William Orlando Darby

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 United States Army Rangers.

William Orlando Darby
William Darby.jpg
Born(1911-02-08)February 8, 1911
Fort Smith, Arkansas, United States
DiedApril 30, 1945(1945-04-30) (aged 34)
Torbole, Italy
Fort Smith National Cemetery, Arkansas, United States
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1933–1945
RankBrigadier General
Commands held179th Infantry Regiment
6615th Ranger Force
1st Ranger Battalion
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsDistinguished Service Cross (2)
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star
Legion of Merit
Bronze Star Medal
Purple Heart (3)
Croix de Guerre (France)
Order of Kutuzov, Third Class (USSR)
Distinguished Service Order (United Kingdom)

Early military careerEdit

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, Darby 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.

World War IIEdit

Army RangersEdit

As World War II progressed, Darby saw rapid promotion to the grade of lieutenant colonel. He was with the first United States troops sent to Northern Ireland after the United States entry into World War II, 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 United States 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 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 skilful 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 an oak leaf cluster to his Distinguished Service Cross 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 reconnoitred 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 deathEdit

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. 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.

Darby 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. Arnold.

On 23 April 1945, Brigadier General Robinson E. Duff, Assistant Division Commander of the 10th Mountain Division, was wounded; Darby took over for Duff. "Task Force Darby" spearheaded the breakout of the Fifth United States 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 regimental Sergeant Major, John "Tim" Evans, and wounding several others. "Task Force Darby" continued with their mission. Two days later, on 2 May 1945, all German forces in Italy surrendered.[1][2]

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.[3][4]

Plaque to Col.Darby and SMG Evans, Torbole, Italy.


  • 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 is 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.[5]
  • 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,[6] 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.[7]
  • Every year in Italy on the 30th April, there is the Col. Darby 40 Mile March from Peschiera del Garda to the Darby monument in Torbole sul Garda.[8][9][10][11][12][13][14]
Monument to the memory of General W.O. Darby in Torbole sul Garda, Italy

Awards and decorationsEdit

Darby's military awards include:[15]

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

Dates of rankEdit

Insignia Rank Component Date
No insignia Cadet United States Military Academy 1 July 1929[16]
  Second lieutenant Regular Army 13 June 1933[16]
  First lieutenant Regular Army 13 June 1936[16]
  Captain Army of the United States 9 September (accepted 2 October) 1940[16]
  Major Army of the United States 1 June 1942[16]
  Lieutenant colonel Army of the United States 6 August 1942[16]
  Captain Regular Army 13 June 1943[16]
  Colonel Army of the United States 11 December 1943[16]
  Brigadier general Army of the United States 15 May 1945 (posthumous)



  1. ^ Talley, Aaron. "Remembering Brave Soldiers From WWII". U.S. Army.
  2. ^ Froelicher, Sangree M. "Profile of a Trooper - Sangree M. Froelicher". 10th Mountain Division Hut Association Hut.
  3. ^ "William O. Darby". www.arkansasties.co. Retrieved August 3, 2014.
  4. ^ Gen William Orlando Darby at Find a Grave
  5. ^ "Transport (AP) Photo Index". www.navsource.org.
  6. ^ Darby's Rangers (1958) at IMDb
  7. ^ "Ranger Hall of Fame". U.S. Army Ranger Association. Retrieved August 3, 2014.
  8. ^ Appleby, Ben. "One thousand US military to appear at Col. Darby March". Italian Insider. Retrieved 8 February 2021.
  9. ^ Appleby, Ben. "Col. Darby honoured in Ranger Challenge". Italian Insider. Retrieved 8 February 2021.
  10. ^ "Ex-Ranger's long march to honor WWII hero Col. William O. Darby". Associated Press. Retrieved 8 February 2021.
  11. ^ "col darby 40 mile 12 hour ranger road march challenge". Alamy. U.S. Army photo courtesy 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.
  12. ^ Brooks, James. "40 Miles in 12 Hours: Walking to Honor World War II Valor of Col. William Darby and 10th Mountain D". U.S. Army. Retrieved 8 February 2021.
  13. ^ Ron, Hudnell. "COL William O. Darby '40-Mile Ranger Challenge Hike". West Point Association of Graduates.
  14. ^ Aaron, Talley. "Remembering Brave Soldiers From WWII". U.S. Army. Retrieved 8 February 2021.
  15. ^ "Military Times Hall of Valor, William Orlando Darby". www.projects.militarytimes.com. Retrieved August 3, 2014.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i Official Army and Air Force Register. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1945. p. 226.