An enthusiastic, only mildly critical account of America's original elite fighting unit.
Special forces like the Green Berets and SEALs didn’t exist when the U.S. entered World War II. Admiring the spectacular hit-and-run tactics of British Commandos, American leaders decided to form a similar unit in 1942. Chosen as its leader was William Darby, an obscure but popular staff officer of the 34th Infantry, the first American division to arrive in the U.K. Within two weeks, Darby had assembled 600 volunteers and led the newly named 1st Ranger Battalion to a Commando camp in Scotland for a brutal summer of training. That autumn, the battalion stormed ashore in North Africa to knock out two batteries just before the main landing. After other successful raids during the North African campaign, the Rangers, now expanded to a regiment, preceded the invasion of Sicily and of the Italian mainland at Salerno to protect one flank of the landing. An avalanche of publicity fostered by Phil Stern, a famous photographer who attached himself to the unit, made Darby’s Rangers as familiar to Americans as Patton’s Third Army or Rommel’s Afrika Korps. Britain’s handful of Commando units remained reserved for special operations, but the Rangers kept growing, and commanders could not resist using them on the front lines, where they suffered far more casualties than in raids. In the bloody January 1944 Anzio campaign, a botched attack decimated the unit. Other Ranger units made history in Normandy and the Pacific, but the remnants of Darby’s group scattered and never again fought together.
The extremely prolific Jeffers (An Honest President, 2000, etc.) does much of his research in other popular histories. Military buffs who have read those same books might give this one a pass, but readers unfamiliar with the Rangers will enjoy this dramatic account of their adventures.