Evolution of the Special Forces

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. has always had those Soldiers who were willing to put themselves at risk in Unconventional Warfare.

Examples of these Soldiers go as far back as the 1670s, when Benjamin Church of Massachusetts adopted Native American tactics as the captain of the first Ranger Force in King Phillip’s War.

Maj. Robert Rogers of New Hampshire organized a company of colonists known as Rogers’ Rangers in the 1750s during the French and Indian War. Rogers’ 28 Rules of Ranging would become a guide for Ranger fighting tactics throughout the years.

The Swamp Fox, Capt. Francis Marion, and Capt. Daniel Morgan led Morgan’s Riflemen during the Revolutionary War in guerrilla warfare against the British. Together, they were known for quick, pointed, surprise attacks against the British at random intervals.

In 1866, Native Americans were employed as Army Scouts, and in 1890, these scouts were allowed to wear the branch insignia of crossed arrows.

These crossed arrows appeared again in 1942, when 1st Special Service Forces began operating. The crossed arrows were officially adopted as part of the Special Forces insignia in 1984.

Point to a conflict the U.S. has been involved in, and chances are you’ll find a specialized unit. Special Forces may not have always been called “Special Forces,” but they’ve always been around.
Traditionally, Special Forces Soldiers can trace their heritage to two organizations: the 1st Special Service Force and the Office of Strategic Services.

1st Special Service Forces, under command of the United States Fifth Army, was organized in 1942. They trained at Fort William Henry Harrison in Helena, Mont. Known as the Devil’s Brigade, the Black Devils and Freddie’s Fighters, this group of American and Canadian forces served in the Aleutian Islands, Northern Italy and Southern France.

The unit trained in Mont. to help them focus on cold weather training, skiing in tactical gear and rock climbing. Helena was chosen for a flat enough terrain to perform airborne jumps, but close enough to the mountains for their other activities.

Meanwhile, in June of 1942, the OSS, a wartime intelligence agency, became officially organized. The OSS had two divisions: the SI Branch was in charge of espionage and the Special Operations Branch was responsible for sabotage and guerrilla warfare.

These branches were organized across the entirety of the U.S. military.

The OSS would recruit and train troops in foreign nations, notably in China and Burma. Kachin and other indigenous forces were used as sabotage units against the Japanese Army.

Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of the SI Branch was the ability to penetrate into Nazi Germany.

Using Austrian and German individuals for missions inside Germany, they were able to receive intelligence about the German military machine. Fritz Kolbe, a German diplomat recruited by the OSS, was one of the war’s most important spies.

The OSS didn’t just specialize in human assets; they were instrumental in creating and developing many spy devices such as playing cards that were actually maps, tasteless poison pills, explosives that looked like lumps of coal and compasses hidden in uniform buttons.

The OSS is also famous for Operation Jedburgh.

The British Operations Executive, the Free French Bureau Central de Renseignements et d’Action and the Dutch and Belgian Armies were dropped into occupied France in teams to conduct sabotage and guerrilla warfare.

Jedburgh teams consisted of three people: a commander, an executive officer and a non commissioned radio operator. One of the officers would be British or American while the other was of the nationality of the country the team would be deployed to. The radio operator could be of any nationality.

The teams were known by codenames that were first names, some medicines and a few random names to confuse the German intelligence.

The first team was codenamed “Hughes” and parachuted into central France. In all, 300 men were selected as “Jeds.” Col. Aaron Bank, designated as the father of Special Forces, and Lt. Gen. William P. Yarborough, future commander of the U.S. Army Special Warfare Center and School, were two of them.

In 1945, the OSS was dissolved by President Truman. The OSS duties were then divided between the Department of State and the Department of War.

In 1951, Bank became Operations Branch Chief of the Special Operations Division at the Pentagon. After the war, he had become a loud advocate for the formation of a special operations force.
In 1952, Bank organized the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne). Soon after, the group was split to form the 77th Special Forces Group, the precursor to 7th Special Forces Group. In 1957, 1st Special Forces Group was formed.

Nine groups were organized by 1961 and were ready to participate in the next conflict: Vietnam.

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