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. Only the highlights of their numerous exploits are told here. Rangers primarily performed defensive missions until Benjamin Church’s Company of Independent Rangers from Plymouth Colony proved successful in raiding hostile Indians during King Phillip’s War in 1675. In 1756, Major Robert Rogers, a native of New Hampshire, recruited nine companies of American colonists to fight for the British during the French and Indian War. Ranger techniques and methods of operation were an inherent characteristic of the American frontiersmen; however, Major Rogers was the first to capitalize on them and incorporate them into the fighting doctrine of a permanently organized fighting force.The method of fighting used by the first Rangers was further developed during the Revolutionary War by Colonel Daniel Morgan, who organized a unit known as “Morgan’s Riflemen”.
According to General Burgoyne, Morgan’s men were “….the most famous corps of the Continental Army, all of them crack shots.”Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox,” organized another famous Revolutionary War Ranger element known as “Marion’s Partisans.” Marion’s Partisans, numbering anywhere from a handful 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, substantially contributing to the American victory. The American Civil War was again the occasion for the creation of special units such as Rangers. John S. Mosby, a master of the prompt and skillful use of cavalry, was one of the most outstanding Confederate Rangers. He believed that by resorting to aggressive action he could compel his enemies to guard a hundred points. He would then attack one of the weakest points and be assured numerical superiority.
With America’s entry into the Second World War, Rangers came forth to add to the pages of history. Major William O. Darby organized and activated the 1st Ranger Battalion on June 19, 1942 at Carrickfergus, North Ireland. The members were all handpicked volunteers; 50 participated in the gallant Dieppe Raid on the northern coast of France with British and Canadian commandos. The 1st, 3rd, and 4th Ranger Battalions participated with distinction in the North African, Sicilian and Italian campaigns. Darby’s Ranger Battalions spearheaded the Seventh Army landing at Gela and Licata during the Sicilian invasion and played a key role in the subsequent campaign which culminated in the capture of Messina.
They infiltrated German lines and mounted an attack against Cisterna, where they virtually annihilated an entire German parachute regiment during close in,night, bayonet, and hand-to-hand fighting. The 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions participated in the D-Day landings at Omaha Beach, Normandy. It was during the bitter fighting along the beach that the Rangers gained their official motto. As the situation became critical on Omaha Beach, the division commander of the 29th Infantry Division stated that the entire force must clear the beach and advance inland. He then turned to Lieutenant Colonel Max Schneider, Commander of the 5th Ranger Battalion, and said, “Rangers, lead the way.” The 5th Ranger Battalion spearheaded the breakthrough and thus enabled the allies to drive inland away from the invasion beaches.
The 6th Ranger Battalion, operating in the Pacific, conducted Ranger type missions behind enemy lines which involved reconnaissance and hard-hitting, long-range raids. They were the first American contingent to return to the Philippines,destroying key coastal installations prior to the invasion. A reinforced company from the 6th Ranger Battalion formed the rescue force which liberated American and allied prisoners of war from the Japanese prison camp at Cabanatuan. 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.
The unit commander was Brigadier General (later Major General) Frank D. Merrill. Its 2,997 officers and men became popularly known as “Merrill’s Marauders.” The men composing Merrill’s Marauders were volunteers from the 5th, 154th, and 33rd Infantry Regiments and from other Infantry regiments engaged in combat in the southwest and South Pacific. These men responded to a call from then Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, for volunteers for a hazardous mission. These volunteers were to have a high state of physical ruggedness and stamina and were to come from jungle-trained and jungle-tested units.
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. There, they were trained from February to June 1943 in long-range penetration tactics and techniques of the type developed and first employed by General Wingate. The operations of the Marauders were closely coordinated with those of the Chinese 22nd and 38th Divisions in a drive to recover northern Burma and clear the way for the construction of Ledo Road, which was to link the Indian rail head at Ledo with the old Burma Road to China. The Marauders marched and fought through jungle and over mountains from Hukwang Valley in northwest Burma to Myitkyina and the Irrawaddy River.