World War II is a period of rich experimentation in ranger tactics and units. Upon the US entry into WWII, the Army realized the need for American Army units organized like the British Commandos. This is when ranger units were raised in earnest. There were many Ranger type units, and six Ranger Battalions raised during the war. There were also many Ranger type units, which included the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), (“Merrill’s Marauders”), Alamo Scouts, and the 1st Special Service Force (“The Black Devils”). There are other units like the OSS units the Katchin and Jingpaw Rangers.
It would be difficult to do justice to all of the Ranger and Ranger type units in World War II, so this article will deal with the six ranger battalions. These Ranger units discussed will be Darby's Rangers (1st, 3rd, and 4th Ranger Battalions), the 2nd and 5th Rangers at D-Day and the 6th Ranger Battalion (Cabanatuan POW Rescue).
On March 26, 1942 MGN Lucien Truscott submitted a report to GEN Marshall recommending that the US Army establish units like the British Commandos. The name Ranger was selected as opposed to Commandos, so that they would not be considered junior British units. The name comes from the French and Indian War, specifically Rogers Rangers. CPT William Orlando Darby was promoted to MAJ and was given command of the battalion (Baker, 2010).
Darby recruited volunteers from the 1st Armored Division and the 34th Infantry Division. These volunteered went through initial testing and selection at Carickfergus, Northern Ireland. On June 19, 1942 the 1st Ranger Battalion was activated. The initial training was conducted at the British Commando Training Center at Achnacarry, Scotland (Baker, 2010).
On August 19, 1942, 53 members of the 1st Ranger Battalion participated in the landings at Dieppe France. These were the first American soldiers to engage German soldiers on enemy occupied territory. CPT Roy A. Murphy commanded the Ranger elements. Three Rangers were killed in the landings – Second Lieutenants Randall and Loustalot, and Tech 4 Howard M. Henry (Baker, 2010). The plan was very comprehensive. It was more than just a reconnaissance in force, but a rehearsal for all future combined forces landing of hostile beaches (Austin, 1943).
The first combat action of the 1st Battalion, now commanded by LTC Darby, was conducted on November 8, 1942 when they seized the port of Areuz, North
Africa. Operation Torch, 8 November 1942, was the 1st Bn’s first combat operation. The battalion landed on the beaches with two objectives, the coastal batteries – Batterie Superior Fort de la Pointe, near the water’s edge, and Fort du Nord further inland. Therefore, the battalion was split in two so that the batteries could be attacked at the same time. Both objective were secured by 0400 hours. The Rangers were also involved in the Tunisian campaign, including the Battle of El Guettar (Baker, 2010; Darby & Baumer, 1980).
The 3rd Ranger Battalion was formed from Companies A and B of the 1st Battalion on 9 July 1943. The 4th Ranger Battalion (Provisional) was formed on 29 May 1943 in North Africa. On 1 August 1943 the provisional battalion was combined with Companies C and D of the 1st Battalion were consolidated into the 4th Ranger Battalion. The 1st, 3rd and 4th Ranger Battalions were incorporated into the 6615th Ranger Force (Provisional), in time for the invasion of Sicily (Baker, 2010).
After the invasion of Italy, the invasion bogged down. In response, the American 5th Army conducted an invasion of Anzio. Because MGN John P. Lucas’ the VI Corps Commander could not believe that the surprise was as great as it actually was. The VI Corps advanced very slowly, allowing the Germans to react. The Corps was supposed to seize Highways 6 and 7, which led to Rome, with the object of keeping the Germans from withdrawing to the mountains. GEN Clark pressured MGN Lucas to be more aggressive; in response, he issued a field order on January 29, 1944. The 3rd Infantry Division was to work with the Ranger Force (King, 1985).
The 1st Battalion crossed the line of departure, a road about 3 ½ miles south of Highway 7, at 0100 hours and move to Cisterna. The 3rd Battalion followed about fifteen minutes behind the 1st Battalion. They were to support the 1st Battalion, and counterattack if the 1st was attacked, allowing them to continue to Cisterna. The area in front of Cisterna was open farmland with some drainage ditches. The Rangers used the ditches for cover. The 4th Battalion crossed the line of departure at 0200 hours, and were to remain in reserve after reaching Cisterna (King, 1985).
Unfortunately, the Germans were planning an attack on the American lines. The Rangers ran into the Herman Georing Armored Division and the 2nd Parachute Lehr Battalion, which was the spearhead of the German counterattack. In the course of the fighting the two battalions were virtually wiped out and the 4th Battalion was mauled (Baker, 2010; Darby & Baumer, 1980).
There were perhaps three reasons for the deterioration of the fighting skills of the Rangers. One reason