The history of the American Ranger is a long and colorful saga of courage, daring, and outstanding leadership. It is a story of men whose skills in the art of fighting have seldom been surpassed.
The history of the US Ranger did not begin with Robert Rogers in the 1750's as is widely believed. Units specifically designated as Rangers and using Ranger tactics were employed on the American frontier as early as 1670. It was the Rangers of Captain Benjamin Church who brought the Indian conflict known as "King Phillip's War" to a successful conclusion in 1675.
Rangers came into existence in response to challenges that were far different than those faced in the Old World during the 17th century. The major differences were in the ruggedness of the terrain and the enemy they faced in the New World.
The American Indian did not conceive of war as a long campaign of maneuver, and he despised pitched battles. Hardened by his environment, accustomed to traveling great distances on foot, he was more inclined to use stealth and reconnaissance to select his objective, then execute a swift and devastating raid that employed terror to maximum advantage.
European tactics and methods were useless against this combination of terrain and enemy. Survival dictated the need for new methods. Small groups of men began to move out from the settlements to scout the surrounding territory for signs of enemy movement and to provide early warning. Reports of these groups include words such as: "This day, ranged 9 miles." Thus, the "Ranger" was born.
As their skill in woodcraft and this new form of warfare was perfected, it was now the turn of the "Rangers" to use the raid. They were versatile from the start, able to move on foot or horseback. In addition to over-land raids, they conducted over-water operations against the French and their Indian allies.
In the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the famous Robert Rogers developed the Ranger concept to an extent never known before. A soldier from boyhood, Rogers had a magnetic personality. Operating in the days when commanders personally recruited their men, he was articulate and persuasive, and knew his trade. He published a list of 28 common sense rules, and a set of standing orders (see Appendix D) stressing operational readiness, security, and tactics. He established a training program in which he personally supervised the application of his rules. In June 1758, Robert Rogers was conducting live-fire training exercises. His operations were characterized by solid preparation and bold movements. When other units were bivouacked in winter quarters, Rangers moved against the French and Indians by the use of snowshoes, sleds, and even ice skates. In a time when the English colonists were struggling, Rogers' Rangers carried the war to the enemy by scouting parties and raids.
His most famous expedition was a daring raid against the fierce Abenaki Indians. With a force of 200 Rangers, traveling by boat and over land, Rogers covered 400 miles in about 60 days. Penetrating deep into enemy territory, and despite losses en route, the Rangers reached their objective undetected. On September 29, 1759, they attacked and destroyed the Indian settlement and killed several hundred Indians; the Abenaki were no longer a threat.
Rangers continued to patrol the border and defend the colonists against sporadic Indian attacks for the next decade.
When the time came for the colonies to fight for their independence, the American Rangers were ready.
On June 14, 1775, with war on the horizon, the Continental Congress resolved that "six companies of expert riflemen be immediately raised in Pennsylvania, two in Maryland, and two in Virginia." In 1777, this force of hardy frontiersmen provided the leadership and experience necessary to form, under Dan Morgan, the organization George Washington called "The Corps of Rangers." According to British General John Burgoyne, Morgan's men were ". . . the most famous corps of the Continental Army, all of them crack shots."
Also active during the Revolutionary War were Thomas Knowlton's Connecticut Rangers. This force of less than 150 hand-picked men was used primarily for reconnaissance. Knowlton was killed leading his men in action at Harlem Heights.
Another famous Revolutionary War Ranger element was organized by Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox." Marion's partisans, numbering up to several hundred, operated both with and independent of other elements of General Washington's army. Operating out of the Carolina swamps, they disrupted British communications and prevented the organization of loyalists to support the British cause, thus substantially contributing to the American victory.
During the War of 1812, Congress called for the Rangers to serve on the frontier. The December 28, 1813, Army Register lists officers for 12 companies of Rangers.
The best known Rangers of the Civil War period were commanded by the Confederate Colonel John S. Mosby. Mosby's Rangers operated behind Union lines south of the Potomac. From a three-man scout unit in 1862, Mosby's force grew to an operation of eight companies of Rangers by 1865. He believed that by the use of aggressive action and surprise assaults, he could compel the Union forces to guard a hundred points at one time. Then, by skillful reconnaissance, he could locate one of the weakest points and attack it, assured of victory. On his raids, Mosby employed small numbers, usually 20 to 50 men. With nine men, he once attacked and routed an entire Union regiment in its bivouac.
Equally skillful were the Rangers under the command of Colonel Turner Ashby, a Virginian widely known for his daring. The Rangers of Ashby and Mosby did great service for the Confederacy. Specialists in scouting, harassing, and raiding, they were a constant threat and kept large numbers of Union troops occupied.
Rangers who fought for the United States during the Civil War should also be mentioned. Although often overlooked in historical accounts, Mean's Rangers captured Confederate General Longstreet's ammunition train, and even succeeded in engaging and capturing a portion of Colonel Mosby's force.
With America's entry into the Second World War, Rangers came forth again to add to the pages of history. Major (later Brigadier General) William 0. Darby organized and activated the 1st Ranger Battalion on June 19, 1942, at Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. The members of this battalion were all hand-picked volunteers, 50 of whom participated in the gallant Dieppe raid on the northern coast of France after training with British and Canadian commandos. The 1st Ranger Battalion participated in the initial North African landing at Arzeu, Algeria, and in the Tunisian battles where they executed many hazardous night attacks over difficult terrain. The battalion was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for distinguished action, which included operations in the critical battle of El Guettar.
The 3d and 4th Ranger Battalions were activated and trained by Colonel Darby in Africa near the end of the Tunisian Campaign. These three battalions formed the Ranger Force. Darby's three Ranger battalions spearheaded the Seventh Army landing at Gela and Licata during the Sicilian invasion, and played a key role in the following campaign that culminated in the capture of Messina. In the Salerno engagement, the Ranger Force fought for 18 days to hold Chiunzi Pass against eight German couterattacks in the Venafro battles. The Rangers experienced fierce winter and mountain combat in clearing the entrance to the narrow pass leading to Cassino. At Anzio, they overcame beach defenses, cleared the town, and established a defensive perimeter.
On the night of January 30, 1944, the 1st and 3d Ranger Battalions launched an attack by infiltrating enemy lines near Cisterna. Alert German troops discovered the infiltration, established ambush positions, sealed off the penetration, and prevented follow-on forces from aiding the Rangers. The Germans attacked with infantry and tanks against the Rangers, who fought back with bazookas, small arms, and stick grenades. The battle is not significant for damage done to the -enemy but for the incredible heroism of the American Rangers. The two battalions suffered 761 killed or captured out of the 767 Rangers engaged.
The 2d and 5th Ranger Battalions participated in the June 6, 1944, D-Day landings at Omaha Beach, Normandy. It was during the bitter fighting along the beaches that the Rangers gained their official motto. As the situation became critical on Omaha Beach, Brigadier General Norman D. Cota, Assistant Division Commander of the 29th Infantry Division, stated that the entire assault force must clear the beaches and advance inland. He then turned to Lieutenant Colonel Max Schneider, commanding the 5th Ranger Battalion, and said, "Rangers, lead the way." The 5th Ranger Battalion spearheaded the break-through that enabled the Allies to drive inland away from the invasion beaches.
Attached to the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division, Companies D, E, and F of the 2d Ranger Battalion accomplished the mission of capturing the gun emplacements on Pointe Du Hoc, after encountering fierce opposition from the defending German garrison. This operation demanded the utmost in Ranger courage and skill as the assault troops climbed rope ladders up the sheer rock face while under intense machine gun, mortar, grenade, and small arms fire.
The 6th Ranger Battalion, operating in the Pacific, was the only Ranger unit fortunate enough to be assigned those missions for which they were specifically organized and trained. 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.
This battalion was the first American force to return to the Philippines with the mission of destroying coastal defense guns, radio stations, radar stations, and other means of defense and communications in Leyte Harbor. During a storm three days before the main assault, the 6th Ranger Battalion was landed from destroyers on islands in Leyte Bay. Their missions were completed with only hours to spare.
Later, C Company, reinforced by the 2d Platoon of F Company from the 6th Ranger Battalion, formed the rescue force that liberated American and allied PWs from the Japanese PW camp at Cabanatuan, the Philippines, in January 1945. They made a 29-mile forced march into enemy territory, aided in part by friendly partisans and the famous Alamo Scouts of the Sixth Army. They crawled nearly a mile across flat, open terrain to assault positions, and they destroyed a Japanese garrison nearly twice their size, liberating and evacuating over 500 prisoners. Over 200 enemy troops were killed. Ranger losses were two killed and ten wounded.
Another Ranger-type unit was the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), organized and trained as a long-range penetration unit for employment behind enemy lines in Japanese-occupied Burma. Commanded by Brigadier General Frank D. Merrill, its 2,997 men became popularly known as "Merrill's Marauders."
The men composing Merrill's Marauders were volunteers from the 33d Infantry Regiment, the 14th Infantry Regiment, the 5th Infantry Regiment, and other infantry regiments engaged in combat in the southwest and south Pacific. The men responded to a request from Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, for volunteers for a hazardous mission. Volunteers were to be physically and mentally tough, and they were to come from jungle-trained and jungle-tested units.
Before entry into the Northern Burma Campaign, Merrill's Marauders trained in India under the supervision of General Orde C. Wingate of the British Army. They were trained from February to June 1943 in long-range penetration tactics and techniques developed and first used by General Wingate in the operations of the 77th Indian Infantry Brigade in Burma. From February to May 1944 the operations of the Marauders were closely coordinated with those of the Chinese 22d and 38th Divisions. Together they set forth to recover northern Burma and clear the way for the construction of the Ledo Road, which was to link the Indian railhead at Ledo with the old Burma Road to China. The Marauders marched and fought through jungle and over mountains from the Hukawng Valley in northwestern Burma to Myitkyina on the Irrawaddy River. In 35 engagements, they 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 enemy supply lines and communications.
The climax of the Marauders' operations was the capture of Myitkyina Airfield, the only all-weather strip in northern Burma. This was the final victory of Merrill's Marauders. The unit was consolidated with the 475th Infantry on August 10, 1944. On June 21, 1954, the 475th was redesignated the 75th Infantry. It is from the consolidation and redesignation of Merrill's Marauders into the 75th Infantry that the modern-day Ranger Regiment traces its current official unit designation.
With the end of World War II, followed by a rapid demobilization, the Ranger units were inactivated. Many of their former members would soon again be called upon to demonstrate their unique skills.
With the outbreak of hostilities in Korea in June 1950, the need for Rangers was apparent. Colonel John Gibson Van Houten was chosen by the Army Chief of Staff to head the Ranger training program at Fort Benning, Georgia.
On September 15, 1950, Colonel Van Houten reported to the Chief of Staff, Office of the Chief of Army Field Forces, Fort Monroe, Virginia. He was informed that training of Ranger-type units was to begin at Fort Benning at the earliest possible date. The target date was October 1, 1950, with a tentative training period of 6 weeks.
The implementing orders called for formation of a headquarters detachment and four Ranger infantry companies (airborne). Requests went out for volunteers who were willing to accept "extremely hazardous" duty in the combat zone of the Far East.
In the 82d Airborne Division, the results of the call for volunteers were astounding. Some estimates were as high as 5,000 men (experienced, Regular Army paratroopers). The ruthless sorting-out process began. Where possible, selection of the men was accomplished by the officers who would command the companies, similar to the days when Robert Rogers was recruiting.
Orders were issued and those selected were shipped to Fort Benning, the first group arriving on September 20. Training began on Monday, October 2, 1950, with three companies of airborne qualified personnel. These units were carried on the rolls as race "white." On October 9, 1950, another company began training. These were "black" paratroopers, former members of the 505th Airborne Infantry Regiment and the 80th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion of the 82d Airborne Division. Initially designated the 4th Ranger Company, they would soon be redesignated as the 2d Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne), the only Department of the Army authorized, all-black Ranger unit in the history of the United States Army.
All volunteers were professional soldiers with many skills who often taught each other. Some of the men had fought with the original Ranger battalions, the First Special Service Force, or the Office of Strategic Services during World Way It. Many of the instructors were drawn from this same group. Many of the faces might have appeared youthful, but they were men highly trained and experienced in Ranger operations during World War II.
Training was rigorous and included amphibious and airborne operations (including low-level night jumps), demolitions, sabotage, close combat, and the use of foreign maps. All American small arms, as well as those used by the enemy, were mastered. Communications, as well as the control of artillery, naval, and aerial fires, were stressed. Much of the training was at night.
Physical conditioning and foot marching were constant. Colonel Van Houten stated the goal was "to prepare a company to move from 40 to 50 miles, cross country, in 12 to 18 hours, depending upon the terrain." Men learned it was possible to doze while marching. They also learned to swim in ice-ringed water.
No man was forced to remain a Ranger candidate. After a ruthless process of elimination, each company was still authorized a 30 percent overstrength. During training, there was a jeep with a white flag in the background. Anyone who decided he did not want to or could not continue had only to go sit in that jeep. No one would harass or mock him; he would be driven away and his personal gear removed from the Ranger barracks before the other men returned.
The first cycle completed their training on November 13, 1950. The 1st, 2d, and 4th Ranger Companies prepared for oversea shipment. The 3d Ranger Company prepared to assist in training the second cycle, which would consist of the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Companies. These were also Regular Army volunteers, almost all of whom were from the 82d Airborne Division. The 3d Ranger Company moved overseas at the end of the second cycle.
The 1st Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne) departed Fort Benning, Georgia, on November 15, 1950, and arrived in Korea on December 17, 1950, where it was attached to the 2d Infantry Division. It was soon followed by the 2d and 4th Ranger Companies, who arrived on December 29. The 2d Ranger Company was attached to the 7th Infantry Division. The 4th Ranger Company served both Headquarters, 8th US Army, and the 1st Cavalry Division.
Officers at Fort Benning had long studied the employment of Ranger units and had doubts about the employment of separate companies of Rangers. They recognized that the organization of Ranger infantry battalions offered many advantages, including better tactical employment. They believed that a lieutenant colonel battalion commander could operate more effectively with the senior officers of a division or high level staff than could a captain who commanded a Ranger company. A Ranger battalion staff would be able to look out for the welfare of the men. Operations could still be conducted at any organizational level.
Despite their recommendations, the organization remained the same, "One Ranger infantry company (airborne) per infantry division." One change was adopted, however; the companies would be assigned at Army level and attached down to the infantry division.
Throughout the winter of 1950 and the spring of 1951, the Rangers went into battle. They were nomadic warriors, attached first to one regiment, then another. They performed "out-front" work: scouting, patrols, raids, ambushes, spearheading assaults, and as counterattack forces to restore lost positions.
Attached on the basis of one 112-man company per 18,000-man infantry division, they compiled an incredible record. Nowhere in American military history is the volunteer spirit better expressed. They were volunteers for the Army, for airborne training, for the Rangers, and for combat. They were America's volunteer force for the Korean War. At a time when United Nations forces numbered over 500,000 men, there were less than 700 airborne Rangers fighting to the front of all the American divisions engaged in battle.
The rangers went into battle by air, water, and land. The 1st Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne) opened with an extraordinary example of land navigation, then executed a daring night raid 9 miles behind enemy lines in which they destroyed an enemy complex. The enemy installation was later identified by a prisoner as the headquarters of the 12th North Korean Division. Caught by surprise and unaware of the size of the American force, two North Korean regiments hastily withdrew from the area. The 1st Company was in the middle of the major battle of Chipyong-Ni and the "May Massacre." It was awarded two Distinguished Unit Citations.
The 2d and 4th Ranger Companies made a combat jump at Munsan-Ni where Life magazine reported Ranger patrols operating northward to the 38th parallel. The 2d Ranger Company plugged a critical gap left by a retreating allied force; the 4th Ranger Company executed a daring over-water raid at the Hwachon Dam. The 3d Ranger Company (attached to the 3d Infantry Division) had the motto, "Die, bastard, die." The 5th Ranger Company, fighting as an attachment to the 25th Infantry Division, performed brilliantly during the Chinese "5th Phase Offensive." Gathering up everyone he could find, the Ranger company commander held the line with Ranger sergeants commanding line infantry units. In the eastern sector, the Rangers were the first unit to cross the 38th parallel on the second drive north.
The 8th Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne) was attached to the 24th Infantry Division. They were known as the "Devils." A 33-man platoon of this unit fought a between-the-lines battle with two Chinese reconnaissance companies. Seventy Chinese were killed. The Rangers suffered two dead and three wounded, all of whom were brought back to friendly lines.
Little has been written of the exploits of these Ranger companies. They operated in squad-, platoon-, and company-size engagements on, or forward of, the front line. To others, the main line of resistance was hell; to the Rangers, it was often sanctuary.
The Ranger companies were also being used as firemen. On occasion, Ranger units were left in contact forward while regiments were rotated. One Ranger company was engaged in a firefight when a light plane flew over and dropped a message telling them to break off action and help in another fight.
Not much publicity existed. On the only occasion when a civilian correspondent accompanied a Ranger unit forward of the lines, he was killed before he could file his story.
It has been written that finding replacements for these units was a problem; the records do not show this. Despite suffering casualties, ranging from 40 to 90 percent of the unit's original strength, the units in Korea were well manned and close to, or above, full strength at inactivation.
The only difference between the men of the Ranger companies in Korea and those Rangers with divisions stationed elsewhere was the opportunity" to fight for the United States. Duty was the Ranger byword. Ranger companies, in accordance with their orders and duty, served in the United States, Germany, and Japan.
In 1950 to 1951, there was concern that the Soviet Union was preparing to attack in Europe. At the end of World War II, America had stripped its fighting forces from that continent. Suddenly, in addition to fighting in Korea, America had to be prepared to fight a major war in Europe. The 6th Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne) was one of the lead elements in the drive to rebuild US forces in Europe. Attached to the 1st Infantry Division, it left an enviable record for its discipline and daring. The 6th Ranger Company executed what their commander termed "the first tactical, mass, freefall parachute jump ever attempted by the Army."
Back at the Ranger training center, now designated the Ranger Training Command, Colonel Van Houten and his staff urged the Department of the Army to form Ranger battalions. A draft table of organization was prepared that included four Ranger infantry companies (airborne), a headquarters company, a service company, and a medical detachment. Proposals were made to form a Ranger battalion in Korea or to form one that could be co-stationed with the 187th Airborne RCT. This would facilitate airborne training and operations. The commander of the Caribbean Command wanted a Ranger battalion. Colonel Van Houten was anxious to oblige, but the request was denied.
On July 14, 1951, Eighth US Army Korea (EUSAK) dispatched a message to the commanding generals of the 1st Cavalry Division, as well as the 2d, 3d, 7th, 24th, and 25th Infantry Divisions, passing on a direct order to inactivate the Ranger companies within EUSAK. Acknowledging that the Rangers were selected on a volunteer basis for service requiring high qualities of leadership, mental alertness, and physical stamina, the message stated that qualified parachutists in these units would be transferred to the 187th RCT.
On October 22, 1951, the Office of the Chief of Army Field Forces published a directive entitled "Establishment of Ranger Courses at the Infantry School." The new emphasis would be on individual training.
On November 5, 1951, the last of the Ranger infantry companies (airborne) was inactivated. The men who served in the Korean War Ranger units now furled their guidons and passed into history. Those individual Rangers who remained on active duty, or returned to it, continued to compile a remarkable record. Korean War airborne Ranger veterans were deeply involved in the formation and growth of US Special Forces. Many fought with distinction in Vietnam.
With the growing US involvement in the Vietnam conflict, Rangers again were called on to serve their country. Fourteen separate Ranger companies, consisting of highly motivated volunteers, served with distinction in Vietnam from the Mekong Delta to the demilitarized zone. Assigned to independent brigade, division, and field force units, they conducted long-range reconnaissance and exploitation operations into enemy-held and denied areas, providing valuable combat intelligence. At the end of the war in Vietnam, these units were inactivated, and their members were dispersed among the various units in the Army. Many men went to the 82d Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. However, two long-range reconnaissance patrol units were retained in the force structure. Transferred to the Army National Guard, they were designated as infantry airborne Ranger companies, and they continue the proud heritage of these Vietnam-era units, concentrating on reconnaissance and stealth, rather than raid and ambush. The future of the pure Ranger battalion was headed in a different direction, however.
Recognizing the need for a highly trained and highly mobile reaction force, the Army Chief of Staff, General Abrams, in the fall of 1973, directed the activation of the first battalion-size Ranger units since World War II. General Abrams declared, "The Ranger Battalion is to be an elite, light, and the most proficient infantry battalion in the world. A battalion that can do things with its hands and weapons better than anyone. The battalion will contain no 'hoodlums or brigands' and if the battalion is formed from such persons, it will be disbanded. Wherever the battalion goes, it must be apparent that it is the best."
The 1st Battalion (Ranger), 75th Infantry, was activated officially on February 8, 1974, at Fort Stewart, Georgia, after organizing and training at Fort Benning, Georgia. The 2d Battalion (Ranger), 75th Infantry, soon followed. It was activated on October 1, 1974. These elite units eventually established headquarters at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, and Fort Lewis, Washington, respectively.
The farsightedness of General Abrams' decision, as well as the combat effectiveness of the Ranger battalions, was proven during the United States' deployment on October 25, 1983, to the island of Grenada to protect American citizens and to restore democracy. During this operation, code named "URGENT FURY," the 1st and 2d Ranger Battalions conducted a daring low-level parachute assault (500 feet), seized the airfield at Point Salines, rescued American citizens isolated at True Blue campus, and conducted air assault operations to eliminate pockets of resistance.
As a result of the demonstrated effectiveness of the Ranger battalions, the Department of the Army announced in 1984 that it was increasing the size of the active duty Ranger force to its highest level in 40 years by activating another Ranger battalion and a Ranger regimental headquarters. These new units, the 3d Battalion (Ranger), 75th Infantry, and Headquarters and Headquarters Company (Ranger), 75th Infantry, received their colors on October 3, 1984, at Fort Benning, Georgia. The activation ceremonies were a step into the future for the Ranger Regiment and a link to the past as they were held concurrently with the first reunion of Korean War-era Rangers. Distinguished visitors and proud Rangers, both active duty and retired, joined to hail the historic activation of the Headquarters, 75th Infantry (Ranger) Regiment. The unit was subsequently redesignated as the 75th Ranger Regiment. This marked the first time that an organization of that size has been officially recognized as the parent headquarters of the Ranger battalions. Not since World War II and Colonel Darby's Ranger Force Headquarters has the US Army had such a large Ranger force, with over 2,000 soldiers being assigned to Ranger units.
*This appendix contains extracts from material copyrighted by COL Robert W. Black, USA (Ret), in his articles, "The Rangers of the Korean War" and "The American Ranger, Colonial Times Through the Indian Wars." Used by permission.
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