Canadian War Hero: Lt. J. Kostelec

Updated: Jun 5, 2019

Lt. J. Kostelec, from our very own home town of Calgary, Alberta, disappeared during an operation on the Anzio beachhead on 4 March 1944, shortly after being commissioned as an officer.

At the age of only 23 and an officer of 1st Company 3rd Regiment, Kostelec fought on the battlefield at Anzio.

Within Anzio, FSSF was landed at the beachhead created by Operation Shingle at Anzio, south of Rome, replacing the 1st and 3rd Ranger Battalions, which had suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Cisterna.

Their task was to hold and raid from the right-hand flank of the beachhead marked by the Mussolini Canal/Pontine Marshes.

1st Regiment was positioned on the Force's right front, which comprised one-third of the entire line, while the 3rd Regiment guarded the remaining two-thirds of the line. 2nd Regiment, which had been reduced to three companies following the attacks on La Difensa, Sammucio and Majo, were tasked with running night patrols into Axis territory.

Shortly after the SSF took over the Mussolini Canal sector, German units pulled back up to 0.5 miles (0.80 km) to avoid their aggressive patrols. The Force's constant night raids forced Kesselring to fortify the German positions in their area with more men than he had originally planned. Reconnaissance missions performed by the Devil's often went as deep as 1,500 feet (460 m) behind enemy lines.

German prisoners were often surprised at how few men the Force actually contained. A captured German Lieutenant admitted to being under the assumption that the Force was a division.

Indeed, General Frederick ordered several trucks to move around the forces area in order to give the enemy the impression that the Force comprised more men than it actually did.

An order was found on another prisoner that stated that the Germans in Anzio would be "fighting an elite Canadian-American Force. They are treacherous, unmerciful and clever. You cannot afford to relax. The first soldier or group of soldiers capturing one of these men will be given a 10 day furlough."

It was at Anzio that the Germans dubbed the 1st Special Service Force the "Devil's Brigade." They were referred to as "black" devils because the brigade's members smeared their faces with black boot polish for their covert operations in the dark of the night.

During Anzio, the 1st SSF fought for 99 days without relief. It was also at Anzio that the 1st SSF used their trademark stickers; during night patrols soldiers would carry stickers depicting the unit patch and a slogan written in German: "Das dicke Ende kommt noch," said to translate colloquially to "The Worst is yet to Come".

Its literal translation is actually "The Thick End is coming soon".

Canadian and American members of the Special Force who lost their lives are buried near the beach in the Commonwealth Anzio War Cemetery and the American Cemetery in Nettuno, just east of Anzio.

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