Certain areas of Europe, Norway, and routes out of Italy into Germany are covered with snow for periods varying from 60 to 250 days. A special vehicle would have to be developed, enabling the troops to move over snow at speeds greater than that of the enemy, and to go where he would not be able to follow. If a snow vehicle, armored, carrying adequate guns and a small crew, could be developed, it could be used, along with the proper troops with considerable effect against enemy positions. Thus was developed the "Weasel". A low silhouette, track-laying vehicle able to operate over any snow covered terrain. The vehicle later became obsolete as the role of the force changed from one of sabotage to one of combat.
To avoid attracting unwanted attention to the newly formed force, the new commander, Col Robert T. Frederick, named the Force, "First Special Service Force", avoiding the normal terminology of "Commando", "Ranger", or "Parachute Infantry". The FSSF was activated on July 20, 1942, in Helena, Montana.
A Forceman takes aim with his "Johnny Gun".
The Aleutian Island of Kiska was to be the Force's first assignment, which was a perfect opportunity for them as they were trained for both cold weather operations and mountain fighting (from the 9 July to 21 August, 1943).
It had been assumed that there were approximately 12,000 Japanese troops on the Island. However, as the invasion progressed, it soon became apparent that there was no enemy at all. Instead of strongly defended positions, they found empty huts and fortifications. The enemy was no where to be found. It was finally concluded that the morale had been so low, especially after all the bombardment from both sea and air, that the Japanese had fled fearing that they did not have a chance of withstanding an Allied invasion. However, the operation proved to be a valuable experience for the Force.
On the 19th of November 1943, just over two months after the Aleutian invasion, the First Special Service Force arrived in Italy. By this time, the German Army had stopped the advance of the 5th US Army almost everywhere in Italy. Heavy casualties had been inflicted on the attacking Allied Forces during their offensives against German strongholds. In order for the Allied Force to continue its advance northward, it would have to overcome two mountains: Monte la Difensa and Monte la Remetanea.
Near Anzio, Italy, 14 April 1944.
On November 22nd, Headquarters of the 5th US Army assigned Col Frederick and the FSSF the mission of assaulting these two mountains which had an elevation of approximately 3100 feet. On the 1st of December, the Force moved out in full gear. They were brought by truck to within six miles of the base of Monte la Difensa. The Force then proceeded to a twelve hour forced march up to a point of protection from the mountain top.
Some of the men were afraid of what was to come, they knew that some of them would not make it back. The one thing that kept the men going was Col Frederick's respect for them, which meant everything to these men. The Colonel was a man who believed and trusted his men, and they in return, followed him to the end.