One of Canada’s ‘Black Devil’ Commandos, Dies at 97

One of Canada’s 1st commandos in WW2
One of Canada’s 1st commandos in WW2

On August 9th of 2019, Canadian World War II veteran Ralph Mayville passed away at the age of ninety three.  His short obituary in the Windsor Star of Windsor, Ontario in Canada doesn’t mention all of the heroic actions he performed while fighting with the Essex Scottish Regiment and the Royal Canadian Regiment in the European Theater during the war.

Mayville joined the Essex Scottish Regiment in 1940, one year after Britain and its territories declared war on Germany due to Hitler’s invasion of Poland.  He had tried to enlist earlier but was turned away because he was only seventeen.

“Devil’s Brigade” Anzio beachhead

As the sole breadwinner for his mother and three sisters he needed to earn money and the best way he saw to do so was by joining the military.


At the age of eighteen he joined the Essex Scottish Regiment but because of the need for troop replenishment he transferred to Royal Canadian Forces who were preparing to go to Italy.

Upon reaching Europe he was recruited by the First Special Service Force, a joint effort of Canadian and United States soldiers who were some of the toughest, most skilful and daring commandos of the war.  According the Windsor Star, “Schwarzer Teufel” or “Black Devils”, as they were called by the Germans, employed ninja-like tactics dressing in black, painting their weapons and faces black and furtively slipping into German camps at night.

They cut throats and placed calling cards with the unit’s insignia of a red arrowhead on the German soldiers’ bodies as a warning of what was to come-seriously undermining German morale. They adopted the name of the “Devil’s Brigade” and operated between the years of 1942 through 1944 with usually about one thousand eight hundred men.

According to, the Brigade arrived in Casablanca in French Algeria and moved quickly to the front in Naples, Italy with the U.S. 36th Infantry Division.

It took only three days for the soldiers to occupy Monte la Difensa, considered impenetrable due to its location of standing atop a high mountain with sheer rock cliffs.  The Brigade continued on their mountain campaign capturing Monte Sambúcaro and Monte Vischiataro.

They were sent to Anzio, Italy to participate in Operation Shingle by holding the right flank of the beachhead marked by the Mussolini Canal and Pontine Marshes.  The Germans retreated at least a half mile upon leaning the Black Devils were approaching but the fierce fighting lasted ninety nine days with no break.

Mayville’s unit was one of the first to enter the city of Rome in 1944, securing bridges and chasing the Germans northward to southern France.  They took part in Operation Dragoon and joined together with the 1st Airborne Task Force at the border of France and Italy.

The Devil’s Brigade was decommissioned in France in December of 1944.  For the remainder of the war many of the  soldiers from Canada were disbursed to different Canadian units while the Americans were mostly sent to Airborne Divisions or joined up with the 474th Infantry Regiment serving in Allied occupied Norway. tells us the Devils were responsible for about 12,000 German casualties, captured around 7,000 prisoners and kept an attrition rate of over 600%.

Although he had joined as a paratrooper, Mayville’s quick removal to Italy detained his jump training and he never jumped out of an airplane during the war.

In 2014, at the age of eighty eight, he tandem jumped with a member of Skydive Burnaby near Niagara Falls receiving his paratrooper wings to go along with the other medals of the highly decorated veteran.

In 2015 Mayville and his military brothers from the Devil’s Brigade were presented with the United States Congressional Gold Medal presented by Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens and the French National Order of the Legion of Honor in 2016.

According to, Mayville’s care giver, Cathy Moczko, remarked he was “stubborn and straight to the point.  He will tell you what he wants to tell you… Ralph will be remembered and should not be forgotten,” she said. “He is a soldier, straight to the point and a very brave man.”

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Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE