courage, and actions of soldiers is encouraged as long as the horrifying sides of war see equal spotlight. Suppressing the past only welcomes the same mistakes to happen in the future. To all those who served in the First Special Service Force, I, among many historians, special operators, educators, and the citizens of many of the oppressed countries at the time are thankful for your astounding call of duty to erase fascism from dominating the world.
Links: Wikipedia – First Special Service Force / The Last Surviving Members of the Devil’s Brigade / Tommy Prince – Most Decorated Black Devil / FSSF – Videos / Robert T. Frederick / Lewis Millett / FSSF – Pinterest / SOFREP