William Orlando Darby

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William Orlando Darby
William Darby.jpg
BornFebruary 8, 1911
Fort Smith, Arkansas, United States
DiedApril 30, 1945 (aged 34)
Torbole, Italy  
Fort Smith National Cemetery, Arkansas, United States
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service1933–1945
RankUS-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier General
UnitUSA - Army Field Artillery Insignia.png Field Artillery Branch
Commands held1st Ranger Battalion
6615th Ranger Force
179th Infantry Regiment
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsDistinguished Service Cross (2)
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star
Legion of Merit
Bronze Star
Purple Heart (3)
French Croix de Guerre with Silver Star
Russian Order of Kutuzov (3rd degree)
British Distinguished Service Order

William O. Darby (8 February 1911 – 30 April 1945) was a career United States Army officer who fought in World War II, where he was killed in action in Italy. He was posthumously promoted to brigadier general. Darby led the famous Darby's Rangers, which evolved into the U.S. Army Rangers.

Army career[edit]

Darby's first assignment was as assistant executive and supply officer with the 82nd Field Artillery at Fort Bliss, Texas. In July 1934, he transferred to Cloudcroft, New Mexico, where he commanded the 1st Cavalry Division detachment. He received intensive artillery training from September 1937 to June 1938 while attending Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

On 9 September 1940, he was promoted to captain and subsequently served with the 80th Division at Camp Jackson, South Carolina; Fort Benning, Georgia; Camp Beauregard, Louisiana and Fort Des Moines, Iowa.

Army Rangers[edit]

As World War II progressed, Darby saw rapid promotion to the grade of lieutenant colonel. He was with the first U.S. troops sent to Northern Ireland after US entry into WWII, and during his stay there, he became interested in the British Commandos. On June 19, 1942 the 1st Ranger Battalion was sanctioned, recruited, and began training in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. When the U.S. Army decided to establish its Ranger units, Darby gained a desired assignment to direct their organization and training. Many of the original Rangers were volunteers from the Red Bull, the 34th Infantry Division, a National Guard division and the first ground combat troops to arrive in Europe.

"Darby's Rangers" trained with their British counterparts in Scotland. In 1943, the 1st Ranger Battalion made its first assault at Arzew. Darby was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for his actions on March 21–25 during that operation. The citation stated:

Lt. Col. Darby struck with his force with complete surprise at dawn in the rear of a strongly fortified enemy position. Always conspicuously at the head of his troops, he personally led assaults against the enemy line in the face of heavy machine gun and artillery fire, establishing the fury of the Ranger attack by his skillful employment of hand grenades in close quarter fighting. On March 22, Lt. Col. Darby directed his battalion in advance on Bon Hamean, capturing prisoners and destroying a battery of self propelled artillery.

The 1st Ranger Battalion saw further action in the Italian Campaign. Darby received a second award (oak leaf cluster) of the DSC for extraordinary heroism in July 1943, in Sicily:

Lt. Col. Darby, with the use of one 37mm gun, which he personally manned, managed not only to repulse an enemy attack, but succeeded with this weapon in destroying one tank, while two others were accounted for by well directed hand grenade fire.

Darby was also awarded the Silver Star for his actions in North Africa on February 12, 1943:

Without regard for his personal safety, the day previous to a raid, he reconnoitered enemy positions and planned the attack which he led the following morning. The thorough organization and successful attack led by Lt. Col. Darby revealed his initiative, courage, and devotion to duty which is a credit to the Armed Forces of the United States.

Promotions and death[edit]

Darby, pictured here in 1944 as a full colonel.

Darby took part in the Allied invasion of Italy in September 1943 and was promoted to full colonel on December 11, 1943. He commanded the 179th Infantry Regiment, part of the 45th "Thunderbirds" Infantry Division during the Rome-Arno and Anzio campaigns in the Italian Campaign from February 18 to April 2, 1944.

He was ordered to Washington, D.C. for duty with the Army Ground Forces and later with the War Department General Staff at The Pentagon. In March 1945, he returned to Italy for an observation tour with General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold.

On 23 April 1945, Brigadier General Robinson E. Duff, Assistant Division Commander (ADC) of the U.S. 10th Mountain Division, was wounded; Darby took over for Duff. "Task Force Darby" spearheaded the breakout of the American Fifth Army from the Po River valley bridgehead during the Spring 1945 offensive in Italy and reached Torbole at the head of Lake Garda.

On 30 April 1945, while Darby was issuing orders for the attack on Trento to cut off a German retreat, an artillery shell burst in the middle of the assembled officers and NCOs, killing Darby and a sergeant and wounding several others. "Task Force Darby" continued with their mission. Two days later, on 2 May 1945, all German forces in Italy surrendered.

Darby, aged 34 at the time of his death, was posthumously promoted to brigadier general on May 15, 1945. He was buried in Cisterna, Italy. He was reinterred at Fort Smith National Cemetery in Fort Smith, Arkansas on March 11, 1949.[1][2]


  • Darby's medals, military records, and uniforms are on display at the Fort Smith Museum of History in Fort Smith, and his boyhood home is open for tours.
  • Camp Darby, near Fort Benning, which home to the first phase of Ranger School, is named after him.
  • Two U.S. Army installations in Europe were named after Darby; W.O. Darby Kaserne, Fürth, Germany (closed in 1995); and the operational Camp Darby, near Livorno, Italy.
  • The town of Cisterna, Italy, dedicated its high school to Darby.
  • A book entitled Onward We Charge: The Heroic Story of Darby's Rangers in World War II by H. Paul Jeffers was published in 2007.
  • An Admiral Benson Class transport ship, the USS Admiral W. S. Sims (AP-127), was renamed USAT General William O. Darby in the 1940s.[3]
  • In 1955, the name of Fort Smith Junior High School was changed to William O. Darby Junior School. In 1958, the name of the school's athletic teams was changed from Cubs to Rangers after the famous Darby's Rangers.
  • In 1958, the motion picture Darby's Rangers,[4] starring James Garner dramatized Darby's military exploits. Wayde Preston also played a character role based on Darby in the 1968 film Anzio.
  • In 1992, Darby was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame.[5]

Awards and decorations[edit]

Darby's military awards include:[6]

Bronze oak leaf cluster
Distinguished Service Cross with one bronze oak leaf cluster
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star
Legion of Merit
Bronze Star
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
Silver star
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with five campaign stars
World War II Victory Medal
Silver star
Croix de Guerre with Silver Star (France)
Order of Kutuzov, 3rd degree (Soviet Union)
Distinguished Service Order (United Kingdom)

Dates of rank[edit]

  • Cadet, USMA - 1 July 1929
  • 2nd lieutenant - 13 June 1933
  • 1st lieutenant - 13 June 1936
  • Captain - 9 September 1940
  • Major - 1 June 1942
  • Lieutenant colonel - 6 August 1942
  • Colonel - 11 December 1943
  • Brigadier general (posthumous) - 15 May 1945

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "William O. Darby". www.arkansasties.co. Retrieved August 3, 2014.
  2. ^ Gen William Orlando Darby at Find a Grave
  3. ^ "Transport (AP) Photo Index". www.navsource.org.
  4. ^ Darby's Rangers (1958) on IMDb
  5. ^ "Ranger Hall of Fame". U.S. Army Ranger Association. Retrieved August 3, 2014.
  6. ^ "Military Times Hall of Valor, William Orlando Darby". www.projects.militarytimes.com. Retrieved August 3, 2014.