Captain William Orlando Darby had a keen interest in the organization and fighting style of the British commando. The 31 year old Aide-de Camp of the 34th Infantry Division was selected to create and organize a light infantry fighting unit specializing in reconnaissance, raids and ambushes. For it, he chose a name that had echoed across battlefields for hundreds of years.


Forged In Fire: The Birth of the US Army Rangers

With permission to raise three battalions, Darby created a rigorous training regimen designed to weed out those lacking in the physical and mental toughness he knew his men needed. After all, his intent was for his men to lead from the front, tackling the toughest jobs and allowing a breakthrough by larger units to be less costly.

He put the word out in early 1942 and the first 1,600 rushed to sign up, most coming from his old division, the 34th. Only 600 were accepted. By May 1942, the Rangers of 1st Battalion – the original Darby’s Rangers – was designated. They began training for their first deployment at Carrickfergus, Ireland.

Col. William Darby
Col. William Darby

500 of the 600 men passed the training course, and soon 49 of them boarded ships with Canadian Infantry and British Commandos to test large scale invasion techniques in the fateful operation codenamed Jubilee…the raid on Dieppe.

The August 19th action proved to be a fiasco, as the Germans inflicted heavy casualties and forced the units involved to withdraw after a few hours, Hundreds of dead and POWs were left behind.

Ranger Lieutenant E.V Loustalot became the first American soldier to die in Europe after he was hit multiple times while scaling a cliff to destroy a machine gun nest. He and the other Rangers’ distinction of being the first American troops to land in occupied Europe became but an obscure footnote as the British and Canadians struggled to find scapegoats with one another.

1st Battalion’s next combat occurred during Operation Torch, the landings in North Africa, on November 8, 1942. Hitting the beach at night, the battalion surprised and destroyed enemy emplacements, then led the capture of Port Arzew in Algeria. This opened the way for the taking of the vital port city of Oran, helping prevent German resupply of the country.

Testing their skills further was Tunisia in early 1943, when they conducted their first raids and ambushes behind enemy lines. They undertook a 12 mile night march over rough terrain, surprising enemy forces from the rear, and opened the way for General George Patton’s forces to begin final operations in North Africa. This resulted in the Battle of El Guettar, where the 1st Battalion received the Presidential Unit Citation. Alongside it all, often leading at the front, was Darby himself to receive several decorations.