On 7/07, We Celebrate Dodge Hellcats and the Devil’s Brigade
Great things happen when Canadians and Americans play nice.
On 7/07, we celebrate Hellcat Day, which is to say, all things American, that have 707 horsepower, and are awesome—and also Canadian. That's right, both of the Dodge Hellcat twins—the Charger and the Challenger—are built in Brampton, Ontario.
When Canadians and Americans work together like this, great things happen. You get the Canadarm on the Space Shuttle, you get Neil Young and Crazy Horse, you get CanAm racing, and you get Quebecois maple syrup on your Jimmy Dean sausages. Seventy-five years ago, you also got the biggest bunch of cross-border hardasses in WWII: the First Special Service Force. The enemy would come to call them the Devil's Brigade.
The initial idea behind the Devil's Brigade was simple: create a small, joint Canadian-Americancommando force trained in winter warfare tactics and parachute them into occupied Norway. The brainchild of Geoffrey Pike, the operation was called Project Plough, and the call went out to troops who were experienced woodsmen, ranger, and lumberjacks.
Lumberjacks? That'll be the Canadians, then.
Project Plough was abandoned in favor of a heavy bombing campaign against German-controlled installations like hydroelectric dams. However, the 1SSF had already formed in Montana; troops were evenly split between Canadian and American nationals. The men were trained as paratroopers, and also specialized in ski-traverse, winter survival, mountain climbing, sabotage, explosives, and guerrilla tactics. In November of 1943, they arrived at the Italian front and marched straight into what would become something like hell.
The attack on the entrenched Nazi defenses at Mont la Difensa, considered an impregnable mountain fortress, was a nightmare. In the dead of winter, the Devil's Brigade climbed on the edges of a massive artillery bombardment. The soldiers assaulted the position successfully, overrunning the German troops and driving them out. They suffered a 77% casualty rate, but successfully held the position, and went on to drive further into Italy.
Next, they showed up in sunnier climes at Anzio in 1944, taking over a beachhead position. It was here that the Brigade reportedly earned its name: a diary taken from a dead German soldier referred to “die schwarzen teufel,” or the black devils, showing up during nighttime patrols. The men worked in small, silent teams, their faces blackened by boot polish. When dawn arrived, the enemy would find their fallen marked with stickers showing the 1SSF's insignia, and the warning, "Das dicke Ende kommt noch"—The worst is yet to come.
The First Special Service Force was among the first Allied troops to march into Rome, and were soon fighting in Southern France. Over the course of the war, this 1800-man brigade is credited with causing 12,000 enemy casualties, capturing 7000 prisoners, and sustaining an attrition rate of 600%. They were disbanded in the late summer of 1944, at the French village of Villeneuve-Loubet. The men were scattered into Canadian and American units.
The tactics used by the 1SSF were adopted post WWII, and formed the basis for American Special Forces like the Green Berets. In 1999, the highway running between Lethbridge in Alberta and Helena in Montana was designated the First Special Service Force Memorial Highway. Today, imagine two Hellcats hammering the length of it, one red-white-and-blue, one red-and-white.