Carrickfergus saw a large amount of activity during World War Two. Surviving documentation is sparse but an often told story is that of the United States Army Rangers.
In Carrickfergus, the US Army base was at Sunnylands to the northern side of the railway line. The large camp extended from an eastern boundary on North Road halfway to Salthill in the west. The total area was around 4 hectares.
The American troops made Nissen huts their home. The camp also included a large area for training and exercises. Anecdotal evidence from residents remembers German prisoners of war held at the camp towards the war’s end.
Today, the Sunnylands Camp is now a housing estate. An area of greenery occupies most of the space while the houses sit off to one side. The American Nissen huts stood where the tree line borders the state. The railway line still runs past the estate behind the trees and the Sunnylands remains.
Activating the United States Army Rangers
Soon after the US Army arrived in Northern Ireland, they made plans for a new unit. This was to be “an American unit along the lines of the British Commandos”. Discussions took place between Major General Lucian Truscott and the British Chief of the General Staff General George Marshall. The Commandos activated in World War Two were renowned as tough, skilled, and elite units. Shortly after the discussions, a diplomatic cable arrived with Truscott. This document authorised activation of the 1st US Army Ranger Battalion.
William Orlando Darby
US Army Captain William Orlando Darby was put forward as commanding officer of the new unit. Darby had been based in Northern Ireland since the first US troops arrived. During that time, he developed an interest in the British Commando units and their tactics.
William O Darby was a graduate of West Point Military Academy and already an experienced commander. With an impeccable record and experience in amphibious training, he was an ideal choice. Within weeks he was promoted to Major.
The Rangers Assemble
Over 1,500 men across the US Army in Northern Ireland volunteered for the new Rangers unit. A rigorous selection process took place at Sunnylands.
By the end of this process, Darby had hand-picked 600 men. Over eighty per cent of those selected came from the 34th Infantry (Red Bull) Division.
Company A, 1st Ranger Battalion was activated at Sunnylands, Carrickfergus on 19th June 1942. More often than not, they were referred to as “Darby’s Rangers”.
Soon after activation, the battalion traveled to Achnacarry in Scotland to train with their British Army counterparts. After brutal training under Lieutenant Colonel Charles Vaughan, around 500 of Darby’s men made the grade.
Darby’s United States Army Rangers were the first US ground force to see action in Europe during World War Two. They joined with British and Canadian troops at Dieppe on 19th August 1942. It was at Dieppe that Lieutenant Edward Vincent Loustalot became the first US Army troop killed in action. Only 87 of the 500 men would survive the war.
The US Rangers Centre
Before the US Army Rangers Centre came into being, only a memorial stone marked the Sunnylands site. Carrickfergus Borough Council erected the monument in 1992.
The US Rangers Centre stands next to the Andrew Jackson Cottage in Boneybefore, Carrickfergus. It first opened in 1994 after visiting Rangers veterans donated memorabilia after a 50th-anniversary commemoration. Today, an updated museum provides a unique tourist experience and remembers the bravery of Darby’s Rangers.
The new look visitor attraction reopened on 17th June 2017 to mark the 75th anniversary of the US Army Rangers’ activation. It features more unseen artefacts, photographs, and authentic film footage.
Still going strong under their motto of “lead the way”, the US Rangers remain the only US Army Unit activated on foreign soil.