The First Special Service Force 1942 – 44



The book is Osprey’s Publishing’s examination of the First Special Service Force of World War II. This famous unit was formed and trained at Fort Harrison near Helena, Montana from 1942 to 1943 composed of three regiments intended for special operations.  The Force, made up of handpicked U.S. and Canadian volunteers who were trained in parachute and amphibious assault, as well as ski, mountain and demolition operations. The book describes the FSSF uniforms, clothing and weaponry that had many unique features reflecting their bi-national composition and special operations skills including hand-to-hand combat, night fighting, and the stealthy use of the deadly V-42 stiletto combat knife. The Force first saw combat in the Apennine Mountains of Italy where they distinguished themselves, at heavy cost, in the battles of Monte La Difensa (Dec 1943), Monte Majo (Jan 1944), at the Anzio beachhead (Feb – May 1944) and in the race to take Rome, where they were the first Allied unit to enter the Eternal City. 

The FSSF fought with a ferocious skill which earned them a fearsome reputation. At Anzio, although at only half strength, they successfully held at least a quarter of the entire beachhead, equal to fronts held by full divisions, and were the spearhead of the final breakout to capture Rome. Famed for their stealthy night-time fighting ability, the Germans named them “Die Schwartzer Teuflen”  the Black Devils (they blacked their faces and hands with boot polish or burnt wine corks). Due to heavy combat losses, the Force was disbanded in Nov 1944, after taking part in invasion of Southern France (Operation Dragoon), the survivors transferred to other units. With only 1,800 infantrymen at full strength, they accounted for 12,000 enemy casualties, took 7,000 prisoners and experienced a 600% attrition rate from their original number.   

This Osprey book includes many rare photographs of the First Special Service Force training, equipment, and combat.