William Orlando Darby
|Born||February 8, 1911|
Fort Smith, Arkansas, United States
|Died||April 30, 1945 (aged 34)|
Torbole, Italy †
Fort Smith National Cemetery, Arkansas, United States
|Service/||United States Army|
|Years of service||1933-1945|
|Unit||Field Artillery Branch|
|Commands held||1st Ranger Battalion|
6615th Ranger Force
179th Infantry Regiment
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Distinguished Service Cross (2)|
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Darby's military awards include:
|Distinguished Service Cross with one bronze oak leaf cluster|
|Army Distinguished Service Medal|
|Legion of Merit|
|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, 3rd degree (Soviet Union)|
|Distinguished Service Order (United Kingdom)|