What is in a name, and why does it matter? – Timeless warfare wisdom of the Rangers
Rangers, are not exclusive to the United States Army. Nor, are they exclusive titles bestowed on Texas lawmen, or various Park Police agencies. Many claim the title, for various reasons and very disparate degrees of legitimacy. Words and names mean things. Words as applied to the term “Ranger” conveys an activity. In this case, to some people they convey an identity.
But what is a Ranger? Many “Rangers” have little knowledge of what a Ranger is, or where they came from. So let’s take a look at the history of the first people who called themselves Rangers.
Eighteenth century North America was the center stage for a worldwide renaissance in many areas of human life. A continuously dynamic interplay of diverse cultures and individual creativity changed everything. The Columbian exchange continued to redefine economics worldwide, new ideas and experiments in governance came to the fore, and particular to this post, land warfare was forever changed.
Robert Rogers was born to a typical homesteading family in New Hampshire and was one of 7 children his parents James and Mary Rogers would have. New Hampshire was very different then. Religious and ethnic intolerance was the rule, so much so that on a largely lawless frontier, a farmer could regularly expect raids from local Indian tribes or Catholic French Canadians who often worked in concert with hostile natives. As it was logistically impossible to defend widespread and isolated individual homesteads and villages, groups of men formed who would conduct long range foot patrols into the wilderness in an attempt provide early warning about these raiding parties, and in some cases even intercept them if the odds were right. These skirmishes could be considered dress rehearsals for frontier warfare during the French and Indian War.
It was under these circumstances that Robert Rogers and his four brothers lived and grew. As homesteaders in the rural northeast, they learned to farm and store during the good weather, and to hunt and trap during long winters. Robert was known in particular for having a penchant for being good with people, even as he spent more and more time on his own. He spent long weeks alone in the wilderness, hunting and making relatively close friends with some of the local Penacook Indians. Unusual for most colonists of the time, he spoke highly of these guardians of woodland secrets writing:
“The Indians do not want for natural good sense and ingenuity, most of the Indians are possessed of a surprising patience and equanimity of mind, and a command of every passion, except revenge.”
He said of their leaders, that success was found in those who were “fortunate, brave, and disinterested” and that the tribe would only follow those “in whom they firmly believe that these qualifications are united.” They held of utmost importance “secrecy in all operations; in which art they greatly excel, their designs being seldom known to any but themselves, till they are upon the point of being executed.”
In these few quotes, we can see the young Rogers developing his leadership style from a culture entirely alien to most colonial Europeans and their descendants. He learned a variety of other things from his new friends.
He learned how to read the land and how certain tree species suggested an area had specific soil compositions, climate, and wildlife.
“by my own Slender Judgement and intimate Converse with the Indians I acquired a knowledge of Several Herbs plants and Shrubs that possess uncommon Virtues, and properties for General utility in the medical Physical and Commercial States.”
Being surrounded by talented hunters as a child, he now found himself among new and exciting people who saw hunting skill not only as applicable to procuring food and furs. They demonstrated that the same skills, knowledge, and techniques that make up a successful hunt also made for ruthlessly effective warfare.
In 1740 Hapsburg Emperor Charles VI died and power transferred to his heiress Maria Theresa. The King of Prussia, Frederick II (soon to become known as Frederick the Great) took this opportunity to invade. A series of alliances and counter alliances culminated in France declaring war on Britain in 1744. Of initial concern in colonial America was the fact that small isolated settlements would be in serious danger. Far from the coast, and widely separated from each other made defending each one nearly impossible. Everyone knew that the raids would inevitably fall on the unprotected areas. The Governor of Massachusetts, William Shirley raised ten 50 man companies of “snowshoe men” to counter the expected explosion in raids on the frontier from Canada. They would secure the frontier by going on the offensive, delving deep into hostile territory to gather intelligence and intercept raiding parties as they moved on their targets. Made up largely of hunters, trappers, and veteran Indian fighters, these woods wise men were formed into irregular militia units. They were offered a 100 pound bounty per Indian scalp, and planned an attack on the French fort at Louisburg. This war is known to us as The French and Indian War. The men of the snowshoe companies would write in reports and journals in reference to conduct of long range patrols as “having ranged X miles today”. These men soon became known as Rangers in the long standing tradition of Captain Benjamin Church of Massachusetts who first formed recognized Ranger units in 1675.
Not all were professional trappers or hunters. Some Rangers had other trades such as merchants, shopkeepers, blacksmiths, former sailors, farmers, and even a lawyer. None, were any type of professional soldier, although some were retired veterans. Robert Rogers was a younger son of a farmer and eventually would join the Ranging service. At an early age he realized his love for the wild, the native peoples, and thirsted for personal glory. As he grew physically, mentally, and emotionally he gravitated to the warrior life, constantly attempting to join Ladd’s Militia, which was charged with defending the area around Rumford, New Hampshire. Rogers’s father always refused to let any of his teenage sons embroil themselves in the war. On August 10th, 1749 however, an ambush just a mile outside of Rumford wiped out a mounted 8 man patrol. When the response force arrived, they found the bodies with hearts, limbs, genitals removed, and intestines strewn about. The Rogers family happened to be in town when the bodies were brought back. The horrible reality of war was stark and drastic. James Rogers could no longer deny his stubborn son. Five days later, Robert Rogers at the age of 16 would enlist into Captain Ladd’s Scouting Company.
It was during the French and Indian War that Robert Roger’s distinguished himself as a warrior and a leader, eventually attaining the rank of Major amongst the provincial forces. He would raise volunteer Ranger companies and cross train regular British army light infantry companies in ranging style warfare. More often than not, the war was going badly for Britain in the European theater and Major Roger’s daring victories in North America gave people back in the Isles some positive news of the war.
Despite his meager means and initial socio-economic standing in life, Robert Rogers was a self educated man and a talented writer. He left for us North Americas first “manual” of war which was not only revolutionary for the time, but prophetic for ours. This writing is simple and direct, geared toward the individual opportunistic warrior and his tactical conduct, and elected leaders who were in charge based on skill and merit. This was much more in line with Native martial culture, instead of the rote and tightly controlled discipline and leadership by privilege of the European model. Even with the incredible advancements in technology seen today, Rogers’s Rules for Ranging remains the tactical basis for any light infantry unit or individual Ranging practitioner. Below are his original unabridged orders as he wrote them some 258 years ago.
Standing Orders of Roger’s Rangers – 1756
1) All Rangers are to be subject to the rules and articles of war; to appear at roll-call every evening, on their own parade, equipped, each with a Firelock, sixty rounds of powder and ball, and a hatchet, at which time an officer from each company is to inspect the same, to see they are in order, so as to be ready on any emergency to march at a minute’s warning; and before they are dismissed, the necessary guards are to be draughted, and scouts for the next day appointed.
2) Whenever you are ordered out to the enemies forts or frontiers for discoveries, if your number be small, march in a single file, keeping at such a distance from each other as to prevent one shot from killing two men, sending one man, or more, forward, and the like on each side, at the distance of twenty yards from the main body, if the ground you march over will admit of it, to give the signal to the officer of the approach of an enemy, and of their number, &c.
3) If you march over marshes or soft ground, change your position, and march abreast of each other to prevent the enemy from tracking you (as they would do if you marched in a single file) till you get over such ground, and then resume your former order, and march till it is quite dark before you encamp, which do, if possible, on a piece of ground that may afford your centries the advantage of seeing or hearing the enemy some considerable distance, keeping one half of your whole party awake alternately through the night.
4) Some time before you come to the place you would reconnoitre, make a stand, and send one or two men in whom you can confide, to look out the best ground for making your observations.
5) If you have the good fortune to take any prisoners, keep them separate, till they are examined, and in your return take a different route from that in which you went out, that you may the better discover any party in your rear, and have an opportunity, if their strength be superior to yours, to alter your course, or disperse, as circumstances may require.
6) If you march in a large body of three or four hundred, with a design to attack the enemy, devide your party into three columns, each headed by a proper officer, and let those columns march in single files, the columns to the right and left keeping at twenty yards distance or more from that of the center, if the ground will admit, and let proper guards be kept in the front and rear, and suitable flanking parties at a due distance as before directed, with orders to halt on all eminences, to take a view of the surrounding ground, to prevent your being ambuscaded, and to notify the approach or retreat of the enemy, that proper dispositions may be made for attacking, defending, &c. And if the enemy approach in your front on level ground, form a front of your three columns or main body with the advanced guard, keeping out your flanking parties as if you were marching under the command of trusty officers, to prevent the enemy from pressing hard on either of your wings, or surrounding you, which is the usual method of the savages, if their number will admit of it, and be careful likewise to support and strengthen your rear-guard.
7) If you are obliged to receive the enemy’s fire, fall, or squat down, till it is over; then rise and discharge at them. If their main body is equal to yours, extend yourselves occasionally; but if superior, be careful to support and strengthen your flanking parties, to make them equal to theirs, that if possible you may repulse them to their main body, in which case push upon them with the greatest resolution with equal force in each flank and in the center, observing to keep at a due distance from each other, and advance from tree to tree, with one half of the party before the other ten or twelve yards. If the enemy push upon you, let your front fire and fall down, and then let your rear advance thro’ them and do the like, by which time those who before were in front will be ready to discharge again, and repeat the same alternately, as occasion shall require; by this means you will keep up such a constant fire, that the enemy will not be able easily to break your order, or gain your ground.
8) If you oblige the enemy to retreat, be careful, in your pursuit of them, to keep out your flanking parties, and prevent them from gaining eminences, or rising grounds, in which case they would perhaps be able to rally and repulse you in their turn.
9) If you are obliged to retreat, let the front of your whole party fire and fall back, till the rear hath done the same, making for the best ground you can; by this means you will oblige the enemy to pursue you, if they do it at all, in the face of a constant fire.
10) If the enemy is so superior that you are in danger of being surrounded by them, let the whole body disperse, and every one take a different road to the place of rendezvous appointed for that evening, which must every morning be altered and fixed for the evening ensuing, in order to bring the whole party, or as many of them as possible, together after any separation that may happen in the day; but if you should happen to be actually surrounded, form yourselves into a square, or if in the woods, a circle is best, and, if possible, make a stand till the darkness of the night favours your escape.
11) If your rear is attacked, the main body and flankers must face about to the right or left, as occasion shall require, and form themselves to oppose the enemy, as before directed; and the same method must be observed, if attacked in either of your flanks, by which means you will always make a rear of one of your flank-guards.
12) If you determine to rally after a retreat, in order to make a fresh stand against the enemy, by all means endeavour to do it on the most rising ground you come at, which will give you greatly the advantage in point of situation, and enable you to repulse superior numbers.
13) In general, when pushed upon by the enemy, reserve your fire till they approach very near, which will then put them into the greatest surprise and consternation, and give you an opportunity of rushing upon them with your hatchets and cutlasses to the better advantage.
14) When you encamp at night, fix your centries in such a manner as not to be relieved from the main body till morning, profound secrecy and silence being often of the last importance in these cases. Each centry therefore should consist of six men, two of whom must be constantly alert, and when relieved by their fellows, it should be done without noise; and in case those on duty see or hear any thing, which alarms them, they are not to speak, but one of them is silently to retreat, and acquaint the commanding officer thereof, that proper dispositions may be made; and all occasional centries should be fixed in like manner.
15) At the first dawn of day, awake your whole detachment; that being the time when the savages chuse to fall upon their enemies, you should by all means be in readiness to receive them.
16) If the enemy should be discovered by your detachments in the morning, and their numbers are superior to yours, and a victory doubtful, you should not attack them till the evening, as then they will not know your numbers, and if you are repulsed, your retreat will be favoured by the darkness of the night.
17) Before you leave your encampment, send out small parties to scout round it to see if there be any appearance or track of an enemy that might have been near you during the night.
18) When you stop for refreshment, chuse some spring or rivulet if you can, and dispose your party so as not to be surprised, posting proper guards and centries at a due distance, and let a small party waylay the path you came in, lest the enemy should be pursuing.
19) If, in your return, you have to cross rivers, avoid the usual fords as much as possible, lest the enemy should have discovered, and be there expecting you.
20) If you have to pass by lakes, keep at some distance from the edge of the water, lest, in case of an ambuscade or an attack from the enemy, when in that situation, your retreat should be cut off.
21) If the enemy pursue your rear, take a circle till you come to your own tracks, and there form an ambush to receive them, and give them the first fire.
22) When you return from a scout, and come near our forts, avoid the usual roads, and avenues thereto, lest the enemy should have headed you, and lay in ambush to receive you, when almost exhausted with fatigues.
23) When you pursue any party that has been near our forts or encampments, follow not directly in their tracks, lest they should be discovered by their rear guards, who, at such a time, would be most alert; but endeavour, by a different route, to head and meet them in some narrow pass, or lay in ambush to receive them when and where they least expect it.
24) If you are to embark in canoes, battoes, or otherwise, by water, chuse the evening for the time of your embarkation, as you will then have the whole night before you, to pass undiscovered by any parties of the enemy, on hills, or other places, which command a prospect of the lake or river you are upon.
25) In paddling or rowing, give orders that the boat or canoe next the sternmost, wait for her, and the third for the second, and the fourth for the third, and so on, to prevent separation, and that you may be ready to assist each other on any emergency.
26) Appoint one man in each boat to look out for fires, on the adjacent shores, from the numbers and size of which you may form some judgment of the number that kindled them, and whether you are able to attack them or not.
27) If you find the enemy encamped near the banks of a river or lake, which you imagine they will attempt to cross for their security upon being attacked, leave a detachment of your party on the opposite shore to receive them, while, with the remainder, you surprise them, having them between you and the lake or river.
28) If you cannot satisfy yourself as to the enemy’s number and strength, from their fire, &c. conceal your boats at some distance, and ascertain their number by a reconnoitring party, when they embark, or march, in the morning, marking the course they steer, &c. when you may pursue, ambush, and attack them, or let them pass, as prudence shall direct you. In general, however, that you may not be discovered by the enemy upon the lakes and rivers at a great distance, it is safest to lay by, with your boats and party concealed all day, without noise or shew; and to pursue your intended route by night; and whether you go by land or water, give out parole and countersigns, in order to know one another in the dark, and likewise appoint a station every man to repair to, in case of any accident that may separate you.
Such in general are the rules to be observed in the Ranging service; there are, however, a thousand occurrences and circumstances which may happen, that will make it necessary in some measure, to depart from them, and to put other arts and stratagems in practice; and which cases every man’s reason and judgment must be his guide, according to the particular situation and nature of things; and that he may do this to advantage, he should keep in mind a maxim never to be departed from by a commander, viz. to preserve a firmness and presence of mind on every occasion.
Many versions of these orders can be found in military and scholarly works. Usually they are shortened or modified in some way to seem more applicable to the subject matter being discussed. Much of the validity of Rogers’s work is lost in these changes. As we will see below, when analyzed in it’s entirety, The Standing Order’s of Rogers Ranger’s are still very applicable to modern warfare.
To understand the purposes and goals behind the Orders, we must understand what Rogers was doing at the time. As we alluded to earlier, there was simply not enough manpower on the frontier to establish an effective stationary defense. Most areas had no professional military force available, and those that were had to be restricted to statically defending a fort in a chain of forts meant to keep supply and communication routes open. Towns and farms on the frontier were left to defend themselves by forming local militia units made up of the townsfolk themselves. These people had very limited time to learn or hone warfare skills as their daily jobs (particularly farmers) took up the balance of the day. This was a rather weak method of defense and usually ineffective unless a regional size force was mustered. But anytime a large force of militia gathered, raiding parties would simply hit a farm or village that was left unprotected, often hundreds of miles away.
The most effective method to defend the frontier was with Ranger units. Instead of having men stay in one area waiting to be attacked, they would go on a sort of “offensive” defense. Today we call this “projecting force”. In layman’s terms, the enemy won’t shit in your backyard if you are constantly shitting in his back yard. He will fight you there, and your lawn will stay protected simply by keeping the battle in his territory, or intercepting him before he can get to yours.
To facilitate this strategy, Rangers had to be able to move hundreds of miles by foot, canoe, skis, or skates with great speed and minimal equipment. The vast majority of this area would be considered hostile or denied territory. They would operate with no outside support or hope of relief. They relied entirely on themselves, each other, and what they carried on their backs. Any resupply would have to come from the land itself, or be taken from their enemies.
To accomplish that mission, Rangers needed to be fit, experienced with the woods, and possess knowledge of the lands they would be patrolling and the people who inhabit it. Fur traders, trappers, and hunters all fit this description. Unlike farmers, they made their lively hood by going into the areas they needed to operate in. They knew the locals too. Simply due to their constant excursions into the wilderness, many were already adopted into tribes or had intermarried with native women. Some were half-breeds only really belonging in a cultural world somewhere in between the two. Regardless of their individual origins, these men lived in an odd, unknown world of grey, moving back and forth between two different dimensions that made for a beautifully vibrant and dynamic life of flux waxing and waning between adventure and serenity, terror and compassion, phenomenal success and abject failure.
These men as capable as they were, needed a modus operandi (or standard operating procedure) suitable for war and not just dodging Native war parties on simple hunting expeditions. Rogers’s Orders served to provide what we call today a Standard Operating Procedure that still serves us today. So let’s boil down the objectives of Ranger units in the 1700’s into several basic objectives. This is the basis for Ranging warfare.
• Gather intelligence on enemy movements, locations, and probable courses of action.
• Conduct long range foot mobile patrols without resupply or support in hostile territory. Everything needed was carried, or procured through forage and raiding.
• Attack/harass targets of opportunity with available small arms.
• Conduct raids on enemy weak points.
This is very similar to some of the basic missions of Special Force units and guerrilla units the world over, although Special Force units today rarely if ever operate without support. In fact it is much closer to the mission profile of guerrilla units who simply do not have any combat support available until a friendly Special Force team joins them as advisors. So how does the Standing Orders of Rogers’s Rangers apply to practitioners of Ranging Warfare today?
Rules for Ranging – As it applies today
Rule #1 Garrison Operation – Each night an inspection is to be done. It will ensure the men are properly equipped with well maintained weaponry and a minimum standard of ammunition. This will ensure the men will be ready to react to any contingency properly armed within one minute. During this inspection, guard duty for the night will be appointed, and patrols organized for the next day.
Rule #2 Formations – When conducting small unit reconnaissance in hostile areas, use a file formation with enough dispersion between individuals ensuring multiple casualties are not taken from one round. Send out flanking elements to the front and both flanks to ensure the leader receives early warning of any enemy contact and their size.
Rule #3 Counter Tracking, Camp Operation (RON or rest over-night) – When moving over terrain likely to leave apparent and lasting tracks, get on line and avoid moving single file, as this will make the track more difficult to follow and erode sooner. Keep travelling till well after dark, to slow enemy trackers as night falls and force them to stop, or break light discipline when tracking at night. Camp/RON sites should be placed on easily defensible terrain that the men can sense the approaching enemy at a distance. A 1 to 1 alert/rest ratio should be observed at all times in the RON.
Rule #4 Objective Rally Point (during recon) – When conducting reconnaissance, occupy the objective rally point, then send out a small detachment of experienced Rangers to select the final hide site.
Rule #5 EPW handling (Enemy Prisoner of War), Route Selection – When prisoners are taken, keep them separated until they are fully interrogated. When on the move, never return by the same route you used on approach. This will reduce the chances of being ambushed and increase the chances that you will discover any enemy unit tracking you.
Rule #6 Large Unit Formations, Flanking Party Conduct – In units numbering 3-400, form three columns with adequate dispersion. Flanking parties should be on both flanks, the front, and rear of the entire formation. On contact, form a large front, with a reserve ready to reinforce either flank or the rear. (Considering the advancements in weapons technology, I would not recommend any Ranging practitioner to form such large formations as several hundred. Potentially facing high yield and pinpoint accurate weapons means keep your formations small and widely dispersed from each other. This will also mitigate the impact of advancements in surveillance technology which will easily detect large groups. ) Flanking parties should make listening and observation halts when they come upon terrain that facilitates long observation lanes, stand ready to prevent the main body from being ambushed, and constantly pass information on enemy action while in contact.
Rule #7 Immediate Action, Fire and Movement, Suppressive Fire – When taking fire, immediately seek cover and return fire when possible, and take full advantage of any lull or break in enemy fire. When enemy numbers seem matched to yours, extend your formation. If enemy is numerically superior, strengthen your flanks and attempt to turn their flanks into the main body. If the enemy flank falls on the main body, press the assault by equally distributing firepower on the flanks and center. Keep adequate interval in between Rangers, and move from cover to cover (bounding). When the enemy assaults your position, take cover and counter with heavy suppressive fire and maintain your formation.
Rule #8 Pursuit of the Enemy – If pursuing a retreating enemy force, use caution by sending your flanking forces forward to occupy or otherwise deny advantageous terrain to the enemy, flankers should continuously channel the enemy formation into repeated or constant contact with the main body. (As flanking elements are small, they should avoid decisive engagement with a retreating enemy force that has the numbers or firepower to overrun them. They should instead try to influence enemy action using harassing fire, and withdraw if pressed.)
Rule #9 Breaking Contact – When breaking contact, the entire force should first put out a heavy volume of suppressive fire and then move by bounds to the most advantageous terrain available. If the enemy pursues you, they should do so under a continuous amount of heavy fire.
Rule #10 Dispersing, Rally Point – If severely outnumbered and in danger of being surrounded, disperse in small groups or as individuals and make your way separately to the rally point. If already surrounded, set up a tight perimeter and hold out until nightfall, then attempt to disperse by sending out individuals or small groups at different times through the enemy line under the cover of night. The rally point should be changed every day, and utilized for any separation that may occur to reunite the unit or find lost Rangers.
Rule #11 Attacks on the Rear or Flanks – When attacked from the rear, the entire unit must face about and engage online. When attacked on a flank, the whole unit comes online to engage the threat, and the opposing flank becomes the rearguard. (This is no great revelation, this is as basic as infantry combat can get.)
Rule #12 Rallying – If you decide to rally and make a stand against a pursuing enemy force, do so on the steepest slope available and where it offers good observation and fields of fire. This will allow you to fight off a numerically superior enemy.
Rule #13 Fire Discipline – As the enemy approaches your position and you are concealed, or otherwise have not yet received fire, wait until they are very close then open up with a heavy volume of concentrated grazing fire. Take advantage of the shock and surprise caused by the sudden high level of casualties and assault the enemy position while they are still in confusion.
Rule #14 Listening posts, Noise Discipline – When setting up camp, emplace six man Listening posts with orders to keep 2 alert at all times. Silence is absolute, and members inside the listening post must communicate non-verbally. No travel should occur between the listening post and the camp, except in an emergency by sending one individual back to the camp.
Rule #15 Camp Operation (RON) – The entire unit should be awake at dawn, ready to receive any attack as this is a classic tactic for hitting enemies when they are the least alert.
Rule #16 Harassing a Numerically Superior Force – If scouting parties discover a large enemy unit, wait until just before dark to attack, which will help conceal your actual numbers and the night will cover your retreat if necessary.
Rule #17 Camp Operation (RON) – Before breaking camp, send out scouting parties to look for signs of enemy activity near your position during the night or ambushers currently laying in wait.
Rule #18 Water Resupply – Springs or small streams are preferred places to procure water as they typically are more secure and covered than rivers or lakes. Send out several listening/observation posts (LPOP) and leave a small party in ambush along the route you came in. (This could apply to any time you stop for an extended period of time while on patrol.)
Rule #19 Route Selection – When returning from a mission (in particular one where contact was made), Avoid obvious choke points such as bridges, passes, and other areas where the enemy will attempt to ambush you on your return, tired and possibly low on ammunition or water.
Rule #20 Route Selection – When passing near large bodies of water or other restrictive types of terrain, pass with enough distance so that if attacked your retreat will not be cut off by being pressed against the terrain feature.
Rule #21 Counter Tracking – If an enemy force is following you but you are not in observation range, look for a good ambush point, circle back into it and ambush the enemy as they follow your back trail. (If tracking dogs are present, target the handlers first, this will usually disable the dog as well. Targeting the dog first leaves the handler a fully capable and very pissed off enemy.)
Rule #22 Route Selection – See Rule #19.
Rule #23 Tracking – When in pursuit of an enemy reconnaissance party, do not follow their track directly but discern a general direction and intent. Then select an ambush position along their expected (or known route) then hurry to set up an ambush there at a time and place where they will not expect it.
Rule #24 Riverine Operations – When operating on water, set out just before dark, to maximize the amount of time you can travel before losing the cover of darkness. (This has lost some value do to advances in surveillance technology.)
Rule #25 Riverine Operations – Each craft on the water must remain in visual contact with the craft to its rear to prevent separation in low visibility situations, and facilitate rescue in water emergencies.
Rule #26 Riverine Operations – One man from each craft should have the sole duty of looking for signs of the enemy and make a determination of numerical strength and intent.
Rule #27 Tactics and Use of Terrain – When an enemy unit is positioned near a large body of water, send your maneuver element to cut off their line of retreat on the opposite bank. The main force should then assault, thereby pinning the enemy unit against the lake or river.
Rule #28 Reconnaissance, Riverine Operations, Challenge and Pass, and Rally Points – When an enemy unit is discovered and its exact size cannot be determined, send a small reconnaissance party paying particular attention to direction and any information that may show enemy intent. Riverine movements should be conducted at night, making it especially important to establish challenge and pass words to identify each other in the dark, and rally points for any emergencies.
Initiative, Individual Initiative, and Officer Conduct – These are the general rules to be followed in the Ranging service; however, it is not absolute and each man must be ready and able to adapt and improvise without orders, as the battlefield is a dynamic and uncertain place. Leaders must always maintain situational, tactical, and strategic awareness, always exhibiting a strong command presence.
While much has changed in technology and the conduct of warfare over the past several centuries, we can see how much of the tactics and procedures that Roberts’s Rangers followed are still practiced by special forces and guerrilla units all over the world. Consider some of the concepts outlined in the Rules for Ranging:
The Ranger appreciation for suppressive fire was far beyond it’s time. In a world where most fighting men were expected to stand in formation and ignore the rounds flying at them, with firearms that could fire roughly 3 shots per minute, Rangers were expected to make use of cover, and fire their weapons so the enemy was under a constant barrage. Hundreds of years before the first machine gun, Rogers was developing tactics to enable men armed with muskets to suppress the enemy and maneuver on them. This was early fire and movement, key to Small Unit Tactics
The emphasis throughout the rules on surprise and utilizing low visibility to affect both offensive and defensive actions is a hallmark of Special Operations missions and guerrilla warfare today.
Another important advancement for it’s time is found in the last paragraph. For thousands of years in Europe, wars were fought by a largely poor and uneducated class, led by nobility whose orders were to be followed instantaneously without thought. This was no different in 18th century warfare. However Rogers incorporated the individual decision making process of the men which allowed for greater tactical flexibility, and allowed sub units or even individuals to take the initiative and exploit opportunities on the battlefield. Then, as now, Rangers at the lowest levels of command were given a high degree of trust and responsibility to adapt their methods to the fight as it develops.
While not all tactics outlined here are necessarily applicable word for word, it is an excellent starting point to the basics and some of the most important but rather abstract nuances of Ranging warfare. It provides an outline, and as Rogers himself suggests in the closing paragraph, “there are, however, a thousand occurrences and circumstances which may happen, that will make it necessary in some measure, to depart from them, and to put other arts and stratagems in practice; and which cases every man’s reason and judgment must be his guide.” Consider Rogers’s Rules for Ranging not only for it’s timeless tactical value, but also as a part of our history and heritage.
So what is a Ranger? Simply put, it’s one who ranges, or conducts long range patrols. Men of Snowshoe Companies back in the 1600’s referred to the distance traveled in a day as to how far they “ranged”. Ranging is a physical activity, and soon the Snowshoe Men became known simply as Rangers because that’s the action they performed. There are many sub-skills that are required to effectively “range”, particularly in hostile or contested territory.
What are the basic skills required to range? See the 28 “rules” above, and apply a few adjustments particularly for technology. It’s a damn good start.
So what of the U.S. Army Ranger? Aren’t they the only “Rangers” left?
Far too often, the truth about history is obscured for any number of reasons. This is usually enabled largely by ignorance. The fact of the matter is, the modern U.S. Army Ranger can trace direct, lineage back to the 1st Ranger Battalion which came into existence on 19 June 1942. As proposed by Major General Lucian Truscott, liaison to British General Staff, this was the first officially named “Ranger” unit since the American Civil War and was actually patterned after British Commando units already in action in 1942.
The 75th Ranger Regiment traces it’s origins to another WWII unit, namely “Merrill’s Marauders”. This unit operated in the South East Asian theater and specialized in long range operations deep behind enemy lines. They were not even called Rangers, but their activities closely reflected the warfare style of the original “Rangers” in North America.
What about cops? Should they be called Rangers?
There are many Law Enforcement entities in the United States that use the term Ranger. The Texas Rangers, Park Rangers. Typically, these men operate alone or in pairs and have long geographical distances to cover in their “beat” or area of responsibility. To acknowledge this fact, someone somewhere used the term Ranger to simply describe what they do. Long… Range… Patrolling.
How about jackass civilians with pseudo-war hobbies?
Where the term “Ranger” comes from and what it means is uniquely American, and by extension British actually. (The first Rangers on North America identified themselves as British subjects or members of various Indian tribes.) They were highly skilled, albeit unprofessional soldiers who filled an immediate need with a hybrid style of warfare that combined European technology and strategy with Native American tactics, field craft and individual initiative.
Rangers in reality are the embodiment of the ultimate citizen soldier. The best of the best sent deep into enemy territory to protect the community. Only after the undeniable and obvious effectiveness of these units were Provincial and Regular British forces first cross trained in Ranging style warfare, and “light infantry” companies incorporated as part of the British Order of Battle.
A mentor of mine often used a simple but powerful phrase he brought with him from his time in Special Forces. “Show me.”
Can you execute a style of warfare that matches or surpasses the skill level of the Ranger? In other words…
Can you travel hundreds of miles by foot, to collect information and conduct small unit direct action missions deep in hostile territory, supplied by only what you carry and can procure on the way, without any form of outside support?
No? Then shut up. You’re no Ranger. Your a loudmouth jackass and to claim the title Ranger demeans the name and it’s important American legacy. And if you utter any semblance of “lead the way.” You deserve to get hit in the mouth. Army Rangers have a legitimate claim to that one.
At the same time, for the Army Rangers who detest the idea of civilians modeling themselves after the first American Rangers, I ask why? Considering what Ranging actually entails, and what Rangers are, there seems to be no better modus operandi for the armed citizen who will lack all the modern support that is, or was available to you during your service. Perhaps we don’t like the idea of the U.S. Military having a monopoly on martial force? Or, do we?
I remember with no small measure of pride when a 2nd Bat friend of mine came home on leave. He came out for a little “shooting”. After the final drill for the evening, he stared for a moment with an odd smirk on his face that betrayed shock and simmering mischief all at the same time.
He walked over and said “Did you do this?”
“No, they did… with a little context added.”
“You plan on putting it to use?”
“Well, don’t leave me out.”
Like anything else if you talk the talk, walk the walk. Do first. Show me.
“As it was logistically impossible to defend widespread and isolated individual homesteads and villages, groups of men formed who would conduct long range foot patrols into the wilderness in an attempt provide early warning about these raiding parties, and in some cases even intercept them if the odds were right.”
If you want to push yourself towards a standard that will get you closer to the ability of these Old School Rangers to defend hearth and home, you should consider some training classes, and also the MVT Rifleman Challenge, the achievement of which will combine tactical knowledge with the physical ability to actually get these things done.