By Christopher Miskimon The Winter Line was the German Army’s defensive position in Southern Italy in late 1943. Set into high mountains which dominated the surrounding terrain, numerous Allied attacks against it failed, always with heavy casualties. One of the key positions in this line was Monte la Difensa, held by veteran troops of the 15th Panzergrenadier Division, bloodied in both North Africa and Sicily. Now, Captain Bill Rothlin, a former metalworker from California, was about to lead 88 men in the first wave of an assault on what seemed an impregnable position. His men took up their weapons, shouldered packs heavy with ammunition and equipment, and began to climb. It was a dangerous mission, and the price of failure would be high, but this was no ordinary infantry unit. These men were part of a new outfit, the First Special Service Force, known colloquially as “the Force,” but soon to be known to the Germans as the “Black Devils.” Ten days earlier, two “Forcemen,” as they were called, scouted the mountain, looking for a route which would avoid attacking straight into the well-prepared enemy defenses. They found a path around to the northern face of the mountain, where a 200-foot cliff sat behind the German machine-gun nests and mortar pits, which were naturally oriented south toward the Allied lines. The Forcemen were trained mountaineers, able to scale such features. If they could climb the cliff silently, they could surprise the Germans and take a k


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