In a 1942 training film, an instructor shoots a flamethrower over prospective Army Rangers. Screenshot via YouTube.
In 1942, a group of about 100 soldiers were filmed attending the US Army Ranger Combat Training School at Fort Shafter, a training base in Hawaii. You can watch the rare clips two different ways, either as one long silent movie from the National Archives, or split into nine parts with music. Be warned: the out-of-place soundtrack has the feel of a meditation spa rather than hardcore combat training.
Still, the films cover topics and drills that modern Rangers will relate to (and some out-of-practice techniques that probably will draw big laughs). There’s physical conditioning, hand-to-hand combat, medical training, booby traps, weapons handling, bayonet exercises, and jungle-warfare training.
The Army didn’t have a Ranger force in 1941, but there was a history of Ranger units. In the 1700s, Capt. Benjamin Church and Maj. Robert Rogers led the first Ranger elements during King Philip’s War. Rogers, who wrote the 19 standing orders still in use today by the 75th Ranger Regiment, led “Robert’s Rangers” in the French and Indian War. Francis Marion, also known as “The Swamp Fox,” gained infamy during the American Revolution for guerrilla warfare. “The Gray Ghost,” otherwise known as John Singleton Mosby, assaulted, demoralized, and intimidated Union troops with his Rangers during the Civil War. Capt. William Orlando Darby commanded the 1st Ranger Battalion during World War II.
The best training simulates what is expected in combat. In Part 1, “wall scaling” and developing a technique to climb cargo nets was deemed “essential training for raiding and sabotage.” Fast-forward two years and a 225-man force of 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions was scaling the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, eliminating German artillery pieces during the D-Day invasion.
Part 2 is equally mesmerizing, with a block of training that focused on hand-to-hand combat (depicting techniques of grabs, throws, and headlocks), jungle crawling (which had a flamethrower spit liquid fire over trainees’ heads), and drills on how to scatter in the event a unit is targeted by enemy aircraft. The final exercise for this part is called “rough and tumble with 100 lb. sacks of sand,” kind of a tackle drill with few obvious rules other than violence.
Part 3 is all about training the Ranger students how to traverse uneven surfaces while in the field. Not the sexy parts of training like shooting or fighting, but essential for Rangers who find themselves patrolling across muddy landscapes, barbed wire, minefields, rivers, and hills.
The Rangers added gas masks for the obstacle course in Part 4 and participated in drills where they had to carry logs up and down a large hill to simulate carrying heavy weapons and equipment. Part 5 featured a seated tug of war between two partners.
Perhaps the most interesting video is one in which students learn how to identify booby traps, use Molotov cocktails for sabotage, throw hand grenades, and camouflage with mud (Part 6).
Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.
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