Throughout history warfare has evolved, sometimes the cause is tactical or technological. Sometimes it occurs when two cultures come into contact with each other for the first time. This is the case that led to the development of an elite group of fighting men in the English colonies in the early 1700’s. These men would be known as Rangers and under the guiding hand of one Robert Rogers would develop standards that Special Forces would continue to use into the present day.
Special Forces units have sprang up around the world to fill the special need for a light, quick and effective strike force. They have different names and organization structures, but across the spectrum they employ quite a bit of the same techniques. The need for this guerrilla type unit evolved from varying roots, one of these highly influential in Western military tradition would be Roger’s Rangers.
The tactics that had been used for centuries on the European landscape proved to not be very effective in the densely forested land of the Americas. Four major wars would be fought for control over different tracts of land by European powers. Each who would enlist the help of different native tribes to aide them in the fight. With each successive war a type of fighter began to develop, emerging in the mid 18th century as a wide spread component of the armies. This is the period that Robert Rogers himself would join up with the Rangers.
The Rangers would develop a set of guideline on how to be effective using their battle tactics, known as the ‘Rules of Ranging.’ While the majority of them seem commonsense from a modern viewpoint, some of their tactics were revolutionary at the time. The effectiveness of these techniques proved to be so consequential as to cause the Rangers to grow to 10 full companies of troops. The leaders of these companies would often serve as cadets under Roger’s command for a time. Afterwards they would return to their companies to pass along the knowledge they had learned first hand.
Most warfare before this time was fought by army regulars who would hold rank as they faced off with an opposing force on an open battlefield. There were also irregulars, men recruited from villages in the areas involved in the fighting. These men were not highly drilled soldiers, their role mostly supplemented the regulars. The new environment faced in the wars for domination of the ‘New World’ required combatants to fight in much closer quarters. Visibility and terrain were also new hurdles to be overcome.
Wearing camouflage is commonplace throughout the military these days. Not even being confined to members of special forces, units in all parts of the military wear it. It has been developed into almost every color imaginable, having varieties ranging from desert to arctic styles. The advantages seem obvious, the harder time that the enemy has in visual locating a strike force the less damage that force will take.
The style of warfare in the Ranger’s time was a far cry from our own. Uniforms worn to the battle were bright and garish as they allowed troops to clearly identify which people were friendly and which were adversaries. In an era with battles being fought in open fields, with an emphasis on formation and battle-lines, there was no element of disguise. The Ranger’s wore green uniforms and utilized tactics learned from the native peoples, tactics that emphasized smaller raid like actions where they could inflict a quick amount of damage and then disappear into the woods.
They broke from the traditional style of standing when exchanging fire with enemies, taking cover when under fire and riseing to shoot. Members who later became leaders in the Continental Army, convinced their superiors to arm their troops with rifles rather than the muskets commonly used by the British. The militia men who served in the Continental Army were more accustomed to these weapons, using them at home to hunt. These weapons not only were more accurate but had a greater range that allowed the men to engage their enemy from a distance that was out of reach of the enemies muskets.
They had designated marching tactics in order to minimize losses. Things like splitting the force into three columns that marched separately, but still close enough to respond to distress. If marching single file they would keep enough space between men that if a bullet were to hit one man it would lose its velocity before striking another. They prepared for various scenarios of attack by training all sides of a formation to be able to shift duties and become the attacking front if they were flanked during battle. This combination of defensiveness and flexibility made the Rangers an extremely formidable adversary.
Modern military tactics have changed so much since the 18th century due to advancements in technology. Improvements in ballistics and accuracy have made the battlefield a larger and more dangerous arena. They have also changed as battles were fought less in the familiar landscapes of Europe. As more often wars were being waged in foreign areas the methods for engaging an enemy had to adapt as well. Tactics that were once practical became obstacles that would prove insurmountably. The smaller specialized groups we know today evolved out of this problem. The concept of incorporating the landscape to your benefit is now the standard operation procedure. Many special forces troops including the Green Berets and Army Rangers claim Roger’s Rangers as their predecessors.
The Ranger’s grew out of the necessity to come to terms with a new and different landscape, as well as with an enemy who no longer held the same beliefs about battle. One that consequently fought with entirely different tactics. By utilizing guerrilla tactics alongside refinements to troop movements the Ranger’s were able to bridge the gap between these two worlds. Their very adaptability on the battlefield and their place in history is what has caused them to have such a profound effect and lasting legacy.