1ST RANGER BATTALION
In 1942 the world landscape had been transformed into a maelstrom of death and destruction. Everywhere they were fighting, Allied Forces were pushed back by their better trained and led opponents. Unprepared for the war it was entering, the US Army still needed to gain the confidence of the people back home. Positive action was needed in order to restore the morale of the citizens of the remaining, and ever-shrinking, free world. In the United States, President Roosevelt sought to create commando style units to do just that — strike back at the enemy and restore confidence in the American military.
In the Spring of 1942, General George Marshall, Chief of Staff of the US Army, sent Colonel Lucian K. Truscott Jr. to England to coordinate training between the inexperienced US troops and the already battle-proven British Commandos. On June 1, 1942, General Marshall, impressed with his visit to the British Commando Training Depot, ordered the creation of an American commando unit. This unit became known as the Rangers, so-called after the famous 18th century Rangers of the French and Indian War. Initially, the Ranger unit was formed for the specific purpose of training soldiers in commando skills and then reassigning them to other units. Thus providing a well-trained core for the newly forming American units. On June 7, 1942, the 1st Ranger Battalion was formed and its camp established at Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. The unit’s core came from the 34th Infantry and 1st Armored divisions as well as the V Corps.
The 1st Ranger Battalion, commanded by Major William O. Darby, was officially activated on June 19, 1942. The original battalion consisted of a headquarters company of 8 officers and 69 enlisted men as well as 6 companies of 3 officers and 63 enlisted men each. The size of these companies was determined by the need to accommodate the small landing crafts used by the British Commandos. The original Darby Rangers were a varied lot: The youngest man was 17 and the oldest 35. The average age was 25. Sixty percent of the Ranger enlistees came from the 34th Division, 30% joined from the 1st Armored Division, and the remaining 10% were from medical, quartermaster and signal troops from the V Corps. The Ranger officers did not field one regular Army officer with the notable exception of Darby himself. All others were guardsmen or reservists. Although some enlisted personnel came from regular army units, the majority were draftees who volunteered for the new Ranger unit.
On June 28, Darby’s 1st Ranger Battalion moved to the Commando Training Depot at Achnacarry Castle, Scotland. Here the Americans were introduced to the man tasked with guiding the training of the Rangers –Lieutenant Colonel Charles Vaughan, a ruddy-cheeked, husky British officer who radiated enthusiasm and good will.
“The tremendous personality of Colonel Vaughan pervaded the atmosphere of the Commando Depot. A former Guards drill sergeant and an officer in World War I with later experience in commando raids in World War II, he was highly qualified for his job. He had served with distinction during the commando raids against Vaagso and the Lofoten Islands in Norway. A burly man, about six feet two, strongly built and of ruddy complexion, he had a face which at times showed storm clouds and at other times, warm sunniness. A man of about 50 years of age, he was in excellent physical condition and was remarkably agile. He was constantly in the field, participating in, observing, and criticizing the training of the men. During it all he was highly enthusiastic. Observing a mistake he would jump in and personally demonstrate how to correct it. He insisted on rigid discipline, and officers and men alike respected him. He was quick to think up means of harassing the poor weary Rangers, and as he put it, “To give all members the full benefit of the course.” The British Commandos did all in their power to test us to find out what sort of men we were.
Then, apparently liking us, they did all in their power to prepare us for battle. There were British veterans who had raided Norway at Vaagso and at the Lofoten Islands, men who had escaped from Singapore, and others who had slipped from the Italians in Somaliland. As instructors at the depot, these men were a constant source of inspiration to my Rangers and, at the same time, a vivid reminder of the difficulties of the job ahead. At the beginning of the training, in the presence of the commanding officer of the Commando Depot, I told the Ranger officers that they would receive the same training as their men. Furthermore, the ranking officer present was to be the first to tackle every new obstacle, no matter what its difficulty. I included myself in this rule, believing deeply that no American soldier will refuse to go as far forward in combat as his officer.”
The 1st Ranger Battalion moved to Argyle, Scotland on August 1 for amphibious training with the Royal Navy. On August 19, 1942, 50 Rangers were attached to a 1000 Canadian/British force for a large scale raid on the French coastal town of Dieppe. Forty Rangers were attached to No. 3 Commando, six to No. 4 Commando and the remaining four Rangers were attached to the Canadians. Ranger losses from these engagements included six killed, seven wounded and four captured. The casualties suffered by the Canadian/British troops were horrific. Dieppe provided the Rangers invaluable lessons to be applied to future Ranger actions. The importance of detailed intelligence and reconnaissance was fully realized by the Ranger staff. In addition, Darby understood the value of discipline and training. These were necessary qualities to manage and overcome the fear and the subsequent paralysis inherent in battle.
Shortly after the raid on Dieppe, the Battalion moved to Dundee for coastal raiding training. The Rangers practiced attacking pillboxes, gun batteries and other coastal defenses. In Dundee, the Rangers stayed with families in town as there were no barracks available to them. To this date, there is a close relationship between the Rangers and their newly founded families.
It was also during this time that one of the most beloved and colorful characters joined the Rangers. Father Albert E. Basil, a Chaplain Captain, who was attached to the British Special Service Brigade, first met the Rangers when he arrived to conduct the funeral of a Ranger killed during a training exercise. Ranger Darby recalled fondly:
“I asked if he could be permitted to stay with us until after we had landed in North Africa. In fact he stayed on with us through the Tunisian campaign until the British Army discovered they had one missing chaplain. Unfortunately for us, Father Basil was then returned to the British Army. During his nine months with the Rangers, he was a constant source of inspiration and comfort to us. Slight of build, about medium height, with large horn-rimmed spectacles punctuating a very sharp-featured, intelligent, and happy face, he became a familiar sight as his uniform began to look like that of the Rangers. His one unfailing exception to complete Americanization was his insistence on wearing the Commando’s Green Beret and shoulder patch.”
The Rangers left Dundee for Glasgow on September 24th, 1942 and were attached to the 1st Infantry Division. They continued training until the end of October when they boarded the Ulster Monarch, Royal Scotsman, and the Royal Ulsterman, launching the North African campaign. The Rangers had undergone intense training for many months, ranging from basic infantry skills to advanced amphibious assaults. Men were killed during training and in raids. The Rangers had become a hardened, well-trained, well-led and close-knit unit. They were highly trained American infantrymen able to operate in any kind of warfare. [Co. D temporarily reorganized as 81mm mortar unit.] For a list of the original Rangers click on the red link.
Lochaber (near Spean Bridge), Scotland the training area for WW2 British Commandos and American Darby Rangers. The Commando Memorial honors these men and was unveiled in 1952, The first photo was taken in 1942 by a US Army Signal Corps photographer when the Commando Training Depot was founded at Achnacarry Castle just a few short miles away. The second was taken in 1992 by @ Phil ‘Snapdragon’ Stern - the Ranger on the right in both picture is Bing Evans. I asked two strangers to pose on June 4, 2018. They obliged and of course they smoked… a heartfelt thanks for their contribution.
Africa (Landing through Sened Raid)
The Ranger unit was given an important job during Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. The Rangers, attached to General Terry Allen’s 1st Division, had to conduct difficult nighttime amphibious landings in order to seize batteries which threatened the Arzew beachheads. En route to Tunisia, the Rangers continuously reviewed their plans to seize the gun batteries which dominated the Arzew beachheads. Plaster-paris models, maps and intelligence reports were analyzed to find any flaws in their operation’s order. Every section and platoon reviewed their missions. The Rangers had learned that proper planning had to be based on timely intelligence and reconnaissance reports in order to avoid any mishaps.
There were two coastal batteries at Arzew, and the Rangers decided that a simultaneous attack was the best way to execute their mission. The Dammer Force, named after Darby’s right hand man Herman Dammer, consisted of Cos. A and B and seized the smaller gun battery at Fort de la Pointe. The rest of the Rangers, code-named the Darby Force, landed four miles northwest and secured the larger gun emplacements of Batterie du Nord from behind. These operations were executed with few casualties. Proper planning and training had prepared Darby’s Rangers very well. Some companies assisted in continued mop-up operations of nearby towns.
Training continued to keep the men sharp. They were attached to the 5th Infantry Training Center at Arzew to act as a demonstration unit for the new amphibious-assault depot. January 1943 saw the formation of Company G which was to train replacements for the Rangers. Company D, which had been reorganized temporarily as an 81mm mortar unit in Dundee, divested itself of its mortars and returned to its original function as an assault company.
On Feb. 11, 1943, Cos. A, E and F set out to raid the Italian positions at Station de Sened, defended by the Centauro Division and the elite Bersaglieri mountain troops. With eight miles of rough terrain to cover, the Rangers carried no packs, travelling light with a canteen of water, a C ration and a shelterhalf each. The raid was carefully planned and exceeded all expectations. Ranger Darby recalls one incident when he was in radio communication with Captain Max Schneider, future commander of the 5th Ranger Battalion:
During the action I called Captain Max Schneider to find out how many prisoners he had taken. The captain replied, “I think I have two, sir.” The field radio connection was bad, and I asked for a repeat. The two Italians tried to pull a getaway, and the captain fired two quick shots, answering in the same breath, “Well, sir, I had two prisoners.”
The raid resulted in at least 50 Italian dead and 11 prisoners from the famed 10th Bersaglieri Regiment. The fighting was very close and personal. One Ranger recalls, “There was some pretty intense in-fighting there, but a man doesn’t talk about what he does with a bayonet.” Five officers and nine enlisted men were awarded the Silver Star for their part in the Sened raid.
The Rangers continued to conduct numerous combat patrols. It was during this time that the 7th Regiment Tirailleurs Algeriens inducted the 1st Ranger Battalion as honorary members of their regiment.
During the large German attack through the Kasserine Pass, the battalion fought a rear-guard action through Feriana to the Dernaia Pass, where the enemy was stopped. From March 19 through March 27, the Rangers assisted in the El Guettar attacks, and then held their positions against a series of enemy counterattacks. After March 28, the battalion maintained outposts at Nogene El Fedge, and then moved to Gafsa and Nemours where it provided men for the 3rd and 4th Ranger Battalions, and helped train these new units.
Invasion of Sicily
On July 9, the men of the 1st Battalion made an assault landing at Gela, Sicily, and captured part of the city against heavy German resistance. After fighting off enemy counterattacks, the Rangers moved inland where they stormed the city of San Nicola and captured and held the fortress of Butera. Following the battle, the Rangers trained and also guarded enemy prisoners and war stores.
On September 9, the battalion made another assault landing at Maiori (several miles North of Salerno) on the Italian mainland and pushed inland to seize Chiunzi Pass in a surprise attack. The Rangers held the Pass against great odds until September 23, and fought off seven major counterattacks before joining in the advance on Naples. After a brief rest, the battalion was assigned to the Venafro Sector. After two weeks of bitter mountain fighting against a well-emplaced enemy force, they captured the heights and beat back several counterattacks before being given a rest on December 15.
On January 22, 1944, the men of the battalion made their fourth combat assault, on Anzio, and assisted in widening the beachhead into a salient flanking the Carrocetra-Aprilla factory area. On January 30, a combined Ranger force, consisting of the 1st, 3rd and 4th Battalions, began a night infiltration attack from the northeast flank of the beachhead towards Cisterna. After killing the enemy sentries, the 1st and 3rd Battalions reached the outskirts of Cisterna when the 4th Battalion, which was advancing up the Anzio-Cisterna Road, became engaged in a night battle, alerting the enemy defenders of the attack.
Unknown to the Americans, the Cisterna Sector had been reinforced by elements of a German parachute division that were supported by heavy tanks. The Rangers soon found themselves cutoff and surrounded by tanks and numerically superior enemy forces. The Germans trapped approximately 900 Rangers in a pocket. The men of 4th Battalion fought to a road junction near Cisterna, before a wall of steel stopped them. Attacks by American units on the left and right of the 4th Battalion also made little headway, and were costly in casualties; relief of the trapped units became impossible.
German points of view of the battle around Cisterna from The Green Devils by Jean-Yves Nasse:
Fallschirmjäger Lehr-Regiment versus the Rangers
In Winter 1943, Fallschirmjäger Lehr-Battalion was deployed at Terracina, to the south of Rome. In January 1944 the unit was expanded into a regiment while based at Citta di Castello to the north of Perugia. During the AnziolNettuno landings, it was part of Kampfgruppe Herrmann which fought in the Cisterna sector in late January.
Recently promoted to the rank of Oberjäger Hermsen recalls:
‘Our unit was being restructured when the Allies landed at AnzioINettuno. We were deployed in that sector to keep the enemy forces away from via Appia. We checked them near Cisterna. Our regiment was highly praised for its achievements, particularly, Feldwebel Kempe who destroyed several tanks with his gun. But these successes were dearly paid for as of a 750-man force, only 52 survived. I was among the wounded.’
Here is the account of Oberleutnant Opel, one of the regiment’s company commanders:
‘We had no heavy weapons, only FG 42 submachineguns. We were deployed to protect the coun-ter-attacks of our tanks. I only remember one episode of these actions. To check a force of Rangers who had thrust into the positions held by a neighbouring company, I launched a counter-attack at one of their flanks, thus cutting off a large number of Americans from their unit. About 4-500 Americans fell into our hands. However others had escaped and entrenched them-selves in surrounding farms. They surrendered after a heroic stand. During this action, I was shot twice, but kept on fighting until relieved by reinforcements.’
But matters were different for Lt. Wolter, one of 2nd Company’s squad leaders:
‘The composition of our force was that of a standard paratroop company My squad, organised into three groups, was armed with six MG 42s, a few submachine-guns and one mortar A couple of Paks may have also been issued at battalion level. Artillery support was provided by a neighbouring Heer unit. We had no details about the direction of the thrust, as the operation was primarily aimed at keeping the enemy from outflanking us.
On 1O February ]944, at night, while opposing afron-tal raid by American Rangers, I was captured along with two comrades.’
The few survivors of the 1st Ranger Battalion remained at Anzio until ordered to return to the United States, in March of 1944. The unit was disbanded on August 15, 1944.
3RD RANGER BATTALION
The 3rd Ranger Battalion was organized on May 21, 1943, in the vicinity of Nemours, Algeria, from a cadre of personnel from the 1st Ranger Battalion. After training in Nemours and at Zeralda, Algeria, the Battalion was assigned to support the Green Assault Force in the invasion of Sicily, and made a combat assault on July 10, 1943, near Licata. After reducing the beach defenses, the Rangers attacked the Port and City of Licata, and then captured Hill 313, East of Favara.
Attached to the 3rd Infantry Division, the Rangers moved West from Licata and helped secure Porto Empedocle and continued to fight across the island, capturing and holding a series of roadblocks. On August 12, the Rangers captured Popo di Norco and helped to cut the main road along the north coast of the island. Crossing overland, the battalion moved to Monaforte and on August 16, made a reconnaissance of the Straits of Messina, and entered Messina the following day as the campaign in Sicily came to a close.
After moving to Coreone to rest and train replacements, the battalion made its second combat assault on September 9, at Maiori, Italy, as part of a Ranger force formed to protect the left flank of the Fifth Army. After securing their sectors, the Rangers rapidly advanced inland and captured the Chiunzi Pass where a combined Ranger Force of the 1st and 3rd Battalions was hit with artillery and mortar fire, and was attacked by an enemy force of greatly superior numbers.
The Rangers stopped seven major enemy attacks and a large number of enemy patrols in hand-to-hand fighting. Fighting mostly with small arms and mortars, the Rangers established a line and held out for 14 days without rest or relief and with little food or water. On September 17, the Rangers were reinforced and immediately mounted an attack on enemy positions, broke through, and reached the Plains of Naples, and were among the first troops to enter the City of Naples. After a rest at Naples and San Lassaro, the 3rd Battalion entered into a fight against the German Winter Line.
On November 29, they infiltrated and fought their way down the San Pietro Valley, into San Pietro and out again. Although the battalion was almost completely surrounded and had suffered terrible losses, the Rangers launched an attack towards the high ground above San Pietro on November 30, and reached the crest of Hill 950 only to have to withdraw when they ran out of ammunition. After two more days of hard fighting, the Rangers reached the point for further attacks towards San Pietro and Cassino.
After a period of offensive patrolling and rest, the 3rd Battalion made their third combat assault at Anzio on January 22, 1944, and advanced inland capturing objectives and widening the beachhead. On January 30, the 1st and 3rd Battalions advanced into the outskirts of Cisterna, where the two battalions were cut off and surrounded by a vastly superior force. The few survivors from the battalion returned home on April 15, 1944, after having fought in four campaigns. The battalion was disbanded August 15, 1944, in the United States.
4TH RANGER BATTALION
The 4th Ranger Battalion was organized on June 8, 1943, at Nemours, Algeria, from a cadre of personnel furnished by the 1st Ranger Battalion. After training at Nemours and at Zeralda, the battalion was assigned to Force X for the invasion of Sicily and made a combat landing at Gela on July 10, 1943. Landing in two waves, the Rangers assaulted and held the eastern half of Gela and advanced through the town eliminating enemy resistance. The battalion then dug in and repulsed a series of enemy infantry and tank attacks which threatened to drive the force back into the sea.
After the beachhead was secured, the Rangers remained attached to Force X and occupied Salemi on July 21, establishing a civil affairs office and a perimeter defense while guarding ammunition and gasoline dumps. Records were not available to indicate the battalion’s combat highlights from July 11 to September 8, but on September 9, the battalion was assigned to the Ranger Force and made a combat assault on the Italian mainland at Capo D’Orso, near Maiori. After helping to establish the beachhead, the battalion cleared Maiori and Minori, and neutralized enemy observation points and gun positions along the coastal roads to Salerno.
Separated from the Ranger Force, the 4th Battalion cleared the Sorrento-Meta area and reinforced the troops at Salerno. From September 14 through September 27, the battalion remained in continuous contact with the enemy and was subjected to heavy mortar and artillery fire. After a brief rest, the Rangers marched to Sesto Campano and established a radio relay station there while fighting off enemy patrols.
Earl Morris, HQ 4th Ranger Bn., Darby’s Rangers, 43-45 recalls:
“A Lt. Marshner came to our outfit somewhere in Sicily. He was assigned as our communications officer. I think he had some training with either the 2nd or 5th Ranger Bn in England. I’m not sure. We had pulled back from the front and the 36th Division moved on ahead towards Naples, while we bedded down on a hillside in a big olive grove. Well, our new Lt. Marshner and a Ranger named Stewart got into one hell of a hassle. They both claimed the same sleeping spot. To tell the truth, Stewart had it first. I was there and I know. When Stewart left the area the Lt. moved Stewart’s equipment and took the spot. That Lt. should have gotten more training because he sure as hell didn’t know Rangers.
Later Stewart came back from wherever and saw what had happened. He tore down Lt. Marshner’s setup, kicked his stuff around, said something about repossessing territory, rolled out his own bedroll and went to sleep, I think. When Marshner came back, he almost had a heart attack. To think an enlisted man could do this to him. It freaked him out. He went to Col. Darby, and they say, almost “demanded” (and maybe rightfully so) that Stewart be court martialed for insubordination refusing a direct order & etc… Well one of our officers came down, disarmed and put old Stewart under arrest and guard. After that we had to build a stockade. Simple we just strung three strands of barbed wire around four different tree trunks, let old Stewart crawl in and that was that. Then we got to wondering what would happen to old Stewart. Someone suggested that he could even be shot, and maybe could have, being in a combat situation and all that B.S. From here on no one explains anything. No pre-op or later post-op briefings, no nothing. But the same night or the next we got an alert with orders for everyone to pack up with everything ready to move out A.S.A.P.
Shortly afterwards, we loaded up on great big ass earth moving trucks belonging to the combat engineers. How we ever came by them is still a mystery. But leave it to Darby. He could do anything. We could have used a cherry picker and a parachute to get on and off those damn trucks. We moved out, no one knew where or why. The best I can remember we rode around most of the night. It wasn’t a joy ride. At one time we could smell sulphur burning from sulphur pits that dated back to Biblical times, I’m told. Hours later we off loaded, exactly where we started from. Same spot. When we got the alert Stewart was given back his side arms, and turned back to duty with his unit. After the joy ride (we named it) nothing was ever said about Stewart’s court martial. We were given the understanding that by rearming and turning Stewart back to duty, it nullified the pending court martial. Anyway it didn’t happen. And there’s not a Ranger who was there, who will ever believe anything other than Col. Darby initiated this joy ride to save old Stewart’s ass from a court martial.
Almost forgot! Stewart kept his sleeping spot. We built his stockade around it.”
During the terrible fighting against the German Winter Line, the battalion was attached to the 45th Division, and was given the mission of protecting the flanks of the 3rd and 45th Divisions in their attacks on the heights above San Pietro Valley. On November 9, the Rangers moved to an area northeast of Ceppagna, and two days later, were attacking south to capture the high ground above the village. After advancing to the crest of the mountain, the Rangers were forced back by an attack on their open left flank, but re-grouped to attack again, take the hill, and advance down the ridge.
The following day, the Germans launched a series of counterattacks in strength, and one extremely heavy attack forced the battalion back to their original objective and closed around both their flanks. With the help of mortar support from the 83d Chemical Mortar Battalion, the Rangers held until they were relieved on November 14th. The men of the 4th Battalion maintained defensive positions, engaged in aggressive patrol activity, and rested until they were called upon to make their third combat assault.
A Trip to Anzio in 1999:
On January 30, 1944 Darby’s Rangers seized to exist as a fighting force. Although the 4th Ranger Battalion was not deactivated until a few months later, it was never the same after 2 of its battalions were captured near Anzio, Italy, in the town of Cisterna.
Some 55 years later, I was able to retrace some of their footsteps. My guide was US Air Force Technical Sergeant Angelo Munsel who currently works out of the US Embassy at Rome. Angelo is fluent in Italian and I want to express my deepest thanks to him for his extraordinary talents of finding individuals and places. When in Rome, he is a must POC (point of contact).
As part of Operation Shingle, Darby commanded Ranger Force 6615 that included 3 Ranger Battalions plus Headquarters, the 83rd Chemical Mortar Battalion, the 509th Parachute Bn and a company of the 36th Engineers. This force was tasked with the capture of Anzio and Nettuno. This was done successfully, although the 83rd Chemical company’s landing crafts hit several mines which resulted in hundreds killed. Darby landed almost directly in front of the main landmark, the casino at Anzio. Another succesful amphibious landing for the Rangers.
Subsequently, Darby was tasked with a night infiltration into the town of Cisterna. 1st and 3rd Bns were assigned with the mission while 4th Bn was held in reserve just below the hamlet, Conca. The advance roughly followed the Conca-Cisterna road across the Mussolini Canal. The two battalions moved ahead, eventually using a large ditch to mask their movement. When the ditch ended, the Rangers traversed a large open area, daylight just starting. Along with some sentries, a German company was encountered and eliminated. German resistance stiffened immediately, and veterans of the Herman Göring Division and the Lehr Parachute Battalion surrounded and captured the 1st and 3rd Ranger Battalions after several hours. Of the 767 Rangers near Cisterna, 12 men were killed, 6 escaped to Allied lines and over 700 were captured.
The 4th Ranger Battalion tried desperately to reach the trapped sister units but was stopped.
There are several reasons why the Rangers were unsuccessful in their mission. A large number of their replacements were not well trained but there were far more significant factors. The command failed to provide proper air cover and artillery support. Virtually non-existent communication hampered coordinations between the various units. But singularly the greatest failure to be borne by the commanders, including William Darby, was the lack of proper intelligence. The Rangers unknowingly entered an area that had become heavily reinforced by veteran German units. Lightly equipped Rangers without proper support were no match for experienced battle-hardened mechanized German units. It was an unfortunate ending to one of the great fighting forces of World War Two.
2nd and 5th Battalions
2ND RANGER BATTALION
The 2nd Ranger Battalion was activated on April 1, 1943, with headquarters at Camp Forrest, Tennessee. After additional training in Florida, the Battalion embarked for the European Theater and arrived in England in December of 1943. At Bude, Titchfield, and Folkstone, the 2nd Battalion trained for the coming invasion of France, and was given the impossible mission of scaling the high cliffs four miles west of Omaha Beach at Pointe du Hoe to destroy a fortified battery of six 155-mm Howitzers which were trained on the main landing sites.
On June 6, 1944 (D-Day), the 2nd Battalion (Companies D, E, and F) made assault landings on the cliffs, while the remainder of the Battalion landed with the 5th Battalion near Pointe de la Percee, a few miles to the East. In spite of the loss of two of their 11 landing craft and most of their supplies, the lead companies of the 2nd Battalion overcame enemy resistance and climbed the 10-story high cliffs to find that the emplacements were empty of guns. Advancing inland to cut off German routes to the landing areas, the Rangers continued to search for the missing guns. At about 0900, a two-man patrol, Sergeants Lomell and Kuhn from D Company, finally located five of them two miles from the beach area and completely unattended, but ready to fire! With Kuhn covering him, Lomell destroyed the sights of all the guns and placed thermite grenades on two others.
The Rangers accomplished their primary mission within two hours of landing, and then continued to hold the ground they occupied against a series of German counterattacks. Three days later, when the remainder of the battalion and other troops reached the lead companies, less than 75 of the original 225 Rangers who landed at Pointe du Hoe were fit for duty. The 2nd Battalion assisted in the capture of Grandcamp, mopped up, and patrolled through the remainder of June. They then participated in the Avranches breakthrough and helped clear the Le Conquet Peninsula, highlighted by breaking into the 280MM gun positions (batteries Graf Spee) and forced the surrender of the Le Conquet Garrison Commander and 814 men.
After capturing Kerlogue, on September 10, the Rangers advanced to Landerneau and captured Le Fret, taking 1600 prisoners and freeing 400 Allied prisoners of war. The Rangers moved through Belgium and Luxembourg and entered into the fighting for Huertgen Forest on November 14. On December 7th, they captured Hill 400 near Bergstein, which overlooked the German positions at Schmidt and Roer Dams.
On December 16, the battalion occupied Simmerath and held defensive positions against German counterattacks on the northern flanks during the Battle of the Bulge. On January 8, 1945, the battalion resumed the attack, advanced into the Siegfried Line at Schmidthof, and destroyed enemy fortifications and equipment before being given a brief rest. On March 2, the Rangers crossed the Roer River, South of Schmidt, and participated in the drive across the Cologne Plains, reaching Maychoss on March 7, and engaged in mopping up operations until March 26, when another attack was launched.
The battalion advanced through Sinzig and crossed the Rhine River near Neuweid, crossed the Lahn River at Diez, pursued fleeing German units to Langrafroda, and then mopped up enemy remnants through April 15th. After moving to Kassel, the Rangers searched and cleared the wooded area near Ostramona and reached Munich on April 25, where they rested for a few days. They then advanced to Pullenreuth and crossed into Czechoslovakia at Grun on May 6, when the final German surrender ended the War in Europe. After participating in five campaigns, the battalion performed a short tour of occupation duty before returning to the United States where it was inactivated on October 23, 1945, at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia.
Merrill's Marauders and the 6th Battalion
6TH RANGER BATTALION
The 6th Ranger Battalion was organized on September 25, 1944, when the 98th Field Artillery Battalion was redesignated while stationed in New Guinea. The 6th Ranger Battalion, operating in the Pacific, was the only Ranger unit fortunate enough to have been assigned only those missions applicable for Rangers. All of its missions, usually of task force, company, or platoon size, were behind enemy lines, and involved long range reconnaissance and hard hitting, long range combat patrols. The three most noteworthy were during the campaign on the Philippines.
The first American contingent to return to the Philippines was the 6th Ranger Battalion with the mission of knocking out the coastal defense guns, radio stations, radar stations, and other means of defense and communications in Leyte Harbor. On A-Day minus three, October 17, 1944, the 6th Ranger Battalion was landed from fast attack-type converted destroyers, in the midst of a storm, on Dinagat, Suluan, and Homonohan Islands in Leyte Bay. The three islands are located at the eastern entrance of Leyte Gulf and were secured to deny their use by the Japanese and to provide locations for signal lights to guide the two Leyte invasion Task Forces. Through November 14, the Rangers remained on the island searching out and destroying enemy troops while guarding against any attempted Japanese reoccupation.
After moving to Leyte, the battalion established defensive positions in the Tanuan-Tibosda area and began aggressive patrol actions that continued until January 2, 1945, when Rangers loaded up for the Lingayen Gulf invasion. The advance elements began landing at noon on January 10, and were followed by the remainder of the battalion, which landed in the Dagupan Barrio area the following day.
After establishing defensive lines, the Rangers were given the mission of defending the Sixth Army Headquarters, and two companies were sent to occupy Santiago Island and help establish a radar station there. The Rangers also sent patrols into the mountainous area of mainland Luzon and discovered large quantities of abandoned Japanese equipment which was turned over to Philippine guerrilla forces.
After a move to Calasio, a reinforced company from the 6th Ranger Battalion formed the entire rescue force which liberated American and Allied prisoners of war from the Japanese Prison Camp at Cabanatuan, the Philippines in January 1945. On January 28, they made a 29-mile forced march into enemy territory, obtained full support of local civilians and guerrillas, and determined accurately the enemy’s dispositions. They crawled nearly a mile through flat open terrain to assault positions, destroyed a Japanese Garrison nearly double the size of the 121 man attacking force, and in the dark, assembled 513 prisoners of war. The prisoners were evacuated from the stockade area within twenty minutes after the assault began. In this action, more than 200 enemy troops were killed. Ranger losses were two killed and ten wounded.
During the first part of February, elements of the battalion cleared the Cabaruan Hill area of enemy forces, and then moved to San Fernando where the Rangers continued to provide guards for the Sixth Army Headquarters. From March 10 to April 14, half of the Ranger force was assigned to penetrate enemy lines and reconnoiter enemy strongpoints and lines of communication deep in the mountains of Baguio, Trinidad, Atok, Ambuclao, and Boakad. Contact was often made with the Japanese in a series of small battles which usually resulted in the destruction of the enemy forces, as Rangers employed shoot and scoot tactics and refused to be where the Japanese expected them.
On April 15, a company of Rangers was sent to Dingalan Bay Area on the eastern coast of Luzon, to block Japanese troops attempting to withdraw from the Baguio area. Ten days later, a patrol of Rangers wiped out an enemy pillbox and strongpoint in five minutes of fighting, and found the bodies of 17 officers killed in the fighting.
The Rangers’ last mission was the 250-mile trek behind enemy lines, by Company B, to the City of Aparri on the northern tip of Luzon. Aparri was the last seaport and major city held by the Japanese forces. For twenty-eight days behind the lines, they successfully infiltrated and reconnoitered the Japanese defenses at Aparri. They prepared the landing facilities at Camalugian Airfield for the 11th Airborne to make one of the major airdrops of the Pacific Campaign. Following the successful airdrop, the Rangers initially supplied point and later flank security for the 11th Airborne Task Force driving southward along the Cagayan River to link up with the 32nd Infantry Division and thus, end the Philippine campaign.
It is noteworthy that all of the Japanese prisoners captured during this operation and turned over to the 11th Airborne Division were captured by one platoon from the 6th Ranger Battalion. On July 1, the battalion was relieved of further combat operations, after having participated in three campaigns and one combat assault. On September 15, 1945, the battalion embarked for occupation duties in Japan, and was stationed in the Kyoto area when it was inactivated on December 30, 1945. The scroll worn by the 6th Ranger Battalion is similar in design to those worn by the other Ranger units.
The 75th Infantry Regiment was first organized in the China-Burma-India Theater on October 3, 1943 as Task Force Galahad. Also known as Shipments 1688 A, B, C, 5307th Composite Regiment and as the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), the unit served until July 1, 1945, when it was deactivated in China.
The 75th infantry Regiment (5307th Composite Unit) was the first United States ground combat force to meet the enemy on the Continent of Asia during World War II. It was during the campaigns in the China-Burma-India Theater that it became known as “Merrill’s Marauders,” after its commander, Major General Frank D. Merrill.
The 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) was organized to participate in the Burma operations as a result of a decision made at the Quebec Conferences in August 1943. On September 1, 1943, when the size of the unit’s battalions had been fixed at 1,000, the War Department began recruiting personnel from jungle-trained and jungle-tested troops, primarily infantrymen. General George C. Marshall requested 300 volunteers in a high state of physical readiness and stamina from the Southwest Pacific, 700 from the South Pacific and 1,000 each from the Caribbean Defense Command and the Army Ground Forces in the United States. These latter 2,000 volunteers were assembled in San Francisco where they were formed into two battalions under the command of Colonel Charles N. Hunter.
On September 21, 1943, the two battalions sailed from San Francisco on the S.S. Lurline. The majority of their equipment was loaded on the S.S. Lurline with the remainder sent directly to Bombay. Colonel Hunter was ordered to prepare his men while enroute for the performance of a long-range penetration mission and to report to General Stillwell upon arrival in the Theater. The S.S. Lurline proceeded to Noumea, New Caledonia, where 650 officers and men from the South Pacific Theater came aboard. The volunteers from the Southwest Pacific Theater came aboard at Brisbane, Australia. After a short stop at Perth, the ship sailed across the Indian Ocean and up the Arabian Sea to Bombay. The three battalions disembarked on October 31, 1943.
The men composing Merrill’s Marauders were volunteers from the 33rd Infantry Regiment, the 14th Infantry Regiment, the 5th Infantry Regiment, and from infantry regiments engaged in combat in the Southwest and South Pacific. Prior to their entry into the Northern Burma Campaign, Merrill’s Marauders trained in India under the overall supervision of Major General Orde C. Wingate, British Army. Here they were trained in long-range tactics and techniques of the type developed and first employed by General Wingate in the operations of the 77th Indian Infantry Brigade in Burma from February to June 1943.
The intensive training continued until the end of January 1944. At that time, the unit was fully trained and organized into three battalions consisting of two combat teams each, Color-coded Orange, Khaki, White, Red, Green and Blue. The Headquarters was divided into a Command Post Group and a Rear Supply Base. General Merrill was placed in command on January 4, 1944, and the unit was assigned to General Stillwell’s field command in Northern Burma.
The Marauders were ready to go, and their operations throughout the spring and summer of 1944 were closely coordinated with those of the Chinese 22nd and 38th Divisions. They were employed in the drive to recover North Burma and clear the way for construction of the Ledo Road, which was to link the Indian railhead at Ledo with the Old Burma Train to China.
The Marauders were foot soldiers who marched and fought through the jungles and over mountains from Hukawng Valley in Northwestern Burma to Myitkyina on the Irrawaddy River. With no tanks or heavy artillery to support them, they patrolled more than 1,000 miles through extremely dense and almost impenetrable jungles.
In five major and thirty minor engagements between February and August 1944, the Marauders met and defeated the veteran soldiers of the Japanese 18th Division. Operating in the rear of the main forces of the Japanese, they prepared the way for the southward advance of the Chinese by disorganizing supply lines and communications. Always moving to the rear of the main forces of the Japanese, they completely disrupted enemy supply lines and communications and climaxed their behind-the-lines operations with the capture of Myitkyina Airfield, the only all-weather airfield in Northern Burma. Compounding their difficulties during these maneuvers, was the difficulty the Marauders had in securing supplies as they moved stealthily through the jungles. The supplies they did receive were airdropped and their wounded were picked up one at a time at predetermined rendezvous points by Piper Cub planes and flown back to ‘Evac’ hospitals.
Getting the wounded Marauders out of the jungles of Burma was an extraordinary feat in itself. Each of the wounded Marauders was borne on a bamboo stretcher by his comrades or lashed to horse until a rendezvous point was reached. Generally an area around a small jungle village was selected because of the rice paddies that could be found nearby. The Marauders would then set to work chopping an airstrip through the rice paddy and radio the rear echelon to send in one of the Piper Cub planes. These planes were usually stripped of all equipment except a compass and a single stretcher for a lone passenger – the wounded Marauder. Despite hazardous takeoff and landing conditions in this densest of jungles, these valiant sergeant-pilots managed to evacuate every seriously wounded Marauder to safety. It cost this air-rescue unit, however. Two of its pilots were fatally injured in crashes into the jungles beneath them.
The Marauders were the first American troops to fight on the Asian continent in WWII, and they did it in some of the world’s worst jungles. They were only one special regiment of less than 3,000 men; yet they so disrupted the enemy communication and supply lines that the Japanese high command was later to remark that their impression was that the Marauders were a force of at least Division strength – or over 15,000 men.
For their accomplishments in Burma the Marauders were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation and Commendation. In addition every one of the Marauders was awarded the Bronze Star decoration.
The 5307th was redesignated the 475th Infantry Regiment on August 10, 1944, and was reorganized. At that time, the Regiment became part of the 5332nd Brigade (Provisional) which had been activated on July 26, 1944, in India. The Brigade was also known as the “Mars Task Force” and was designated as the long-range penetration force for operations in Burma. In addition to the 475th, the Brigade consisted of the 124th Cavalry Regiment, dismounted and functioning as infantry; the 612th and 613th Field Artillery Battalions (Pack); and the 1st Chinese Regiment, Separate.
In the third week of November, the brigade moved south along Ledo Road from the vicinity of Myitkyina. The 475th Infantry Regiment was committed in the Tongwa-Mo Hlaing Sector in December, and broke up Japanese opposition in that area. Upon completion of the action at Tongwa-Mo in January 1945, the Brigade turned eastward and thrust deep into enemy territory to strike the Nahmkam-Lashio Burma road axis at Nahmpakka.
Combat activity reached its peak during February 2 through February 4, with fighting in the vicinity of Nahmpakka, Boi-Kang, Hpa-Hpen, and Mong-Noils. On February 8, 1945, contact was severed by the retreat of the last elements of the Japanese to the South. At the end of the month, the Mars Task Force moved south to the Lashio area, where it remained in garrison for about a month before going to China by air. The Task Force was relieved from assignment to the Indian-Burma Theater and assigned to Headquarters, Chinese Combat Command (Provisional), United States Forces, China Theater. Its mission was to assist and advise in the training and equipping of thirty-six United States sponsored Chinese Divisions.
As an example of its employment, in March 1945, the 1st Battalion, 475th Infantry Regiment was attached to Headquarters, Reserve Command, Chinese Combat Command, which was responsible for training and equipping four Chinese Armies. Therefore, Company A, 475th Infantry, came to serve in a liaison role with three divisions (of which the Honorable 1st Division was one) of the Eighth Chinese Army.
The 475th Infantry Regiment was finally inactivated on July 1, 1945, in China, and remained on the inactive list of Regular Army units until 1954. It was redesignated the 75th Infantry Regiment on June 21, 1954.
The 29th Ranger Battalion that was formed December 20th, 1942, with volunteers from the 29th Infantry Division then stationed in England and commanded by Major Randolph Milholland. The volunteers were trained by the British Commandos at Achnacarry, Scotland. The 29th Rangers were attached to Lord Lovat’s Number 4 Commando Troop. Some members of the 29th Rangers participated on a raid with the Commandos on an island off the coast of France and on the 20th of September, 1943, a company moved to Dover to take part in a raid on the European Continent. But the raid was canceled. Headquarters, 29th Infantry Division issued General Orders disbanding the unit on October 18, 1943.
The History of the Ranger Scroll
The scroll worn by the Ranger battalions was not approved by the War Department and was authorized for local wear only.
A History of the Ranger Scroll by William D. Linn II
Ranger insignia of World War II has a history with characteristics much like the men who wore it. Ranger insignia was born out of personal initiative and unit pride; sometimes manufactured locally in the foreign lands where Rangers trained, fought, and died. The following history summarizes my research on the subject over the course of the past year. I have obtained my information from primary source documents as well as correspondence and personal interviews with Rangers of that era.
Fifty American Rangers of the 1st Battalion participated in the Dieppe Raid of August 1942; an unsuccessful but highly publicized first allied aggression against “Fortress Europe.” American soldiers in England, attempting to capitalize on raid publicity, bragged in the pubs that they were Rangers in order to win favor with local women. Fights ensued with such frequency between Rangers and the imposters that something had to be done. Captain Roy Murray, the senior Ranger at Dieppe, recommended that Rangers be authorized their own shoulder insignia. Colonel William O. Darby requested authorization for a patch through BG Lucian Truscott and MG Clark on 28 August 1942 based on the following reasons:
- Tremendous boost to morale.
- Soldiers all over UK are spreading stories about the recent raid and pretending to be Rangers.
Once approved, October 8, 1942, Colonel Darby organized a battalion-wide contest for the best design and a prize for the winner. Sergeant Anthony Rada of HHC, a native of Flint, Michigan, won with his design of a red, white, and blue scroll patch that resembled the British commando insignia worn by the Ranger training cadre. Due to wartime shortages of blue dye, black wool became the background of the final product.The Army officially recognized the new scroll on 8 October 1942 and a supply of them were made locally in England. Though General Truscott intended them only to be worn on the service coat (dress uniform), 1st Battalion Rangers wore them proudly into battle.
In May and June of 1943, 3rd and 4th Battalions formed in Africa from men selected out of Darby’s original battalion. Soon after the three-battalion task force arrived to take part in the fighting in Italy, Rangers obtained crude scrolls from local Italian sources. These examples had no uniform composition, being made of remnant cloth, wire bullion thread, and sometimes featuring irregular and reversed letters. As American Rangers and other allied units made their way up the Italian peninsula, Axis Sally began to broadcast threats to the Rangers over Radio Berlin. Glenn Hirchert, a sniper in C Co, 1st Ranger BN recalls that every Ranger believed German policy dictated no quarter be given to Rangers who surrendered in combat. Once surrounded at Cisterna and with capture imminent, Hirchert watched Rangers draw their fighting knives and quickly remove and destroy their scrolls in hopes that they would be spared execution. The brutal German policy proved to be just effective propaganda.
Ed Furru, a 1st Battalion Ranger wounded at Dieppe, was captured together with several members of the British 3 Commando. Since Rangers had no insignia at the time, he spent the whole war erroneously segregated as a British POW. As the war progressed and Rangers from other Battalions were captured and brought to camp, Furru learned about the ranger scroll. None were available in the camp, so he wore a crude 3 Commando tab made from bed ticking given to him by a member of that unit. He eventually purchased a scroll in the US after being repatriated. He could not find a 1st BN scroll in the PX so he converted a 4th by removing thread from the “4th” to make a “1.”
Task Force Ranger and its three battalions were disbanded following the disaster at Cisterna just about the time 2nd Battalion formed at Camp Forrest, Tennessee. During their train-up period, the Army approved a shoulder sleeve insignia for all Ranger units based on the design submitted by a 2nd Battalion Ranger. On July 16, 1943 the blue diamond patch with the word “RANGERS” in gold became the official Ranger insignia. The patch was not well received by the men and soon earned the nickname “Sunoco” since the patch resembled the logo of the Sun Oil Company. The 2nd Battalion received their diamond patches in September or October of 1943 at Fort Dix, New Jersey while they were enroute to England. Prior to D-Day, as recalled by 1SG Len Lomell (D Co) and Captain Frank Kennard (HQ), all patches were removed for operational security. By midsummer of 1944, however, the men were again wearing the patch. Kennard recalls that in early August of 1944, during the siege of Brest, men of the 2nd heard of a scroll patch being worn by other Ranger units. William Kennard, Frank’s father, was in the textile business in New York City and agreed to help secure insignia for his son’s battalion. Captain Kennard drafted a purchase order, which Colonel Rudder signed, and the document was received 24 August along with a 1st Ranger scroll to use as a pattern. William Kennard had 2,500 scrolls made for the Battalion but found he could not send bulk commercial property through the military mail. Fifty men from the 2nd battalion had to write individual letters to MR Kennard whom, in return, could send them a set limit of fifty scrolls. All 2,500 examples arrived piecemeal to the Battalion while in the field in Arlon, Belgium in late September of 1944. This allowed each man to receive two to four examples of the new insignia and the rest to remain in supply to outfit replacements as they arrived.
The men of the 5th Ranger Battalion arrived at Camp Forrest, Tennessee just as the 2nd Battalion were on their way out. It was during their stay at Camp Forrest that they learned of the approved diamond patch from an Army manual containing only a brief description, but no illustration. No Rangers from 5th had ever seen one of the new patches and Army supply channels failed to yield diamond patches for the 5th, so the Battalion took measures to have them locally made. Major General John Raaen, then Commander of Headquarters Company, remembers having approximately 3,000 patches made and issued to the men.
When the 5th arrived in England, they saw the approved patch for the first time being worn by their Ranger brothers in the 2nd Battalion. They found that their version of the patch was considerably smaller, lacked a single gold border, and featured the word “RANGER” not “RANGERS.” They quickly discarded this version and acquired what they needed through supply channels in the UK. Unlike 2nd, the 5th Battalion wore diamond Ranger patches ashore at Normandy. They continued to wear their patches until they saw the 2nd Rangers wearing their new US-made scrolls.
The first man to acquire a scroll for the 5th battalion was General Raaen who had returned to the US after sustaining injuries in a jeep accident. In November of 1944 he went to see an old family friend, Morrie Luxembourg, a prominent haberdasher in New York City. Luxembourg made twelve scrolls for General Raaen as a favor at no charge and then another modest batch not long afterwards. Some of these scrolls made their way back to the European Theater of Operations and to the men of the 5th Rangers. When the Battalion found itself in Germany, some Rangers procured a batch of scrolls locally made by Bavarian nuns that were almost too large to wear on the uniform sleeve. These over-sized scrolls were similar in construction to previously made examples. They paid for the insignia using funds taken from a German Army paymaster.
The 6th Ranger Battalion had known from the beginning of their existence that their brother Rangers in Europe wore a unique scroll insignia. The scroll design had been a symbol used on letterheads and signposts since the 6th Battalion formed in September of 1944. However, due to the primitive conditions in the Pacific Theater, insignia was difficult to come by. Private First Class Alvie Robbins (C Co) recalls that it was not until after the successful raid at Cabanatuan in January of 1945 that 6th Rangers wore scrolls. The 6th acquired local-made examples while in the Philippines but they tended to be crude in design. Another design that was common in the Battalion area was a crest that featured a trench knife, lightning bolt, and sunset topped by the word “Rangers.”
In rare cases this design was embroidered onto scarves or worn as an unofficial pocket patch. In December of 1945, most of the “high points” men shipped from the Philippines to California while the rest sailed for Japan to serve as an honor guard. As the men rotated home, they received a new uniform issue and are thought to have also received some US made 6th scrolls. Certainly there were sources for all types of military insignia in San Francisco where the men came into port. American insignia manufacturers nationwide catered their huge stocks to the demands of patch collectors and returning veterans.
In conclusion, it is interesting to note that the Army abolished the blue diamond Ranger patches in 1947 leaving no authorized insignia for Ranger units who fought in the Korean or Vietnam conflicts. Not until 1983, when the 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions participated in the invasion of Grenada did the Army finally approve the red, white, and black scroll.
Rangers Lead The Way!