Devil’s Brigade to receive Congressional Gold Medal



By Barb McKay


At long last, the famed Canada and American elite military unit known as the Devils Brigade will receive the United States Congressional Gold Medal.


Charles Mann earlier this year. (Independent file photo)




Charles Mann, of Kincardine, is one of roughly 50 surviving members of the First Canadian Special Service Battalion. The recognition by the United States government has been in the works since 2011 when Montana Senator Max Baucus and Florida Representative Jeff Miller introduced a bill to award Congress’ highest honour to the Devil’s Brigade. Congressional Gold Medal legislation requires that 67 Senators and 290 members of Congress to sign the bill before it is can be passed. On June 27, the bill received unanimous support.


“It’s one heck of a pat on the back,” Mann said. “The people who got it previously are pretty famous, including Nelson Mandela. I’m very pleased and my buddies are.”


Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. worked with Baucus and Miller to gain support for the medal.


“We are grateful that the U.S. Congress has recognized the brave accomplishments of the First Special Service Force in Second World War," Doer said in a media release. "The Devil's Brigade was the first of its kind, and the legacy of bilateral defense co-operation that they inspired continues between our two countries to this day." 


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.


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 1944 the Canadian and U.S. governments disbanded the Devil’s Brigade in favour of forming larger units.


There are approximately 175 Canadian and American members of the Devil’s Brigade surviving. The bill is awaiting President Barack Obama’s signature before the Congressional Gold Medal will be minted and delivered to Fort Harrison in Helena, Montana, which is Baucus’ hometown. Commemorative duplicate coins will be minted and can be purchased.


In January, Mann and other members of the First Canadian Special Service Battalion received an Award for Operational Excellence from the Canadian government.