America’s Elite: US Special Forces
from the American Revolution to the Present Day
By Chris McNab
This richly illustrated volume covers the history of the Special Forces of the United States from Roger’s Rangers in the period before, and during the American Revolution, through the organization of Bredan’s Sharpshooters of the American Civil War. Special Forces came into their own during World War II. The formation of the Rangers, modeled after the British Commando units and units such as Merril’s Marauders in the Pacific were called “elite” formations.
The actual designation of “Special Forces” came about under the administration of John F. Kennedy. Elite units established during World War II, such as the Underwater Demolition Teams, whose mission was to reconnoitering landing beaches and the removal of underwater obstacles to amphibious landings, were incorporated into the new Special Forces designation.
Since that time the Special Forces have served in Vietnam, training indigenous forces and taking out High Value Targets. Special Forces have been used as spearheads in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In the years between World War II and Vietnam, SF (Special Forces) units were infiltrated into various “hot spots” around the world to deter the spread of Communism and the aid the locals in forming their own forces.
This volume is illustrated with many photographs of soldiers in combat, air operations and the vehicles being used in these operations. Additionally, many illustrations from other Osprey publications are included showing uniforms, weapons and vehicles being used by these elite forces.
Operations, such as, the Cabanatuan Raid, during World War II, which freed American POW’s from the Japanese, in the Philippines, have been detailed from the planning, to the execution, to the happy conclusion. Some of the prisoners released had been in Japanese hands since the beginning of the war and participated in the Bataan Death March. Operations of this kind were carried out during the Vietnam conflict with mixed results.
Much of the material included in the book, detail the organization and training of the elite forces. For instance, modern Ranger training consists of three phases. The first of these is conducted in Fort Benning, Georgia. It consists of various physical tests including push-up, and chin-ups, to be completed in a timed interval, marches and runs, also timed, with and without equipment, navigation, combat skills, hand-to-hand and with weapons. After this phase is completed, they move on to more intensive physical challenges and more varied combat exercises. During the firearms training, marksmanship is stressed.
After this phase is successfully completed, the training is continued in mountainous terrain. Here squad and platoon deployments are used to familiarize the candidates in the control and command of these size units in rough terrain. The candidate is also taught mountaineering skills such as knots, climbing gear and so forth.
The final stage of the training is conducted in Florida, where he is taught small-boat handling, underwater access, etc. At this stage of the training a soldier is about ready to receive his “tab” designating his as a Ranger.
In the song by Barry Sadler, “The Green Beret” he sings that 100 apply but only one is chosen. While not wholly factual, the attrition rate amongst trainees is quite high.
I recommend this book to anyone who has heard of the Special Forces and wishes to learn more about these elite units. Whether they be called Commandos, Green Berets, SEALs, or Rangers, these men, and their history of great deeds and service to our country, deserve our respect and admiration. This volume covers that history from the not always glorious beginnings of Roger’s Rangers through the World Wars, to Vietnam, to present day Iraq and Afghanistan, to the SEAL elimination of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan an intriguing story and a celebration of those elite groups fighting for our country.