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As a field artillery officer, Lt Col William Darby organized and trained the 1st Ranger Battalion at the British Commando School in June 1942. He was with the first US troops sent to Northern Ireland after entry into the war. On June 19, 1942 the 1st Ranger Battalion was sanctioned, recruited, and began training in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. Many of the original Rangers were volunteers from the Red Bull, the 34th Infantry Division, a National Guard division and the first ground combat troops to arrive in Europe.
During their training period six American Ranger officers and 50 men accompanied the British and Canadians on the Dieppe raid. The Ranger force grew to a unit of three battalions during the North Africa and Italian operations. The first battalion formed consisted of 26 officers and 452 men.
To get to the enemy first and leave last is the job of the Army's Rangers, their commander, Colonel William Darby, disclosed today in the first official account of how the little band of night fighters and marauders operates.
Led by Darby, "Darby's Rangers" went into action for the first in North Africa in the pre-dawn darkness of November 8, 1942, before the enemy knew the Rangers were there. When the Germans pushed the Allies back at Kasserine Pass, the Rangers' held off the enemy until the main body of Allied troops could take up defensible positions.
At Anzio Italy, they went ashore to move into the seacoast towns and then advance as the beachhead moved inland. Orders came to infiltrate German lines in a night operation.
"We accomplished the mission; the initial part was successful; the Germans had more stuff than we did, so we sort of got sawed off and lost quite a few Rangers," Darby said of that operation. The Rangers' specialty is this type of night fighting.
To date, the Ranger force is a volunteer group drawn from infantry regiments and armed with the easily handled light weapons of the infantry. In night operations, Darby contends, "the advantage is with the attacker; he knows what he is going to do." (The Daily Oklahoman, 1944)
Lt Col Darby was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during the first raid in the North African Theater of Operations. His DSC Citation reads as follows:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Lieutenant Colonel (Field Artillery) William Orlando Darby (ASN: 0-19133), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while Commanding the 1st Ranger Infantry Battalion, in action against enemy forces for the five days from 21 to 25 March 1943. Leading his command, the 1st Ranger Battalion, over ten miles, almost all on mountain ranges during the night 20 - 21 March 1943, Lieutenant Colonel Darby took with his force with complete surprise at dawn, a strongly fortified enemy position. Always conspicuously at the head of his troops, Lieutenant Colonel Darby personally led the assaults against the enemy in the face of machine gun and artillery fire, establishing the front by his skillful employment of hand grenades and close quarter fire. The success of this attack was largely due to the outstanding heroism of Lieutenant Colonel Darby, who, with complete disregard to his own safety, led the assault. On 22 March, again leading his Ranger Battalion in the face of enemy artillery fire, Lieutenant Colonel Darby bravely directed his battalion in an advance on the Bou Hamra, capturing prisoners and destroying a battery of self-propelled artillery. During the two succeeding days, while the Ranger Battalion was in a defensive position, Darby again initiated the dogged resistance of his troops by circulating freely among his men in the face of the enemy artillery, mortar and machine gun fire, to establish positions and to encourage his troops and direct their fire. On the night of 25 March after five days of uninterrupted fighting, while employing his Rangers in a successful full rear guard activity, Darby again displayed extraordinary heroism by remaining at the head of his covering force and directing the movement of his Rangers in the face of machine gun and artillery fire. The selfless courage displayed by Lieutenant Colonel Darby inspired his command to exceedingly greater efforts and proved an immeasurable important factor in the ultimate successes in the sector.
"Darby took part in the Allied invasion of Italy in September 1943 and was promoted to full Colonel on December 11. He commanded the 179th Infantry Regiment, part of the 45th "Thunderbirds" Infantry Division during the Rome-Arno and Anzio campaigns in the Italian Campaign from February 18 to April 2, 1944.'
'On 23 April 1945, Brigadier General Robinson E. Duff, Assistant Division Commander of the 10th Mountain Division, was wounded; Darby took over for Duff. "Task Force Darby" spearheaded the breakout of the Fifth United States Army from the Po River valley bridgehead during the Spring 1945 offensive in Italy and reached Torbole at the head of Lake Garda.'
'On 30 April 1945, while Darby was issuing orders for the attack on Trento to cut off a German retreat, an artillery shell burst in the middle of the assembled officers and NCOs, killing Darby and a Sgt Major, John "Tim" Evans, and wounding several others. "Task Force Darby" continued with their mission. Two days later, on 2 May 1945, all German forces in Italy surrendered." (army.mil)
William Darby was posthumously promoted to Brigadier General on May 15th, 1945. In addition to being inducted in the Rangers Hall of Fame, Camp Darby, near Fort Benning, which is home to the first phase of Ranger School, was named in his honor. The movie "Darby's Rangers" chronicalizes his World War II career.
William Darby was 34 years old at the time of his death. Lest We Forget.
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“Your heart was warm and happy
With the lilt of Irish laughter
Every day and in every way
Now forever and ever after."