Charles Mann honoured by Canadian government for role with Devil’s Brigade


By Barb McKay

It was recognition that was long overdue, but on Jan. 27, the Canadian government honoured the members of the elite Second World War military unit known as the Devil’s Brigade.


Charles Mann displays the Award of Excellence presented to him last month by Defence Minister Peter McKay and Veterans Affair Minister Steven Blaney for his work with the Devil's Brigade (Barb McKay photo)




Charles Mann, of Kincardine, was one of just a few remaining veterans of the First Special Service Force (FSSF) who travelled to Ottawa last month to accept an award for his service with the joint Canadian-American unit. Thirteen surviving members from both Canada and the United States were on hand to receive awards.


Paloma Aguilar, press secretary for Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay, told The Independent in an email that during the awards presentation MacKay recognized service and sacrifice of the FSSF members.

The award was presented jointly by MacKay and Veteran’s Affairs Minister Steven Blaney. Aguilar noted that the awards were established because “the example of co-operation and excellence established by the First Special Service Force has been particularly inspirational to the Special Operations Forces of both the United States and Canada.”


Mann, an original member of the FSSF, received an Award for Operational Excellence that read, “In recognition for extraordinary accomplishments and dedication to operations during the Second World War, their significant contribution to the Allied victory in Europe and in their role for establishing the foundation for Special Operational Forces in Canada and the United States."


Mann said he was pleased when he learned that the Devil’s Brigade was to be recognized by the Canadian government.


“It was quite a pleasant surprise,” he said. “I’m very honoured that my regiment and representatives were honoured. There are not too many of us left from the Canadian side.”


Prime Minister Stephen Harper came out of caucus to greet the veterans. Mann said that Harper took the time to speak with the group and a few of the former Black Devils had their photos taken with the Prime Minister, MacKay and Blaney.


The Devil’s Brigade, a named coined by German forces, were also known as the Black Devils; an elite, secretive commando force established in 1942. The force, a combination of the First Canadian Special Service Battalion (800 members) and U.S. Army volunteers (1,000 members) underwent rigorous unconventional training, including martial arts and ski training, to prepare them for fighting behind enemy lines in winter conditions.



Charles Mann, second from left, and fellow Devil's Brigade members chiat wtih Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Defence Minister Peter MacKay after receiving awards Jan. 27. (PMO photo/Jason Ransom)



The original goal of the joint force was to land in occupied Norway to capture and destroy a heavy water plant to prevent the Germans from successfully developing an atomic bomb. The mission was aborted after the Norwegian government expressed concern that the there would be civilian casualties. Instead, the FSSF received additional training and in 1943 was sent to the Aleutian Islands off the coast to Alaska to liberate them from the Japanese. Unfortunately, Japanese troops evacuated the islands just days before the Devil’s Brigade landed.


From there, the elite regiment made the long trek to Italy to disable the Germans’ position on Mount LaDifensa. The mission was an important one because taking the mountain would allow Allied troops to progress through Italy. The mountain was surrounded entirely by valley, which left Allied troops entirely visible to the enemy.


Mann said the regiment caught the German troop of 200 men by surprise and defeated it in just two and a half hours. There were further successful missions, but in December 1994 the Canadian and U.S. governments disbanded the Devil’s Brigade in favour of forming larger units.



Mann said the question he most often receives about the Devil’s Brigade is how the Canadian and American troops managed to get along.


“We were like brothers,” he said. “We’re very closely bonded, even today.”


Mann retired from the Canadian military in 1946. He now serves as the liaison between the Canadian military and the Special Forces Association. The members of the Devils Brigade have held annual reunions since 1945, with the last one being held in 2012 in Washington, D.C. This year the reunion will take place in Windsor and Mann plans to attend.