When Darby’s Rangers Turned the Tide at D-Day

The D-Day invasion was one of the most dramatic events in the modern history of warfare.  The images of thousands of allied soldiers storming those beaches, many of them dying before reaching shore is a stirring memory of the sacrifices that our military had to make to change the momentum of World War II which eventually resulted in the downfall of Hitler’s Germany and the Axis quest for world domination.

But any study of how the victory at D-Day actually transpired will reveal that it was the heroic efforts of dozens of support personnel, effective espionage and strike teams that did so much to neutralize a terrifying enemy so our troops could eventually establish a beachhead and win the day on the beaches of Normandy.  One particularly phenomenal team of highly trained soldiers that virtually did the impossible to stop the guns on the cliffs from devastating our troops were simply known as Darby’s Rangers.

The very idea of an elite team of crack commandos that could accomplish such a phenomenal act on D-Day was the brainchild of William O. Darby.  Darby was in every respect the epitome of a military man.  He was a devout student of military history who made it his ambition to become expert in every aspect of the art of warfare.  His rise through the ranks of the military was brilliant, even more phenomenal because he was the very definition of a maverick who made his way through the military system through a combination of good looks, astute use of his connections and his charm and ability to inspire those he was assign to lead.

Darby began his military career, as many due, at the military academy at West Point.  While he was not a top notch student, it was a miracle he was able to attend the prestigious school as a result of some shrewd use of the political connections of his Aunt Pearle.  But West Point introduced him to a wider world both socially and intellectually and it was there he was able to learn about the history of both conventional and unconventional warfare.  Over the next few years he envisioned a unique strike force of commandos that would utilize the methods of the American Indian and other guerilla forces who depended on stealth, strategy, small teams who could strike quickly and without warning and intense military training to create a force that could accomplish with small numbers what larger armies could not do.

When Darby got his chance to train his elite team of commandos, the intensity of the training and the importance of the missions they would take on made it a draw to the best of the best of military talent of the day.  But no mission Darby’s Rangers accomplished earlier matched what they were called upon to do that eventful day on the beaches of Normandy.

Omaha Beach was easily the most fierce and difficult fighting of the invasion.  Thousands died as the German gun emplacements hammered the troops on the beaches from their fortified positions in the cliffs of Normandy.  It seemed that nothing could be done until Darby’s Rangers did the impossible.  Their devoted training and the skills of this elite team of commandos paid off as they literally scaled the cliffs of Normandy and then stormed and conquered the German guns installations, silencing them so the Allied forces could advance.  It was at D-Day then that the motto of Darby’s Rangers really did live up to its potential any time a ranger gave that call of, “Rangers, Lead the Way!”

1 thought on “When Darby’s Rangers Turned the Tide at D-Day”

  1. Darby’s Rangers (1st, 3rd, and 4th Btns) spearheaded the Allied landings at Arzew North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio, and fought tenaciously and bravely everywhere in between. But they were disbanded after suffering terrific losses at Cisterna attempting to break out of the Anzio beachhead. The old timers were sent home and the remaining Rangers were assigned to the First Special Service Force. The FSSF subsequently invaded Southern France in Operation Dragoon. So, apart from an advisor or two, none of Darby’s Rangers participated in the Normandy invasion. The 2nd and 5th Btn Rangers, commonly known as Rudder’s Rangers, (for Col. Rudder), were trained in the United States and were pretty much fresh to combat at Normandy. In fact, Darby’s Rangers, who spearheaded pretty much every Allied victory leading up to Overlord at great cost and sacrifice, get a little weary of hearing about Point du Hoc as if it were the single battle that won the war. Every Ranger Led The Way.


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