“General Marshall, I think we need a commando group like the British have,” Lucian Truscott said. General Marshall agreed and left it up to Truscott to get a group organized. He chose the name Rangers (Truscott was a Texan) and began staffing the unit. The man chosen to head the first Ranger unit was Major William O. Darby. Darby’s Rangers were the most famous of the Ranger groups in WWII, but there were other such organizations in the United States military.
The man who organized the Rangers, Lucian King Truscott, Jr.was born in Chatfield, Texas, on January 9, 1895. He enlisted in the Army as the United States entered WWI. He must have been outstanding in some way because he was selected for officer training and was commissioned in the cavalry in 1917. He was about 22 years old at the time. When the war was over, Truscott decided to make a career out of the Army.
During the period between wars, Truscott did the same as all the other regular army people—find ways to increase his learning and find tasks to keep busy as funding for the military dwindled. Truscott was an instructor at both the Cavalry school and the Command and General Staff School. In these schools he became acquainted with a West Point graduate—George S. Patton.
Patton was a cavalry officer who became interested in armored warfare. The United States Congress was not going to finance an armored division, so between the wars Patton went back to the cavalry. But horses were not going to be a large part of the future of the U.S. Army, and most intelligent officers knew that. They also recognized that a cavalry force did have at least two things in common with armored units—speed and flexibility. There was a similarity in the tactics of both units. This was an observation that they kept in the back of their mind for use later.
Early in WWII, Truscott was attached to the staff of Lord
Mountbatten’s British forces, where he became acquainted with the idea of commandos. That was when he convinced General Marshall, Chief of Staff under President Roosevelt, that America needed commandos, too. After he had founded his version of commandos, the Rangers, Truscott led them in combat on the ill-fated Dieppe mission and in Morocco. Then he began to move through the higher ranks of command.
Truscott’s forward motion was assisted when he wrote a letter to Patton, asking for an assignment in an armored division. (Patton and Truscott had rightfully figured out that there was no future in the cavalry business.) Patton told him that he had talked to General Devers and that Devers liked the idea of Truscott’s move to Patton’s outfit. But Truscott had to initiate the move by making a formal request to Devers. The move was completed and Truscott became part of Patton’s team. He was commander of one of the invading forces in the North Africa campaign, where he distinguished himself in the Medhala area.
Perhaps due to his observations about Ranger fitness, Truscott changed the rules of infantry training. At one time infantrymen were required to travel twelve miles per day at a rate of two and a half miles per hour. He felt this was inadequate so he began a steady increase for his soldiers. He tried a rate of four miles per hour for ten miles total. At this rate, he was losing ten per cent of his troops, so he started over with a slow increase from the old standard until he had achieved a tough, fast-moving fighting force. This training regimen was known as the “Truscott Trot.” It was this rigorous training that allowed Truscott and his soldiers to take Palermo faster than expected. No doubt his unit’s speed allowed them to escape taking a large number of casualties as well.
While Truscott served under Patton in Sicily, he and Patton had a discussion that was made famous later. In the movie Patton it was Truscott who needed more time to complete a battle assignment than Patton wanted. Patton told him either to do the job or he would be replaced. Truscott achieved Patton’s goal. The movie may have done a disservice to Truscott, since his big moment in the movie was unfavorable. Some have said he was the finest combat general in the army. But Patton got more credit.
Truscott was not the “glory seeker” that some generals were. For instance, when his army took Rome and speeches were being given, Truscott was acutely aware, not of history being made and celebrated, but that he needed to attack the Germans who were fleeing north. As General Clark was orating about it being a great day for the Fifth Army and so on, it was Truscott “who wryly commented, ‘I reckon it was, but I was anxious to get out of this posturing and on with the business of war.’”
Truscott was appreciated by General Eisenhower. Ike was quoted by British General Brooke about February, 1944, as saying that he recommended General Truscott for the command of the VI Corps, “. . . (He) personally recommended Truscott, Eagles, and Harmon in that order.”
Few general officers had more experience than Truscott. After his North African experience, he led soldiers in Tunisia, Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, Southern France, and northern Italy. He was on so many amphibious invasions he became a recognized expert in that type of action. He and his soldiers fought over some of the worst terrain during the most terrible weather that any American general faced.
When Truscott took over the VI Corps for General Clark, Clark said of him, “A quiet, competent, courageous officer with great battle experience through North Africa, Sicily, and Italy, he inspired confidence in all with whom he came in contact.”
Because of his achievements, Truscott got command of the
Third Infantry Division in Sicily in March of 1943. He had the IV Corps in February of 1944 in Italy and in France. Next, he had the Fifteenth Army command in October of 1944, and he took over the Fifth Army from General Clark in December of 1944. He had the Third Army in October of 1945, when fighting was over.
General Clark was in charge of Southern Austria after the
war while General Truscott commanded occupation forces in Bavaria. Later, Truscott was put in advisory positions for the Army. He was described as a reliable, aggressive, and successful leader. Many would add “fearless” to the list.
Truscott had in his collection of medals, the DSC, the DSM
(oak leaf cluster), Legion of Merit, and the Purple Heart. He died at the age of seventy in Alexandria, VA—September 12, 1965, a true American hero.
Part of General Truscott’s story is told in the small WWII history Full Duty by Thomas S. Fiske. It is available on most dot com book stores on the Internet.