Skip to comments.Canadians weren't always fools and cowards
Posted on 03/18/2003 11:18:49 PM PST by sonofatpatcher2
Canadians weren't always fools and cowards
My father served with Canadians in the 1st Special Service Force. Here is a brief history:
The "Devil's Brigade"
While the origins of U.S. Army Special Forces date back to the French and Indian War and the formation of Rogers Rangers, the modern concepts of unconventional warfare were largely developed in World War II with the formation of several specially trained units.
One of the these early Special Forces units was the First Special Service Force, also known as the Devils Brigade.
The origins of the First Special Service Force (or the Force, as its members referred to it) began at the highest levels of the Allied Command in World War II. The basic concept, which came from the staff of Lord Louis Mountbattens Combined Operations Command, called for a force able to fight on land, on the sea, in the air, and in winter conditions. Planners intended to use the force to attack hydroelectric plants in occupied Norway, oil fields in Romania, and even targets in Russia. Because neither Britian nor Norway could supply the troops, this new unit would be comprised of American and Canadian soldiers. MG Dwight D. Eisenhower, head of the War Plans Division, gave one of his staff officers, LTC Robert T. Frederick, the assignment of studying the idea, codenamed Project Plough. On 16 June 1942 Eisenhower gave Frederick the task of organizing and commanding the unit that would become known as the First Special Service Force.
After receiving his orders, Frederick began to organize a staff, obtain American and Canadian volunteers, and locate a place to train the new unit. To fill the Forces ranks, Frederick and his staff recruited men with experience in working outdoors--lumberjacks, forest rangers, hunters, game wardens, prospectors, and others suitable for the Forces mission. The Force was organized into three regiments, each made up of two battalions. It also had a small Air Force Detachment and a Service Battalion. In all, the Force would have approximately 2,300 officers and men.
The First Special Service Force was activated on 9 July 1942 at Fort William Henry Harrison near Helena, Montana. The rugged, mountainous terrain and extreme winter conditions made Montana the ideal place for training. The Forcemen underwent rigorous training in a variety of weapons, hand-to-hand combat, demolition techniques, airborne assault, and attack maneuvers. In the fall, a group of Norwegian Army ski troops arrived to teach the Forcemen cross country skiing.
In the fall of 1942, however, the Allies cancelled Project Plough. Although seemingly without a mission with the termination of Plough, Allied leaders decided to keep the well trained Force. In spring 1943, the Force underwent amphibious training at Norfolk, Virginia, for possible future amphibious operations.
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Tryon Frederick Original Commander, Assembled, Organized, Trained, and Commanded First Special Services Force.
On 15 August 1943, the First Special Service Force participated in its first operation. The Forcemen landed on the rocky shores of Kiska in the Aleutian Islands, only to discover the Japanese had secretly abandoned the island.
After returning to the U.S., the First Special Service Force was reassigned to the Mediterranean Theater and the fighting on the Italian peninsula. The Force arrived in Naples on 19 November 1943 and went into the line at Santa Maria with the 36th Infantry Division. In early December, the Force stormed and captured Monte La Difensa, a major hill mass blocking the Fifth Armys advance which had been unsuccessfully assaulted by a number of other Allied units. In late December 1943 and early January 1944, the Force captured Monte Sammucro and Monet Mojo and held them against heavy odds.
After a brief rest, the Force was sent into the Anzio Beachhead on 2 February and took up positions on the Allies right flank. Despite being forty percent understrength, the Force effectively held thirteen kilometers of front for ninety-nine continuous days and even penetrated the German main line of resistance on occasion. It was at Anzio that the Force earned its nickname, the Devils Brigade, for their fierce style of fighting in blackened faces. An entry from a diary found on the body of a German officer read, The Black Devils are all around us every time we come into line, and we never hear them.
The Force seized key bridges south of Rome and entered the city with other Allied units on 4 June. In its last campaign, now under the command of COL Edwin A. Walker, the Force seized three islands off the south coast of France on 14 August to protect the Allied landings. However, the Forces time was almost up. On 5 December 1944, the Force was disbanded. Many of the American Forcemen were sent to American airborne units as desperately needed replacements. Others served with the 474th Infantry (Separate), which saw action with the Third Army and later performed occupation duty in Norway.
In its relatively brief wartime service, the First Special Service Force suffered over 2,700 casualties. It was awarded five U.S. Army campaign streamers and another ten by Canada. The Forces legacy lives on as the seven Special Forces groups currently in the Regular Army or Army National Guard all trace their lineage to the First Special Service Force.
First Special Service Force
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.
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".
The First Special Service Force arrived in Italy in November 1943, as the 5th U.S. Army was preparing to capture the mountains that guarded Cassino to the south. Its initial task was to throw the Germans off two of the highest peaks, Monte la Difensa and Monte la Remetanea. Climbing ropes in the dense fog, the Force took the Germans by surprise on Difensa. Following a bloody, six-day battle, Monte la Remetanea was captured. Its first involvement in the Italian campaign cost the First Special Service Force 511 casualties, including 73 fatalities.
A month later, the Force equaled its previous accomplishment by taking Monte Majo and several other ridges controlling the Via Caslina, the main Naples-Rome road. In terrible weather and even harsher conditions, the Germans were forced back across the Rapido River valley to their main defences, the Gustav Line. Sixty-seven Canadian members of the Force were either killed or wounded on Monte Majo.
By the time the First Special Service Force was pulled out of the line in the middle of January, it had an impressive record. After securing Majo, it drove the enemy from Hills 1109 and 1270, and other Fifth Army formations cleared the Germans from east of Cassino. Due in large part to this elite Canadian-American unit, the Fifth Army was finally ready to launch its long-awaited offensive on Rome. The Force was now sent to Anzio.
The First Special Service Force arrived at the beachhead on February 1. A few reinforcements left it with a combat strength of 1,233, all ranks. Only one of its regiments was intact, the other two were at half-strength. The Force promptly took over one-quarter of Anzio's thirty-mile-long front, and in a week forced the Germans to withdraw more than a mile from the Mussolini Canal, which was situated at the right flank of the bridgehead.
"Private, Sixth Company, First Special Service Force, Canadian Army, for gallantry in action near San Nicoli, Italy, on 1 June 1944. When his platoon suffered several casualties from the sudden cross fire of three machine guns, Private Magee unmindful of his own safety, voluntarily went to the assistance of two seriously wounded comrades. He calmly administered first aid treatment in full view of the enemy while machine gun bullets kicked up dirt all about him. After the completion of the treatment, he removed both men to a place of safety. In recovering one of his comrades, a much heavier man then himself, it was necessary for his to crawl along on his stomach carrying the wounded man on his back for a distance of fifty yards over an area covered by enemy fire. By his unselfish and fearless act in the fact of great danger, the lives of two soldiers were saved. Entered military service from Toronto, Ontario, Canada."
Performing night raids, scouting and reconnaissance, one of the most successful Force soldiers was 28-year-old Canadian Tommy Prince from Manitoba, who became one of Canada's most-decorated Aboriginal soldiers, with the Military Medal and the U.S. Silver Star for bravery in action. One of his most famous exploits, earning him the Military Medal, occurred near Anzio, where he calmly placed himself in great danger to report enemy artillery positions. Despite outstanding performances like this, the Force's casualties at Anzio, while not heavy, mounted steadily. By the time it came out of the line on May 9, it had lost 384 men, killed, wounded, or missing, 117 of which were Canadian.
While the Canadian army was not directly involved in the liberation of Rome, there was a Canadian presence. Members of the First Special Service Force were the first liberators to enter the city. The Force had spent nearly a hundred days in continuous action and so when it came out of the line at Anzio, was given an opportunity to rest and reorganize. Reinforcements strengthened the unit, including 15 Canadian officers and 240 other Canadian ranks.
In late May, the Force headed toward Appian Way, one of the two highways to Rome from the south. Once again the members found themselves in the mountainous terrain in which they excelled and soon seized Monte Arrestino at the entrance to the valley leading northwards to Valmontone, then took Artena, near Valmontone. The approach to Rome began early morning on June 3 and by midnight, the Force had reached Rome's suburbs. An hour later the Force commander was ordered to seize the Tiber bridges into the capital. The next day, they entered Rome, fanning out across the capital to seize key locations in Rome's centre.
Acting Major and Battalion Commander T.P. Gilday, First Special Service Force, Helena, Montana, November 1942. Tom is wearing the Guards uniform and the Forces insignia. The crossed arrows on his lapels were later adopted by the U.S. special service forces created after WW II. He is wearing American jump wings and the Forces shoulder flash - a spearhead with white letters on a red background with the words USA -CANADA. All ranks wore the shoulder lanyard. His stick, of course, is not a Guards item but he carries it as it was given to him by a member of his family.
Soon after, before the end of the Italian campaign, the First Special Service Force left Italy to fight in southern France and was disbanded in December that year.
By the time the "Devil's Brigade" secured Rome, Canadian casualties alone totalled 185, or about one-third of the Force's Canadian contingent. Sixty-two of them lie among the 2,313 war dead at Beach Head War Cemetery in Anzio on Italy's west coast.
Milk River, Alberta --- Once among North America's toughest fighting men of the Second World War, the daring exploits of the "Devil's Brigade" have finally been recognized by the government of Alberta.
Highway 4 --- the main connector between Alberta and the United States --- has officially been renamed the "first Special Service Force Memorial Highway".
The force, nicknamed the Black Devil's Brigade by a frightened German officer, received little fanfare after the Second World War.
"We didn't really show much during the war in Canada," said former Staff Sgt. Terry Fitzgerald, 77, of Fort St. John, B.C. "We were kind of a secret outfit, you see".
"So Canadians don't know anything about us. This highway will kind of repeat their history for them --- arouse their curiousity if nothing else."
Fitzgerald and dozens of other veterans of the unit were on hand for the ceremony in Milk River, just a stone's throw from the Canadian/U.S. border.
Earl Stewart, 76, joined up in Battleford, Saskatchewan, and served with the unit as a private. He says he's still amazed at the unit's success.
"It sometimes surprises me what we were able to do," said Stewart, who now lives in Calgary. "It accomplished an awful lot --- a lot more than what they figured it would accomplish."
The elite force, was a joint Canadian - U.S. commando unit that distinguished itself during the Second World War.
The airborne infantry later became known as the "Devil's Brigade" in books and in a 1968 Hollywood movie of the same name.
The 1,800 strong Devil's Brigade, 40 percent of whom were Canadian, were trained in parachute, ski, mountain and amphibious battle techniques near Helena, Montana.
The force was founded on July 9, 1942 and was disbanded in southern France in December 1944.
The Devil's Brigade spearheaded the 1943 invasion of Kiska in the Aleutian Islands. It led the breakout from the invasion at Anzio in Italy and its troops were the first Allied soldiers to enter Rome.
In 1944, it spearheaded the Allied invasion of southern France.
One of its more notable members was the late Stan Waters, an Alberta senator, who was a major in the unit. His wife, Barbara, was on hand for the ceremony, but says her husband never spoke much about his experiences overseas.
"No, he had funny stories to talk about the war, but he never discussed the ugly bits," she said. "It wasn't something they figured was part of our business.
Some of us Canadians who joined up settled in the United States after the war, including Bill Story, orignally of Winnegep. He says at the time, brigade members didn't recognize their accomplishments.
"We really didn't think we had done anything other than what we were expected to do," said Story, who now lives in Virginia. "It was only after the war that people started to write stories and articles about us."
Herb Morris, 76, of Wilsonville, Oregon, was on hand to honour his Canadian cousins. He, like many of the other veterans, spoke modestly of the unit's achievements.
"At the time, you're just trying to get to the next mountain or be part of the next day," said Morris, now a Methodist minister. "You're not thinking about what you're accomplishing other than staying alive."
"But as you look back, you say this is one of the great things. In my case, this is one of the finest things I've done in my life."
'"When The Tigers Broke Free" It was just before dawn One miserable morning in black 'forty four. When the forward commander Was told to sit tight When he asked that his men be withdrawn. And the Generals gave thanks As the other ranks held back The enemy tanks for a while. And the Anzio bridgehead Was held for the price Of a few hundred ordinary lives. And old King George Sent Mother a note When he heard that father was gone. It was, I recall, In the form of a scroll, With gold leaf and all. And I found it one day In a drawer of old photographs, hidden away. And my eyes still grow damp to remember His Majesty signed With his own rubber stamp. It was dark all around. There was frost in the ground When the tigers broke free. And no one survived From the Royal Fusiliers Company C. They were all left behind, Most of them dead, The rest of them dying. And that's how the High Command Took my daddy from me. Roger Waters
The First Special Service Force got its nickname, "The Devil's Brigade", during the Italian Campaign from a words in the captured diary of a dead German Officer who had written: "The black devils are all around us every time we come into line and we never hear them.' 'The history of the 1st Special Service Force serves as a model for determined accomplishment today--start with nothing and act co-operatively to establish a military force of international stature and accomplishment only to disband and go home, after a job well done.
The story of the "Devil's Brigade" is a story of achievement from the infancy of its formation to the life accomplishments of its members--including one, who went on to become Canada's first elected Senator, the highest elected office in the country.
Many may know of the 1st Special Service Force only from a 1968 Hollywood film, "The Devil's Brigade", starring William Holden and Cliff Robertson. The "Devil's Brigade" is a Canadian-American success story that needs to be told--and celebrated--in our schools.
Thomas Prince: Canada's Forgotten Aboriginal War Hero
The early years
Thomas George Prince was the great-great-grandson of the famous Chief Peguis, the Salteaux chief who led his people to the southwestern shore of Lake Winnipeg in the late 1790's from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. One of eleven children, Tommy Prince was born in a canvas tent on a cold October day in 1915.
When he was five, the family moved to the Brokenhead reserve just outside of Scanterbury, some 80 kilometers north of Winnipeg, where he learned his father's skills as a hunter and trapper. As a teenager, Prince joined the Army cadets and perfected his skill with a rifle until he could put five bullets through a target the size of a playing card at 100 metres.
World War II
When war broke out in Europe in 1939, Prince volunteered at 24, and was accepted as a sapper in the Royal Canadian Engineers, which he served with for two years. In June 1940, he volunteered for paratrooper service. The training was hard and very few successfully completed. Prince was one of nine out of a hundred to win his wings from the parachute school at Ringway, near Manchester, England.
It wasn't his ability to "jump" that made him a good paratrooper. Prince had a natural instinct for "ground". He would land, creep forward on his belly with the speed and agility of a snake and take advantage of small depressions in an otherwise flat field to conceal himself from view. He was a crack shot with a rifle and crafty as a wolf in the field.
Prince was promoted to Lance Corporal as a result of his impressive skills and in September, 1942, flew back to Canada to train with the first Canadian Parachute Battalion and was soon promoted to sergeant. It merged with the United States Special Force, the airborne unit known as the "Green Berets."
The First Special Service Force was an experiment in unity that was composed of 1600 of the "toughest men to be found in Canada and the United States." All the men were qualifies paratroopers and received training in unarmed combat, demolition, mountain fighting and as ski troops. They were described as "the best small force of fighting men ever assembled on the North American continent" and the "best god-damned fighters in the world and a terror to their enemies.". This combined elite force was first called into action in January 1943, when the Japanese occupied Kiska, an island in the Aleutian chain of islands near Alaska in the Pacific but the Japanese had already withdrew. They went to the Mediterranean, followed by the Sicily landing. By a daring maneuver, it captured strategic Monte la Difensa, an extremely difficult piece of ground. Fighting side by side with the US Fifth Army, it maintained an aggressive offensive throughout the Italian campaign. The liberation of Rome was the culmination of its daring exploits.
A natural hunter, Prince's fieldcraft was unequalled and in recognition of unique abilities, he was made reconnaissance sergeant. At night, Prince would crawl toward the enemy lines, mostly alone, to listen to the Germans, estimate their numbers and report back to his battalion commander.
Before every attack, he was sent out to reconnoiter enemy positions and landscape formations that could provide cover for an attacking platoon.
Prince's most daring exploit was on the Anzio beach-head where the Special Service Force had fought for ninety days without relief on the frontlines.
On February 8, 1944, Sergeant Prince went out alone on a voluntary assignment to run a radio wire 1500 metres into enemy territory to an abandoned farmhouse where he established an observation post.
From his post, Prince could observe enemy troop movements unseen by the Allied artillery and radio back their exact locations. Armed with this knowledge, the Allied artillery could lay down an accurate barrage and successfully destroyed four enemy positions.
When the communications were abruptly cut off, Prince knew what had happened. Shellfire from the opposing armies had cut the line.
Without concern for his own safety, Prince stripped off his uniform and dressed in farmer's clothes left behind. At that time, many Italian farmers persisted in remaining on their farms despite the war that raged around them.
Acting as an angry farmer, Prince went out into the field shaking his fists and shouting at the German-Italian line and then to the Allied line. Taking a hoe out into the field, he pretended to work the field in plain view of the enemy line while he secretly followed the radio line to where the break had occurred.
Pretending to tie his shoe, he secretly sliced the line together and continued to work the field before retiring back to the farmhouse where he continued to relay enemy positions. With the positions of the enemy revealed to the Allied artillery, the enemy soon withdrew. Only then did Prince return to his CO, Lieutenant-Colonel Gilday who recommended Prince for the Military Medal for "exceptional bravery in the field." Devil's Brigade
It was at Anzio that the Force earned the name "Devil's Brigade." In the diary of a dead German soldier was a passage that read, "The black devils are all around us every time we come into the line."
The passage was a reference to the Force's tactic of smearing their faces with black and sneaking past Axis lines under the cover of darkness and slitting the throats of enemy soldiers.
Following the capture of Italy, the Devil's Brigade took part in the seizure of coastal islands during the invasion of southern France. The Force gained the mainland and proceeded up the Riviara until they reached mountainous defenses held by German forces.
To break the impasse, the Force would have to launch a surprise attack, destroy the enemy defensive line and quickly capture the reserve battalions before they could be brought up as reinforcements.
To accomplish this daring move, the Force needed to know the exact location of enemy reserves and details of roads and bridges.
With only a private, Prince breached the enemy line and located the reserve encampment.. On the way back to report, Prince ands the private came upon a battle between some Germans and a squad of French partisans. From a rear position, the pair began to pick off the Germans until they withdrew as a result of high casualties.
When Prince made contact with the French leader, the Frenchman asked "Where is the rest of your company?"
Pointing to the private, Prince said "Here."
"Mon Dieu. I thought there were at least fifty of you!" said the astonished Frenchman.
The French commander recommended Prince for the Croix de Guerre, but the courier was killed en route and the message never reached the French Commander-in-Chief, Charles de Gaulle.
Returning to his own line, Prince was again sent out to the action on the frontline, despite his fatigue. Then, the enemy line was breached and an attack was launched on the German encampment reported by Prince.
When the battle had ended, Prince had been without food or sleep for 72 hours, fought two battles and covered over 70 km on foot. For his role, the Americans awarded Prince the Silver Star.
The Prince meets the King
One of his proudest moments and most cherished memories was when King George VI pinned on the Military Medal and the Silver Star, on behalf of President Roosevelt, and chatted with Prince about his wartime experiences.
Sergeant Thomas Prince was one of 59 Canadians awarded the US Silver Star and one of three who were awarded the King George Military Medal.
In December 1944, the Devil's Brigade was disbanded. The war in Europe ended while Prince was in England. He returned to Canada and was honourably discharged on June 15, 1945.
Some day those brave folks to our north will take back their government and rejoin the Band of Brothers.
BTW, few know it, but Canadians came down and joined the American Armed Services to serve, fight, die, be captured and
yes, some are still MIA to this day.
However, I do have two photos of the Canadians at Kiska wearing US gear (from the National Archives of Canada).