Original U.S. WWII First Special Service Force Commando Grouping

Item Description

Original Items: One-one-of-a-kind. A Ike jacket grouping that belonged to 4th Tech Michael Krikorian (ASN: 31238351) who was born in 1922 in . During WW2 he was assigned to the 2nd Company, 1st Regiment, First Special Service Force and later transferred to the 474th Infantry Regiment.

The 1st Special Service Force (also called The Devil's Brigade, The Black Devils, The Black Devils' Brigade, and Freddie's Freighters), was an elite American-Canadian commando unit in World War II, under command of the United States Fifth Army. The unit was organized in 1942 and trained at Fort William Henry Harrison near Helena, Montana in the United States. The Force served in the Aleutian Islands, and fought in Italy, and southern France before being disbanded in December 1944.

Krikorian participated in some of the most ferocious campaigns of the Mediterranean Theater of Operations including the Italian Campaign where he fought in the Battle of Monte La Difensa against intense German opposition in the 104th Panzer Grenadier Regiment ending in 1943, Anzio in May 1944 and France in August 1944 until the 1st SSF was disbanded on December 5th, 1944. n total he fought in three known campaigns, earning two Purple Hearts.

Included in this rare well researched grouping are the following items:

- Ike jacket in excellent condition with 1st Special Service Force patch (right shoulder), 474th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) patch (right shoulder). Sterling Silver Combat Infantryman Badge on black felt background, Medal ribbons that include: Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster,  Good Conduct, European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Invasion Arrowhead and 2 Bronze Campaign Stars. Presidential Unit Citation, Tech 4 chevrons, U.S. and Infantry collar discs, rare original Italian made FSSF shoulder cord, and 3 overseas bars and three overseas service bars on the left sleeve indicating 18+ months of overseas service. Of particular note is that the interior is stamps with his laundry mark K-8351.

- Copies of research documents include the NARA (National Archives) records, a 2006 email telling how it was obtained in a motel buy, final payment document, First Special Service Force roster with Krikorian listed, and copy of his enlistment record.

History of the 1st Special Service Forces in WWII:

Geoffrey Pyke was an English journalist, educationalist, and later an inventor whose clever, but unorthodox, ideas could be difficult to implement. In lifestyle and appearance, he fit the common stereotype of a scientist-engineer-inventor or in British slang, a "boffin". This was part of the British approach in World War II of encouraging innovative warfare methods and weapons that was personally backed by Churchill. Hobart's Funnies are another example.

While working for the British Combined Operations Command, Pyke devised a plan for the creation of a small, élite force capable of fighting behind enemy lines in winter conditions. This was to have been a commando unit that could be landed, by sea or air, into occupied Norway, Romania and/or the Italian Alps on sabotage missions against hydroelectric plants and oil fields.

In Norway, the chief industrial threat was the creation of the heavy water used in the German atomic weapon research at Rjukan. Furthermore, attacks on Norwegian power stations, which supplied the country with 49% of its power, might drive the Axis powers out of the country and give the Allies a direct link to Russia. In Romania, there were the strategically important Ploiești oil fields that met one quarter of the Germans' consumption, and Italian hydroelectric plants powered most of south German industry. Pyke requested that a tracked vehicle be developed especially for the unit, capable of carrying men and their equipment at high speed across snow-covered terrain.

Project Plough
In March 1942 Pyke proposed an idea, which he had named Project Plough, to Lord Louis Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations Headquarters (COHQ) that Allied commandos be parachuted into the Norwegian mountains to establish a covert base on the Jostedalsbreen, a large glacier plateau in German-occupied Norway, for guerrilla actions against the German army of occupation. Equipped with Pyke's proposed snow vehicle, they would attack strategic targets, such as hydroelectric power plants. Pyke persuaded Mountbatten that such a force would be virtually invulnerable in its glacier strongholds and would tie down large numbers of German troops trying to dislodge it.

However, given the demands upon both Combined Operations and British industry, it was decided to offer it instead to the United States at the Chequers Conference of March 1942. General George Marshall, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, accepted the suggestion for Project Plough. In April 1942, since no suitable vehicle existed, the U.S. government asked automobile manufacturers to look into such a design. Studebaker subsequently created the T-15 cargo carrier, which later became the M29 Weasel.

In May 1942, the concept papers for Plough were scrutinized by Lieutenant Colonel Robert T. Frederick, a young officer in the Operations Division of the U.S. General Staff. Frederick predicted Plough would be a military fiasco on the following grounds. Firstly, he argued that Plough endeavored to achieve unrealistic objectives with the number of troops that the plan called for. Similarly, he argued that the small, elite division would be outnumbered and overtaken in any defensive attempts to hold an area once it was captured. Furthermore, Frederick concluded that there was no concrete way to evacuate the troops after a mission. Finally, the plan had called for troops to be dropped by airplane to their targets, which Frederick said was impossible at the moment, as there were no planes to fly the men into Norway. Ultimately, he concluded that a small squad of elite men would not do enough damage to justify the risk of putting them into battle and instead proposed a series of strategic bombings to achieve the plan's objectives.

Generals Marshall and Eisenhower had already discussed Plough with the British High Command and were unwilling to compromise a chance to open an American front in Europe. It was believed that Plough offered the possibility of defeating the Germans, and the Americans wanted allied efforts to shift to the Pacific Theater. The sooner the Germans were defeated, it was argued, the sooner this would become a reality.

The first officer picked to lead the unit, Lieutenant Colonel Howard R. Johnson, did not get along well with Pyke. Johnson was transferred after arguing with Mountbatten and Eisenhower about the feasibility of the plan. (Johnson went on to form and command the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment.) he was replaced by Frederick, following a suggestion by Mountbatten, which was approved by Eisenhower. Frederick was given the task of creating a fighting unit for Project Plough and was promoted to colonel to command it. By July 1942 Frederick had eased Pyke out of the picture.

The First Special Service Force was activated on 9 July 1942 as a joint Canadian-U.S. forceof three small regiments and a service battalion. Fort William Henry Harrison in Helena, Montana was chosen as the primary training location, due to its flat terrain for airborne training and its close proximity to mountains for ski and winter training.

Frederick enjoyed a very high priority in obtaining equipment and training areas. Originally, due to its winter warfare mission, it had been intended that the unit should be equally made up of American, Canadian, and Norwegian troops. However, a lack of suitable Norwegians saw this changed to half American and half Canadian.

Canadian recruitment
In July 1942, the Canadian Minister of National Defence, James Ralston, approved the assignment of 697 officers and enlisted men for Project Plough, under the guise that they were forming Canada's first airborne unit, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion (1CPB).

Due to a decision to raise an actual Canadian parachute battalion, the Canadian volunteers for Project Plough were also sometimes known unofficially as the "2nd Canadian Parachute Battalion". (The Canadians did not officially become a unit until April–May 1943, under the designation, 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion.)

While its members remained part of the Canadian Army, subject to its code of discipline and paid by the Canadian government, they were to be supplied with uniforms, equipment, food, shelter and travel expenses by the US Army. It was agreed that a Canadian would serve as second in command of the force and that half of the officers and one third of the enlisted men would be Canadian. After Lieutenant Colonel McQueen, the senior Canadian member broke his leg during parachute training, the highest ranking Canadian in the force was Lieutenant Colonel Don Williamson, who commanded the 2nd Regiment.

US recruitment
The U.S. volunteers for the force consisted initially of officers from Forts Belvoir and Benning.

Letters of recruitment were posted to all US Army units in the Southwest and on the Pacific coast. The letters called for single men, aged 21–35 with three or more years of grammar school. Occupations preferred: Rangers, lumberjacks, northwoodsmen, hunters, prospectors, explorers and game wardens. Inspection teams also scoured the western camps for ideal candidates. Those chosen, owing to the secrecy of the mission, were often told that they had been selected to undergo training for a parachute unit. Indeed, the unit was so secretive, that many soldiers did not know where they were when they arrived in Helena for training, as the windows of the trains carrying the troops were painted black.

The combat force was to be made up of three regiments. Each regiment was led by a lieutenant colonel and 32 officers and boasted a force of 385 men. The regiments were divided into two battalions with three companies in each battalion and three platoons in each company. The platoon was then broken up into two sections.

Following initial training period in Montana, the FSSF relocated to Camp Bradford, Virginia, on 15 April 1943, and to Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont, on 23 May 1943.

Aleutian Islands, 1943
It was decided that the FSSF would be blooded against Japanese forces occupying islands off Alaska. The FSSF arrived at the San Francisco Port of Embarkation on 4 July 1943.

On 10 July the Devil's Brigade sailed for the Aleutian Islands off Alaska. On 15 August 1943, 1st SSF was part of the invasion force of the island of Kiska, but after discovering the island was recently evacuated by Japanese forces, it re-embarked and left ship at Camp Stoneman, California, and returned to Fort Ethan Allen, arriving 9 September 1943.

Italy, 1943
In late 1943, the original Project Plough (with its target as Norway) was abandoned, but in October 1943, the commander of the United States Fifth Army, Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark, brought the 1st Special Service Force to Italy where its members demonstrated the value of their unique skills and training. The Devil's Brigade arrived in Casablanca in French Morocco in November 1943 and quickly moved to the Italian front arriving at Naples on 19 November 1943 and immediately going into the line with the U.S. 36th Infantry Division.

The force was tasked with taking two heavily fortified German positions in the Italian mountains; one at Monte La Difensa and the other at Monte La Remetanea. These positions were controlled by the 104th Panzer Grenadier Regiment with the Herman Goering Panzer Division in reserve (the former an infantry formation, and the latter an armored division). The importance of these mountains lay in their position relative to AH's Gustav Line. That is, the German Winter line positioned on La Difensa and Remetanea were the last entrenched line before the Gustav[18] and an allied push through the mountains would enable them to advance closer to Rome. Strategically, the mountains provided a commanding view of the countryside and highway, giving German artillery on the mountain control of the surrounding area. The German artillery atop La Defensa were also using a new weapon - the Nebelwerfer. The paths leading up La Difensa were heavily scouted by the force prior to their attack and it was reported to Lt. Col. T.C. MacWilliam (who would lead the 2nd regiment's assault on Remetanea) that the best way to approach the entrenched enemy was up an almost vertical escarpment over the right of the hill mass. In doing this, the force hoped to catch the Germans off guard, as previous allied attacks on the mountain had met the enemy head on.

The assault was planned for December 2, while the men were trained in mountain climbing and fighting tactics at their temporary barracks at Santa Maria. The plan was as follows (all regiments were in the 1st Company): At 16:30 hours on December 1, 2nd Regiment would be trucked to within 6 miles (9.7 km) of the base of the mountain and march the rest of the way to La Difensa (6 hour march). 1st Regiment, coupled with U.S. 36th Infantry Division would be the reserve units for the 2nd Regiment. 3rd Regiment would be split in two, half to supply the 2nd Regiment following the initial assault and the other half to be reserves with the 1st Regiment and 36th Infantry Division. All identification on Force soldiers was to be removed except their dog tags.

After reaching the base of the mountain and having had a single night's rest, 2nd Regiment (600 men total) began their ascent of La Difensa on December 2 at dusk under cover of a heavy artillery barrage. One soldier recalls the severity of the shelling: "It looked as if we were marching into Hell. The whole mountain was being shelled and the whole mountain seemed to be on fire".

The soldiers of the 2nd Regiment came within range of the German positions at midnight and began to climb the final cliff, which jutted steeply upwards for 1,000 feet (300 m). The men climbed with ropes tied to one another in the freezing rain. Upon reaching the top, MacWilliam signaled his men to move forward into a depression in front of the German entrenchment. Initially, the soldiers were given the order to hold their fire until 6am, but the Germans were made aware of the allied positions after members of the force tripped over loose gravel while moving along the mountaintop. German flares shot into the air and the battle began. Through gun and mortar fire, the men of the 2nd Regiment managed to set up machine guns and return fire, surprising and overwhelming the Germans. The 5th Army Staff had guessed that the battle would last between 4–5 days, but within two hours, the Germans on La Difensa had retreated to La Remetanea.

Previously, American and British forces had suffered many casualties in futile attempts to take the important Camino Ridge. The 1st SSF was successful in taking their initial objective of La Defensa but were delayed in obtaining their actual objective of Monte La Remetanea (Hill 907). The attack on 907 was halted after the death of the 1st Battalion CO Lt. Col. T.C. MacWilliam. While he desired that the force momentum continue, Frederick ordered a halt in the advance on 907 in order to wait for reinforcements and supplies. The force dug in at Difensa, anticipating a German counterattack.

However, massive allied artillery barrages and the flooding of both the Rapido and Garigliano rivers prevented the Germans from reforming. While waiting for the orders to attack Remetanea, the 2nd Regiment were resupplied by the 1st and 3rd Regiments, who brought them whiskey and condoms (to keep the barrels of their guns dry in the rain). Once the British forces broke through the German lines at Monte Camino, the force was ordered to attack their primary objective (Hill 907). The successful assault on Difensa was the basis for the 1968 motion picture titled The Devil's Brigade.

The 1st SSF immediately continued its attack, assaulting Monte La Remetanea from 6 to 9 December. It captured Hill 720, starting from Monte Sammucro on 25 December, and after difficulties assaulted Monte Majo and Monte Vischiataro almost simultaneously on 8 January 1944.

During the mountain campaign the 1st SSF suffered 77% casualties: 511 total, 91 dead, 9 missing, 313 wounded with 116 exhaustion cases. They were relieved by the 142nd Infantry.

Anzio, 1944
Personnel being briefed before setting out on a patrol at the Anzio beachhead

Following the Québec Conference in August 1943, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was moved to London to plan for the Normandy landings. Command of the Mediterranean Theater was given to British General Henry Maitland Wilson. General Sir Harold Alexander, commanding the Allied Armies in Italy, had formulated the plan to land Allied troops at Anzio in order to outflank German positions in the area. German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring commanded the four German divisions at Anzio, which included the Herman Goering Division and the 35th Panzer Grenadier Regiment of the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division Reichsführer-SS Division. Combined German and Italian strength at Anzio was an estimated 70,000 men.

The Special Force brigade was withdrawn from the mountains in January and on 1 February was landed at the beachhead created by Operation Shingle at Anzio, south of Rome, replacing the 1st and 3rd Ranger Battalions, which had suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Cisterna. Their task was to hold and raid from the right-hand flank of the beachhead marked by the Mussolini Canal/Pontine Marshes. 1st Regiment was positioned on the force's right front, which comprised one-third of the entire line, while the 3rd Regiment guarded the remaining two-thirds of the line. 2nd Regiment, which had been reduced to three companies following the attacks on La Difensa, Sammucio and Majo, were tasked with running night patrols into Axis territory.[27] Shortly after the SSF took over the Mussolini Canal sector, German units pulled back up to 0.5 miles (0.80 km) to avoid their aggressive patrols. The force's constant night raids forced Kesselring to fortify the German positions in their area with more men than he had originally planned. Reconnaissance missions performed by the Devil's often went as deep as 1,500 feet (460 m) behind enemy lines.

Frederick was greatly admired by the soldiers of the First Special Service Force for his willingness to fight alongside the men in battle. On the beachhead in Anzio, for example, a nighttime Force patrol walked into a German minefield and was pinned down by machine gun fire. Colonel Frederick ran into battle and assisted the litter bearers in clearing the wounded Force members.

German prisoners were often surprised at how few men the force actually contained. A captured German lieutenant admitted to being under the assumption that the force was a division. Indeed, General Frederick ordered several trucks to move around the forces area in order to give the enemy the impression that the force comprised more men than it actually did. An order was found on another prisoner that stated that the Germans in Anzio would be "fighting an elite Canadian-American Force. They are treacherous, unmerciful and clever. You cannot afford to relax. The first soldier or group of soldiers capturing one of these men will be given a 10 day furlough."

It was at Anzio that the Germans dubbed the 1st Special Service Force the "Devil's Brigade." They were referred to as "black" devils because the brigade's members smeared their faces with black boot polish for their covert operations in the dark of the night. During Anzio, the 1st SSF fought for 99 days without relief. It was also at Anzio that the 1st SSF used their trademark stickers; during night patrols soldiers would carry stickers depicting the unit patch and a slogan written in German: "Das dicke Ende kommt noch," said to translate colloquially to "The worst is yet to come". Its literal translation is actually "The thick end is coming soon", inferring that a larger force was on its way imminently, placing these stickers on German corpses and fortifications. Canadian and American members of the Special Force who lost their lives are buried near the beach in the Commonwealth Anzio War Cemetery and the American Cemetery in Nettuno, just east of Anzio.

When the U.S. Fifth Army's breakout offensive began on 25 May 1944, the 1st SSF was sent against Monte Arrestino, and attacked Rocca Massima on 27 May. The 1st SSF was given the assignment of capturing seven bridges in the city to prevent their demolition by the withdrawing Wehrmacht. During the night of 4 June, members of the 1st SSF entered Rome, one of the first Allied units to do so. After they secured the bridges, they quickly moved north in pursuit of the retreating Germans.

In August 1944 1st SSF came under the command of Colonel Edwin A. Walker when Brigadier General Frederick, who had commanded the force since its earliest days, left on promotion to major general to command the 1st Airborne Task Force.

France, 1944
On 14 August 1944, the 1st SSF landed on the islands of Port Cros and Île du Levant during Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France. They fought the small Battle of Port Cros in which they captured the five forts on the islands from the German Army. Nine men were killed in action or died of wounds received in combat. On 22 August it was attached to the 1st Airborne Task Force, a provisional Seventh Army airborne division, and later made part of the Task Force. On 7 September it moved with the 1st Airborne Task Force to defensive positions on the Franco-Italian border. During the war the 1,800-man unit accounted for some 12,000 German casualties, captured some 7,000 prisoners, and sustained an attrition rate of over 600%.

Disbandment, 1944
The 1st SSF was disbanded 5 December 1944 in a field near Menton, on the extreme southeast Mediterranean coast of France. Menton holds a special place in the history of the force, not only because the unit was broken up there, but also because it is one of the villages that the 1st SSF had the hardest time capturing in southern France, on 26 August 1944. The day the unit was disbanded, the American commander held a parade honouring the unit. To end the ceremony, the Canadian elements were dismissed by being honoured by the American troops with a Pass in Review, eyes right, officers salute. After the unit's break up, the Canadians were sent to other Canadian units (most of them became replacements for the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion). Some American members were sent to airborne divisions as replacements, others to Ranger Battalions, and still others formed the 474th Infantry Regiment, which served with the Third United States Army and performed occupation duty in Norway. United States Army Special Forces Groups (lineal descendants of 1st Special Service Force) celebrate Menton Day every December 5 with their Canadian military comrades and surviving members of the force. Usually there is a combined parachute jump, a pass in review, and a formal ball.

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