Menton Day is celebrated on December 5th by U.S. Army Special Forces, often with formal dine-ins, ceremonies at memorials, or at the least assemblies at a local bar or tavern for stories and toasts. The day commemorates the 1st Special Service Force of World War II, a joint American-Canadian unit activated in 1942 and key factor in the early history of modern special operations.
The First special Service Force, also known as the Devil’s Brigade, was activated in July of 1942 at Fort Harrison, Montana. It was a joint American-Canadian unit comprised of three small regiments and a support battalion. It was the first U.S. special operations unit of its kind in that its soldiers were trained in commando and unconventional warfare. The unit earned a reputation for carrying out missions against targets considered impossible for conventional forces.
“Forcemen” were trained in airborne, amphibious, winter and mountain warfare, and also in advanced demolitions, small arms and small unit tactics, heavy weapons application and advanced hand-to-hand. The 1SSF fought against axis forces in France and Germany, and sustained heavy casualties in numerous battles and operations in Italy.
The 1st Special Service Force was deactivated on 5 December, 1944, in Menton, France. The dissolution of he unit hit many of its members hard. As the Canadians were loaded onto trucks, according to a 1SSF veteran, “some of the toughest SOBs broke down in tears. When the Canadians pulled out, some of us Americans ran alongside them and behind their trucks with tears in our eyes.”
The reason for that deactivation has been debated, but historians generally agree that Allied leadership realized that the American and Canadian armies couldn’t easily maintain the ranks of the 1SSF, especially since the end of the war seemed near, and, thus, chose to deactivate the unit. American “Forcemen” were transferred to other Airborne and Ranger units in the Army. Some Forcemen later helped to form U.S. Army Special Forces
1st Special Service Force, along with the OSS, Army Rangers and Alamo Scouts, led the way for modern U.S. Special Operations, what would eventually lead to the creation of, and are in essence the founding fathers of, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
The larger lesson of the First Special Service Force, and one of the key lessons of World War II, was that in any global conflict, the more friends the US has and the more effectively the U.S. works with those friends the better off we are. Another key lesson was that sometimes unconventional forces are needed to get a job done.
So, to all my Forcemen fathers and Special Forces brothers, I say, “Cheers.”
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