by Lieutenant Colonel Robert D. Burhans (Ret.)
(1948) 376 pages with maps and black and white photographs – Soft Cover
This book was previously out of print; as of 2013. With the cooperation of the First Special Service Force (FSSF) Association and Battery Press, the book has now been reprinted by the Montana Military Museum at Fort Harrison, Montana. This edition has been reprinted in a soft cover format to make this classic available at an affordable price. The text, photographs, and maps are an identical reproduction of the original.
This famous unit, intended for special operations, was formed and trained at Fort Harrison near Helena, Montana from 1942 to 1943 with three regiments of from 1,800 to 2,000 men. The FSSF, made up of handpicked U.S. and Canadian volunteers who were trained in parachute, amphibious, skiing, mountain climbing, demolition, hand to hand combat, including the use of the deadly V-42 stiletto combat knife, and other commando skills. Their uniforms, clothing, insignia, and weaponry had many unique features reflecting the composition of forces from two nations. The Forcemen were cross trained on both U.S. and German weapons which proved invaluable during the fighting in the Italian campaign of World War II. The FSSF represented a unique and successful experiment in the formation of a multinational military unit. Although operating virtually as an independent unit of the U.S. Army, it contained a roughly equal proportion of Canadian soldiers who were fully integrated into its organization at all levels.
The FSSF 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 Rome, which they were the first Allied unit to enter. The FSSF also participated in Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France. They were particularly noted for their aggressive small unit tactics and night raiding skills in capturing and killing Germans at the Anzio beachhead.
The author, Robert Burhans, was the G-2, Intelligence Officer for the FSSF and wrote the daily after action reports. Burhans recounts the origin, formation, and operational history of this unit from his personal vantage point as an American staff officer connected with the Force throughout its entire existence. Burhans’ account offers immediacy and a thoroughly detailed picture that could only be provided by a participant writing shortly after the events had occurred.
The book also includes a wealth of contemporary black and white photographs. The appendices record all Forcemen known to have belonged to the unit. This list, originally compiled for publication in 1947, divides participants into surviving officers and men. The separate listing of the many dead is perhaps most telling but not surprising for a unit noted for its aggressiveness and bravery in combat.
This is a comprehensive unit history that remains an invaluable record of an important facet of the United States’ and Canada’s military heritage and a unit that has a direct lineage to today’s U.S. Special Forces and Rangers. Burhan’s book has been a principal source for many books on the First Special Service Force that have followed.