Darby’s Rangers – North Africa 1942

 

dsc_3618The invasion of North Africa, code named Operation Torch, was the first large Allied effort to retake lost ground to the German war machine that in essence had conquered Europe. The eventual goal of the operation was to clear out the northern countries like Algeria, and Tunisia of the vaunted Afrika Korps. This invasion was the ‘first blood’ for mostly all American forces involved. Many of the famous American units proved themselves in the war here – the 509 Parachute Infantry Battalion (originally the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment) conducted the very first American combat jump. Other units included the famed “Big Red One” and the “Rock of the Marne – 3rd Infantry Division”.

Darby’s First Ranger Infantry Battalion fresh from cutting their teeth with experienced British Commandos were set to spearhead the invasion. Grueling ruck marching over extreme distances under a rigorous pace were hallmarks of the training with the Rangers. This training would come in handy later and deliver some of the finest light infantry assaults of the war.

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The hallmark of Army Special Operations troops, then and now – Speed ruck marches. This tactical insertion employment overland through the night enabled the Rangers to rapidly close the distance and attack the German positions catching them unprepared. Courtesy of Phil Stern

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Preparation

Initial objectives for the Rangers were to make a night time amphibious landing in the port of Arzew. Using stealth they were to assault and destroy the coastal artillery pieces to allow the invasion to get underway without large scale ordinance interference.  These objectives were accomplished with speed surprised and violence of action. Many of the defenders were completely overwhelmed and surrendered. Close quarters shooting techniques, knife fighting and hand to hand combat were used to good effect.

Ranger Officers

No insignia, only flags were worn in place.

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Company pre-invasion. Note the white armbands for identification at night

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Getting jocked up

 

 

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The uniforms worn by the Rangers were typically standard. The OD wool shirt and trousers M-1937 were still being worn early in the conflict until the later Anti-gas OD special wool shirt and trousers became available. On the shirt an American flag was worn in place of Shoulder Sleeve Insignia (SSI). At first the Rangers had no SSI until 1st Sgt. Anthony Rada won the Insignia contest. The American flag was worn to indentify friendly troops to Vichy French and civilians to avoid fighting if possible.

The shoes and leggings are a special Ranger trademark. These early brass hardware leggings were issued to the Rangers which were promptly cut down for more comfortable use. Ranger Larry Kushner recounts “we wore leggens cut off at the 7th hooks. perfect. larry  Co A 3rd. Bn.”. Most of the time you see the early oatmeal or white wool socks rolled over top of the cut leggings. These boots have the ‘SV soles’ issued to commands and the first crop of Rangers. These are a Vibram Sole (SV) with rubber cleats for more drip during climbing and grip. There appear to be a few variations of footwear with these soles, from US Issue type II service shoes to custom british made rough out boots. I chose to represent the type II service shoe. The bottoms are attached via sole screws as opposed to stitched.

 

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Combat equipment of the Rangers is unique in presentation but standard issue to Infantry troops. Early on the Rangers would take the “Meat can” pouch off their haversacks and attach them to their Cartridge belts to hold demolitions and grenades. However for the invasion you see mixed more than follow operations. The British issue compliment includes a “Gas cape” worn as Anti-Gas protection and a raincoat as well. These gas capes were worn in the “ready” position just like the early BEF soldiers in France. Other British items includes the Gas mask and carrying case the early MK. V. The Toggle Rope was a British Commando invention in which each Commando or Ranger could carry a section to be looped into other sections long enough to traverse steams or cliffs. This was ensure if one Ranger was killed it wouldn’t affect the entire mission and to distribute the weight.  The blue fabric covered Royal Navy issue life belt rounded out the assault gear for the invasion.

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Gas capes being worn as rain coats early on.

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British gas masks & gear. Going over the side

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The GI equipment was the standard infantry fighting load – the M1910 Haversack and M1910 Dismounted cartridge belt. Along with the newly issued M1 helmet and early Fibre Liner commonly called the “Hawley” liner made of cardboard. The M1905 Bayonet was a holdover from the first World War until shorter more manageable bayonets could be supplied. These were issued in the newer (1941) fiber M3 bayonet Scabbards. Some men carried the iconic Fairbairn & Sykes Commando Dagger – status symbols of their completion of the Commando Depot in Scotland.

The assault 

 

 

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The Rangers were a truly elite group of men. The skills learned, spirit and leadership of the reveled Darby, a no nonsense man earned them a fierce reputation. General George S. Patton was enamored with Darby and during the Invasion of Sicily offered him an immediate promotion and command of a larger force – to which he declined. Their physical stamina, close combat and night fighting skill greatly helped the Allied effort in North Africa. One of its’ first exploits were a 32-mile night rough terrain speed march to attack the Italian camp at Sened Station. The men versed well in night formations took over the camp killing about 50 men and capturing others. Again in Djbel Ank pass which American troops were shot up time and again. The Rangers conducted a 12 mile speed march to approach from behind, eliminating the enemy allowed the advance to continue. El Guettar, a famous American battle, the Rangers played a vital role – earning their first Presidential Unit Citation.

 

 

 

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post Snead station raid

Decorations after the Sened Station Raid

 

 

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