Fun to watch, but I will not vouch for its historicity. It’s The Devil’s Brigade from 1968, featuring William Holden. It’s more or less based on the story of the 1st Special Service Force operating in WWII. Screen shots are from Amazon Prime Video, and details are from Wikipedia.
You can tell from the title sequence this is going to be good, because Pacific Title did it. Here we see the Canadian unit marching to the tune of Scotland the Brave, perhaps one of the most soul-stirring bagpipe numbers of all time.
It worked out this way, as loosely portrayed in the movie. Lt. Col./Col. Robert T. Frederick has written a critique of a flawed British plan for an airborne assault into Norway. This is in 1942, just after the United States entered the war. He is summoned to England to appear before Louis Mountbatten to explain himself. He articulates his assertions and is summarily dismissed. The Brits have found their man to head up the operation.
Colonel Frederick arrives at Fort William Henry Harrison in Montana to find the most desolate piece of military property on the books. It has nothing, and what nothing it has is decades abandoned. He awaits the arrival of his first contingent of troops.
As expected, they are the dregs of the American Army.
These so-called soldiers are joined by a counterpart from Canada. These are the most square-away bunch of parade field dandies you ever saw, but also trained and experienced fighters. Some went through the evacuation from Dunkirk two years before.
This is going to be a Norway invasion, so ski training is essential. The Canadians are no strangers to snow. Neither skis.
From the get go resentment festers between the factions, but it all comes to a head when local lumber jacks horn in on a unit party at a local pub. The factions join and make a wreck of the place, and the lumberjacks. They are now a solid team.
But they are a solid team without a mission. The Norway venture has been canceled. Colonel Fredericks’ assessment was right all along. The Army is going to break up the unit and deploy the men as replacements to units already in combat. Fredericks talks the brass, over the opposition of Major General Maxwell Hunter (Carroll O’Connor), into keeping the unit together and giving them an assignment. Hunter is the very model of a modern major general.
In Italy, where allied forces have landed in mid 1943, Fredericks scouts out a German staging center using a scout plane. He wants the mission to attack the place.
But General Hunter won’t allow it. Only a reconnaissance, and bring back some prisoners. Members of the brigade advance up a stream bed, annihilate the sentries, and capture the entire German contingent. One of the Brigade gets wounded in hand-to-hand combat. The German commander responds by giving the unit a name. He calls them gangsters, murderers. The Devil’s Brigade (Die Teufels Brigade). The name sticks.
Which leads to the operation that put the unit into the history books. This was the Battle for Monte la Difensa. It was a real battle in late 1943, and it was exceptional. The Germans held a rocky peak, making it unapproachable. American forces had been trying to take it for three weeks.
Fredericks proposes to use the brigade’s mountaineering experience to assault the shear back side of the peak. An artillery barrage levied against the front side distracts the Germans while the mountaineers scale the cliff behind them.
Complete surprise is achieved, but it takes heavy fighting to subdue the Germans. When Canadian Major Alan Crown (Cliff Robertson) steps forward to receive the surrender of the German commander, the German pulls a pistol and kills him. The result is three more dead Germans.
And that’s about all the truth there is to the plot.
The grossest miscue I notice (IMDb, as well) is we see the mountaineers scaling the cliff after 6 a.m., in daylight. They actually did it the hard way, in the middle of the night.
IMDb also verifies what I supposed. The Americans were not recruited from Army stockades. They were hand picked, and it was voluntary.
Brigade casualties were high as Fredericks notes. Wikipedia says 77%, which includes wounded. The business of the German commander shooting the Canadian Major is likely fiction. He had two of his close associates beside him, and he must have known his action would mean instant death for all three. Besides, watch the action in slow motion. You will hear his first shot before he brings the Luger into view. Of course, that could be only poor sound synchronization, but I do not see a muzzle flash.