As long time readers of this blog are well aware, Recluse has quite the obsession with what are known as special operations forces (SOFs) in these United States and simply special forces in most of the rest of the world. These elite units first began to captivate the public mind during the Second World War. This conflict witnessed the birth of the Special Air Services (SAS), the first modern special operations forces unit (including the likes of the US Army Special Forces (more commonly known as the "Green Berets" and the even more elite Delta Force), as well as the emergence of "frogmen," who served as the model for the Special Boat Services (SBS), Navy SEALS, and other such outfits.
The history of special operations forces is a murky one. Certainly, there are precedents from the ancient world such as the Praetorian or Varangian Guards. As far as modern units are concerned, their origins are often placed in various European colonial wars that unfolded during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Some of the earliest "commandos" (which are often considered the direct predecessors to modern special operations forces) were Boer forces that employed proto-guerrilla techniques as far back as the early eighteenth century.
The British fought several brutal conflicts with the Boers, climaxing with the genocidal Second Boer War (1899-1902). While the British ultimately prevailed, they had to commit a tremendous amount of forces to counter the significantly out numbered Boer forces. No doubt these experiences strongly influenced Britain's later special operations forces. Another crucial influence was no doubt the Irish Republican Army. Other noteworthy inspirations included Orde Wingate, who helped set up what became the Haganah (later the Israel Defense Force) and Lawrence of Arabia himself.
|T.E. Lawrence, more commonly known as Lawrence of Arabia|
"... On many of the 10th's operations, special assault teams entered harbors riding underwater torpedo-shaped submersibles known as Chariots, and attached explosives to the hulls of Allied ships at anchor. The crack assault teams brought devastation in Crete's Suda Bay and Alexandra harbor, sinking or severely damaging several British capital ships, including the battleships Queen Elizabeth and Valiant.
"The group's most audacious coup was its campaign of sneak attacks against Allied shipping in Gibraltar. A derelict freighter, the Olterra, was seemingly abandoned off the Spanish coast. But the Olterra was a Trojan horse. Her hold served as a clandestine workshop where the frogman could repair and rearm the Chariots. Access in and out of the ship was afforded by a sliding door six feet below the waterline. All told, the Italians sank 42,000 tons of Allied ships anchored at Gibraltar; the British never discovered the secret of the freighter."
(Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs, Patrick K. O'Donnell, pg. 131)
|the insignia of the X'MAS|
The loyalties of Italians were divided between these two entities, and the same appears to have been the case of the X'MAS. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS, the WWII-era predecessor of the CIA) had attempted to develop their own frogmen units on the basis of the Marine Raiders, but without much success. Realizing that they would be hard pressed to top the X'MAS, the OSS opted for the only sensible choice: enlist the unit.
|insignia of the OSS|
The results were so impressive that the OSS wanted to dispatch the X'MAS/Grupo Mezzini d'Asalto to the Pacific Theater once things began to wind down in Europe. The OSS was largely barred from that Theater by General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz, both of whom despised the agency. As such, the order for a transfer never came through.
Unwilling to let such available assets simply disperse, some X'MAS veterans were enlisted to provide consulting to the Navy's postwar underwater operations program. No doubt this included the Underwater Demolition Teams which, along with the OSS's Maritime Units, are considered the direct predecessors to the modern Navy SEALS. And it just so happens that the X'MAS collaborated with and/or trained both.
|insignia of the Underwater Demolition Teams|
During the Nazi years, the scale of the X'MAS grew even as its naval operations largely ceased. As the great Jeffrey Bale notes in The Darkest Sides of Politics, I, it came to include several elite infantry battalions, s small naval sabotage unit, and police company with its own intelligence and interrogation center. Indeed, the X'MAS appears to have acquired quite an extensive intelligence network by war's end that went well beyond Italy. In addition to the police intelligence unit, it also had an espionage headquarters in Switzerland and a vast network throughout the RSI and even into the Allied-controlled south.
Frequently the X'MAS was deployed into the hottest zones. Often it was used to conduct counterinsurgency operations against partisans in the RSI. Some units were deployed to the Anzio front, where they reportedly fared well against US Army Rangers. Later, many of its forces were dispatched Yugoslavia, where it conducted further counterinsurgency against the partisans there. And finally, there were the X'MAS' "stay-behind" operations set up in Allied-controlled Italy. By all accounts, these stay-behind units were highly effective. It fell to the legendary counterintelligence master James Jesus Angleton to counter the X'MAS.
For our purposes here, the most interesting aspect of the X'MAS was its commanding officer, Prince Junio Valerio Borghese, sometimes referred to as the "Black Prince." In this day and age, Borghese is primarily known for his association with fascism, both during World War II and beyond. As I noted before here, he became one of the most prominent supporters of the far right philosopher and occultist, Julius Evola. Borghese also appears to have played a crucial role in establishing stay-behind networks in Italy after World War II as part of what is often referred to as Operation Gladio. Given the X'MAS' role in organizing stay-behinds during WWII, it is hardly surprising the CIA would look to the Black Prince at the onset of the Cold War. Later, these forces were linked to a neo-fascist coup Borghese attempted to launch in 1970. There is much dispute as to how serious this coup actually was and what its ultimate purpose was, however. The best account can be found in Bale's The Darkest Sides of Politics, I.
|the Black Prince|
Bizarrely, the army of the Kingdom of Italy was led by another storied family, the House of Savoy. The Dukes of Aosta are a branch of that family. As such, the Borghese and Aosta klans likely crossed swords during 1870. Later, their descendants would struggle for control of the Decima Flottiglia MAS during the Second World War. Indeed, it is likely that X'MAS veterans squared off against one another in the south of Italy after 1943 while the scions of longtime aristocratic rivals commanded both forces.
|Prince Aimone, 4th Duke of Aosta, who vied with Borghese for control of the X'MAS|
It is generally agreed that Clan Fraser had its origins in France, specifically the area of Anjou. That particular province has quite a storied history in its own right. From the late ninth to the early thirteenth century, the territory was ruled by the House of Ingelger. That dynasty produced a King of Jerusalem, Fulk V. This particular monarch was also the grandfather of England's Henry II and great-grandfather of the legendary King Richard the Lionheart. Fulk V was apparently attached to the Knights Templar at one point while his great-grandson sold them the island of Cyprus. I bring this up as the Templars will crop up again in this saga.
Simon the Patriot's luck ran out in 1306 when he was captured by the British and executed. The Frasers continued fighting, however. Sir Simon's cousin, Sir Alexander Fraser, was present at the famed Battle of Bannockburn, which decisively turned the war in the favor of the Scots. The Battle of Bannockburn has been at the center of much speculative history due to the allegations the Knights Templar assisted the Scots in achieving this crucial victory.
The Battle of Bannockburn unfolded on June 23rd and 24th of 1314, the latter being St. John's Day, a date with much significance in Freemasonry. The Templar knights had been suppressed on a mass scale several years earlier by Papal decree, leading most mainstream historians to dismiss such allegations outright. But things were a little different in Scotland.
"In 1306, the King of Scotland, Robert the Bruce, had been excommunicated by the pope... This meant that he was under no obligation to obey any orders coming from the Holy See. Thus, when the Templars were finally ordered arrested and imprisoned the following year, and their property confiscated and turned over to the Hospitallers, there was no legal requirement for Robert to do the same. In fact, only to Templars were ever arrested in Scotland during the trials and there is no record of their having endured any hardship or punishment. Indeed, the Templars in question were two Englishmen.
"The order was officially disbanded by order of the Pope and 1312... and Jacques de Molay burned at the stake in March 1314. The Battle of Bannockburn took place only three months later. The English had cooperated in the arrest and imprisonment of the Templars and the confiscation of property; the Scots had not. Thus, it is not so far-fetched to believe that some Templars had fled to Scotland to avoid their fate on the Continent and in England, and sided with Robert the Bruce against the English at the famous battle.
"The Templars had, in fact, a long history in Scotland. David I of Scotland had granted some lands to the Templars in the twelfth century, at a town about four miles from present-date Roslin. The earliest known Templar charter is that of the town of St. Andrews, and is dated to 1160. The Templars were not the only military order in Scotland, in fact. The Knights Hospitallers also had property in Scotland. As did the Teutonic Knights. As in France, these holdings provided a source of revenue and recruits for the knightly orders.
"In 1312 all Templar property in Scotland was granted to the Hospitallers, as was happening throughout Europe. However, there is no record that the Hospitallers actually took advantage of this in Scotland at the time. Indeed, although the two orders were merged legally, they seem to have maintained their separate identities for at least a century to come. We know that, in 1488, James IV of Scotland issued a statement in which he upheld the rights of both the Templars and the Hospitallers, referring to them as separate entities. This documentation implies a close relationship between the Scottish monarchy and the Templars. We do not know if this relationship was based upon common goals and agendas, or was more a reflection of the political (and perhaps economic) reality of the times. Nonetheless, there was a demonstrable Templar presence in Scotland that outlasted the papal edicts."
(The Secret Temple, Peter Levenda, pgs. 59-60)
Against this backdrop lurked Clan Fraser, which would soon rise to the pinnacle of Scottish society. In the aftermath of Bannockburn, Sir Alexander married Robert the Bruce's sister and became the Chamberlain of Scotland, at the time the third most powerful post in the Scottish court. The Frasers of Philorth, one of the most senior of the various modern Fraser clans, trace their lineage from Sir Alexander. It was Alexander's younger brother, one of many Simon Frasers, who would found what is arguably still the most powerful of the Fraser clans. This would be Clan Fraser of Lovat.
In 1714, Queen Anne died. This brought to power the First King George and the Hanover dynasty. A Jacobite uprising soon broke out in Scotland. Seeing his chance, Simon the Fox opted to side with the British and was rewarded with the Lovat title and lands after the revolt was put down.
When a second Jacobite uprising broke out in 1745, Lord Lovat opted to side with his countrymen. This proved to be a disastrous decision. The Scots were soundly defeated at the Battle of Culloden. Not long afterwards, Lord Lovat was arrested. After being imprisoned in the Tower of London for a little less than two years, he was executed via beheading on April 9, 1747. Allegedly, he was the last man to be beheaded in Britain. His body was reportedly taken back to a family mausoleum near Inverness, but recent evidence indicates that the body in his casket was one of a young woman. Like Simon the Fox, she was also missing her head. What became of Simon's body, or either's head, remains a mystery.
|Simon the Fox, 11th Lord Lovat|
"During this time, Masonic lodges had functioned as underground meeting places for Jacobite supporters. While the lodges had struggled to maintain neutrality during the English Civil War the seventeenth century... the bonds brotherhood became more difficult to maintain. Into this romantic atmosphere of espionage, intrigue, and 'pretenders to the throne' stepped one of the major personalities of modern Freemasonry: Chevalier Michael Ramsay.
"Ramsay (1681-1743) was a Scot who had attended the Edinburgh University and the University of Leiden, and received a doctorate in civil law from Oxford University in 1730. For a while he moved in the same pious circles as Johannes Kelpius but, later converting to Catholicism and throwing in his lot with the Jacobites, he wound up in France and then in Rome (in 1724) as the tutor of the young Bonnie Prince Charlie. He was also Mason, and Grand Chancellor of the Paris Grand Lodge. His most lasting contribution to Freemasonry was a speech he made in 1737 in Paris, before a meeting of a Masonic lodge there. What he had to say caused reverberations down through the centuries, and Freemasonry is still struggling to come to terms with the ideas he presented there for the first time.
"In his speech he connected the practice of Freemasonry not with the stonemasons' guilds of medieval Europe but with the nobles who conducted the Crusades in the Holy land. Ramsay claims – without actually mentioning the Knights Templar by name – that the chivalric orders that had operated in Palestine were the direct ancestors of the Freemasons; that their oath was not 'execrable' as have been claimed (and thus immediately connecting these orders with the accusations against the Templars); that they had only the highest ideals; that they recognized each other by passwords and signs in order to differentiate each other from the Saracens; and that later they had merged with the Order of St. John of Jerusalem... According to Ramsey, this is why the lodges were called Lodges of St. John.
"Ramsay was very specific in his speech about which Scottish nobles have been involved in protecting and supporting these Masonic forbears, and used 1286 as the date when the Kilwinning Lodge of Scotland was in operation as the only surviving lodge of the Crusader period.
"In other words, Ramsay claimed that Scotland – and only Scotland – had indisputable Masonic credentials, and he went further to claim that France would become the center of the restored Masonic order.
"The effect of his words was electric. He had single-handedly caused a sensation throughout France that elevated the reputation of Freemasonry and made it is noble as, if not nobler than, existing chivalric orders. Suddenly Freemasonry was no longer about stoneworkers in a quarry but about educated man, nobles, princes, and Crusaders. In his later works, he deliberately links Freemasonry with the Templars: a connection that has yet to be broken, no matter how hard many have tried...
"Thus was the Scottish Rite born."
(The Secret Temple, Peter Levenda, pgs. 101-102)
|Chevalier Michael Ramsay|
Another curiosity from this era is worth exploring for a moment: Boleskine House. This particular Scottish manor gained infamy in the twentieth century after being owned by Aleister Crowley and, later, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. The residency had originally been constructed as a hunting lodge during the 1760s by Colonel Archibald Campbell Fraser, a son of the 11th Lord of Lovat, Simon the Fox. After Simon's execution, the Lovat clan had lost their lordship, but Fraser's half brother Simon Fraser was still considered to be the Master of Lovat and chief of the Lovat clan. Reportedly, Archibald had originally built Boleskine, which was surrounded by Lovat lands, to annoy his brother due to his support of the English during the 1745 Jacobite uprising.
|Archibald Campbell Fraser|
The twelfth Lord Lovat died in 1875, while Crowley did not purchase Boleskine until 1899. It is known that he procured the lands from the Fraser family, though this researcher has been unable to determine whom exactly. It is most likely that the Boleskine was still in possession of the Lovat branch by the time of Crowley's purchase, however. In his autobiography The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, the Great Beast notes that Lord Lovat was one of his closet neighbors to Boleskine, implying the Lovats still owned much of the surrounding land. It is also likely Crowley knew the Lord Lovat of the time, who would have been fourteenth one.
|Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat|
|Neil "Billy" McLean (top) and Fitzroy Maclean (bottom)|
|the insignia of the SOE|
|Colonel David Stirling|