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Cover image for A perfect hell : the true story of the Black Devils, the forefathers of the Special Forces
Format:
Title:
A perfect hell : the true story of the Black Devils, the forefathers of the Special Forces
Author:
ISBN:
9780891418672
Edition:
Presidio Press trade pbk. ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Presidio Press, 2006.
Physical Description:
398 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
General Note:
Originally published: Toronto : Doubleday, 2005.
Contents:
Part one: the mountain -- The ascent -- The terrible year -- The staff officer -- Mavericks and mountain men -- Warriors without a war -- Two peaks -- Telegrams -- Majo -- Part two: the beach -- Shingle -- The long cold night -- Gods -- Devils -- Escapes -- Gusville -- Part three: the city -- The quarry -- Breakout -- The flying column -- Six bridges -- Soldier's farewell -- Riviera wars -- Homecoming -- Epilogue.
Summary:
It's 1942 and Hitler's armies stand astride Europe like a colossus. Germany is winning on every front. This is the story of how one of the world's first commando units, put together for the invasion of Norway, helped turn the tide in Italy. 1942. When the British generals recommend an audacious plan to parachute a small elite commando unit into Norway in a bid to put Nazi Germany on the defensive, Winston Churchill is intrigued. But Britain, fighting for its life, can't spare the manpower to participate. So William Lyon MacKenzie King is contacted and asked to commit Canadian troops to the bold plan. King, determined to join Roosevelt and Churchill as an equal leader in the Allied war effort, agrees. One of the world's first commando units, the First Special Service Force, or FSSF, is assembled from hand-picked soldiers from Canadian and American regiments. Any troops sent into Norway will have to be rugged, self-sufficient, brave, and weather-hardened. Canada has such men in ample supply. The all-volunteer FSSF comprises outdoorsmen -- trappers, rangers, prospectors, miners, loggers. Assembled at an isolated base in Helena, Montana, and given only five months to train before the invasion, they are schooled in parachuting, mountain climbing, cross-country skiing, and cold-weather survival. They are taught how to handle explosives, how to operate nearly every field weapon in the American and German arsenals, and how to kill with their bare hands. After the Norway plan is scrapped, the FSSF is dispatched to Italy and given its first test -- to seize a key German mountain-top position which had repelled the brunt of the Allied armies for over a month. In a reprise of the audacity and careful planning that won Vimy Ridge for the Canadians in WWI, the FSSF takes the twin peaks Monte la Difensa and Monte la Remetanea by storming the supposedly unscalable rock face at the rear of the German position, and opens the way through the mountains. Later, the FSSF will hold one-quarter of the Anzio beachhead against a vastly superior German force for ninety-nine days; a force of only 1,200 commandos does the work of a full division of over 17,000 troops. Though badly outnumbered, the FSSF takes the fight to the Germans, sending nighttime patrols behind enemy lines and taking prisoners. It is here that they come to be known among the dispirited Germans as Schwartzer Teufel (zBlack Devilsy) for their black camouflage face-paint and their terrifying tactic of appearing out of the darkness. John Nadler vividly captures the savagery of the Italian campaign, fought as it was at close quarters and with desperate resolve, and the deeply human experiences of the individual men called upon to fight it. Based on extensive archival research and interviews with veterans, A Perfect Hell is an important contribution to Canadian military history and an indispensable account of the lives and battlefield exploits of the men who turned the tide of the Second World War.
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940.54 NADLER
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940.54 N12
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Summary

Summary

It's 1942 and Hitler's armies stand astride Europe like a colossus. Germany is winning on every front. This is the story of how one of the world's first commando units, put together for the invasion of Norway, helped turn the tide in Italy.


1942 . When the British generals recommend an audacious plan to parachute a small elite commando unit into Norway in a bid to put Nazi Germany on the defensive, Winston Churchill is intrigued. But Britain, fighting for its life, can't spare the manpower to participate. So William Lyon MacKenzie King is contacted and asked to commit Canadian troops to the bold plan. King, determined to join Roosevelt and Churchill as an equal leader in the Allied war effort, agrees.

One of the world's first commando units, the First Special Service Force, or FSSF, is assembled from hand-picked soldiers from Canadian and American regiments. Any troops sent into Norway will have to be rugged, self-sufficient, brave, and weather-hardened. Canada has such men in ample supply.

The all-volunteer FSSF comprises outdoorsmen -- trappers, rangers, prospectors, miners, loggers. Assembled at an isolated base in Helena, Montana, and given only five months to train before the invasion, they are schooled in parachuting, mountain climbing, cross-country skiing, and cold-weather survival. They are taught how to handle explosives, how to operate nearly every field weapon in the American and German arsenals, and how to kill with their bare hands.

After the Norway plan is scrapped, the FSSF is dispatched to Italy and given its first test -- to seize a key German mountain-top position which had repelled the brunt of the Allied armies for over a month. In a reprise of the audacity and careful planning that won Vimy Ridge for the Canadians in WWI, the FSSF takes the twin peaks Monte la Difensa and Monte la Remetanea by storming the supposedly unscalable rock face at the rear of the German position, and opens the way through the mountains.

Later, the FSSF will hold one-quarter of the Anzio beachhead against a vastly superior German force for ninety-nine days; a force of only 1,200 commandos does the work of a full division of over 17,000 troops. Though badly outnumbered, the FSSF takes the fight to the Germans, sending nighttime patrols behind enemy lines and taking prisoners. It is here that they come to be known among the dispirited Germans as Schwartzer Teufel ("Black Devils") for their black camouflage face-paint and their terrifying tactic of appearing out of the darkness.

John Nadler vividly captures the savagery of the Italian campaign, fought as it was at close quarters and with desperate resolve, and the deeply human experiences of the individual men called upon to fight it. Based on extensive archival research and interviews with veterans, A Perfect Hell is an important contribution to Canadian military history and an indispensable account of the lives and battlefield exploits of the men who turned the tide of the Second World War.


Author Notes

John Nadler is a contributing correspondent to CanWest Newspapers, Canada's largest newspaper chain, and writes for Variety magazine. His articles have appeared in TIME , Maclean's , Canadian Business , the Ottawa Citizen , The Gazette (Montreal), the National Post , and The Independent in the UK. He lives in Hungary.


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

The central role played by special forces in the global war on terror has generated renewed interest in the WWII-era predecessors of today's elite special warriors, from the ski troops of the Tenth Mountain Division to the legendary Jedburghs. Writer and war correspondent Nadler (Searching for Sofia) resurrects the "largely forgotten" First Special Service Force (FSSF) in this superb popular history. Made up of volunteers from the U.S. and Canadian armies, the FSSF was considered a "suicide outfit." Following months of arduous training at Ft. Harrison near Helena, Mont., that included parachute training, alpine skiing and demolition training-"a range of specialized skills that was virtually unprecedented"-the unit participated in the deadly assault against the German winter line in southern Italy, the defense of the Anzio beachhead, the liberation of Rome and the invasion of southern France. Their fierce resistance against a much larger enemy force at Anzio won them their nickname, the Black Devils, from their German foes. Nadler flavors his narrative with accounts of individual Black Devils like FSSF commander Robert Frederick, the "war's premier fighting general" with eight Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars and two Distinguished Service Crosses. This solidly researched and smartly written volume is a fitting tribute to a unique group of warriors. (Mar. 28) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Booklist Review

Organized in 1942, the First Special Service Force, aka the Black Devils and also the Devil's Brigade, under Colonel (later General) Robert Frederick consisted of American and Canadian soldiers selected to operate defensively in the Canadian Arctic and offensively in Nazi-held Norway. In fact, it operated in the Mediterranean, in France, and in Germany from 1943 to 1945, in the process developing many of the concepts, doctrines, and training techniques later used by the Special Forces, including cooperating with local resistance forces. Many founding members of Special Forces were veterans of the First Special Service Force, and they created a large oral-history archive, on which seasoned journalist Nadler has effectively drawn for this readable, informative, and entertaining history. --Roland Green Copyright 2006 Booklist


Library Journal Review

Nadler, a Hungarian-based correspondent, tells the story of the First Special Services Force (FSSF) of World War II (nicknamed the "Black Devils" by the Germans because of its members' use of black shoe polish to darken their faces during night operations), a combined American and Canadian unit of three regiments numbering some 1200 men that distinguished itself in the Aleutian campaign, Italy, and southern France. Nadler succeeds in depicting the brutality of war while building a strong case that the FSSF was not used to its full potential and deserves more recognition. Unfortunately, the narrative gets bogged down by personal anecdotes from the force's veterans and their families, and Nadler's explanations of small unit actions and juggling of several characters' stories at once can be confusing. For readers interested in how several veterans lived after the war, Nadler's work should suffice. Those desiring a more accurate telling of military history might prefer Joseph Springer's The Black Devil's Brigade or Robert Adleman's The Devil's Brigade. Given the popularity of World War II and especially Special Forces materials, libraries should consider purchasing this title.-David Alperstein, Queens Borough P.L., Jamaica, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

Mapp. vii
List of Mapsp. xi
Author's Notep. xiii
Prologuep. 1
Part 1 The Mountain
1 The Ascentp. 11
2 The Terrible Yearp. 17
3 The Staff Officerp. 29
4 Mavericks and Mountain Menp. 45
5 Warriors Without a Warp. 76
6 Two Peaksp. 98
7 Telegramsp. 127
8 Majop. 139
Part 2 The Beach
9 Shinglep. 171
10 The Long Cold Nightp. 178
11 Godsp. 196
12 Devilsp. 214
13 Escapesp. 226
14 Gusvillep. 240
Part 3 The City
15 The Quarryp. 259
16 Breakoutp. 268
17 The Flying Columnp. 284
18 Six Bridgesp. 292
19 Soldier's Farewellp. 302
20 Riviera Warsp. 308
21 Homecomingp. 327
Epiloguep. 343
Notesp. 360
Sourcesp. 374
Acknowledgementsp. 384
Indexp. 387