Devil’s Brigade: Forefathers of Green Berets, SEALs

Lt. William Story enjoys a reunion with his former unit The Devil's Brigade at the Canadian Embassy Sept. 27. (WTOP/J.J. Green)
Pvt. Jim Summersides at an event honoring the Devil's Brigade at the Canadian Embassy. (WTOP/JJ Green)
A group of Devil's Brigade members at the Canadian Embassy event honoring them, held Sept. 27. (WTOP/JJ Green)
Pvt. Herman Kassof at the event honoring the Devil's Brigade. (WTOP/JJ Green)

J.J. Green,

WASHINGTON – In World War II, 1942 to be exact, the German Sixth Army rolled through Europe with impunity until a new bi-national unit called the “First Special Service Force” was created.

The group, referred to as “The Devil’s Brigade” or “The Black Devils,” was made up of lumberjacks, miners, trappers and outdoorsmen from the U.S. and Canada. They were an elite commando unit that trained at Fort William Henry Harrison near Helena, Mont.

Roughly 1,800 men learned how to sneak behind enemy lines after dark and as one member said, “raise hell until dawn,” when they would slip back into their bases, leaving German soldiers either dead or scared.

Their enemies called them murdering bastards and throat-slitters. They took on missions that no other allied force could handle, or would want to. They routinely did what others said couldn’t be done.

The brigade 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. And it quickly became one of the most feared fighting units in World War II.

They killed 25 of their enemies for every man they lost. They captured 235 enemy soldiers for every man of theirs taken prisoner.

To this day, the unit is revered as the very first Special Operations Unit. And they came to Washington last week to celebrate their 70th anniversary and 66th reunion.

They were honored at the Canadian Embassy on Sept. 27, and paid tribute to fallen members of the elite unit at Arlington Cemetery.

WTOP National Security Correspondent JJ Green spent time with some of the surviving 184 members and produced a special documentary called “The Devil’s Brigade.” Learn more in the audio at right.

Follow J.J. and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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