Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Devil's Brigade

It is Sunday January 15th 2012 and I have had a quiet but enjoyable day where I had enjoyed food, watch sport and undertaken some writing. I purchased some mushrooms and tomatoes last evening and used my new microwave dish holder to great effect. For lunch I had defrost a good piece of steak together with some fresh vegetables boiled. I used the microwave and dish holder again for a portion of apple (one) and custard. In the evening I used a giant pizza stone for a modest meat pizza bought yesterday frozen for £1.

Yesterday Sunderland lost by one goal at Chelsea where visiting supporters were required pay £45 or £50 for their seats. A 50000 crowd at St James Park saw the team win 1.0 in a workmanlike performance for the new arrivals from the Championship now struggling and replacing the manager who gained the team promotion, Neil Warnock, with former Manchester United forward, Mark Hughes. Newcastle is facing up to two months without their star forward and midfield players on duty in the African Cup. There was rumour in the week that Any Carroll was to return to Newcastle a year after he was sold to Liverpool for £35 million, a rumour which was denied by both clubs. The team climbed to sixth position with the win, equal point with Arsenal in 5th who then were away to Swansea another of the teams who gained promotion to the Premiership at the end of the last season. Swansea have a good record at home and have gained supporters for attempting to play attractive attacking football. They excited their home supported and neutral viewers by another outstanding performance in which they equalised after Arsenal score within minutes of the game commencing. They went to a 2.1 lead and then has the second half progressed Arsenal brought the score to 2.2 but Swansea made no attempt to settle and within what seemed a matter of seconds they had taken the lead again 3.2, a lead which the held thus creating a situation that only a minus 2 goal difference separate Newcastle from the 5th position. Swansea also consolidated their position away from the relegation contenders.

A brief TV blip interrupted the Antiques Road show which I shall attempt to view the i Player recording when available. I enjoyed Dancing on Ice where Chico the comic singer from a previous X factor amazed the audience and the critics, and most of all himself by his first performance gaining the highest marks of the sixteen performers spread over the two weeks,

Yesterday I watched what I thought was a standard training and war special force film which it is, but was intrigued to discover that the training and subsequent action was close to what happened in reality.

The Devil’s Brigade, The Black Devil’s Brigade or Freddie’s Frieghters are names given to the famous Second World War special forces American Canadian Commando Unit created in 1942 in a mountain area of Montana, originally with the intention of participating in an expedition to Norway. The Unit only functioned for two years seeing service in the Aleutian Islands, Italy and Southern France.

The idea for such a small unit to work behind enemy lines originated in the UK and was approved my Lord Mountbatten, The project was then offered to the USA at the Chequers Conference in March 1942.

The commanding officer responsible for establishing the unit had a raft of objections doubting its effectiveness and predicting high casualties but because it had been agreed with the British High Command the project went ahead. The first officer appointed to lead the unit argued with the Mountbatten and Eisenhower and was removed.

In July 1942 it was decided that given the shortage of Norwegians available half the proposed force of 1800 should be Canadians with some 700 officers and men recruited to form a parachute regiment. Technically the Canadian Unit was unofficial and part of the US Army although they were paid for by the Canadian government. They were well trained professional soldier. The USA involvement was through volunteers such as former lumberjacks, rangers, game wardens, prospectors, hunters and explorers and tended to be individualists who found it difficult to adjust to traditional military discipline.

The first structure comprised three regiments each led by a colonel, thirty two officers and 385 men. Each regiment was divided into two battalions, each with three companies and three platoons and each platoon had two sections.

It is with the bringing together of a ragbag of individualists and commencing their training that the 1968 film The Devil’s Brigade commences. The film plays up the separate Canadian and USA mixture and the rivalry that initially developed and the challenge of integrating professional soldiers with the oddball volunteers.

The film emphasises the hard physical endurance training with a route march of 30 miles with each man carrying a pack filled with fifty pounds of rocks. In fact six days a week they would rise at 4.30 and breakfast at 6.30. The obstacle course would be tackled four days a week at 8.00 am followed by full day’s training. They tackled route marches on a 60 mille 97 K course completed in 20 hours. They were trained in unarmed combat by a specialist who is also part of the film introduced in a dramatic way although in fact the men sustained many injuries some serious because of training with knives and bayonets. They were also taught to ski, not shown in the film and they were allocated several new weapons not generally available and designed for winter alpine conditions. The plan was for the force to become operational after the Christmas holiday at the end of the year.

In the film not only is the mission cancelled when the British are alleged to have decided to go ahead themselves but the unit was to disband. My understanding is that the Norway project did not go ahead. The Commanding Officer goes to Washington on Christmas Eve to plead the cause and is able to persuade that they should be used.

In reality after an aborted action in the sense that the enemy had vacated the Islands to be reclaimed, the force was sent to Italy via Casablanca arriving in Naples in 1943. In the film before the unit is fully deployed they are tested with a project to capture enemy soldiers for intelligence gathering. They capture a fortified town with the minimum of casualties which impresses the doubters about the value of this kind of unit and methods. Where the film and reality merge is in the main action which brought them lasting fame. The allies had been held up on their progress to Rome by the German command of a mountain area which they controlled through artillery emplacements and substantial forces. The allies had attempted to dislodge by frontal assault after shelling. The plan was devised to scale a sheer rock face with some overhangs within a matter of hours from the side and come upon the Germans from above while were preoccupied with the shelling from the allies anticipate more of what had happened previously.

Although the mission was successful the participating regiment suffered substantial casualties with 91 dead plus 9 missing with 313 wounded and over 100 exhausted. The film ends at this morning mentioning that the unit continued with high casualties.

The Brigade was then given an important role at Anzio penetrating behind enemy lines on reconnaissance and disruptions, A German communiqué was subsequently found which described the American Canadian force as treacherous, unmerciful and clever and that the first soldier or group capturing one of these men would be given a ten day holiday. They acquired the title- the Devils Brigade because at night the soldiers blacked their faces with boot polish. Thy carried stickers in German which read The Worst is yet to Come.

They also served in Southern France. The 1800 force were responsible for the death of 12000 German troops and captured at total of 7000 men. The members of the force were then placed in other standard combat units for the remainder of the war. Survivors have continued to meet once a year at their original training base in Montana.

William Holden and Cliff Robertson performed in the 1968 film and there have been a number of documentaries and mini series about the Brigade.

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