The Force moved by night and hid by day, concealing themselves among the rocks. Getting to their final position meant the escalating of a 900-1000 foot cliff which shot upwards at an angle of approximately 65 degrees. Even the local peasants avoided this route for grazing their flocks, using the routes of the opposite side of the summit instead. This was the route 600 men of the 2nd Regiment were now climbing.
Lady Luck had been on their side as they managed to get within inches of their final position before being detected. Flares were set up, as all hell broke loose. The fight for Monte la Difensa was now on. What was expected to be a three to four day attack lasted about two hours! The men fought hard, with great determination, and were all exhausted from the assault; but defensive positions had to be established in case of a counter-attack. Supplies, which were indispensable to the survival of the Force, had to be carried up the hill on men's backs. Time and time again they went up, bringing ammunitions and food to what was left of the attacking force, even if each trip meant getting shot at by the enemy snipers.
After three days on top of la Difensa many of the men suffered from frostbite as no blankets were available and rocks were the only available material for beds. They stayed for what seemed to be an eternity before being relieved by the 1st Regiment.
After a well deserved break, they went on to their second target: Monte la Remetanea. It offered little resistance in comparison with Monte la Difensa, as it was soon overtaken by Allied Forces.
The Force successfully achieved what experts labelled as impossible; but not without a cost in human suffering. The number of casualties for the six days totalled 511: 73 dead, 9 Missing In Action, 313 wounded, and 116 exhaustion cases. Colonel Frederick was also wounded twice during the battle.
Italy, April 1944.
The First Special Service Force continued fighting through the Mediterranean, at Monte Sammucro (December 25th, 1943), Radicosa (January 4, 1944), and Mussolini Canal (Anzio) February 2 to May 10, 1944. During the campaign for Anzio, 54 men were killed, 51 were Missing In Action and 279 were wounded. It was also in Anzio, where the German, out of fear, had given the force the name "The Black Devils".
Prior to the attack on Rome, the Force was at its greatest strength. Two thousand men went through twelve days of rigorous training in assault tactics and physical training in preparation for the assault.
The Breakout began on 23rd of May, 1944, at 0630 hours. The assault force consisted of seven divisions, including an armored division. The FSSF had been given the honour of being the leading force in the assault. The Force advanced at a rapid pace and in no time reached their primary objectives. After four days of fighting, the Allied Forces, together with the First Special Service Force succeeded in penetrating the Germans defensive lines. By the end of May, the Force had had enough time to build up its strength and supplies to start its drive to Valmontone.
The final push toward Rome began with a lot of anticipation, for Rome was said to be "the biggest prize of the war". On the 4th of June, 1944, at 0100 hours, the order was given to get into the city as fast as they could. By 0620 hours the lead assault force passed into the city limits of Rome. Primarily, the Axis resistance encountered was designed to allow the German 14th Army and their headquarters to retreat across the Northern bridges. One by one, German positions were being cleared, and by 1100 hours the First Special Service Force had secured all of its objectives. The First Special Service Force had been the first Allied unit to enter the "Eternal City", an honour which every Allied Commander had wished for. The liberation of Rome was the culminating point of the daring exploits of the First Special Service Force.
The success of this elite force continued throughout Southern France until September 7, 1944, when the Force then moved to the France-Italian border. It fought there until November 30th, 1944. An estimated 12,000 enemy soldiers were killed and over 7,000 prisoners had been captured by the FSSF during the campaigns of Italy and Southern France.
On the 5th of December, 1944, in Southern France, the First Special Service Force was disbanded. It was a sad day for the Force as they casted the Regimental Colors. It was hard to imagine that these men, who were part of the most fierce combat unit of World War II, both feared and respected by the enemy, stood there and openly cried as the Force disbanded. They had come a long way from the early days in Helena, Montana. This bi-national group never looked upon one another as being either Canadian or American, they had become brothers of the ranks fighting for the common cause of freedom. The last few days of the Force was spent with the men going to various companies to seek out old friends and to reminisce about early days.
The Canadians were ordered to rejoin their respective units and as for the Americans, they were either assigned to Airborne units or to the newly formed 474th Infantry Regiment. Their commander, Col Robert T. Frederick, a man respected by his troops, was never found behind a desk or in the rear during a battle. Even after being wounded eight times and called a "stupid son of a bitch" by his fellow general, he could still be found on the battle field by his men. Col Robert T. Frederick was promoted to Major-General at the age of 37, the youngest officer ever to hold that rank, and subsequently took command of the 45th Division.
The men of the First Special Service Force were a proud group, and as the elite unit they were, they had a right to be. The joint Canadian-American unit was a brilliant success throughout. The rule of thumb for the FSSF had always been, as Tennyson wrote in The Charge of the Light Brigade, "Yours is not to reason why, yours is but to do or die!"