Did you know about the catastrophic mission for the U.S. Rangers?

U.S. Army Rangers running through fire during training (Photo: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis)

U.S. Army Rangers served with distinction in North Africa, Europe and Italy during World War II, but suffered a catastrophic defeat at the Italian town of Cisterna, where two entire battalions were destroyed. Of the 767 Rangers who went on the mission, 761 were killed or captured.
So what went wrong? One cause of the debacle was that mission planners were mistaken about the disposition of German forces. Another, deeper and more systemic problem was that American commanders just didn't know how to use the Rangers. The Rangers were deliberately modeled on British Commandos, and were supposed to carry out similar missions: raids and amphibious landings. However, that's not how Major General John Lucas of the U.S. VI Corps used them. Instead of giving them the sort of missions they were trained for, he placed them in the frontlines as regular infantry (only better), which wasted their special training. To make things worse, a Ranger company usually had around 63 to 67 men, while a regular infantry company had 193, forcing each Ranger to do the job of three regular infantrymen on the front.
Additionally, Ranger casualties were replaced by men who had neither the experience nor the extremely thorough and time-consuming training of the original Ranger units, further weakening the Rangers before their sudden defeat at Cisterna.
If you want to learn more about Allied operations in Italy during WWII, join us on our Italian Campaign Tour starting in 2023.

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