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FSSF - The Devil's Brigade
One of the most unique combat units in Italy was the First Special Service Force, a bi-national group consisting of elite Canadian and American fighters. The Canadian component was originally the 2nd Canadian Parachute Battalion, then renamed the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion. In June 1942, when it joined with US Army troops and became the First Special Service Force, Canadians comprised 1/4 of its strength, 47 officers and 650 other ranks.
 

Missions
- Monte la Difensa and Monte la Remetanea

Origins of the Devil's Brigade

In 1942, a group of men was assembled into a force that would change the way the military operated. These men trained more intesively than ever before and would achieve objectives that seemed impossible.

Involving representatives from a wide array of Canadian and American army units, the chosen soldiers faced bureaucratic infighting as well as the possibility of being disbanded before they had even fought together as a unit. But once Allied forces saw them in action, they realized that something unique had been created. Despite the barriers put in its way, the group lived up to its name, the First Special Service Force (FSSF). And the legacy that its members left behind is a legend among soldiers to this day... for they were the very best.

There were many people involved in the creation of the FSSF, but two names are synonymous with the history of the FSSF from its inception. One of them is the civilian who developed the idea of the Force and how it would be different from the rest of the Allied military structure. The other is the man who would take command of that idea and make it a reality. These men represent the qualities that made the FSSF stand out above the rest: a unique way of thinking and looking at a problem or situation and the strength and the will to see the job done.

Uniform & Gear

Field Uniform

M43 Field Jacket c/w 1 SSF patch and hood
M41 Field Jacket c/w 1 SSF patch
Mountain trousers c/w suspenders x 2
Mountain cap
Utility cap
Goggles, Ski
Scarves, wool
Wool knitted cap (jeep)
Steel helmet, M1 c/w liner and net cover set
Gloves, combat pair
Socks, wool or olive drab pairs
Combat boots pair
Snow gaiters (mountain) pair
Long underwear sets
Singlets, OD
Shirts, wool (c/w 1 SSF patch each)
Undershorts, OD
White snow covers, jacket, trousers, helmet and rucksack set

Weapons

M3 Fighting Knife with M8Scabbard
Case V-42 fighting knife with horsehide sheath
M-1905 Bayonet with M3 Scabbard
M1 Bayonet with M7 Scabbard
Mountain Pocket Knife
M-1911A1 .45 Caliber Automatic Pistol
M-1 "Garand" .30 Caliber Rifle
M-1A1 Carbine .30 Caliber
M-1A1 Thompson .45 Caliber Submachine Gun
M-1918A2 Browning .30 Caliber Automatic Rifle
M-1919A4 Browning .30 Caliber Machine Gun
M-1941 Johnson .30 Caliber Light Machine Gun
M-1 2.36-inch "Bazooka" Anti-tank Rocket Launcher
M-1 Flame Thrower
60mm Mortar with M-2 Mount
M-6A1 and M-6A2 Anti-tank Rockets
Mk-IIA1 Fragmentation Grenade
Watch the weapons videos

Training

Training was arduous -- parachuting, skiing, and mountain climbing. Everything was done "at the double" and their physical conditioning was aided by calisthenics, obstacle courses, and long marches with hundred-pound packs. Each man learned how to handle explosives and to use every weapon in the Force's extensive arsenal. Hand-to-hand combat, night fighting, and use of captured weapons rounded out the training program. These specialized skills were necessary, for the Force members were to become shock troops, frequently raiding strategic positions and often parachuting behind enemy lines. Their effectiveness would earn them the nickname, "the Devil's Brigade".
 
Numbers
  • At Anzio Casualties were 384 men, killed, wounded, or missing, 117 were Canadian.
  • Sixty-two of them lie among the 2,313 war dead at Beach Head War Cemetery in Anzio on Italy's west coast.
  • By the time the Devil's Brigade reached Rome, Canadian casualties alone totalled 185.
 Photo Gallery
An uidentified major of the First Special Service Force, Anzio beachhead. 20-27 April, 1944, Anzio, Italy.
Forcemen of the First Special Service Force with a Browning light machine gun in the Anzio beachhead. April 20-27, 1944, Anzio Beach Head, Italy.
Forcemen of the First Special Service Force who received medals in the Anzio beachhead. April 20, 1944, Anzio, Italy.
Forcemen of 3-1, First Special Service Force, in an M-2 60mm. mortar pit. April 20-27, 1944, Anzio Beach Head, Italy.
Forcemen of the First Special Service Force preparing to go on an evening patrol in the Anzio beachhead. April 20-27, 1944, Anzio Beach Head, Italy.
A 6-2 Section of the First Special Service Force during a battle drill in the Anzio beachhead. April 20-27, 1944, Anzio Beach Head, Italy.
Personnel of the First Special Service Force being briefed before setting out on a patrol. Lt. H. Rayner of Toronto in foreground. April 20, 1944, Anzio beach-head, Italy.
Forcemen of 5-2, First Special Service Force, preparing to go on an evening patrol in the Anzio beachhead. April 20-27, 1944 , Place of publication: Anzio Beach Head, Italy.
Forcemen of the First Special Service Force in the Anzio beachhead. April 20, 1944.
Unidentified sergeant of the First Special Service Force, wearing the distinctive USA-CANADA spearhead shoulder title. April 20, 1944, Anzio beachhead, Italy.

Sources: Veterans Affairs Canada, Library and Archives Canada, History Television: Devil's Brigade


Last updated on Nov 9, 2006 00:00. Page viewed 47482 times.