Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Devil’s Brigade

Helena, MT  High 87  Low 58

The Devil’s Brigade (or I should say, the few remaining members who were able to make it) was in Helena this week-end for their 68th annual reunion.


There was a memorial service at the monument that is installed at Memorial Park. What an honor it was to be able to salute these courageous soldiers.


The following is some of their interesting history.

1st Special Service Force.patch.jpg(This was their shoulder patch.) The 1st Special Service Force (also called The Devil's Brigade) was an elite American-Canadian commando unit during WWII. The unit was organized in 1942 and trained at Fort William Henry Harrison near Helena, MT. Fort Harrison was picked due to its flat terrain for airborne training and its close proximity to mountains for ski and winter training. The unit fought in the Aleutian Islands, Italy, and southern France before being disbanded in December 1944. Modern American and Canadian special operations forces trace their heritage to this unit.



The volunteers for this elite 1800-man force consisted of  misfits, mountaineers, miners, loggers, trappers, ranch hands, boxers, a safe blower and a few criminals.  The training the FSSF received in Helena was unlike any military training ever done before — covering everything from parachuting to mountaineering, skiing, winter survival, demolitions, unarmed combat and training in both American and German weaponry.


The 1st Special Service Force was officially activated on July 20, 1942 under the command of Lt. Colonel Robert T. Frederick.

P1080871Much feared for their fighting prowess, the moniker "The Black Devils" was adopted after the discovery of the personal diary of a German officer referring to them as "die schwarzen Teufeln (the Black Devils). With blackened faces, small units would often overwhelm German defenders without firing a shot, and then disappear into the night.

From the outset, the 1st Special Service Force was armed with a variety of non-standard or limited-issue weapons, such as the M1941 Johnson machine gun. Frederick himself participated in the design of a fighting knife made exclusively for the Force called the V-42 combat knife, a derivative of the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife.


This link First Special Service Force gives you a great overview of the battles that these men fought in. The First Special Service Force captured more enemy soldiers than any other unit in the war.


Here in Helena, they are remembered for not only their wartime bravery, but their antics — including a gusto for blowing up things in the Helena Valley (and a bath tub in a local hotel), regular brawls at the Gold Bar — taking out their front window at least four times — and some decidedly quirky behavior, such as one fellow who kept a foot locker of live rattlesnakes under his bed.


Another gorgeous sunset in Montana.



  1. Now you've piqued my curiosity about this alliance. Never knew about this one, although I'm not much of a WWII expert.

  2. Wow, very interesting. I'm a WWII history buff and I never heard of them, so I have some new material to research. :c)

  3. Wonderful tribute to these very brave men. I knew nothing about Devil’s Brigade. Thanks for the great post.

  4. The first Green Berets? I salute them!

  5. How interesting. Never heard of this cooperative troop.

  6. Outstanding!!!! I wasn't even there and I got goose bumps just reading about it. What a wonderful tribute! Thanks for the great information!!

  7. Thanks for the bit of history. Sounds like it would be hard for the town to forget them.

  8. Some great military history. We sure appreciate their service! Will have to check out the link. Just a year or so I got a fairly complete history of my father's Company's service during WWII. My father never really talked about the war.

  9. It's great that they are still able to hold a reunion and that the town supports it. I remember seeing the movie way back when, but didn't realize it was based on a real force so thanks for posting this and enlightening me.

  10. That's really interesting! Pretty neat that they still hold reunions!

  11. 68th reunion! I guess that makes some of them at least 68? So, where is the Scottish connection and the bagpipes?

  12. Hail to those brave men... That must have been a very moving service. We need to remember ALL of those men/women who have fought for our country all through the years.. Great post, Sandie.

  13. Another fascinating piece of history. Thanks for sharing it!

  14. Great story, didn't know the William Holden movie was based on a true story.

  15. What a nice bit of history....thanks Sandie!
    Beautiful sunset.....

  16. Sandie, that was very is great that they still have the reunion ... I am going to try to get the movie .... Thanks for your effort in sharing all the information.... Lovely sunset !!!

  17. Nice article about them and what they were about. We should remember keep these brave men in the forefront. Not to remember history only dooms us to repeat it.

    Have fun out there.

  18. Great post, Sandi! When I was in Helena, I took a trolley/train tour and learned a lot about the city. I remember that the capitol building is beautiful and how unpretentious the governor's home is. The governor's mansion in Atlanta is a little ridiculous, in my opinion, especially since we're paying for it.

    Very interesting about the 1st Special Service Force. I found, in general, that the north and the west are more patriotic than the south. That's a broad brush, I know, but it seems that way to me.

  19. dang! I missed this when I was… aw can't remember the little town not too far from Kalispell … just missed a parade/concert… you keep educating me… very interesting!

  20. I'm trying to catch up on blogs. Just letting you know I'm still reading.


Thanks for visiting today. I look forward to reading your comments. Have a beautiful day.