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).
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
Some historians look at earlier periods of American history
for the roots of Special Forces.
Rogers Rangers. One of these military groups was known as
Rogers Rangers - men who fought in the early French and Indian
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
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.
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.
5307th Composite Unit (Provisional). The 4307th 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