Major General Robert T. Frederick

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Robert Tryon Frederick

Birthplace: San Francisco, California
Death: November 29, 1970 (63)
Stanford, California
Place of Burial: San Francisco National Cemetery
Immediate Family:

Son of Marcus White Frederick and Pauline Adelaide McCurdy
Husband of Ruth Adelaide Frederick

Occupation: Infantry Major General
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Major General Robert T. Frederick

Robert Tryon Frederick (March 14, 1907 - November 29, 1970) was a highly decorated American combat commander during World War II, who commanded the 1st Special Service Force, the 1st Airborne Task Force and the 45th Infantry Division.


Robert T. Frederick was born on March 14, 1907 in San Francisco, California. He attended Staunton Military Academy from 1923 to 1924 and the United States Military Academy at West Point from 1924 to 1928. Upon graduation from West Point, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Coast Artillery. He graduated from the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 1939.

In 1942, as a staff officer serving in the War Department, then-Lieutenant Colonel Frederick was tasked with raising the joint U.S.-Canadian force which became the 1st Special Service Force. The unit, activated on July 9, 1942 at Fort William Henry Harrison, Montana, was originally intended for commando operations in Norway, and trained extensively in winter and mountain warfare, as well as hand-to-hand combat and other infantry skills. In April 1943, the unit moved to Vermont for training, first at Camp Bradford and then at Fort Ethan Allen. The Norway mission was cancelled, however, and the 1st Special Service Force was sent instead to the Aleutian Islands in July 1943. It returned to the continental United States in September, and then left in October for the European theater.

Frederick's men arrived in Casablanca in French Morocco in November 1943 and quickly moved to the Italian front. Landing at Naples on November 19, 1943, the 1st Special Service Force went into the line. In December 1943 and January 1944, the 1st Special Service Force conducted a series of operations at Monte la Difensa, Monte la Remetanea, Monte Sammucro (Hill 720) and Monte Vischiataro. After the 1st Special Service Force (or Devil's Brigade) attacked and captured the enemy forces at the impregnable Monte la Difensa, the victory prompted Winston Churchill to declare that Robert Frederick was "the greatest fighting general of all time" and "if we had had a dozen more like him we would have smashed Hitler in 1942".

Frederick was promoted to brigadier general in January 1944. On February 2, 1944, Frederick's men landed at Anzio and went into action along the Mussolini Canal. They were the first Allied troops to enter Rome on June 4, 1944. For valor with the 1st Special Service Force in Italy, Brigadier General Frederick was twice decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross, the United States Army's second highest valor award. The first award was for actions on January 10–13, 1944 and the second for actions on June 4, 1944. While at Anzio he was wounded a number of times, including two separate wounds on a single day.

On June 23, 1944, Brigadier General Frederick announced he was leaving the unit. He was to be promoted to major general and given command of an ad hoc division-sized airborne formation, the 1st Airborne Task Force, for the invasion of Southern France (Operation Dragoon). The task force, formed that July, consisted of the British 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade and the U.S. 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team, 550th Glider Infantry Battalion, 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion and 460th and 463rd Parachute Field Artillery Battalions, along with various support units.

Under the code name Rugby Force, the unit jumped on August 15, 1944 into the Argens Valley between Le Luc and Le Muy, behind the Massif des Maures, a key piece of terrain which overlooked the Allied landing beaches near St. Tropez and St. Raphaël. Having successfully blocked German forces from reaching the invasion beaches, the 1st Airborne Task Force linked up with the 36th Infantry Division on August 17, 1944. It then moved up the French Riviera coastline, taking Cannes unopposed on August 24, 1944 and linking up with Frederick's old unit, the 1st Special Service Force. The 1st Special Service Force had initially been tasked to seize several small islands off the French Riviera and then moved onshore, where it was attached to the 1st Airborne Task Force on August 22 (replacing the British 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade). The task force then fought on to the French-Italian border, where it took up defensive positions. The task force was dissolved on November 23, 1944 (and the 1st Special Service Force was disbanded on December 5).

Major General Frederick was given command of the 45th Infantry Division in December 1944, becoming (with James M. Gavin) at the age of 37, the youngest divisional commander in Europe.[2] He led the division through the end of the war. The 45th saw heavy combat in French Alsace from December 1944 through February 1945, and was pulled from the line to rehabilitate on February 17. In mid-March, it was assigned to XV Corps for Operation Undertone (15. - 24. March 1945), the drive into Germany.

The division crossed the Rhine and advanced to the Main. Moving along the Main into Bavaria, the division participated in heavy fighting in Aschaffenburg from March 28 to April 3 and then drove to Nuremberg, taken in heavy fighting from April 16–20. Moving south, the division crossed the Danube on April 26, and opened up the path for the 20th Armored Division to drive on Munich. Reaching Munich on April 29, the division shifted from combat to occupation.

After a period of occupation duty, the 45th Infantry Division prepared to return to the United States and Major General Frederick relinquished command in September 1945. From 1 November 1945 to 19 August 1947 he was commandant of the Coast Artillery School, and presided over its move from Fort Monroe to Fort Winfield Scott. After a period of staff duty and recuperation (he had been wounded eight times), Major General Frederick was assigned to Allied occupation forces in Austria, commanding the U.S. Sector, of the Vienna Inter-Allied Command in 1948. From February 28, 1949 to October 10, 1950, he commanded the 4th Infantry Division, which had been reactivated as a training division at Fort Ord, California in 1947. In October 1950, the division was redesignated the 6th Infantry Division, and Frederick continued as its commanding general until 1951.

In 1951, Frederick returned to Europe to take command of the Joint U.S. Military Aid Group, Greece (JUSMAG Greece). He retired on disability in March 1952. In the 1968 film The Devil's Brigade, which chronicled the formation, training and combat in Italy of the 1st Special Service Force, Robert T. Frederick was played by actor William Holden. Frederick died on November 29, 1970 in Stanford, California.

V-42 combat knife

The V-42 combat knife was designed in part by the commanding officer of the Devil's Brigade, Lt. Colonel Robert T. Frederick. This knife was the trademark weapon of the Devil's Brigade, and its members were trained extensively in the use of this knife. The profile of this knife is the one pictured on the crest of the US Army Special Forces and Canada's JTF2.

It is in the form of a short-bladed stiletto but with a thumb groove on the top of the blade to promote proper hand placement when attacking an opponent. It is often confused with the longer- and thicker-bladed Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife.

Decorations and awards

United States Army General. He was the commander of the famous "Devil's Brigade" during World War II. He served as the Commanding Officer of the 1st Special Forces from 1942 to 1944, the Commanding General of the 1st Airborne Division in 1944 and the Commanding General of the 45th Division, North-West Europe from 1944 to 1945. He received eight Purple Hearts. All eight Purple Hearts were earned for service during World War II (also awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses for service during World War II). He retired from active duty in 1952.

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Major General Robert T. Frederick's Timeline

March 14, 1907
San Francisco, California
November 29, 1970
Age 63
Stanford, California
San Francisco National Cemetery