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Rangers, U.S. Army

Rangers, U.S. Army. “Rangers Lead the Way” is the motto of the U.S. Army Rangers. Traditionally spearheaders, raiders, and scouts, they have adapted to quick response airborne operations. (In contrast, Special Forces handle covert missions.) Ranger insignia is the black and gold shoulder tab, though in World War II and Korea, they wore a black, red, and white tab. The Ranger Hall of Fame includes Robert Rogers (French and Indian War); Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox” (Revolutionary War); and John Mosby (Civil War), among others. All represented the fearless ranger spirit.

U.S. Army Rangers actually originated during World War II, when Gen. George C. Marshall, army chief of staff, authorized units comparable to British Commandos. In 1942, William Darby was made commander of the 1st Ranger Battalion—only 450 men—volunteers from U.S. divisions in Great Britain. Commandos trained them and took them on raids against “Fortress Europe.” In 1943, rangers landed in Algeria ahead of American forces, and spearheaded Gen. George S. Patton's corps in Tunisia.

Darby organized the 3rd and 4th Battalions in North Africa. The three battalions were first to land in Sicily and Italy (1943). The rangers were being used, however, as shock troops, and at the Battle of Anzio (January 1944), they were overcommitted. The Germans wrecked the 1st and 3rd Battalions and bloodied the 4th; the survivors were shipped home and disbanded.

The U.S.‐trained 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions took part in the invasion of Normandy (6 June 1944). Under fire, rangers scaled 130‐foot cliffs to seize 155mm guns atop Pointe du Hoc at Omaha Beach. These battalions engaged in heavy fighting in Europe—averaging 50 percent casualties in major actions. In the Pacific, the 6th Ranger Battalion, formed in 1944 in New Guinea, fought in the Philippines and rescued American prisoners of war, survivors of the Bataan Death March.

“Merrill's Marauders” (led by Frank Merrill) in Burma were also recognized as rangers. Trained by British Gen. Orde Wingate, of the “Chindits” (Long‐Range Patrol troops), the Marauders were key to the capture of Myitkyina, helping to doom the Japanese in Burma, but were reduced from 3,000 to 600 by combat and disease. They were demobilized in 1945 with the 75th Infantry Regiment when all ranger battalions were deactivated.

Seven Airborne Ranger companies served in the Korean War (1950–53). The Eighth Army Company was trained in Korea; the others were schooled by the new Ranger Training Command (established in September 1950) at Fort Benning, Georgia. All upheld the ranger tradition. The Eighth Army Company (with the 25th Division) was among the first to engage Chinese troops. Of forty‐eight rangers, twenty‐eight were casualties, including the commander, Ralph Puckett, who was wounded four times. In February 1951, the 1st Ranger Company (ninety men, with the 2nd Division) stopped a Chinese breakthrough at Chipyong‐ni, but was almost annihilated. The Far East Command disbanded all ranger companies by October 1951. Only the Ranger School survived—as the Ranger Department, Infantry School, now the Ranger Training Brigade.

Initially, there were no U.S. Ranger units in the Vietnam War. Special Forces dominated, training counterguerrilla units, but “Green Berets” were often also rangers. And as the U.S. advisory role turned into open combat, commands formed Long‐Range Patrols and Long‐Range Reconnaissance Patrols. Between 1969 and 1974, they were converted to ranger companies of the 75th Ranger Regiment (Airborne).

In the post‐Vietnam era, “Desert One” (1980) was a turning point for American irregulars. Delta Force, organized by Special Forces Col. Charles Beckwith (a former ranger), was to rescue hostages held by Iranians at the U.S. Embassy in Teheran. Rangers were poised in Egypt to assist. But Desert One turned to catastrophe when helicopters collided at the desert rendezvous.

The failure emphasized the need for an all‐service quick response unit. The army led with SOCOM (Special Operations Command), including U.S. Rangers and Special Forces. The air force and navy organized AFSOCOM (Air Force Special Operations Command) and USNSWC (U.S. Navy Special Warfare Command). In 1987, USSOCOM (U.S. Special Operations Command) was created.

Meanwhile, in 1983, the 75th Regiment (two ranger battalions) participated in the U.S. intervention in Grenada. In 1984, the 75th got a third battalion. The ranger regiment fought in Panama (1989), but had little part in the Persian Gulf War (1991) because the commanding general, H. Norman Schwarzkopf, distrusted irregulars. In December 1991, one battalion parachuted into Kuwait in a show of force. Since then, rangers have been deployed in Somalia (1993), Haiti (1995), and in various United Nations peacekeeping missions.

The rangers have risen to prominence in recent years as a ready strike force. In the 1990s, they were vital to the army component—30,000 out of 46,000—of the U.S. Special Operations Command.
[See also Special Operations Forces: Army Special Forces.]


James Altieri , The Spearheaders, 1960.
William O. Darby and and William H. Baumer , Darby's Rangers: We Led the Way, 1980.
Robert W. Black , Rangers in Korea, 1989.
Robert W. Black , Rangers in World War II, 1992.
Susan L. Marquis , Unconventional Warfare: Rebuilding U.S. Special Operations Forces, 1997.
Mark Bowden , Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, 1999.

Owen Connelly

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