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A Perfect Hell – The Forgotten Story of the Commandos of the First Special Service Force

Bones26

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A Perfect Hell – The Forgotten Story of the Commandos of the First Special Service Force: by John Nadler, 363 pages, published by Anchor Canada 2005. (World War II – Italian Theater)

A Perfect Hell tells the story of a new type of soldier, the First Special Service Force (FSSF) commandos. Often referred to as the Devil’s Brigade, and known to the German units they encountered as the Black Devils not only owing to the camouflage carbon black they applied to their faces, but also in grudging admiration for their ability to sneak around, cause havoc and then disappear. This force also demonstrated a heroic resolve in defending critical objectives against numerically superior & determined German forces.

However, in addition to their stellar combat record, what made the FSSF truly unique, was the composition of the force itself. Being comprised of hand-picked volunteers from both Canadian & U.S. regiments but now consolidated and operating under a single unified command. As one the world’s first commando units, the FSSF recruits that were selected from both countries were chosen particularly for their qualities of ruggedness, self-sufficiency, bravery and weather hardened nature.

In their first foray into actual combat in the Italian Theater, this undersized force seized the seemingly impregnable German redoubt at Monte la Defense, an action which is often credited as a crucial battle in helping turn the tide in the Italian War.

While overall an informative read, starting from their genesis in the halls of power of three nations, England, U.S.A. & Canada, through their creation, manning and training in Helena, Wyoming, to their introduction to battle in the mountains of Italy, and their later defense of a quarter of the precarious beachhead at Anzio against impossible odds, eventually culminating in their role helping spearhead the forces that finally took Rome after a long & bloody campaign. This book provides a more than adequate history. However, I must admit to being somewhat disappointed by what I feel was the rather dry and largely pedestrian prose used in recounting the details of the extremely challenging battles they were involved in.

Anyone looking for a history of this unique force need look no further. However, for anyone searching for a more detailed & gritty recounting of the ebb & tide of their various engagements, while adequate, I feel it unfortunately does not often offer a compelling narrative in describing the separate battles and the individual feats accomplished by this unique force and its volunteers.

Rating 6.5 out of 10.
 

julianj

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Yes, I agree, the film is an above-average war flick. Obviously it takes liberties with facts, but suggests that the soldiers were often misfits who ended up in this ad-hoc unit because they weren't thought much cop, and then through hard training and esprit-d-corps become dangerous light infantry commandos. That's a classic war film trope: the outsiders who become elite soldiers, but it works for me.
 

Bones26

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Eastern Townships, Quebec, Canada
Yes, I agree, the film is an above-average war flick. Obviously it takes liberties with facts, but suggests that the soldiers were often misfits who ended up in this ad-hoc unit because they weren't thought much cop, and then through hard training and esprit-d-corps become dangerous light infantry commandos. That's a classic war film trope: the outsiders who become elite soldiers, but it works for me.
Further to your comments regarding the make-up of this force. Here as described in the book ... “As Frederick had hoped, frontiersmen – miners, rangers, trappers and farm boys – were answering the call. Others also stepped forward: high strung city kids, and a few malcontents who didn’t fit in anywhere else in the army. Base commanders took advantage of Frederick’s invitation by emptying their stockades of troublemakers and dispatching them to Helena, sometimes under armed guard.”

For those with any further interest in the history & story of this special force, I also came across the following YouTube segments dealing with their creation & exploits.




Cheers!
 
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