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 mainly performed defensive missions until, during King Phillip’s War in 1675, Benjamin Church’s Company of Independent Rangers (from Plymouth Colony) conducted successful raids on hostile Indians. In 1756, Major Robert Rogers, 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 inherently characterized the American frontiersmen. 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 of the 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 ended 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, the 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. This 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. These missions involved reconnaissance and hard hitting, long-range raids. These Rangers were the first American group 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 that liberated American and Allied prisoners of war (POWs) 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 of 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 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.
Before joining the Northern Burma Campaign, Merrill’s Marauders trained in India under British Major General Orde C. Wingate. From February to June 1943, they learned long-range penetration tactics and techniques like those 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 Led 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 Hukwang Valley in Northwest Burma, to Myitkyina and the Irrawaddy River. In five major and 30 minor engagements, they met and defeated the veteran soldiers of the Japanese 26 April 2017th Division. Operating in the rear of the main force of the Japanese, they prepared the way for the southward advance of the Chinese by disorganizing supply lines and communications. The climax of the Marauder’s operations was the capture of Myitkyina airfield, the only all-weather strip in northern Burma. This was the final victory of “Merrill’s Marauders,” which disbanded in August 1944. Remaining personnel merged into the 475th Infantry Regiment, which fought its last battle on February 3 and 4, 1945, at Loi Kang Ridge, China. This Infantry regiment is the father of the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Soon after the Korean War started in June 1950, the 8th Army Ranger Company was formed with volunteers from American units in Japan. The company trained in Korea, and distinguished itself in combat during the drive to the Yalu River, performing task force and spearhead operations. During the massive Chinese intervention of November 1950, this small, vastly outnumbered unit with stood five enemy assaults on its position.
In September 1950, a Department of the Army (DA) message called for volunteers to train as Airborne Rangers. Five thousand regular Army paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division volunteered. Nine hundred were chosen to form the first eight Airborne Ranger companies. Nine more companies were formed from regular Army and National Guard Infantry division volunteers. These seventeen Airborne Ranger companies were activated and trained at Fort Benning, Georgia. Most received more training in the Colorado Mountains.
In 1950 and 1951, some 700 men of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 8th Airborne Ranger companies fought to the front of every American Infantry division in Korea. Attacking by land, water, and air, these six Ranger companies raided, penetrated, and ambushed North Korean and Chinese forces. They were the first Rangers to make combat jumps. After the Chinese intervention, these Rangers were the first Americans to re-cross the 38th parallel. The 2nd Airborne Ranger Company was the only African-American Ranger unit in the history of the U.S. Army. The men of the six Ranger companies who fought in Korea paid the bloody price of freedom. One in nine of this gallant brotherhood died on the battlefields of Korea.
Other Airborne Ranger companies led the way while serving with Infantry divisions in the U.S., Germany, and Japan. These volunteers fought as members of line Infantry units in Korea. They volunteered for the Army, the Airborne, the Rangers, and for combat. The first men to earn and wear the coveted Ranger tab, these men are the original Airborne Rangers. One Ranger, Donn Porter, received the Medal of Honor posthumously. Fourteen Korean War Rangers rose to general officer. Dozens more became colonels, senior noncommissioned officers (NCOs), and civilian leaders.
In October 1951, Army Chief of Staff, General J. Lawton Collins, directed that Ranger training extend to all Army combat units. He directed the Commandant of the Infantry School to establish a Ranger Department. This new department would develop and conduct a Ranger course of instruction. His goal was to raise the standard of training in all combat units. The program built on lessons learned from World War II and the Korean conflict.
During the Vietnam Conflict, fourteen Ranger companies consisting of highly motivated volunteers served with distinction from the Mekong Delta to the demilitarized zone. Assigned to separate brigade, division, and field-force units, they conducted long-range reconnaissance and exploitation operations into enemy-held areas. They provided valuable combat intelligence. Initially designated as long range reconnaissance patrol (LRRP), then long range patrol (LRP) companies, these units were later designated as C through P (there is no Juliet Company) Rangers, 75th Infantry.
After Vietnam, Army Chief of Staff, General Abrams, recognized the need for a highly trained and highly mobile reaction force. He activated the first battalion-sized Ranger units since World War II, the 1st and 2nd Battalions (Ranger), 75th Infantry. The 1st Battalion trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, and was activated February 8, 1974 at Fort Stewart, Georgia. The 2nd Battalion was activated on October 3, 1974. The 1st Battalion is now based at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia. The 2nd Battalion is based at Fort Lewis, Washington.
General Abrams’ farsighted decision and the combat effectiveness of the Ranger battalions were proven in the U.S. invasion of Grenada, “Operation Urgent Fury,” October 1983. The mission was to protect American citizens and restore democracy. The Ranger battalions “led the way” with a daring, low-level airborne assault (from 500 feet) to seize the airfield at Point Salinas. They continued operations for several days, eliminating pockets of resistance and rescuing American medical students. Due to this success, in 1984 the DA increased the strength of Ranger units to their highest level in 40 years. To do this, it activated another Ranger battalion and a Ranger Regimental Headquarters. After these units, the 3rd Battalion (Ranger), 75th Infantry, and headquarters company (Ranger), 75th Infantry, were activated, there were over 2,000 Soldiers assigned to Ranger units. On February 3, 1986, the 75th Infantry was renamed the 75th Ranger Regiment.
On December 20, 1989, the 75th Ranger Regiment was again called to show its effectiveness in combat. For the first time since reorganizing in 1984, the regimental headquarters and all three Ranger battalions deployed together. During “Operation Just Cause” in Panama, the 75th Ranger Regiment spearheaded the assault into Panama by conducting airborne assaults on the Torrijos/Tocumen airport and Rio Hato airfield. Their mission: to facilitate the restoration of democracy in Panama and to protect the lives of American citizens. Between December 20, 1989 and January 7, 1990, the regiment performed many follow-on missions in Panama.
Early in 1991, elements of the 75th Ranger Regiment deployed to Saudi Arabia in support of “Operation Desert Storm.” In August 1993, elements of the 75th Ranger Regiment deployed to Somalia in support of “Operation Restore Hope,” and returned in November 1993. In 1994, elements of the 75th Ranger Regiment deployed to Haiti in support of “Operation Uphold Democracy.” In 2000 to 2001, elements of the 75th Ranger Regiment deployed to Kosovo in support of “Operation Joint Guardian.”
Since September 11, 2001, the 75th Ranger Regiment has led the way in establishing democracy. In October 2001, elements of the 75th Ranger Regiment deployed to Afghanistan in support of “Operation Enduring Freedom.” In March 2003, elements of the Regiment deployed in support of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” The 75th Ranger Regiment spearheaded the campaign against senior level members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in both Theaters throughout the US deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq. Additionally, Ranger leaders throughout the entire force participated in more than 15 years of combat and advisor (or advise and assist) operations, serving as points of continuity among a transforming Army.
As in the past, Rangers continue to significantly contribute to the overall success of operations. The 75th Ranger Regiment stands ready to execute its special operations mission in support of the United States’ policies and objectives. Rangers throughout the force lead their formations, set the example for fellow Soldiers, and remain ready to defend the United States against its enemies. Rangers lead the way!