05 July 2014

The Barracks: Special Operations Forces Part: 2-The Historical Roots

In the second installment of the FWS profile of Special Operations Forces, we will examine the roots of modern SOF, from prehistorical times all the way to conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. My original intention was to break up the SOF blogpost over three parts, but it looks more like four given the steer size of the historical roots of SOF. During the research phase, it seemed to me, that there was lack of this topic on the internet. The Wikipedia article on the history of Special Operations is simply dreadful and limp, and I decided that FWS should take on the challenge of this...and man, what a challenge it was! This blogpost was a massive effort, and while I think it was needed, this was overboard...even for my standards! By the way, some longtime readers of FWS will notice that there is some connection between the beginning roots of the science fiction ideal of the "super soldier" and the roots of specialized/elite military forces. FWS used some of the same examples as we did back on that older blogpost. I realize that this blogpost is massive, and I will attempt to rush the 3rd part of the Special Operations Forces blogpost because I feel that this section will be less popular than the rest. Enjoy the read!

The Roots of Modern Special Operations Forces
While most people believe that the concept of Special Forces goes back to the dark days of World War II, the idea of elite select members of an military organization goes back...way back. Specialized warriors that stood out from the rank-and-file of ancient massive armies are an ancient tradition, far more ancient than most people realize. In prehistorical times, human hunter-gather societies depended on their prime-age males to be both the hunter and the defender of their societies (just watch 1981's The Quest for Fire). Normally, out of the ranks of the warrior/hunters came the leader of the social group. During this time, the best of the warrior/hunters were tasked with raiding on other early human groups for necessary supplies, fire, and women. Often, the best hunters in these societies got the larger share of meat and breeding females (much like the superior male in feline groups). There are mostly likely a great of us humans walking around that are descended form these alpha mate hunters. There is evidence, even in Native tribes of North America, that the best and most skilled hunters were the teachers of the young males (and some females), the first ones chosen for raiding and war parties, and the the ones tasked with bring down difficult game.
When humans made the transition from hunter-gather to form and create complex societies based in a single location, the need for protection only grew. Some early human societies used all males as a source for their warriors. However, in some early human villages and cities, there were permanent warrior groups, and even some that ventured away from the village to scout and hunt. Even some that acted like "rangers", watching over animal herds and the borders of their lands. By the time of the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Assyrian Empire; we can see the development of early SOF units, and the split between the ancient roles of "specialized" forces. On one had, early SOF units could be classified the chariot crews, the archers, and the horsemen of early human armies. After all, most infantry were drew from villages and received little training (depending on the civilization), but archers, chariots crews, and cavalry were specialized, more expensive, and better trained; some of the hallmarks of Special Forces.
The other type of proto-SOF unit in the classical world were specialized infantry warriors. One of the most celebrated (and misunderstood) ancient elite infantry fighting groups is the classical Spartan warriors, and there really is nothing like them before or since. In Greek society of the time, most city-states raised an army from their male population, but Sparta was different, they had an standing army comprised of elites only. Their entire society was constructed around achieve military superiority via culling the best of the best from the males in their society. The training was harsh, and children died in training, but the ones that lived until completion were some of the finest warriors in the ancient world. While there is little doubt to their abilities on the battlefield and the psychologically value of their fearsome reputations, the Spartan system was rotten at its core. By the late 3rd century BC, Sparta was relaying on Helot slave armies due to their own inability to field enough warriors.
Around the same time as the Spartan warriors was the Persian Empire's famed 10,000 Immortals. While they are not what Zack Snyder showed us in Frank Miller's 300, they were an specialized elite infantry unit that were given the best training and best equipment. The 10,000 Immortals were the elite heavy infantry of the Persian Army and designed to have at all times 10,000. No more, no less. Wounded, sick, or death members were immediately replaced. To put it in some perspective, at its apex, Sparta could field about 10,000 warriors. The Immortals had their own special food supplies, servants, and even women that all traveled with them to attend to their "needs". It is also known that the Immortals were high ranking members of Persian society, and even outfitted with fine clothing and jewelry...but no creepy silver Kabuki masks.
Philip II of Macedon used an elite shield-carrying infantry called the Hypaspists and their job was mainly to protect the flanks of the long-pike wielding infantry in the phalanx. Because these members of the phalanx could not turn to counter threats on their flanks, the Hypaspists were used protect them. During the rein of Alexander the Great, he had elite infantry, the Asthetairoi, who were selected for his Pezhetairos foot companies. They were armed with short swords, pikes, and armor, but their role in the army of Alexander is up to debate. Some historians believe that the Asthetairoi were the bodyguard of Alexander and the army elite, while others believe that the Asthetairoi were used like hoplites, the free citizens that composed the infantry corps who could afford bronze armor and weaponry. Others believe that Asthetairoi were specialized classical urban warriors, that raiding and fought in cities.
Another of Alexander's elite army units was the Companion Cavalry, and they were the first use of shock cavalry in the ancient world. The Companion Cavalry was the pattern for some many elite units, the use of rapid tactics and being in the cavalry. They were outfitted with the best that Alexander could give, donning bronze armor and carry several weapons. Shock cavalry is used for rapid assault on infantry, charging the field and breeding confusion and panic, allowing the lines to break. In the Classical World, there are two unusual elite military units: the Scared Band of Carthage and the Scared Bands of Thebes. Carthage used it money and influence to hire massive soldier-of-fortune armies, and had Carthaginian citizens leading the mercenaries. However, there was the Scared Band, This units of 2,000-3,000 male warriors was culled from the rick of Carthaginian society, and trained from birth to be an elite infantry unit with the best gear, armor, and weapons money could buy. While they nice expensive gear and good training, the unit was wiped out twice and was never to be reformed. The second Scared Band belonged ot the Greek city state of Thebes. In the 4th century BC, Thebes field an small unit of 300 men, who were paired up, one older, more experienced man to another young man, to form couples. It is believed that even the name refers to a scared bonding ritual that tied the two men together, leading to great esprit de corps.This was a common practice in Classical Greek military organizations. The Scared Band soldiers were used to protect the city and were trained in equestrian warfare, wrestling and dance. Dance. Seriously? They were well-funded from the city citizens and given estates when retired from service. While great deeds of combat were written about the Scared Band of Thebes, some modern historians believe that their deeds were embellished for PR purposes.
There were two elite and specialized units in the Roman imperial forces, one being the Praetorian Guard and the other being the Imperial Germanic bodyguards. Formally formed in 27 BC by Emperor Augustus to act as a close protection unit for the Emperor, the Praetorian Guard became a force of change in the Roman world until around the 3rd century AD. Originally named for the commander’s tent, the Praetorian Guard started off as a personal protection detail to Roman Generals, like Scipio Africanus, then grew into a force of 500-1500 guards. Praetorians were drawn from veterans, and the post was considered to be honor, and paid more than the standard Legionnaire. During the instability that plagued Rome, the Praetorians played an active role in regime change via direct assassinations, supporting one over another, and even selling the position of emperor to the highest bidder. No shit. The Praetorian Guards actually auctioned off the throne to Rome to Didius Julianus, who only ruled for three months. Due to their double dealing, the later Emperors knww not to trust the guard, and it was disbanded. The Imperial Germanic bodyguard were a more personal close protect detail than the Praetorians, and believed to be more trustworthy due to their lack of connection to Rome. While the historical record of the Imperial Germanic guard is unclear, they did seemed to have been replaced later in Roman history with Emperor Trajan’s Equites Singulares Augusti and Emperor Antoninus Pius personal guard unit, the Leones. The Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Empire was similar to the old Roman Imperial Germanic guard, and were composed of English and Scandinavians. 
With the fall of Rome, and the Dark Ages of Europe, there was the rise of another specialized warrior group that has come to symbolize European society for hundreds of years: the Knight.The word "Knight" traces it roots back to the Norman Invasion by William the Bastard in 1066, where his followers are called "cniht" and they were rewarded by William with lands, and the "cnihit" pledged their loyalty and sword to William. The Knightly class was given a code of behavior to keep these armored professional warriors under control. After all, the Knight was a trained horsemen, and their purpose was to defend the realm and the King, and they could bored and bloody if left to their own devices.
 Equaling Knights to the modern SOF units like SAS is a little difficult. Most modern Special Forces soldiers are not directly involved in the politics of their nation, nor are they pledge their loyalty to the leader of that nation. The loyalty of SOF soldiers is not often bought with lands, title, or riches. European Knights' role in medieval society was to be their king’s most loyal, most highly trained (and expensive) soldiers. Knights were also political, and landowners via fiefs that had a stake in the survival of the Kingdom and the future of the Kingdom. Much like Special Forces of today, they had the best kit, trained at special schools of armed combat, could select the best in weaponry, and were highly mobile via horses. All of this added up to that Knights were expected to be the core of the army, that held the line while others ran from battle. They could also function as Cataphract, the heavy armored shock-troop cavalry. Also, much like modern Special Forces, Knights were the stuff of legend and great deeds, and held in a certain regard by the general public…well, the ones not burning down your village, and killing you. For nearly 500 years, the Knight was symbol of Medieval warfare, and while those armies were composed of archers, pikemen, and regular infantry, the Knights were held in special awe and terror.
The ranks regular infantry were mostly unarmored, poorly armed and trained, and culled by force from the peasant class. By the 15th century, the party was over for the Knights. They got expensive and of less tactical good on the battledfield, especially with the longbows, crossbows, and arrowheads being more effective. The effectiveness of the pleasant archer was proven at the Battle of Crecy, who were vastly cheaper than Knights. This contest of Knight vs. long-range modern weaponry was finally fully lost by the Knight with the advent of the gun.
By the mid-16th century lightly armored pikemen, cavalry, and matchlock calivers could take down an Knight and there was no wearable armor suit that could protect the Knight from the power of the bullet. After this, Knighthood would become a largely ceremonial title, as they disappeared into governmental service and oversaw their affairs and lands. This would set the stage for the next evolution of the Special Forces. In other regions of the world, the idea of specialized and high trained professional soldiers was incorporated into their societies. During the era of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, an elite group of male warriors from the Silla Kingdom rose out of social/religious groups. Some have compared the Hwarang to the Samurai, but other believe that the Hwarang have been elevated to enhance Korean history. There was the Middle Eastern Furusiyya of Middle Ages and the Hashishin of the Crusade; all were an expert in horse-centered warfare and devoted to the cause.
In the Americas there was a twist to the concept of elite warriors. Instead of codes of behavior, these warriors of the jungles and the plains, took their fighting ability from the soul of some of the most dangerous animals in the New World. Like the European powers, the Aztecs could rise an army from their pleasant popular when the need arose for war, but there was a core of professional warriors that donned the skins of the mighty jungle cat, the Jaguar. The Jaguar Warrior was part of the ruling elite of the Aztec empire, and much was expect out of them, including victim for the rituals demanded by their greedy and hungry gods.
Unlike the Knights or Samurai, the ranks of the Jaguar and Eagle warriors were filled of young men who rose to the challenge. They had to capture four prisoners in order to be allowed entry into the ranks of these elite imperial warriors. Once there, training began, shaping these young men into warriors worthy of the donning the Eagle or Jaguar skins. When the Spanish invaded the Aztec Empire in 1519, the Jaguar warriors were there defending the empire against the alien invaders. When the Aztec Empire fell in 1521, the animal warriors of the old empire were no more, and they passed into legend.
Currently, the Spartans are the current favorite ancient warriors of the general public, and while the Spartans were unique, deadly warriors that were the apex of their society, they are nothing when compared to my favorite ancient warrior culture: the Samurai. Comprising 10% of their total national population, the Samurai, "one who serves", where an elite section of society that you had to be born into, and only the Samurai were given the right to don two swords, and the right to cut down civilians that showed them disrespect (Kiri-Sute Gomen). They lived by a ethical code of behavior in society and on the battlefield. For the Samurai, duty and honor were all encompassing values that were represented in their Katana  swords. For nearly a thousand years, the Samurai dominated military and political life of Feudal Japan, and event today, the world is still fascinated with these warriors that died out in the 1870's. 
Once again, drawing comparisons between the Samurai and modern day Special Forces is difficult. Most Special Forces members are not born into the role, nor are the bulk of them political. However, they do share similarity in being outfitted in the best gear, training, and ability to wield special weapons. Special Forces and Samurai share attending military training schools, designed to teach specific forms of combat, often with specific weaponry. But, that is true of much of the specialized warrior groups mentioned here, where the Samurai and the SOF of today are more similar is in state-of-mind. While the Samurai class were members of upper echelons of their overall society and maintained lavish households befitting of their status with servants and well-maintained gardens, they were committed warriors. Samurai devoted their time to serve to their lord, perfection of their art, and the mastery of the arts of war. This is similar to the SOF members, where they train like they fight, and devoted years to being ready at a moment's notice. Samurai were ready for death, and accepted that military service came at a price. To stay alive as a Samurai is to prefect your abilities, and the same is true of Special Forces soldiers, training is a method of survival. While the Samurai were the apex warrior, they could not survival the influx of western knowledge and culture after Commodore Perry opened Japan up to trade and cultural exchange.
The fatal mistake that the Samurai, the Knights of Europe, and the Spartans all made was over commitment to their art, not enough to the society at large, and their variability of technology. The Samurai, while members of their society, floated on top of the peasants that made the Samurai way of life possible, and they were hated and feared by the normal populous. In addition, the Samurai were rarely used for warfare during the Tokugawa Shogunate era, and they altered to be more political entity that a military entity. In 1876, when the practice of wearing two swords was banned along with the formation of a "modern" westernized army and navy was ordered, the Samurai seemed outdated and out of fashion in a era of cannons, artillery, and rifles. Oddly, the symbolism, ethical code, and lore of the Samurai were mined for a PR benefit during the military campaigns of the Imperial Japanese government during World War II. To the extend that copies of the legendary Katana sword were issued to officers. I own one, passed down from my Grandfather.
There is one more Feudal Japanese groups that could be viewed as a precursor to modern SOF units: the Ninja or the Shinobi. While the precious origins of the Shinobi are obscured, we know that a Chinese Monk by the name of Kain Doshi taught former Samurai (Ronin) Daisuke Nishina Togakure in the ways of less restrictive fighting around the mid 12th century, and this gave the foundation of Ninjutsu. In order to adopt the new way of combat from the shadows, and make a living by being a spy, Daisike gave up his code and his sense of honor for completing the task above all else. Regional lords, called Daimyo, would employ Shinobi clans for dirty deeds done expensively that could not or would not be done by the lord's Samurai. Whether it was spying, sabotage, dishonoring someone or assassination, the Ninja were the ones to take on the dirty deeds of feudal Japan. They were looking down upon by Samurai, but that not stop the Samurai from buying them for great sums of gold ryo coins. The Ninja would shape the sheath irregular combat aspect of modern Special Forces, and part of the public imagination of black operations. In the near future, FWS will be covering the Ninja in-depth to dispel the rumors that surrounding these shadow warriors.
The effect of the gun was massive to the early specialized military units. During the age of the bladed weapon, soldiers and the elite warriors like the Spartans and the Samurai, years were involved in perfecting the art of inmate combat that would allow them to best their opponents. Most recruits could not hold a candle to the skills with the blade weapons as a Samurai. However, the gun altered that. Both the Samurai and the Knights were victims of the gun's advancement onto the battlefield. After all, if you train a peasant-soldier to fire a matchlock in a few weeks to take out the warrior that had been training his entire life for this moment, the latter begins to make little tactical sense. Heavy metal armor plates were done away with, and battlefields became lined with soldiers in matching uniforms, long firearms, and artillery cannons supported their advancement, with cavalry rushing the flanks.
In these new military units, the closest soldiers of the battlefield that we had to modern Special Forces was the cavalry. The men of the cavalry were highly trained to control and utilize their mounts, along with be armed with specialized weaponry and gear, like the carbine and sword, and not mention that horses were an expensive military item. Also, cavalry were glamorized, and seen as the more elite and the pride of the army. Historical units like the Green Jacket Dragoons of the British Empire, the Buffalo Soldiers of the American army, and the various units like the Hussars.
All of these were designed to be leading or elite cavalry designed for challenging missions and/or irregular warfare. During the American Civil War, the Confederacy used men like John S. Mosby were used as military Partisan Rangers/Raiders that harassed the Union from behind their lines. The CSA also used out-and-out guerrilla/bushwhacker forces, like William Quantrill and the deadly William T. Anderson, whom both sacked Lawrence, Kansas in 1863. Horseborne soldiers were the prefect platform for specialized and/or irregular units. The horse allowed for mobility in a era of rigid infantry tactics, the horse and the soldiers that rode them, were liberated from some of that. Really up until the First World War, the cavalry were the closest thing to "big army" Special Forces units, however, the car, aircraft, and the machine gun changed all of that, leading to the development of modern Special Forces units.
Modern Special Forces owe a great deal to the armed and hostile interactions between the white settlers of America and the Native Tribes. Many FWS readers know that I grew up in Oklahoma, and I've had many experiences with the Tribes up there, and I can clearly see why they influenced the development of modern SOF units. Irregular warfare, raiding, scouting, sheath, and tracking were elements of modern SOF training that came from the Native American warrior, and early on during the settlement of America, the deadly nature of the tactics of these warriors was well demonstrated. The North American Native Tribes did not engage in out-and-out warfare as the Europeans or the Central/South American Empires did. These tribes often raided, took hostages, and used knowledge of the land to sneak up on their prey or enemy. They also were not held back by complex rank-and-file, nor where they experienced with the gun, all for a more "natural" use of it, instead of lining up.
It was quickly seen in the first real engagements between the European invaders and the Native Tribes, and it did not take long for Europeans to get the messages. As early as 1622, during the Anglo-Powhatan Wars, small civilian militia units were formed that were a hybrid of European and Tribal tactics by Captain John "Rorat" Smith, and these units were called "Rangers." Credit for being the father of the Rangers was Puritan Colonel Benjamin Church (1639-1718). He used friendly Native Americans to train colonial militia in use of their trade-craft to wage offensive and brutal operations against hostile tribes. These Rangers were comprised of Christian Indians and  were used during the King Philip's War (1675-1678), King William's War (1688-1697), and Queen Anne's War (1702-1713). This pattern of soldiers in the New World was copied and used during the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, The War of 1812, and the Black Hawk War.
During the French and Indian War, two separate colonial groups of Rangers were fielded to attack the French and their allied tribes, using irregular unconventional warfare tactics: Gorham's Rangers and Rodger's Rangers. Major Robert Rogers formed an long-range scouting and raiding unit that gathered intelligence and waged offensive operations. John Gorham formed another, and more effective Ranger unit that was used to suppress native tribal activity in Nova Scotia using a mostly friendly Tribal members lead by British officers. Gorham's Rangers used the waters for assault missions and recon, along with operations against forts and the city of Quebec. Both Ranger units of the French and Indian War would lead to the modern day Special Forces and the 75th Rangers. 
 Another father of the modern Special Forces, was Francis "Swamp Fox" Marion. Marion was from a plantation owning family and was recruited by the British during the French and Indian War to wage war on Cherokee Tribe. During the Revolutionary War, Marion was deployed to a scout unit, and helped liberated POWs that joined his cause to wage unconventional war against the British and the American colonial loyalties. Depending on how you look at the Revolution, Merion is either a hero or a war criminal or both. Often, unconventional warfare operations can be messy. Merion and his merry guerrillas were known to attack and kill loyalties and committed war crimes. But, Merion got results, celebrated as a hero of the Revolutionary War, and one of the founding father's of modern Special Forces.
Then that bring us to another native group that fought the British, but there bravery and skill caused them to be folded into the British colonial ventures: the Gurkha. Even today, the Gurkha are bad mother fuckers with badass knives and legendary skill and bravery. They originally were warriors on the opposite side of a war with the British East India Company. After the war was over, the Gurkha were given to the East India Company to act as corporate warriors. Throughout the British wars of expansion in Asia, the Gurkhas were there, and serviced with bravery and deeds worth of legend. By 1857, the British formed an official Gurkha unit, the Royal Gurkha Rifles, in the British Army, and they would see action throughout the East. In practice, the Gurkha are more similar to the French Foreign Legion. During World War One, about 200,000 Gurkha warriors served, and there were stories of Gurkha deadly close-quarters combat skills, especially with their iconic Kukri knife. Today, the 3,000+ Brigade of Gurkhas is home to the continued Nepalese warrior tradition in the British Army, and have served in Afghanistan with honor and bravery.
Another father of the modern Special Forces, is Frederick Russell Burnham DSO, an American adventurer, horsemen, and one of the founders of the "scouting" movement and tactics of ranger-type small irregular units. When you read about F.R. Burnham DSO today, I always thought that he was "the most interesting man"of the late 19th century . While born an America, Burnham would serve the British colonial efforts in South Africa through the British South Africa Company and later, the British Army during several regional native suppression operations, and the 2nd Boer War. He was friends with Frederick Selous (the namesake of the famed Selous Scouts) and Cecil Rhodes, men would help form and shape Rhodesia. Burnham's experience with Native Americans helped shape his ideas about long-range irregular warfare, scouting, and reconnaissance. This ideas were put into practice during the Matabele Wars, when Burnham served as scout, and gathered intelligence on the native warriors, including the assassination of their leader, Mlimo. His fieldcraft would lead to the idea of specialized units knowing and using the land for small units that were far from their shelter and supply. Some of his ideas would help found the Boys Scouts of America.    

At the close of the 19th century, there is one more early Special Forces-like unit, the Rough Riders of the Spanish-American War of 1898. This unit was formed from volunteers from Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona that had experience in hot climates and with horses. This 1,200+ hearty bunch was organized to be an light cavalry unit with specialized gear, weaponry, and uniform and quickly transported to Cuba. There, the Rough Riders found battle, and quickly became an favorite of newspaper stories. During the battle of Kettle Hill, the Rough Riders assault was covered by Colt-Browning M1895 7mm machine gun fire, which was an early example of modern infantry combat tactics. In their own lifetime, the men of the Rough Riders become legends.
One of the forgotten wars running up to the First World War was the Boer War of 1899-1902, in which the British Empire was attempting to squeeze out the Dutch settlers, known as "Boers", off of the rich gold mines located in South Africa. The second Boer War was a bloody affair, and saw volunteers from all around the globe attempt to help the much smaller Boer states defend against the British. Much like the United States 200 years before, the Boers did not possess the military power to engage in traditional battles with the English, and nearly all of the Boer military was comprised of militia, who opted for irregular unconventional warfare tactics. 
These Boer irregular forces used commando raids and their knowledge of their lands against the British. The Boer volunteers hunting skills came in handy. With their own firearms (mostly bolt action large caliber rifles), they often made expert shots, resulting in high causalities figures for the British. When British Reinforcement arrived in 1900, it was their largest mobilization up until that time. This turned the tide, and the Boers lost much of what they were fighting for. From late 1900 to 1902, the Boers were guerrilla commandos, raiding and harnessing the British. In response, the British formed their own irregular "ranger" counter-insurgency units, like the famed Bushveldt Carbineers and  the Lovat Scouts, populated with men like Lt. Harry "Breaker" Morant, and the 14th Lord Lovat.
While the First World War is not known for Special Operations Forces, there are a few, but it would take World War II and the advancement of certain technologies to advance the concept of the SOF units. During the First World War, we do see conventional cavalry units lead disastrous charges against fixed machine gun positions, and that ended the glory days of the cavalry. In there place, grew specialized units of raiders that used submachine guns and covering fire to hit the enemy trenches. These were the Imperial German Sturmtrupp or "stormtrooper". Prussian military officer Willy Rohr developed the tactics of the Sturmtrupp and by this, he also developed the small unit tactics of modern warfare. These assault units proved the doctrine of Rohr, and by the end of the war, more and more units on both sides of the conflict were adopting his tactics. One element of the stormtroopers that was different was their weaponry. Mixed weaponry was used, instead of just bolt-action rifles, and the more liberal use of hand grenades and flamethrowers. Then were was the unique equipment, like the new steel helmets (Stahlhelm) and shields. One issue with these assault troops was their loyalty to their unit, and not as much to the overall German command, and when the Nazi party was formed, their ranks of the Sturmabteilung were made up of WWI veterans of the stormtroopers. In some ways, the Sturmtrupp were the continuation of the Jager Rangers. 
When it comes to the primary conflicts that shaped modern Special Forces and the military mindset on their usage, the 2nd World War is considered the proving ground for all modern SOF concepts, tactics, and abilities. The British created two important founding SOF units: The Commandos and the Long Range Desert Group. The Commandos were formed in summer of 1940, and were designed to raid behind enemy lines. The Commandos would later give birth to the Special Air Service in 1947. Men like the 15th Lord Lovat would help shape the tactics and kind of men in the commando service, and even train the Commandos at his lands in Scotland. He and the Commandos would carry out raids on German positions. Lovat was also like current SOF members, an individual. He had his piper, William Millin play music during the Normandy Invasion, Lovat carried his own rifle and wore his own choice of uniform. When you look up "bravery" in the dictionary, there should be a picture of the 15th Lord Lovat next to it. 
Specialized units like the British Commandos, the USMC Raiders, OSS teams, the US Army Pathfinders and Rangers, along with the 3rd Reich Brandenburgers and the 502nd SS Jager battalon, were all modern interpretations of previous historical units, and these WWII units used classic irregular unconventional warfare tactics and techniques to wage war. Some of the other Special Forces of World War II were the byproduct of technology. Units like the British LRDP, the German Fallschirmjager, the American Airborne and UDT units would have not been possible without the introduction of the military cargo plane, SCUBA gear, and the Willys Jeep.
The more covert, unconventional operations, were handled by a joint taskforce of British, Free French, and the American OSS called Operation JEDBURGH. To full discuss Special Forces and World War II, we would need a book-length blogpost, and no one wants to read that. Instead, I offer this: World War II was proof positive of the abilities of Special Forces units and their effectiveness in modern, mobile warfare. After the war, most nations fielded permanent Special Forces units and these specialized units would often be used more frequently than the larger elements of the armed forces. During the Korean War, the United Nations Partisan Infantry (KOREA) was formed to carry out classic Special Forces missions, and were nicknamed "the White Tigers". The existence of the White Tigers was kept a secret until 1990, when it was revealed that these men carried out operations deep within North Korea.
On June 25th, 1952, the US Army founded the Special Forces, too late for the nascent unit to join the fight in Korea, but they were laying the ground work for Vietnam. In the United Kingdom, one of the world's best and most influential SOF units, the British SAS was formed during the early days of World War II by Lt. David Sterling, but was reformed in 1947. During their first years of formation, the SAS were deployed to Malayan, present day Malaysia, to help put down a liberation guerrilla insurgency. They were then called back to the desert in 1960's through the 1970's, helping put down an South Yemen support insurgency in Omen, called the Dhofar Rebellion. It was here, that the Regiment used the famous "Pink Panther" Land Rover series 11A LMUVs.
When America became the involved in the Vietnam War, Green Berets and Army trainers were sent to help the South against the North. In the hillside villages, the Green Berets would train these villagers to defend their lands against the guerrilla Viet-Cong. However, the war grew, and America was sucked in. Given the conditions of the Vietnam War, both in terrain and the strategically, it was a nature environment for the use of Special Forces. The American, South Korean, South Vietnamese, and Australian SOF units used both the waterways, the jungles, and the new helicopters to wage an counter-insurgency unconventional campaign.
Units like the LRRP, were trained to engage in long range, deep cover scouting, and provide the on-site intelligence needed to find and destroy the Viet-Cong and NVA forces that were moving through the hellish jungles of Vietnam. Another SOF unit often discussed in the formation of modern Special Forces is MACV-SOG or the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group, and its primary purpose was to conduct covert SOF mission during the Vietnam War, and was active prior to Vietnam "going hot" in the late 1960's. Formed in 1964, and composed of different branches of the American Armed Forces, it mission was to end the Viet-Cong insurgency in South Vietnam via different classic SOF mission types; all the way from direct action, assassinations, and PSYOPS. Founder of DELTA Force, Colonel Charlie Beckwith was a member of MACV-SOG and Project DELTA.
It was also during the 1970's, that new role of SOF units was revealed. In 1976, Israeli Commandos rescued hostage held on an Airbus A300 plane by the PLO that were flown to Uganda, and moved off the plane. This was an important rescue during the dawn of the age of international terrorism. It was reasoned by international Special Forces units that counter-terrorism operations would dominate SOF unit duties for the foreseeable future.
After the Vietnam War, there were two of the most key moments in Special Operations history: Operation EAGLE CLAW and Operation NIMROD.  In 1979, the Islamic Revolution overthrew the American supported Shah, and 52 Americans were held, and President Carter decided to start the process of mount one of the most daring rescue missions since the Son Tay Raid of 1970. Nearly every branch of the American armed forces was involved with Operation: EAGLE CLAW, including DELTA Force. Operation: EAGLE CLAW was to be one of their first missions.
It took months to plan, train, and move all of the equip needed for the rescue, and while hopes were high, this was ambitious mission. It turned out that Operation: EAGLE CLAWwas beyond the capability of the US military. During a refueling stop inside of Iran, on of the Sea Stallion helicopters drifted into one of the C-130's resulting in fire that resulted in the dead of five Air Force personnel and three marines. Operation: EAGLE CLAW, ended the presidency of Jimmy Carter and called a serious review of US SOF capability. The aftermath of EAGLE CLAW resulted in the superior abilities of the US SOF community today...but it was a painful lesson.  

In London in 1980, members of an terrorist organization, the DRFLA, took hostages at the Iranian embassy, and send out a list of demands. Given the policy of not giving in to terrorists' demands, it appeared that the hostages would be killed. The British government prepared the SAS for a hostage rescue mission. When one hostage was killed during the sixth day, the SAS were authorized to go in. Two teams of SAS operators stormed the embassy with H&K 9mm MP5 SMGs and all of their black ninja kit. When the smoke cleared after the 17 minute mission, the SAS were successful, all but one terrorist was killed, one hostage was killed, and two wounded. Operation: NIMROD was another successful CT/HR mission for western SOF team, and proved that Special Forces could counter terrorists. This was the focus of most SOF teams throughout the 1980's and early 1990's.By this time, Special Forces were well respected, funded, and waiting for a mission. British SAS would be involved with the Falklands War, and they, with the American SOF units, would hunt missile launchers in Iraq during the 1st Gulf War. However, the greatest missions of SOF lay ahead in the new millennium.
After the cowardly attack on the United States on September 11th, 2001, the Special Operations community in America and her allies readied for a classic Special Forces war, by September 26, 2001, the CIA deployed an SAD team JAWBREAKER lead by Gary Schroen to make contact with the Northern Alliance and lay the groundwork for the full-scale war on the AQ and the Taliban shitbags. On October 19, 2001, the US Army Green Berets had deployed their first ODA team Tripe Nickel (555) into Panjshir Valley of the Hindu Kush to link up with JAWBREAKER. Today, SOF units operate with greater authority and respect than ever before. They are seen as the tip of the spear, and the best of their society and military. As this blogpost was being written, the US government has deployed 300 Special Operations members to stabilize the situation in Iraq, and to help Iraqi forces win against ISIS.


  1. Sick, it's cool to see the ancestors of special operations. Can't wait for the sof in military sci fi, like ODSTs😎

  2. Glad you enjoyed it! I learned quite a bit about the history of SOF writing this. FWS will be discussing the HALO UNSC ODSTs, a great example of the sci-fi SOF! Science Fiction and Special Operations will part four. Part is going to be examples of global SOF units and some general SOF questions.
    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Wow nice, keep up the good work. Teach me how you research things please. It would be a great tool for school

  4. Glad you enjoyed the blogpost, and to answer your question, I am a trained researcher due to my degree in history for a excellent history program at university.