The 29th Ranger Infantry Battalion
December 1942 – October 1943
The Ranger name conjures up images of cliff assaults and daring behind the lines commando action during World War Two. The Ranger lore lives on, with many stories to choose from – Darby’s 1st Ranger Battalion tragic Italian battle at Cisterna, or Mucci’s 6th Rangers daring Pacific theater raid on the Cabanatuan prison camp. But there is a short lived Ranger unit that did its’ tour of duty in rigorous training before disbanding after only 11 months. The 29th Rangers contributed to the Army by conducting field tests of equipment and rations under the most grueling conditions. Many volunteers were eager to go into battle with their new found unit, only to have the unit cease to exist and all men returned to their parent units.
The 29th Ranger battalion was originally created with the intention of training soldiers, primarily from one infantry division already in England (the 29th Division) to gather Commando and leadership skills to take back to their respective units. This concept is actually still the basis of the U.S. Army’s modern Ranger School, located at Fort Benning, Georgia.
When the 29th Rangers formed, it was originally just a provisional 2nd ranger battalion, because at that time (1942) only Colonel William O Darby’s 1st Ranger Battalion was in existence. Later on it was recommended the name be changed to the 29th Provisional Ranger Battalion, not to confuse the 2nd Provisional Ranger Battalion with the 2nd Ranger Infantry Battalion coming over from the United States. The 29th Rangers trained hard within their own organization before being sent to the now legendary Commando Depot at Achnacarry, Scotland. The terrain and conditions were as rough as it could be, and the men were pushed to their limits.
The mission of all the Ranger battalions was that of the British Commando units, and that was to strike hard and fast behind the lines. The mission would include amphibious raids along occupied coastlines and speed-marching around the enemies flank. The Rangers were extremely well trained, and their conditioning marches are still considered some of the toughest throughout the history of the organization. The 29th Rangers tested a variety of uniforms and equipment throughout their 11 month existence, and also contributed to the study of combat ration needs for troops in the field. Sergeant Bob Slaughter explains Commando Depot training –
“Training consisted of grueling speed marches, running the world’s toughest obstacle course, mountain and cliff climbing, unarmed combat, boat drills, stripped to the waist log PT (physical training) during the winter, and finding our way on the desolate Scottish moors with nothing but a compass and a map.” (Slaughter p.63)
“The obstacle course followed a five mile climb up a steady grade. It had every diabolical obstacle a wartime British engineer could devise: negotiating ten-foot walls, log and rope bridges that crossed deep ravines, and rope swings over water hazards.” (Slaughter p.63)
“Nearby Ben Nevis, 4,406 feet high and the highest mountain in the British Isles, was an important climbing event. On one occasion, our instructors had us climb two gut-wrenching mountains in a single day. ” (Slaughter p.64)
Rations, and the E.T.O.
“During this period, the U.S. Army used our ranger battalion to field-test a variety of potential combat food rations. The winning selection ultimately became the official U.S. combat ration.” (Slaughter p.68)
“Each company was given a particular ration and asked to answer questionnaires about taste and hunger satisfaction. We all were weighed daily.”
“This ten-day ration tasting ordeal separated many men from the boys, and served to prove our mettle as rangers. The four companies speed-marched an average of twenty-five miles a day for ten straight days.”
-“Company A drew the canned C-ration for testing.”
-“Company B, my company, was given the new-issue K-rations.”
-“Company C had the luxury of testing the tasty but bulky 10-in-1’s.”
-“D Company combined 10-in-1s and chocolate D-bars.”
“The first day of the test we speed-marched thirty-seven miles in seven and one-half hours. That averaged out to almost five miles an hour for thirty-seven miles.”
“The Rangers took part in the tactical maneuvers of May 27-29, 1943, involving the British 42nd Armored Division. On this occasion the rangers completed a forty-mile flanking move in which we raided and destroyed the headquarters of a British unit, and captured its plan of attack.” (Slaughter p.69)
Here is the QMC documents on the Ration tests conducted by the 29th Rangers
The uniforms and equipment
The standard uniform of the 29th Provisional Ranger Battalion was the “Suit, Working, One Piece, HBT, 1942” one piece overall uniform. This uniform was used heavily by the Paratroops and other regular army forces as well. The uniform was a light sage color, and most importantly, it was tough.
The 29th Rangers used the standard Infantryman’s pack setup consisting of the M1910 or M1928 Haversack, and accompanying belt for either a Browning Automatic Rifle, M-1 Garand, M-1 Carbine, or M1928/M1/M1A1 Thompson Sub-Machine Gun. The M6 Gas mask bag carried the M-3 Lightweight Service Mask.
The British toggle rope was also used by the Rangers during their training. The toggle rope was designed with a loop on one end, and a handle on the other. The ends will hook into other toggle ropes, to create a very long rope used in climbing and crossing obstacles. This is done to keep the weight small and distributed instead of burdening a single man with a large and cumbersome rope. This also helps in case of casualties, there are always enough sections of rope to carry on.
British ‘Cap Comforters’ were also used by 29th Rangers. Usually associated with Commandos, the Commando cap is simply a tubular knit scarf that is folded in on itself to make a hat.
Parachutist Boots, or Jump boots as they are commonly called were issued to the Rangers and proudly worn by the Rangers as a sign of their elite status.
The E.T.O. Field Jacket
Jacket, Enlisted Men (Lined) U.S.A., ETO (Type I)
The E.T.O. jacket was an interesting concept that changed shape a few times. It was essentially a wool version of the OD Field Jacket, also known as the “M41” field jacket. Even early in the war the Quartermaster Corps was seeking to replace the standard issue garment with something superior.
Slaughter, John Robert. Omaha Beach and Beyond: The Long March of Sergeant Bob Slaughter. St. Paul: Zenith, 2007. Print.
National Archives and Records Administration II at College Park, MD