They were just ordinary men from the United States and Canada – lumberjacks, miners, hunters – whose skills evolved to become one of the deadliest commando units trained in unconventional tactics, hand-to-hand combat, and mountain warfare during World War II. They came to form the First Special Service Force (FSSF) – an elite Special Forces unit of 1,800 men specializing in combat under hazardous conditions.
Their skills and fearlessness enabled them to overcome enemy positions that no other allied units had yet been able to secure. After landing in Italy in the winter of 1943, the FSSF was tasked with a seemingly impossible mission to take two mountain peaks in the dead of night that served as an anchor of the enemy defense line. The attack was a success, and despite suffering a number of causalities and injuries, the FSSF was able to overtake the German line.
The FSSF went on to launch aggressive raids on the beachhead at Anzio. It was here that the FSSF became better known as the “Devil’s Brigade” – a nickname stemming from the commandos smearing boot polish on their faces and attacking the enemy at night.
Their boldness was revered by allies and foes alike and was best represented by the cards the FSSF left after every successful raid depicting their unit patch and the phrase “Das dicke ende kommt noch,” or “The worst is yet to come.” One German officer wrote of the Devil’s Brigade’s valor, “We never know where they're going to hit or strike next.”
The Devil’s Brigade was one of the first allied units to liberate Rome and went on to assist in the liberation of France. The unit never failed a mission, captured thousands of prisoners, and won five United States campaign stars and eight Canadian battle honors. As one Devil’s Brigade veteran described his service, “We went through a hell of a lot.”
The service and dedication of the men in the FSSF created the foundation for the modern-day Special Forces units in the U.S. and Canada. Honoring their commitment to the cause of freedom, and their invaluable contribution to the United States and Canada, the First Special Service Force will receive a Congressional Gold Medal. The ceremony will take place Tuesday, February 3rd at 3:00 p.m. in Emancipation Hall and will be live-streamed at www.speaker.gov/live.