Special Forces Green Beret  Special Forces History


Early Roots
Cold War
Site Map


This website is an Amazon Associate and earns money for qualifying purchases.

Special Forces Berlin
by James Stejskal



Early Roots of Special Forces

Although Special Forces was first formed in 1952 it can draw its roots from units and organizations that fought in World War II. These include the U.S. Army Rangers, the 1st Special Service Force, and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

Some historians look at earlier periods of American history for the roots of Special Forces. The official lineage appears to be that of the 1st Special Service Force but many SF historians consider the OSS to be the origin of the U.S. Army Special Forces. Listed below are a number of 'special units' from the past that are considered to be part of U.S. military special operations history.

OSS. The Office of Strategic Services or OSS would be disolved after World War II but many of its personnel would go into either the U.S. Special Forces in the early 1950s or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The OSS infiltrated small units, usually by parachute, into western Europe to operate behind enemy lines. The mission of the OSS was varied but many OSS teams developed networks for agents, small bands of guerrilla fighters to attack high value targets, harass the enemy, and gather intelligence. OSS Detachment 101 was organized in the Pacific theater and conducted operations in Asia; especially in Burma.

First Special Service Force. Known as the Devil's Brigade, the 1st Special Service Force was a joint Canadian-United States unit that was established in July 1942 at Fort William Henry Harrison, Helena, Montana. Subsequent training took place at Camp Bradford, Virginia and Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont. This force was trained in airborne and mountain operations. It deployed to the Aleutian Islands, Italy and then to the France area of operations.

'Special Operations' Units in American Miltary History

Rogers Rangers. One of these military groups was known as Rogers Rangers - men who fought in the early French and Indian Wars.

Swamp Fox. During the Revolutionarly War Francis Marion established a guerrilla force and he bacame known as the "Swamp Fox" when he led daring guerrilla raids on British forces in South Carolina and Georgia.

Mosby Raiders. During the Civil War a Colonel John Singleton Mosby of Virginia formed up a band of Confederate cavalry that raided behind enemy lines destroying lines of communication, raiding supplies, wrecking railroads, and attacking rear echelon headquarters.

World War II. There were many specialized units formed up and employed in World War II from which the U.S. Army Special Forces has derived its heritage. These include Darby's Rangers, 1st Special Service Force, 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), and the Alamo Scouts.

1st Ranger Battalion. This unit, informally called Darby's Rangers (after its commander) was activated in 1942 in Ireland. It fought in western Europe to include the scaling of the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc during the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

5307th Composite Unit (Provisional). The 5307th was also know as Merrill's Marauders - after the commander of the unit - Colonel Frank D. Merrill. This 3,000-man force operated in the jungles of Burma against the Japanese during World War II.

Alamo Scouts. This small unit operated during World War II in the Pacific against the Japanese.

Websites with Info on Early Roots of Special Forces

US Army Center of Military History

Devil's Brigade by Wikipedia

Origins - Army Special Operations by GlobalSecurity.org

World War II - Army Special Operations by GlobalSecurity.org

Publications about the Beginnings of Special Forces

DA, "The Early Years: 1961 - 1965", Vietnam Studies: U.S. Army Special Forces 1961-1971, CMH Publication 90-23, Washington, D.C., 1989, (First printed, 1973).

Waller, Douglas. "How the OSS Shaped the CIA and American Special Ops", War on the Rocks, September 30, 2015. The author writes on how the OSS heavily influenced the CIA and Special Forces.





Books about Special Forces

Books about Special Forces


We are an affiliate of Bookshop.org and will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.

 If you wish to contribute content, stories, photos, or sketches please contact us.
To add information, correct inaccuracies, or report broken links please email:
john @ north-point.org
 © Copyright 2014 - 2024