Normandy44
Normandy44

The History of the 2nd Rangers

The time – June 1942. The place – Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. Major William Darby and 2000 hand picked volunteers endure rigorous training at the hands of British Commandos. By the end of the program, only 500 men were left. They became the 1st Ranger Battalion. Of these 500, 50 took part on the raid on Dieppe on Frances northern coast along with Canadian and British Commandos.

The 1ST Ranger Bn. participated in the initial landing at Arzeu, Algeria. They carried out crucial night operations in Tunisia and took part in the battle of El Guettar. Their valour was recognised with a Presidential Unit Citation, the equivalent of awarding each man in the battalion the Distinguished Service Cross. Two more battalions, the 3rd and the 4th were created by Major Darby towards the end of the campaign in Tunisia. These battalions along with the 1st Ranger Battalion would be called “ Darby’s Rangers ” or the Ranger Force. They would spearhead the invasion of Sicily at Gela and Licata and play a part in the conquest of Messina. At Salerna they would fight off Nazi counterattacks for 18 days to hold the Chunzi Pass. The Rangers experienced fierce winter and mountain combat in clearing the entrance to the narrow pass leading to Cassino. At Anzio they would defeat the beach defences and secure the town. Darby’s Rangers suffered a severe setback on Jan. 30th, 1944 when the three groups were discovered infiltrating near Cisterna and were nearly wiped out by German armour and infantry. Of the 767 men in the Ranger force, 761 were killed or captured. The survivors were sent back to the United States and transferred to the Special Service Force, a joint Canadian-American special operations unit.

The 2nd Ranger Battalion was formed in late March of 1943 at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, and originally commanded by Major McDonald. The Ranger Battalions were made up of volunteers from other units and were to be trained to undertake various hazardous duties. Each Ranger Battalion was to consist of six Companies, from A-F, and each Company consisted of two 31-man Platoons. On July 2nd 1943, the 2nd Rangers Battalion was taken over by Major James E. Rudder, then dispatched to Fort Pierce, Florida to undertake amphibious training. September 16th 1943 saw their transfer to Fort Dix, New Jersey and from here they undertook training in sabotage, recon and weapons familiarisation with captured German, Italian and Japanese weapons.

Finally, on November 21st 1943 the Rangers embarked on the Queen Elizabeth for Britain, and during this voyage, they were assigned M.P. Duties, though nothing is known of what the other units on board thought of their methods! The 1st of December 1943 saw their arrival in Greenock, Scotland, and they then travelled by train to Bude in Cornwall. Here they settled in well, giving a Christmas party for 700 local children, and handing out the majority of their candy and gum rations. Each Company was then sent for billeting in different towns, including on the Isle of Wight, where they continued with their training and participated on several cross-channel “excursions” with British and French Commandos.

April 3rd 1944 saw the whole Battalion moved to the Assault Training Centre School in Braughton, North Devon for just over three weeks training. Some of which was conducted with the 5th Ranger Battalion, who were to be their companions in the Normandy Assault. They also took part in “ Fabius 1 ”, a dress rehearsal for Overlord. May 7th saw a move to Swanage, where the .30 calibre Machine-gun was replaced with the Browning Automatic Rifle as the primary weapon in the Automatic Weapon Squads. Then on June 1st 1944, they boarded ships at Portland Harbour in Weymouth, to depart for Normandy.

D-DAY JUNE 6TH, 1944

During the Allied invasion of France, the 2nd Rangers Battalion of the U.S. First Army was given a special mission. Pointe du Hoc. A piece of land jutting four miles out to sea between the Omaha and Utah Beaches, which was giving major concerns to the Normandy Invasion planners. Any artillery placed there would have an elevated vantagepoint over both beaches, and Allied fears appeared to be realised when photoreconnaissance revealed six concrete casemates housing 155mm guns had been positioned there. In order to assure the success of the American Landings, these guns had to be silenced, and the task fell to the Rangers.

The plan was for D, E and F Companies of the 2nd Rangers Battalion to scale the cliffs and attack Pointe du Hoc. Whilst C Company along with A Company of the 116th infantry Regiment were to land east of the Pointe, assaulting gun positions on the western end of Omaha Beach. They were to then move up to the village of Vierville sur Mer, secure the coastal road leading to Pointe du Hoc and destroy the German positions and radar station along the way. Meanwhile A and B Companies, along with the 5th Ranger Battalion, were to await a signal that the cliff scaling had been successful, then reinforce the Rangers already on the Pointe. Should they receive no such signal, they would instead land on Omaha Beach, and attack the Pointe from the rear. If everything went according to plan, the Ranger forces would link up on the high ground of Pointe du Hoc and support the drive inland with V Corps.

In the early hours of D-Day, the Rangers Landing Craft were launched. Losing one Landing Craft in heavy seas, the Rangers arrived at Pointe du Hoc at 07.10 hours, forty minutes behind schedule. As the VII and V Corps were approaching their beaches, 3 Companies of the 2nd Rangers Battalion started the long process of scaling the cliffs with rope ladders. The Rangers were under almost constant rifle and machine gun fire from both sides by elements of the 352nd Volksgrenedier Division, but continued their ascent. The first Rangers reached the top of the cliffs just as the first waves hit Utah and Omaha. Much to the surprise of the Rangers, only a small platoon of Germans were atop Pointe du Hoc and were quickly eliminated. The German artillery had been pulled out.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Rangers offshore had not received the signal that the cliff assault had been a success, so proceeded with the alternative plan, joining the assault on Omaha Beach. However, they were to discover that the planned assault had gone horribly wrong.

The U.S. 1st Infantry Division and elements from the 29th Infantry Division had been badly scattered over the entire beach by their landing craft, whilst only two of the twenty-nine “ DD ” tanks had actually reached the shore, effectively leaving the infantry without armoured support. By the time the Rangers came ashore, it was more a desperate battle for survival rather than a beach assault. At 08.30 all landings ceased, and serious thought was given at SHAEF H.Q. to actually pull the badly mauled American forces off the beach, and divert the remaining reinforcements to Utah. With A Company of the 116th Infantry Regiment wiped out on the beach, the closest allied troops were 2 kilometres away. The Rangers that had made it to the beach made their way up to the base of the cliff just west of the draw. Only 31 men of C Company made it so far. With the Ranger force pinned down, 4 soldiers, Lt William Moody, Lt Sidney Saloman, Sgt Julius Belcher and Sgt Richard Garrett, began to pick their way up a small creviceusing their bayonets for leverage until they finally reached the top of the cliff. They quickly dropped ropes and the Rangers began to climb. By 07.30, C Company was on top of the ridge facing a fortified house.

The Rangers assaulted the house and Lt Moody kicked in the door, killed the officer in charge and led the search of the trenches dug behind. The Rangers began the systematic destruction of the pillboxes and positions using grenades, rifles and even their bayonets. Lt Moody was killed clearing one pillbox and command fell to Lt Saloman. Sgt Belcher led a furious charge of the German machine gun positions that were pouring a murderous fire down onto Omaha. Using white phosphorous grenades, the Rangers coolly shot the Germans as they fled the burning positions.

Companies A and B of the 2nd Ranger Battalion and the entire 5th Ranger Battalion, came ashore at Omaha shortly before 08.00 and drove inland to link up with C Company. In addition the remnants of the 116th Infantry, were led up the cliff and joined the Rangers and formed an ad hoc Infantry Regiment. This force continued to clear the bluffs around Vierville of German positions, the fighting severe and often hand to hand. The Rangers of the 5th and 2nd Rangers Battalions along with the survivors of the 116th Infantry are credited with saving the Allied invasion at Omaha Beach. The soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division, also known as “The Big Red One”, had been pinned down and were taking horrendous casualties. Once the Rangers got behind the German lines, all hell broke loose and “The Big Red One” was able to move off the beach and establish their beachhead.

Once the D, E, and F Company had consolidated their position, they moved forwards and achieved their second objective, cutting the road from the Pointe du Hoc to Grandcamp. Then a two-man patrol discovered where the guns had been moved to, new positions that overlooked Utah Beach. Large amounts of ammunition had been stacked up for use, but the guns were unmanned. Another patrol arrived, and they disabled all the guns using thermite charges. The artillery had been eliminated.

The cost had been high. D, E, and F Companies had lost 50% of their force in the assault on Pointe du Hoc, but had been the first American Unit to achieve their objectives. At Omaha Beach, the Americans had suffered 2,400 casualties, but by the end of D-DAY, they had managed to get 34,000 troops ashore. The German 352nd Volksgrenedier Division had sustained 1,200 casualties, almost 20% of its strength, and had no reserves for the continuing battle. Total 2nd Ranger casualties on D-Day were 77 killed, 152 wounded, and 38 missing. One footnote is that German POWs were heard to complain about the Rangers unorthodox methods of warfare. Some were quoted as saying, “ Instead of attacking through the fields, as any soldier will tell you is the right thing to do, the crazy Americans came right down the road instead! ”. This straightforward tactic apparently caught the Germans by surprise.

Northern France

D+2, and the breakout from Omaha continued. The 2nd Rangers moved towards Grandcamp and Osmondville, then cleared an area to the village of Masey. Throughout June, the Rangers continued to advance, reaching Valognes on June 25th, where they were assigned to guard POWs. July 3rd saw the Rangers moved to Beaumont Hague for further training, which continued throughout July. August 6th, and the 2nd Rangers were on the move again, this time to relieve the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division { old friends from Omaha }, who were protecting some bridges at Mayenne. On the way, they were ordered to make a slight detour, to set up ambushes for German troops atempting to escape from a pocket through Mortain.