The Worst is Yet to Come: Becoming the Devil's Brigade
By Isabella Lee
In July of 1943, the First Special Service Force (FSSF) was sent to the Aleutians, an island chain in Alaska, on their first mission. Their mission was to attack the island of Kiska in mid-August and push the Japanese from their foothold in North American territory. Although the Japanese army had abandoned the island prior to the invasion, the FSSF demonstrated their ability to quickly and accurately mount an amphibious assault.
By mid-November of 1943, the FSSF was tasked with taking Monte la Defensa in southern Italy, a strategically important German defense post. The soldiers made use of their excellent mountaineering skills to exploit the north cliff as a point of advance that the Nazis had left unprotected, because they deemed it unclimbable. With only a brief rest, the soldiers of the FSSF were able to secure Monte la Defensa in two hours, something the Allied units had failed to do in two weeks.
“If there were five different ways of doing something and one of those ways was impossible, that’s the way we went,” said John Lloyd “Jack” Knight, regarding the victory over Monte la Defensa.
The Force aggressively pushed through German-controlled fortifications, earning much respect from other Allied units but suffering significant losses in the process.
In early February of 1944, the FSSF helped defend the Anzio beachhead, an Allied foothold in Italy. For approximately 123 days, the force successfully held a 12 kilometre stretch of land against German advances. The Force also conducted highly successful night raids against German held positions. The force carried stickers with their insignia and a quote saying "Das dicke Ende kommt noch," said to translate to "The Worst is yet to come" which they placed wherever they went as a form of psychological warfare. German soldiers began calling them the “Devils Brigade.”
The FSSF helped to protect the vulnerable flanks of the Allied units and were the first Allied unit to enter Rome. They were also a key aspect of the Roman liberation and other assaults in southern France. Through their combined efforts with other units, the FSSF managed to secure critical German-held defenses and helped end the war.
Learn more about the First Special Service Force, or Devil’s Brigade, and military history in our region at the Galt Museum & Archives.