graduate

Special Service Force


Photograph of Special Service Force retreat ceremony

U.S. Army. Via ibiblio.org

The First Special Service Force was organized at Fort William Henry Harrison on 9 July 1942 as a joint U.S.-Canadian formation. It originally trained for commando service in Norway, with the mission of knocking out hydroelectric plants. The motivation behind this mission was so secret that the members of the Force were not told: These plants were producing heavy water for Germany’s nuclear weapons research. The Force was told only that the plants supplied power for mining valuable ores, a true enough statement.

By September of 1942, interest in the mission had faded. An attempted raid on the plants by British paratroopers failed when the gliders crashed, and the Germans shot those who survived the crash. The hydroelectric plants would eventually be brought down by a combination of Norwegian Resistance actions and bombing raids.

Marshall resisted pressure to disband the Special Service Force, and it was committed to what turned out to be a bloodless landing at Kiska. The unit was then sent to Europe for the remainder of the war, where it distinguished itself, particularly at Anzio, but suffered such heavy casualties that it was disbanded in 1945.

Though the unit performed superbly in combat, the concept of elite units was (and is) controversial. Most regular Army officers argued that the elite units employed disproportionate numbers of the best men, who would have been better employed as officer candidates or NCOs in regular units. This debate has been around for a long time and has never been settled. Most armies still have elite units today, suggesting that, whatever their military utility, they serve an essential psychological or political function.

References

Dzuiban (1959; accessed 2011-7-2)


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