US Army Rangers draw strongly on the heritage, traditions and ethos of Rogers' Rangers, but have no lineage back to that unit. The current US Army Rangers, the 75th Ranger Regiment, were originally raised for the Korean War. The modern rangers can only trace their lineage directly back to the Korean War and to the ranger training course which has existed continuously since World War II.
American light infantry units called rangers were raised for, and disbanded after, the French and Indian Wars, the American Revolution (for both sides), the American Civil War (for both sides) and World War II.
In North America rangers served in the 17th-century wars between colonists and Native American Indian tribes. Rangers were full-time soldiers employed by colonial governments to patrol between fixed frontier fortifications in reconnaissance providing early warning of raids. In offensive operations, they were scouts and guides, locating villages and other targets for task forces drawn from the militia or other colonial troops.
The traditional usage of ranger units peaked during the French and Indian Wars. In 1756, Robert Rogers of New Hampshire organized a corps of New England woodsmen as full-time Provincials directly under British military auspices, and paid with British funds. The Ranger companies, known as Rogers' Rangers, supported British operations against French Canada on the New York and St. Lawrence River fronts. They occasionally operated with friendly Indians, but, more commonly, served with the British as traditional allies. Astute British commanders assigned regular British officers to Rogers' Rangers for training and experience in wilderness warfare, which they could then teach to their regular army regiments. The 1st Battalion 119th Field Artillery of Michigan and the Queen's York Rangers of Ontario, Canada both claim descent from Rogers' Rangers.
Other than the regiments and separate rifle companies from Pennsylvania and the states to the south, who fought more as light infantry rather than as ranger infantry, the Continental Army only formed two functional ranger units: Knowlton's Rangers and Whitcomb's Rangers.
Contrary to myth, the light troops in the Continental Army overwhelmingly followed European doctrinal concepts. The four regiments of light dragoons raised in 1777 as a reconnaissance force derived from European developments in light cavalry during the eighteenth century. Only briefly, during the 1777-1778 winter did the Continental Army experiment with using them as a shock troop.
Light infantry companies, which were added to each Continental Army infantry regiment in 1778, also had European roots. The American leaders stressed the ideas of Maurice, comte de Saxe and the comte de Guibert, two leading French military theorists, which advocated cross-training every soldier to perform both line infantry and light infantry roles to allow for greater mission flexibility. Light companies normally assembled into provisional battalions at the start of each year's campaign, and acted as a special strike force in traditional battlefields, and not as a reconnaissance unit.
The Continental Army's other light troops sprang from a relatively new European concept, not the native American ranger tradition. During the Seven Years' War, most European armies developed partisan corps (a.k.a. frei korps). Originally fielded by the French to counter Austrian irregular fighters recruited in the Balkans, they filled a unique niche, by providing deep field security around an army in campaign or executed raids behind enemy lines. The Continental Army authorized several of these formations in 1777 and 1778, primarily employing European volunteers who could not be integrated to existing regiments without provoking arguments over rank or because of language barriers. "Light Horse Harry" Lee of Virginia (the father of Confederate rebel general Robert E. Lee) raised the only American-born partisan unit. Each partisan unit in the Continental Army, however, had a unique organisation.
The 1781 re-organization of the Continental Army resolved the issue of light troops with greater centralised control. The light infantry companies continued forming provisional battalions for each campaign season. The four regiments of light dragoons transformed into combined arms Legionary Corps comprisng four mounted and two dismounted troops; the partisan elements consolidated into two Partisan Corps, each with three mounted and three dismounted troops. The structure of the legionary corps focused on providing close reconnaissance and security patrols for a field army, although operational and manpower problems hampered most of the regiments complete success.
Of all these units, only Elisha Sheldon's 2nd Legionary Corps (a Connecticut unit serving in 1781 in the West Point-Westchester County zone) fully exploited the possibilities of the combined arms structure. The two dismounted troops, armed and equipped as light infantry, provided camp defence from enemy surprise attack, and also provided a base of fire around which the mounted elements could maneuver. They also became adept at employing mounted troops in a raids meant to provoke British pursuit, which they would end with a classic, "L-shaped" ambush.
1st Partisan Corps, better known as Armand's Legion, under the Frenchman "Colonel Armand" (Charles Armand Tuffin, marquis de la Rouerie), and the 2nd under Lee both were assigned to Major General Nathanael Greene's Southern Department. Armand's remained a shell-unit during 1781, but Lee had great success in the Carolinas, executing specific missions for which the 3-3 mix of mounted and dismounted troops had been designed. In formal battles, they provided unblemished flank security, but were better employed in rear battle, by effecting deep raids against British logistical bases. Lee, in particular, shined when his regulars stiffened the irregular local forces of leaders such as Francis Marion ("The Swamp Fox"). The mix of mounted and dismounted soldiers gave the larger units greater staying power during independent firefights while also allowing rapid forced-marches (each light infantryman grasped a dragoon's stirrups).
None of the light infantry units deployed by the Continental Army executed a trainer role as had Rogers' Rangers during the French and Indian War. In fact, Major General Friedrich von Steuben wrote a separate drill manual for them, in late 1780. He and General Washington intended this to serve as a companion volume to the famous "Blue Book", but operational factors prevented its publication and distribution. During the War of 1812, Congress authorised raising ranger units for fighting Indians in the western territories.
Also a famous Confederate commander, Turner Ashby led a cavalry company known as the Mountain Rangers, who became known for their ability to harass Union soldiers.
Interestingly, the most successful attacks against Mosby's Rangers were carried out by the Union Army's Mean's Rangers. Mean's Rangers became famous when they successfully captured General James Longstreet's ammunition train. They later fought and captured a portion of Mosby's force.
In May 1942, during World War II, the 1st Ranger Battalion was sanctioned, recruited, and began training in Scotland under the British Commandos; 80 percent of the original rangers came from the 34th Infantry Division. Together with the ensuing 3rd, and 4th Ranger Battalions they fought in North Africa and Italy commanded by William O. Darby until the Battle of Cisterna (January 29, 1944) when most of the rangers of the 1st and 3rd battalions were captured.
Before the 5th Ranger Battalion landing on Dog White Sector, Omaha Beach, in World War II, the 2nd Ranger Battalion scaled the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, a few miles to the west, to destroy a five-gun battery of 155 mm artillery guns. Under constant fire during the climb, they encountered only a small company of Germans on the cliffs and the artillery withdrawn some 500 meters. The guns were later found and destroyed, and the Rangers cut and held the main road for two days before being relieved.
After the first Quebec Conference, the 5307th Composite Unit (provisional) was formed with Frank Merrill as the commander, leading them to be nicknamed Merrill's Marauders. They began training in India on October 31, 1943. Composed of the famous six color-coded combat teams that would become part of modern Ranger heraldry, they fought against the Japanese during the Burma Campaign. In February 1944, the Marauders began a march over the Himalayan mountain range and through the Burmese jungle to strike behind the Japanese lines. By March, they had managed to cut off Japanese forces in Maingkwan and cut their supplies lines in the Hukawng Valley. On May 17, the Marauders and Chinese forces captured the Myitkyina airfield, the only all-weather airfield in Burma. The Marauders proved themselves a truly exceptional unit and have the very rare distinction of having every member of the unit receive the Bronze Star.
After World War II, the Rangers were disbanded; however, the ranger training regime was kept in place, though only senior NCOs and officers were allowed the training.
In total, sixteen additional Ranger companies were formed in the next seven months: Eighth Army Raider Company and First through Fifteenth Ranger Companies. The Army Chief of Staff assigned the Ranger training program at Fort Benning to Colonel John Gibson Van Houten. The program would eventually be split to include a training program located in Korea. 3rd and 7th Ranger companies were tasked to train new Rangers.
October 28 1950 would see the next four Ranger companies formed. Soldiers from the 505th Airborne Regiment and the 82nd Airborne's 80th Anti-aircraft Artillery Battalion volunteered and, after initially being designated the 4th Ranger Company, became the 2nd Ranger Company — the only all-black Ranger unit in United States history. After the four companies had begun their training, they were joined by the 5th-8th Ranger companies on 20 November 1950.
During the course of the war, the Rangers patrolled and probed, scouted and destroyed, attacked and ambushed the Communist Chinese and Korean enemy. The 1st Rangers destroyed the 12th North Korean Division headquarters in a daring night raid. The 2nd and 4th Rangers made a combat airborne assault near Munsan where Life Magazine reported that Allied troops were now patrolling north of the 38th Parallel. Crucially, the 2nd Rangers plugged the gap made by the retreating Allied forces, the 5th Rangers helped stop the Chinese 5th Phase Offensive. As in World War II, after the Korean War, the Rangers were disbanded.
In Vietnam, the Rangers were organized as independent companies: C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, N, O and P (US Army regiments traditionally do not include a company lettered "J"). Each company was attached to a major American army combat unit. Rangers in Vietnam conducted long range, reconnaissance into denied areas. They collected intelligence, planned and directed air strikes, acted as force-multipliers in conventional operations, assessed bombing damage in enemy-controlled areas, executed hunter-killer missions at night and in daylight, set ambushes, and specially-trained and specially-equipped Ranger snipers killed individual enemy soldiers and officers.
Additionally, Rangers attempted recovering friendly prisoners of war, captured enemy soldiers for interrogation, tapped North Vietnam Army and Viet Cong wire communications lines in their established base areas along the Ho Chi Minh trail, and mined enemy trails and motor vehicle transport routes.
After the Vietnam War, division and brigade commanders determined that the U.S. Army needed an elite, light infantry rapidly deployable, so, in 1974, General Creighton Abrams constituted the 1st Ranger Battalion; eight months later, the 2nd Ranger Battalion was constituted; and, in 1984, the 3rd Ranger Battalion and their regimental headquarters were created. In 1986, the 75th Ranger Regiment was formed and their military lineage formally authorized. The 75th Ranger Regiment, comprising three battalions, is the premier light-infantry of the U.S. Army. It is a flexible, highly trained and rapid light infantry specialized to be employed against many conventional and special operations targets.
The 4th, 5th, and 6th Ranger Battalions were re-activated as the Ranger Training Brigade, the cadre of instructors of the contemporary Ranger School; moreover, because they are parts of a TRADOC school, the 4th, 5th, and 6th battalions are not formally included to the active strength of the 75th Ranger Regiment.
The Rangers have participated in these operations: the 1980 rescue attempt of American hostages, Tehran, Iran in (Operation Eagle Claw); the 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions in Operation Urgent Fury on Grenada in 1983; all three Ranger battalions, plus HQ elements, for the U.S. invasion of Panama (Operation Just Cause) in 1989; a company from 1st Battalion was deployed in the First Persian Gulf War (Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield) in 1991; Bravo Company, 3rd Ranger Battalion was the base unit of "Task Force Ranger" in Operation Gothic Serpent, in Somalia, concurrent with Operation Restore Hope; soldiers from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Ranger Battalions deployed to Haiti in 1994 (before operation's cancellation; recalled from the Haitian coast); and the 3rd Ranger Battalion led the attack in Afghanistan, in 2001; the entire Ranger Regiment is on deployment since the start of the current Iraq War, in 2003.
The 2001 film Black Hawk Down details the account of the US forces, including a company of the 75th Ranger Regiment, in the Battle of Mogadishu, in which two US MH-60 Black hawk helicopters were shot down.
The 1998 film Saving Private Ryan is centered around a squad of Rangers from 2nd Ranger Battalion showing their journey from D-day to a fictional battle twenty miles south of Cherbourg. Their objective is to rescue a private in the 101st Airborne whose brothers have been killed.
Darby's Rangers, a 1958 film, shows the training and deployment of the Rangers during the Second World War.
Stop Loss also represents a band of Rangers
The 2003 film Basic revolves around a murder conspiracy involving a squad of Rangers accusing one another of their Sergeant's death.