1st Ranger Battalion – August 1942 – Americas first European raiders. Dieppe, France

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Today Im recreating the training and combat dress of the famed 1st Ranger Infantry Battalion. Also known as “Darby’s Rangers” after the iconic leader, Col. William Orlando Darby. Many of his men referred to him as “El Darbo”.

The Ranger concept began after Officers in the U.S. Military decided an American equivalent of the British “Commandos” should be formed for special assaults and action behind the line. Two notable units were formed early during the war, the US Marine Corps’ own ‘Raider’ Battalions. These units while extremely elite were mostly used as regular infantry and disbanded in 1944 much to the chagrin of the men, the second – The Rangers. The Rangers were named after an American historical unit that existed from Roberts’ Rangers in the French and Indian war, to the Texas Rangers’ legacy in the west. This Ranger unit would be formed from existing troops then in early 1942 in England. More than half of the men volunteered were from the National Guard unit, the 34th Infantry Division “Red Bulls”.

The training that Darby’s Rangers faced were from a veteran Commando cadre in the Scottish highlands. Emphasis on night fighting, hand to hand combat, speed marching, special assaults, and critical thinking were key to the elite curriculum. The Rangers trained on the same Obstacle course as the British Commandos. It is worth noting, that even after graduating there was no special shoulder patch, or sleeve insignia denoting them as Rangers.

1st Rangers – England, early 1942

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The Rangers while in England trained in the Herringbone Twill coverall uniform. Commonly referred to as HBT, this uniform was the newer replacement to the outdated indigo blue denim uniform model M1937/1940. Early cartridge belts from the First World War were still being issued, as our Ranger here wears (Mills pattern M1910 Cartridge belt). Along with the early belt he wears the M1910 First Aid pouch, also from WW1. The Rangers, especially the 1st Battalion were large proponents of the “cut down” leggings. They were commonly cut down for ease of use and minimize chaffing. The leggings you see here are modified early brass hardware versions. Other unique pieces are the M1917a1 “Kelly” helmet used early by American forces before being replaced by the iconic M1 helmet. In his hands is the unique Fairbairn-Sykes Commando dagger. A dagger by which many were based off of, such as the Raider Stiletto and First Special Service Forces’ V-42. For Ranger enthusiasts, one of the more unique pieces of equipment the 1st Battalion recieved were the “Commando boots”, or so called “SV boots”. A British Commando sole “Sole, Vibram” boot was issued to the 1st Ranger men.

1st Ranger Battalion Attached to No. 4 Commando- Dieppe, France – August 1942

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Ranger dress was somewhat iconic due to their extensive use of British items. The standard M1937 wool uniform is worn with cartridge belt. The inclusion of a Royal Navy life preserver, Cap Comforter and British 1937 Pattern Small Pack with demolitions. Although post raid photos show the Cap Comforter, looks as if they wore their own M1917a1 Kelly helmets during the raid.

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The Rangers first action was along side the Commandos and Canadians during the ill-fated Dieppe fiasco. Code named Operation Jubilee, the men were dispersed among the units as such

-4 Officer’s and 36 Enlisted Men attached to No.3 Commando
-4 Enlisted Men attached to No.4 Commando
-2 Officer’s and 4 Enlisted Men attached to ‘various’ units within 2nd Canadian Division

Rangers suffered their first casualties there. Although the raid was largely a failure, it is generally accepted that the Commandos and Rangers acquitted themselves well and seizing objectives.

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Dieppe Raid, Commandos & Rangers

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3 comments

  1. Firstly, my compliments to you for the series of pieces you’ve done covering U. S. Rangers in WWII, which is not commonly encountered and you have done a better-than-average job! Regarding your reference to the British Cap Comforter being worn after the Dieppe raid, this is not fully correct. It’s certainly possible that Rangers attached to units other than No. 4 Commando wore the caps after the raid, but the Rangers photographed wearing the cap after the raid are among the four assigned to No. 4 Commando, and No. 4 Commando personnel wore the caps en masse as a mark of distinction for rapid identification in the assault, so this is why these Rangers are wearing the cap. These Rangers would have been wearing the cap during the raid as part of the uniform of the day just as the Rangers assigned to No. 3 Commando wore helmets.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the note, Charles.You are right in terms of uniform of the day – and my interpretation was to show most of the different uniforms worn, thus my inclusion of the M1917A1 helmet as well as Cap. However I do not have any primary source documentation regarding the caps actually being worn in combat, so I am speculating on After action photos and accounts as best as I can. I hope you enjoy what I have, and I hope to post more stuff as soon as I can!

      -Matt

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      1. Thank you for the reply, Matt. If you get chance to read some of the assessments on Dieppe, mostly written in either the UK or Canada, where everything from equipment, units, tactics, strategy, weapons, etc. are reviewed, the employment of the caps sometimes gets covered in terms of it’s use and/or efficacy in achieving the rapid identification of NO. 4 Commando personnel from other troops. I wish I could think of the best tome to recommend to you; most of what I read on Dieppe goes back 20 years ago and more. The French have also published a few books on the subject and I have a friend who contributed to one such volume; I can inquire if he has anything good to supply you, though it will need to be translated to English.

        Please keep up your good work!

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