American Commandos, who first saw action with the Canadians at Dieppe, run a show of their own and score a clean knockout blow.

By Sgt. Ralph G. Martin

YANK Field Correspondent

SOMEWHERE ON THE TUNISIAN FRONT [By Radio]—The moon went down at 3:15am. A half hour later a well-fortified Axis outpost was a shambles, thick with the dead bodies of some newly imported crack Italian troops. The night-raiding Rangers had completed their mission on the Tunisian front.

They had piled into fast-moving trucks the previous evening, rode for several hours not knowing where, then double-timed with full equipment over eight miles of rugged country. They bivouacked several miles from their objective with nothing but thin shelter halves for cover.

1st ranger battalion

American Rangers on the march in Africa. They move along in a single file against the background of a French billboard.

The next day was devoted to careful reconnaissance and observation of the enemy, and some final detailed planning. During the waiting period the edge was taken off the mass tension when three Arabs came up to the front lines and tried to sell some oranges and eggs. Nobody was taking any chances. After the boys finished laughing they put the Arabs under guard until the attack was over.

The raid was a complete surprise to the enemy. There was no rattling of helmets or creaking of shoes) The Rangers wear shoes with special treads). The Italians were literally caught with their pants down. Most of them were in bed or on the way to bed.

At the first sign of action, Axis officers in the rear hopped on their motorcycles and scrammed, leaving the men to figure out their own angles.

william darby 1st ranger battalion

William O. Darby. Commander of the 1st Ranger Battalion in North Africa

Most of the enemy’s fireworks came from 37-mm cannon which were dropping shells all around Lt. Col. William O. Darby’s CP. The cannon were near the main objective of Capt. Murray’s company. Col. Darby  got Murray on the field radio and said, “Captain, when are you going to reach your objective?”

“The objective’s been reached, sir,” the captain replied.

“Well, when are you going to knock out those blasted 37-mms?” the lieutenant colonel asked.

Just then two of Murray’s boys parked a few grenades on the cannon.

“The 37-mms have been reached and destroyed, sir,” the captain said.

That’s the way the show worked-like clockwork.

The concussion of grenades that landed about a foot from Pfc. Imbre Biro picked him up and threw him down three feet away. It made the former New York City dead-end kid so mad he got up, shook the shock off, grabbed a tommy gun, and waded in after the guy who threw it.

An embarrassing moment almost proved fatal to Capt. Murray when he jumped into a foxhole and reached for his Comanche knife and found it wasn’t there. It was lucky for him that the Italian didn’t want to fight, anyway.

As soon as they had rounded up a dozen prisoners, the order came out: “No more prisoners.” And there weren’t any.

One Italian, who had been shooting up a lot of Rangers from a good vantage point, decided to take the easy way out and yelled, “Kamerad!”

“Kamerad, hell!” one of the Rangers said, and kept on shooting.

Lt. Col. Darby called Capt. Max Schneider, another of his COs. “Captain, have you got any prisoners?”

“I think I have two, sir,” replied the captain.

The field connection was bad and the colonel asked him to repeat what he had said. Meanwhile the two Italians tried to pull a fast sneak, and Capt. Schneider, a sharpshooter from Shenandoah, Iowa, fired two shots. He said to the colonel, “Sir, I had two prisoners.”

The rangers really messed up that outpost when six mortar crews went into action. Cpl. Richard Bevin of Estherville, Iowa, went up ahead to determine the positions. He radioed back the information and added, “And throw in the kitchen sink”—which they did.

Most of the Rangers were having fun but nobody enjoyed it more than T/5 Stanley Bush. Bush got the Purple Heart for action in the Dieppe raid. Cpl. Franklin Koons, the Dieppe hero who was the first Yank to get the British Military Medal in this war, also came along on this Tunisia raid.

This was one show where the big boys didn’t sweat it out at headquarters in the rear echelon. Not only was Lt. Col. William O. Darby up there in the thick of it, but with him were his executive officers, Maj. Herman Dammer of New York, and his chief medical officer, Capt. William Jarrett of New York. All of them are as tough and hard as their men.

Capt. Jarrett and his crew of Ranger medics use a pistol or an M1, when they’re not tying bandages. They don’t wear Red Cross arm bands. They don’t want special consideration from the enemy. And they don’t give any.

Four medics on the raid treated two officers and 18 wounded enlisted men—guys partially shell-shocked, temporarily blinded from grenade concussion, or with gaping shrapnel wounds in their bodies. All of them insisted on walking back to the rear, nine miles away.

It was the first all-Ranger raid. At Dieppe, a small selected group worked together with the British Commandos. When they wiped out four German coastal guns at Arzew, they served as the spearhead of the Nov. 8 landing attack on North Africa. Now for the first time they were putting on their own show. They don’t chew nails or spit rust but the day after the raid one Ranger said, “Now we know we are tough.”

1st ranger battalion North africa operation torch

Men of the 1st Ranger Battalion capture a French coastal gun during the Invasion of North Africa.

Since their arrival in North Africa, their force has been supplemented by 100 enlisted men and six officers who came directly from the States. This unit represents the sum total of all Rangers anywhere.

The youngest is Pfc. Lemuel Harris of Pocohontas, Va., who has just turned 18. The oldest is 25-year old J.B. Coomer of Amarillo, Tex. J.B. says he averages $1,000 a month with his card winnings and sends it all home to his wife. For a two-month stretch he didn’t gamble. But the next month he sent home $3,000 dollars.

“My wife appreciates a little extra money,” he explains.

They’ve even got a full-blooded Sioux Indian, T/5 Samuel P. Oneskunk of Cherry Creek, S. Dak. Cpl. James Haines of Lexington, Ky., used to be a lion tamer for Frank Buck and two brothers in the outfit, Pvt. Othel Greene and Sgt. Dick Greene of Des Moines, Iowa, are former Golden Glove boxing champs.

They’ve also got their own photographers—soldiers assigned to them who shoot only with cameras. Sgt. Phil Stern is a former magazine and newspaper photographer, and T/5 Henry Paluch shoots movies.

There are wrestlers, bull-fighters, clerks, poets. Any one of them can break you quietly in two.

The Rangers don’t like to be left behind when something exciting is in the air. The night before this latest raid, a broad-shouldered guy, Cpl. Bob Halliday, a former radio crooner from Syracuse, N.Y., had just come off guard duty. He was all pooped out, having slept only two hours out of the past 24. But as soon as he heard of the impending raid, he went up to the CO, grabbed him by the arm and pleaded, “Let me go along, sir; please let me go along.”

Everybody got quiet and looked along at the lieutenant and the lieutenant looked at Halliday for a moment and frowned. Then said, “OK. You can come.”

That’s the kind of guy a Ranger is.

For More on the North African Campaign Check out:

An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, Volume One of the Liberation Trilogy

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