In May 1942, the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, proposed the formation of an elite Canadian-American force to be used for commando operations in Europe. On 9 July 1942, Canadians from various regiments and American volunteers assembled at Helena, Montana, for rigorous training.
The 1st Special Service Force, commanded by American Colonel Robert T. Frederick, was composed of 750 Canadian and 1,700 American soldiers. Although Canadians represented only one third of the fighting force, Lieutenant-Colonel D.D. Williamson, a Canadian, was the second in command.
Originally, the 1st Special Service Force was to conduct a series of commando raids into German- occupied Norway and northern Italy to destroy hydroelectric plants and military installations as well as the oil fields of Romania. However, the proposed mission (scheduled for the winter of 1942-1943) was cancelled, and the force would not be employed until 1943.
In July 1943, the 1st Special Service Force took part in the Allied landings to expel the Japanese on Kiska in the Aleutian Islands. Later that year, the 1st Special Service Force joined the U.S. 5th Army in Italy, where it earned the nickname "the Devil's Brigade." A captured German officer had written in his diary, "The black devils are all around us every time we come into the line, and we never hear them come."