Book Review – 1st SSF in Italy 1943

Book Review Brett Werner

By Christopher (Moon) Mullins.

Bret Werner’s book, The First Special Service force at the Winter Line, Italy 1943, details the history and one of the most famous battles of the First Special Service Force at Monte La Difensa in Italy during WWII. A legendary raid that cemented 1st Special Forces in legend and history. Formed in the early stages of WWII in a remote location of Montana in the US, this force was a mixture of Canadian and American soldiers trained in Special Operations.

Overall, the author does a great job of detailing the birth of this historic unit. The First Special Service Force became what we know today as Special Forces for the US and other countries. I have personally served in a Special Forces Support unit, and I can provide testimony that it is a special and unique assignment. You always feel a part of something bigger. You are treated special; you have special missions and the expectations are very high. Leaders expect you to perform your military job at a very high level and maintain that level of excellence throughout your mission.

The First Special Service Force was selected by Allied Leadership for special operations in the Italian Theater. Because the Western Front was not established yet, the Italian Theater of Operations saw some of the best the US had to offer from various units such as the 82nd Airborne Division, The Ranger Battalions, and British Commandos. Often these units were used as straight-leg infantry shock troops sent into the front line right beside normal infantry soldiers.

The Raid on Monte La Difensa was a special mission because of the approach that the Commander selected. The Force Commander Colonel Fredrick decided to storm a German mountaintop defensive position from the reverse sloop. That part of the mountain was determined to be no-go terrain so severe that the Germans didn’t even defend it or assign troops to watch it. The Commander was determined to assault the reverse sloop by taking an entire regiment and used ropes to climb the mountain. The Regiment took the better part of the night, dusk to dawn, to send the 2nd Regiment over the approach. Small battles took place that clearly was a surprise and shock to the Germans defenders. They never expected the enemy to approach from that direction, so they didn’t defend it. Therefore, they were initially slaughtered from behind.

The overall joint operation with other US Army infantry Divisions and our British allies resulted in a domino effect of the Allies taking hill after hill over the next few weeks. Later these same forces would go on to Assault Anzio and later Rome. These actions helped close out the Italian campaign. The Germans surrendered and conducted a scorched earth retrograde operation that destroyed the Italian cities and natural resources during their retreat. The First Special Service Force and their assault on Monte La Difensa would go down as one of the Great Stories of the Italian Campaign and WWII.

About the author. Bret Werner was raised in the Philadelphia area of Pennsylvania. He is deeply involved with living history organizations with an emphasis on the soldier of the 20th century. The author is also an associate member of the First Special Service Force Association, and he attends the veteran reunions every year. Peter Dennis the illustrator of this book was inspired by contemporary magazines such as Look and Learn he studied illustration at Liverpool Art College. Peter has since contributed to hundreds of books, predominantly on historical subjects, including many Osprey titles. Johnny Shumate, also serving as an illustrator for the book, works as a freelance illustrator living in Nashville, Tennessee. He began his career in 1987 after graduating from Austin Peay State University. This book is available on (US),  Amazon UK, and at Osprey Publishing.


Christopher “Moon” Mullins is a former paratrooper with service in the 82nd Airborne Division. He also served with the 5th Special Forces in a communications support role on a “B-team”. Chris retired from the U.S. Army after 20 years service. This article by “Moon” Mullins was first published by ARGunners. Republished with permission from author and ARGunners.