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U.S. Army Special Forces: "The Green Berets"

Detailed History of Special Forces
Elite Units of World War II

The Devils Brigade

Known formally as the 1st Special Service Force, the Devil's Brigade was a joint Canadian-American unit that began July 9, 1942, at Fort William Henry Harrison, Montana. Airborne-trained and honed to the sharpness of a cold steel blade, the Devil's Brigade saw most of its action in Italy, but also fought in France, where it was deactivated in 1944. Its forte was close-quarter combat against numerically-superior forces, a task which it accomplished with a raw power that gave the brigade its nickname.

The 1st Special Service Force was trained & equipped to conduct Mountain Warfare with all of their soldiers trained in military skiing and cold weather operations.  A large portion of their training was in "Commando" type operations and after deploying to England, all of the 1st SSF personnel attended the grueling British Command course.


1st Special Service Force

Description: An scarlet Indian arrow head, 3 1/8 inches in height and 1 3/8 inches in width, with the horizontal letters USA above the vertical letters CANADA in white.

Symbolism: The arrow head represented the Native American Indian heritage of both the United States and Canada.

 Background: The 1st Special Service Force was activated as a joint Canadian American unit on July 9, 1942. The shoulder sleeve insignia was approved on September 14, 1942.

Rangers Lead The Way

Darby's Rangers was the moniker given to the 1st Ranger Battalion in honor of its commander, Major William 0rlando Darby.  The unit was activated June 19, 1942, in Carrickfergus, Ireland.

The Rangers fought throughout Western Europe and were involved in many critical and bloody battles, but achieved their greatest fame when Rangers scaled the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc as part of the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

Darby's Ranger with Battle Load

These special operations units of the second World War were known as the Army's elite. Their philosophy was simple: shock the enemy with quick strikes and deep thrusts, leaving him paralyzed and confused. It was the 20th-century application of principles first formulated by Rogers' Rangers, and it became the basis of the modern-day LRRP, LRSD & Airborne Ranger strike force.

China, Burma & India During WWII

Merrill's Marauders was the title given to the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), a 3,000-man special force formed & commanded by Col. Frank D. Merrill. 

The unit deployed deep behind enemy lines and boldly staked out a piece of Burmese jungle daring the Japanese to challenge it. The Japanese obliged, and wound up losing to the Marauders in five major battles and 17 skirmishes.

The Marauders' greatest feat, and the one that made them an inspiration 20 years later to American soldiers once again slogging through Asian jungles, was their march of miles through thick Burmese jungle en route to the capture of the airfield at Myitkyina.


Alamo Scouts

In the Pacific, Lieutenant General Walter Krueger established a small elite force and called them the Alamo Scouts, probably after his native San Antonio.

In perhaps their greatest feat, the Scouts led U.S. Rangers and Filipino guerrillas in an attack on a Japanese prison camp at Cabantuan, freeing all 511 allied prisoners there.

Never numbering more than 70 volunteers, the Alamo Scouts earned 44 Silver Stars, 33 Bronze Stars and four Soldier's Medals by the end of the war. In over 100 hazardous missions deep in enemy held territory, they never lost a man in action. The Alamo Scouts evolved from a simple reconnaissance unit in New Guinea to a sophisticated intelligence collection group which supplied and coordinated large-scale guerrilla operations on Leyte and Luzon.

The Alamo Scouts have the finest record of any elite unit of World War II and, are arguably, one of the finest units in the history of the United States military.

Separate Operations

Besides these formally organized special operations efforts, a number of U.S. Army officers conducted guerrilla operations behind Japanese lines in the Philippines. Colonel Russell Volckman, who later would play an important role in the birth of Special Forces, escaped from the enemy and formed a Filipino guerrilla band in northern Luzon, which by 1945 consisted of five regiments. Major Windell Fertig, a reservist, raised his own guerrilla force that ultimately totaled some 20,000 fighters.

Unconventional Warfare

In areas and missions that even the Devil's Brigade and Darby's Rangers never ventured, there was a very different type of special operations force  organized and ran by a very different type of organization. It consisted of small teams of 3 to 5 people parachuting into the darkness to operate behind enemy lines. These small special forces teams developed a network of contacts, give instructions and equipment to local underground resistance fighters and waged guerrilla warfare against a very powerful and well organized enemy, right in there own back yard.

It was a new kind of special operation, a new type of warfare, taking a bit of the Swamp Fox and a bit of Mosby and combining it with new technology and the specialized fieldcraft & techniques of clandestine operations. Specializing in espionage, sabotage, airborne operations and guerrilla fighting. There wasn't an official name for it yet, and few even knew of their existence, but the agency that developed and refined this modern form of unconventional warfare was called "The OSS". Formerly know as the Office of Strategic Services.


This page is an unofficial document and does not represent information endorsed by the United States Government, the United States Special Operations Command or the United States Army Special Operations Command. However, most information is derived from those sources and has been checked for accuracy. For comments, questions, and suggestions, please go to the Communications Center.

Gunnery Network - SOF