Forty-two members of the legendary First Special Service Force, better known as the Devil’s Brigade, attended a ceremony in Washington DC on Feb. 3, 2015 to receive the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal. The First Special Service Force was a joint Canadian-American group of commandoes trained to drop behind enemy lines in occupied Norway during World War II. Fourteen of the attendees at the ceremony were Canadians.
When the mission to Norway was called off, the Forcemen were sent to assault the Japanese held island of Kiska in the Aleutians, then were sent to the mountains of Italy. In Italy they climbed the German held mountains of Monte La Difensa and Mount Radicosa.
During the landing at Anzio, the Forcemen mounted large-scale night raids into German territory, their faces blackened by shoe-polish. German soldiers, terrified by their commando tactics and night raids, dubbed them the “Black Devils.” They eventually led the Allied advance into Rome.
The First Special Service Force participated in the invasion of Southern France, but was disbanded December 5, 1944, with the Canadians returning to their own army.
The surviving members of the Devil’s Brigade who were unable to attend the ceremony in Washington will receive their Congressional Gold Medals at a ceremony in Helena during the summer of 2015. Stay tuned for more information.
Senator Max Baucus of Montana recently introduced a measure stating that “the Senate recognizes and honors the superior service of the First Special Service Force during World War II.” The joint Canadian-American unit of highly trained commandos formed at Fort Harrison in 1942, and participated in the invasion of Kiska in the Aleutians before being sent to Italy. They fought their way up Monte La Difensa, Monte Majo, Monte Camino and other Italian mountains, then spent four months terrorizing the Germans at Anzio, where they earned the nickname “Devil’s Brigade.” After leading the Allied advance into Rome, they participated in the invasion of southern France. According to the Resolution “during 251 days of combat, the Force suffered 2,314 casualties, or 134 percent of its authorized strength, captured thousands of prisoners, won 5 United States campaign stars and 8 Canadian battle honors, and never failed a mission.”
The full text of Senate Resolution 577 can be found here.
I previously posted one of my articles on the “Devils’ Brigade” that was published as part of the Missoulian’s “Greatest Generation” series. It can be found here.
Many of the soldiers of the First Special Service Force returned to Helena after the war. My previous post upon hearing of the deaths of the last two Helena residents of the Force can be found here.
This week I learned of the death of Joe Glass and Mark Radcliffe, the last two members of the First Special Service Force living in Montana. Glass, originally from Canada, was 92, while Radcliffe was 94. Both men had lived in Helena for many years. Both men were heroes who saw too many of their friends and comrades killed in Italy and France. I mentioned Radcliffe in both editions of Montana’s Home Front During World War II. Radcliffe was also mentioned several times in “The Devil’s Brigade” by Robert H. Adleman and Col. George Walton. If you would like more information on the First Special Service Force, see my previous post, Suicide Mission: The First Special Service Force. The full story on the death of Glass and Radcliffe can found at the Helena Independent-Record.
Senator Max Baucus introduced a Senate Resolution to honor the First Special Service Force in September, 2012.
My article on the history of the First Special Service Force can be seen here.