Converted for the Web from “Beyond Valor: World War II’s Ranger and Airborne Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat” by Patrick K. O’Donnell
The Rangers, based on the British Commandos, were born in the summer of 1942. They were created to conduct deep-penetration raids behind enemy lines and amphibious raids on enemy-held coasts. General George C. Marshall was again the primary figure behind their formation as a means to get more Americans involved in the fighting in Europe, sending Colonel Lucian Truscott to Britain to implement the creation of a commando-type organization.
At the time, two U.S. divisions were training in Northern Ireland: the 1st Armored Division and the 34th, a National Guard division. Three thousand men from the units volunteered, and 520 were selected for Ranger training. Major William O. Darby, an aide to the commanding general of U.S. Army Northern Ireland, was given command of the new unit.
Major General Dwight Eisenhower, who then headed the War Plans Division of the War Department, stated that the term “Commando” belonged to the British and suggested that Truscott find another title. The title “Ranger” was selected, Truscott later writing that the legendary actions of the colonial frontiersmen Rogers’s Rangers in the French and Indian War were his inspiration.
The Rangers received their training at the Commando Training Depot at Achnacarry Castle in Scotland, where Commando recruits carried logs on their shoulders, learned hand-to-hand fighting, climbed cliffs, practiced amphibious assaults, had countless long-distance speed marches, and became skilled on a variety of weapons. Rangers followed a similar regimen, even using live ammunition to make the training close to real combat. One obstacle that each trainee had to overcome was the famous “death slide,” for which men climbed a forty-foot tree, then slid down a single rope that was suspended over a raging river, all while under fire.
Under Darby’s inspired leadership, Darby’s Rangers grew to three battalions (the 1st, 3rd, and 4th), yet they would always remain a provisional outfit. Another battalion, the 29th Ranger Battalion, was formed in December 1942, but after conducting several small raids, it was disbanded in September 1943. After successfully spearheading amphibious assaults in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy and participating in numerous battle campaigns, Darby’s Rangers were tragically destroyed in a doomed attack on Cisterna. Before D-Day, two more battalions, the 2nd and 5th, which had been training Stateside, arrived in England to play a significant role in the invasion and remained fighting in Europe through the end of the war.
Copyright © 2001 by Patrick K. O’Donnell. All rights reserved. Converted for the Web with the permission of Simon & Schuster.
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