World War Two Special Forces

WWII saw the development of elite bands of soldiers dedicated to performing acts beyond ordinary soldiers. Find out more about some of these units.

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Brandenburgers

Little is known about this shadowy German unit which fought predominately on the Eastern Front in WWII. Initially formed from ethnic Germans living outside Germany in 1939, the Brandenburgers was involved in the seizure of Polish factories before they could be destroyed by Polish forces.

Fallschirmjaeger

The Fallschirmjaeger German paratroops at the beginning of WWII were highly trained. Their daring attack on the supposedly impregnable fortress at Eben Emael in Belgium in May 1940 allowed key bridges over the Albert Canal and the Meuse river to be captured intact. The German blitzkrieg in the West was thus allowed to continue unchecked.

The SAS

Formed by David Stirling in North Africa in 1941, the SAS initially concentrated on Axis airfields and ports, achieving mixed results. Later they served in Italy and Europe, ranging ahead of the advancing allies. Hitler ordered any SAS prisoners to be executed immediately.

Commandos

Formed on the initiative of Winston Churchill, who wanted to keep the Germans on their toes before the invasion of Europe, the Commandos' greatest success was the raid on St Nazaire in 1942, which blocked the only French dock large enough to hold the battleship Tirpitz.

Foreign Legion

The resistance of the French Foreign Legion at Bir Hakeim on the Gazala Line in May/June 1942 delayed Rommel's advance for ten days and allowed the Eighth Army to withdraw to the El Alamein Line in good order.

Skorzeny

Otto Skorzeny was responsible for organising a number of daring raids in WWII, but perhaps none was more daring than his rescue of Mussolini from Gran Sasso in September 1943. Landing silently by glider, Skorzeny's men quickly overcame the Italian guards. He then flew back with Mussolini to Vienna.

US Rangers

The Rangers were involved in the successful storming of the Pointe du Hoc gun position on D-Day. Using ladders borrowed from the London Fire Brigade mounted on amphibious trucks, the Rangers scrambled to the top of a cliff almost 100m high, only to find the guns had been removed by the Germans.