US Rangers played a major part in special forces operations once America had come into World War Two in December 1941 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. It quickly became clear to those American army officers based in Great Britain that they did not have a unit like the British commandos. Major-General Lucien Truscott, US Army Liaison with the British General Staff, submitted proposals to General George Marshall in May 1942 which encouraged the formation of such a unit. From this the US Rangers were formed – the American equivalent of the British commandos.
US Rangers at Point du Hoc
The order to create such a unit quickly came back and the First US Army Ranger Battalion was created. The name Ranger was chosen because it was believed that the title ‘commando’ belonged to the British. Truscott believed that:
|“It was therefore fit that the organisation that was destined to be the first of the American Ground Forces to battle the Germans on the European continent should be called Rangers in compliment to those in American history who exemplified the high standards of courage, initiative, determination and ruggedness, fighting ability an achievement.”|
The first commander of the Rangers was Captain Orlando Darby, a graduate from West Point. Darby was given just a few weeks to get the unit organised. Thousands of US infantry applied to join the new unit. Few met with the exacting standards of the Rangers. The First Ranger Battalion was officially brought into being on June 19th 1942.
The new force trained at the Commando Training Centre at Achnacarry in Scotland. Here British commandos put the 600 recruits through their paces. 500 got through; one man was killed and several were wounded as training was done using live ammunition. The Rangers literally received a baptism of fire.
Forty-nine Rangers were chosen for the ill-fated Dieppe raid – the first US soldiers to fight against the Germans on the ground. Three were killed. From here, the Rangers moved to North Africa where they spearheaded the attack on Port Arzew in Algeria. The success of this attack, paved the way for the First Infantry Division to successfully attack and capture Oran. The unit won the first of its Presidential Citations on March 31st 1943, when they captured and cleared the El Guettar Pass and captured 200 prisoners.
The Rangers played a key role in the successful attack on Sicily in 1943 and the drive up mainland Italy. The Rangers fought at Monte Cassino and at Anzio. In January 1944, the Rangers took heavy casualties in Italy fighting off a German counter-attack.
The Rangers found more fame at the scene of great carnage – Omaha Beach during the D-Day landings. Much has been made of the landing at Omaha compared to the landings at the four other beaches at D-Day.
The Rangers were given arguably the most difficult of all the targets to land at. Point du Hoc was heavily fortified and the Germans had built their defences on top of cliffs the like of which were not found at the other four beaches. The Americans suffered a major blow when most of their Duplex tanks sank at sea. The covering fire that these tanks would have given the Rangers against the German machine gun emplacements at Point du Hoc was lost. Therefore, the Rangers, trapped at the base of Point du Hoc, had to climb the cliffs without the benefit of armoured support.
|“Never has any commander (Lieutenant Colonel James Rudder) been given a more desperate mission.”|
That Point du Hoc was captured by the Rangers despite the terrible casualties that they suffered, is a testament to their “Ranger Creed”.
The Rangers also experienced fighting in the Far East. The Rangers were the first American troops to return to the Philippines when they attacked Japanese defences on the islands of Dinegat. The Rangers landed a full three days before the main American force in October 1944, and swiftly took their objectives.
It was in Luzon that the Rangers took part in a mission that many consider one of the most daring in US military history. The Rangers rescued 500 men from the infamous Bataan Death March despite operating some 30 miles behind enemy lines. As well as rescuing the men, the Rangers killed over 200 of the men guarding them, evaded Japanese troops hunting them down and safely reached American lines. The evidence suggests that these 500 men were about to be executed by the Japanese as they hindered their retreat.
The Rangers also played an important part in the capture of Manila. The Rangers were preparing to spearhead an attack on mainland Japan when the news was released of the bombing of Hiroshima and later Nagasaki.