2ND MARINE RAIDER BATTALION ACTIVATED

Washington, D.C. February 16, 1942

In the wake of the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on U.S. naval and army bases at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, President Frank­lin D. Roose­velt settled on the U.S. Marine Corps as the home for a new com­mando-type force in the mold of British special oper­a­tions forces to take the fight to the enemy. Nudged by U.S. Pacific Fleet com­mander Adm. Chester Nimitz, the com­man­dant of the Marine Corps created two “raider” bat­tal­ions, the 2nd Raider Bat­tal­ion, acti­vated on this date in Febru­ary 1942 under the com­mand of Lt. Col. Evans F. Carl­son, whose crea­tion he had influ­enced, and the 1st Raider Bat­tal­ion, acti­vated three days later under Lt. Col. Merritt A. Edson. Both Raider bat­tal­ions saw action against the Japa­nese at about the same time, and each bat­tal­ion, con­sisting of hand­picked volun­teers, earned a lasting place in Marine Corps history and mythology.

Of the two Raider battalions, Carlson’s 2nd Raider Bat­tal­ion devi­ated more from the ortho­dox Marine Corps doc­trine in training, orga­ni­za­tion, and disci­pline. During two Marine Corps duty tours in China, Carl­son observed the guer­rilla tactics and stra­tegy of Mao Tse-tung’s Com­munist Chin­ese irreg­u­lars fighting the Japa­nese behind enemy lines, incor­por­ating much of what he’d seen there into rigor­ous training, orga­nizing, and moti­vating his men. For example, the 46-year-old Marine eschewed strict respect for rank and the privi­lege it confer­red on offi­cers and embraced as his bat­tal­ion’s battle cry the Chin­ese phrase “Gung-ho!,” meaning “work together,” egal­i­tarian quali­ties that were foundational to 2nd Raider training.

Carlson’s elite force of Marine raiders thrilled Ameri­cans when they launched the first Ameri­can offen­sive ground com­bat oper­a­tion of World War II. Delivered by two sub­marines, their August 17–18, 1942, hit-and-run, touch-and-go raid on a Japa­nese sea­plane base on tiny Makin Island (Buta­ri­tari Atoll) in the Gilbert Islands wiped out over half the enemy garri­son and destroyed two flying boats bringing in reinforcements.

Carlson’s leadership in the Makin Raid earned him a second Navy Cross. (His first he earned in Nica­ragua in 1930.) His third Navy Cross came for leading the “Long Patrol” (aka Carl­son’s patrol) on Guadal­canal from Novem­ber 4 to Decem­ber 4, 1942. Using their trade­mark guer­rilla tactics, a force of 220 Raiders infil­trated Japa­nese lines, disrupted enemy supply lines, inflicted a string of defeats on enemy forces mostly in small unit engage­ments during which nearly 500 Japa­nese were killed at a cost of 16 Raiders dead and 18 wounded, cap­tured or destroyed large amounts of equip­ment, and gathered inval­u­able intel­li­gence on Japa­nese opera­tions on the island. When the attri­tional, six-month struggle for Guadal­canal was over (August 1942 to February 1943), Amer­ica could claim its first major ground vic­tory against the Japa­nese bushido jugger­naut that for three years had ravaged South­east Asia and the Pacific and in partic­u­lar had threatened the supply routes between America and its ally, Australia.

Despite achieving their tactical objectives on Guadal­canal, the Raiders suffered terri­bly in the steaming jungle from the effects of mala­ria, jaun­dice, worms, diar­rhea, ring­worm, jungle rot, and mal­nu­tri­tion. Declared unfit for com­bat duty for months on end, Carl­son’s men were injected into the Bougain­ville Cam­paign (November 1943 to August 1945). But by then Lt. Col. Carl­son had been relieved of com­mand and inva­lided to the U.S. His bat­tal­ion was reor­ga­nized along more ortho­dox Marine lines. Once restored to health, Carl­son saw fighting at Tarawa (late November 1943) as an obser­ver and Saipan (June–July 1944), where he was wounded. Physical disability forced his retire­ment, at which time he received the rank of brigadier general. He died at age 51 on May 27, 1945.



The Elite of the Elite: Evans Carlson’s Raiders, 1942–1944

Carlson’s Raiders train for August 17–18, 1942, Makin RaidCarlson’s Raiders welcomed back, Pearl Harbor, August 26, 1942

Left: Shown here training near San Diego, California, for their Makin Island raid are 2nd Marine Raider Bat­tal­ion com­mander Lt. Col. Evans Carlson, Major James Roose­velt (son of the U.S. Presi­dent), and some of their men. The main objec­tives of Carl­son’s Raiders were to gain intel­li­gence, destroy instal­la­tions, and divert Japa­nese rein­force­ments from the ongoing Allied battle on the islands of Guadal­canal and Tulagi in the Solo­mon Islands chain (August 7, 1942, to Febru­ary 9, 1943). The diver­sionary Makin Island raid, when it was carried out on August 17–18, 1942, was touch and go. Two com­panies of Raiders wiped out just over half the Japa­nese garri­son, destroyed radio stations, a fuel dump and other sup­plies, but gained little action­able intel­ligence. Marine casual­ties were 19 killed, 17 wounded, and 12 missing in action. Of the latter, 9 were inad­ver­tently left behind or returned to the island during the night­time with­drawal. They became cap­tives, removed to Japa­nese-occupied Kwa­ja­lein Atoll in the Mar­shall Islands, and beheaded. None­the­less, Carl­son’s Raiders made wel­come media head­lines in a coun­try sur­feited with bad news (e.g., the loss of Wake Island, Guam, the Philip­pines) and led to the 1943 Holly­wood war film Gung Ho!, starring Randolph Scott and Robert Mitchum, glamorizing their perilous exploits.

Right: USS Argonaut, a troop transport submarine, docked at Pearl Harbor after her return from the Makin Island raid, August 26, 1942. Carlson’s com­mandos and mem­bers of the sub­marine’s crew are on deck, as bands played and cheering people lined the piers. A bat­tal­ion of Marines in dress blues stood stiffly at ready along with Admirals Chester W. Nimitz, com­mander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet (standing left in photo), and Ray­mond Spru­ance, then Nimitz’s chief of staff. Reporters and camera­men recorded the heroes’ wel­come. Nimitz and Carlson saluted each other on board the sub, Nimitz con­grat­u­lating Carlson, saying “Makin has made you and your Raiders famous.”

Adm. Nimitz presents Navy Cross to Carlson, September 30, 1942Carlson’s Raiders pose for photo, probably Guadalcanal, November–December 1942

Left: Visiting Guadalcanal on September 30, 1942, Adm. Nimitz took time to deco­rate Carlson with the Navy Cross, the Marine Corps’ second-highest mili­tary deco­ra­tion for extraor­dinary her­o­ism in com­bat. In the right of the photo, second person in, is Col. Mer­ritt A. Edson, com­manding offi­cer of 5th Marines Regi­ment and former com­mander of the 1st Marine Raider Bat­tal­ion. Edson’s Raiders achieved fame in the Battle of Edson’s Ridge, aka Battle of the Bloody Ridge (Septem­ber 12–14, 1942), when they beat back a des­per­ate Japa­nese attempt to recapture Guadal­canal’s Hen­der­son Field. Marine defenders suffered 80 killed to the Japa­nese 700–850 killed. The mas­sive defeat at Edson’s Ridge con­trib­uted not only to Japan’s defeat in the Guadal­canal Cam­paign (August 7, 1942, to Febru­ary 9, 1943) but ulti­mately to Japan’s defeat throughout the South Pacific.

Right: This photograph shows Carlson, kneeling front row center, probably during or after completing the Long Patrol (Novem­ber–Decem­ber 1942), part of the Guadal­canal Cam­paign. The Long Patrol was extremely success­ful from a tacti­cal view­point (488 enemy killed) but came at exces­sive cost to the Raiders’ health and man­power strength. Two com­panies totaling 266 offi­cers and men at the start of the patrol lost four-fifths of their num­bers due to inad­e­quate rations and tropi­cal dis­eases when the patrol ended. Carl­son’s Raiders, like the other three Raider bat­tal­ions, were collec­tively dis­banded in Janu­ary 1944, most men trans­ferring to the 4th Marine Divi­sion. A total of 8,078 servicemen, among them 7,710 Marines and 368 sailors, served in Raider units during the war.

History Channel’s Dangerous Missions: Marine Raiders