In the Footsteps of the First Service Special Force aka the Devil's Brigade

February 1944- A quarter of the Anzio Beach Head held by a few hundreds “Not ordinary” Men.

That’s the story of the Devil’s brigade at Gusville.

Who are they? And Where is Gusville?

Don’t waist your time to look on a map you won’t find Gusville, nor Cabbage Castle but on a windy day if you listen carefully you may hear their voices, during the darkest hours you can see  their black faces who terrified the Nazis and created a legend that needs to be known. Follow the link to learn about their deeds:

Story of the First Special Service Force.

First Special Service Force, the Devil's Brigade was a joint World War II American-Canadian commando unit trained at Fort Harrison near Helena, Montana in the United States. Many modern American and Canadian Special Forces units trace their heritage to this unit. In 2013, the United States Congress passed a bill to award the 1st Special Service force the Congressional Gold Medal.

Between December 1943 and June 1944 they fought in Italy.

On 2-3 December 1943 the Force captured the 3,000 foot high Monte La Difensa and La Rementanea mountain tops defended by a Panzer Grenadier division to crack the German Winter Line. After landing at Anzio on 1 February 1944, their aggressive night patrols earned them the nickname the ‘Devils Brigade.’

The Devil’s brigade at Gusville.

On February 1, the FSSF landed at the beachhead at Cisterna. The FSSF’s task was to hold and conduct raids from the right-hand flank of the beachhead marked by the Mussolini Canal and Pontine Marshes. After securing its position the first night, the FSSF’s 1st Regiment pushed patrols of No. 2 Company deep into the German front lines. Lt. Gus Heilman and his patrol crossed Bridge 1, south of Borgo Sabotino and pressed three miles eastward to the Fogliano Canal Lockhouse, where the Germans had a strongpoint.

Where is Borgo Sabotino? 

Originally it was called Passo Genovese for the construction of a bridge built by the Popes Pius VII in 1775 so that  the iron from the Elba Island brought by Merchants from Genova could reach LeFerriere, the iron factory located 10 miles north of Anzio. In the late 20’s Mussolini started a huge project for the drainage of the Pontine Marshes and founded new town and Villages. Borgo Sabotino was one of them and workers from Veneto were relocated here from 1929.

For 99 days Borgo Sabotino changed its name: GUSVILLE

Borgo Sabotino soon became the headquarter of the 2nd Company, 1st Regiment, called Gusville in honor of Lieutenant Gus Heilman whose patrol had been the first to enter.

Taking a look at the solidly built row of buildings of this little village, one of the Forcemen said, "I'd a hell of a lot rather be living here instead of that goddam mud back at camp."  The other members of the patrol agreed.  "Well, what the hell," Gus said, "It's only a quarter of a mile or so inside the krauts' lines, let's move in."  And so 2nd Company of the 1st Regiment now owned a town and they named it Gusville.  The war correspondents at the Anzio Beachhead heard about it and all had to sneak down the road to write a story bearing the dateline "Gusville."  The Main Street was renamed "Tank Street" because during the day a German tank would drive up and fire a few rounds down the street and then leave.  Gusville had cows, chickens, pigs, horses, gardens with potatoes and peanuts and a bar. Lt. Heilman had a bar before the war in Charlottesville which he had name Cavalier Bar.

The night raiders were not lacking of civic enterprise wrote the War Correspondent of the Stars and Stripes. They issue their own newspaper “The Gusville Herald Tribun.

It was during this time at Gusville that the Force got their nickname "The Black Devil's Brigade."  Frederick ordered stickers printed up which showed the Force shoulder patch and the words "DAS DICKE ENDE KOMMT NOCH!"  "The Worst Is Yet To Come!"  The stickers were left at the scene of the blackfaced Forcemen's nightly attacks and the psychological affect on the German troops was devastating.

During their stay at Anzio, replacements for the Force kept coming in and Frederick felt that U.S. Army Rangers from units that had been badly mauled would make prime candidates for Force replacements.  The combat strength of the Force was kept at between 1,300 and 1,700 troops.  Finally, it was time for the breakout.  The Force was pulled off the line for a twelve day rest and then at 6 a.m. on 23 May 1944 the F.S.S.F. led the Allied attack as they crossed the Mussolini Canal, cut the road at Highway 7 and then fought their way into the hills to Highway 6 and led the Americans into Rome.  General Frederick was in the front of his troops and at 6:20 a.m. on 4 June 1944, the lead elements of the Force entered the city of Rome, Italy.  During the campaign into Rome, Frederick was wounded three times.  Added to the six times he had been wounded previously, the total made Frederick the undisputed claimant of the title of Most shot-at-and-hit general in American history.

On 4 June 1944, the FSSF spearheaded the Allied entry into Rome, securing key bridges for the major U.S. II Corps assault. Colonel Frederick was wounded three times in Rome.

Visiting the battlefields today is an emotional experience with some of the buildings still in place among them Cabbage castle on the FFSS landing beach!

Lt. Gus Heilman
The worst yet to come!
Borgo Sabotino
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