FROM MAKIN TO BOUGAINVILLE:
Marine Raiders in the Pacific War
Marines in World War II
by Major Jon T Hoffman
The Browning air-cooled .30-caliber machine gun was the weapon of choice for raider battalions because of its low weight in comparison to other available machine guns. The raider battalions were not armed with heavy weapons.
Marine riflemen take on Japanese snipers while others put a captured 37mm field gun into operation during the raid on Koiari. Parachutists and raiders expected to surprise the enemy, but were themselves surprised instead when they landed in the midst of a well-defended supply dump. The enemy pinned the Marines to the beach with heavy fire, until evening.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 69783
FROM MAKIN TO BOUGAINVILLE:by Major Jon T Hoffman, USMCR
Marine Raiders in the Pacific War
In February 1942, Lieutenant General Thomas Holcomb, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, ordered the creation of a new unit designated the 1st Marine Raider Battalion. This elite force, and its three sister battalions, went on to gain considerable fame for fighting prowess in World War II. There is more to the story of these units, however, than a simple tale of combat heroics. The inception, growth, and sudden end of the raiders reveals a great deal about the development and conduct of amphibious operations during the war, and about the challenges the Corps faced in expanding from 19,000 men to nearly a half million. The raiders also attracted more than their share of strong leaders. The resulting combination of courage, doctrine, organization, and personalities makes this one of the most interesting chapters in Marine Corps history.
Creating the Raiders
Two completely independent forces were responsible for the appearance of the raiders in early 1942. Several historians have fully traced one of these sets of circumstances, which began with the friendship developed between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Evans F. Carlson. As a result of his experiences in China, Carlson was convinced that guerrilla warfare was the wave of the future. One of his adherents in 1941 was Captain James Roosevelt, the president's son. At the same time, another presidential confidant, William J. Donovan, was pushing a similar theme. Donovan had been an Army hero in World War I and was now a senior advisor on intelligence matters. He wanted to create a guerrilla force that would infiltrate occupied territory and assist resistance groups. He made a formal proposal along these lines to President Roosevelt in December 1941. In January, the younger Roosevelt wrote to the Major General Commandant of the Marine Corps and recommended creation of "a unit for purposes similar to the British Commandos and the Chinese Guerrillas."
These ideas were appealing at the time because the war was going badly for the Allies. The Germans had forced the British off the continent of Europe, and the Japanese were sweeping the United States and Britain from much of the Pacific. The military forces of the Allies were too weak to slug it out in conventional battles with the Axis powers, so guerrilla warfare and quick raids appeared to be viable alternatives. The British commandos had already conducted numerous forays against the European coastline, and Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill enthusiastically endorsed the concept to President Roosevelt. The Marine Commandant, Major General Thomas Holcomb, allegedly succumbed to this high-level pressure and organized the raider battalions, though he himself thought that any properly trained Marine unit could perform amphibious raids.
That scenario is mostly accurate, but it tells only half of the story. Two other men also were responsible for the genesis of the raiders. One was General Holland M. Smith. Although the Marine Corps Schools had created the first manual on amphibious operations in 1935, during the early days of World War II Smith faced the unenviable task of trying to convert that paper doctrine into reality. As a brigadier general he commanded the 1st Marine Brigade in Fleet Landing Exercise 6, which took place in the Caribbean in early 1940. There he discovered that several factors, to include the lack of adequate landing craft, made it impossible to rapidly build up combat power on a hostile shore. The initial assault elements would thus be vulnerable to counterattack and defeat while most of the amphibious force remained on board its transports.
As a partial response to this problem, Smith seized upon the newly developed destroyer transport. During FLEX 6, his plan called for the Manley (APD 1) to land a company of the 5th Marines via rubber boats at H-minus three hours (prior to dawn) at a point away from the primary assault beach. This force
Major General Merritt A. Edson, USMC
Merritt A. Edson's military career began in the fall of 1915 when he enlisted in the 1st Vermont Infantry (a National Guard outfit). In the summer of 1916 he served in the Mexican border campaign. When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, he earned a commission as a Marine officer, but he did not arrive in France until just before the Armistice.
He ultimately more than made up for missing out on "the war to end all wars." In 1921 he began his long career in competitive shooting as part of the 10-man team that won the National Rifle Team Trophy for the Marine Corps. He earned his pilot's wings in 1922 and flew for five years before poor depth perception forced him back into the infantry. In 1927, he received command of the Marine detachment on board the Denver (CL 16). He and his men soon became involved in the effort to rid Nicaragua of Augusto Sandino. Edson spent 14 months ashore, most of it deep in the interior of the country. In the process, he won a reputation as an aggressive, savvy small-unit leader. He bested Sandino's forces in more than a dozen skirmishes, earned his first Navy Cross for valor, and came away with the nickname "Red Mike" (in honor of the colorful beard he sported in the field).
Edson spent the first half of the 1930s as a tactics instructor at the Basic School for new lieutenants, and then as ordnance officer at the Philadelphia Depot of Supplies. During the summers he continued to shoot; ultimately he captained the rifle team to consecutive national championships in 1935 and 1936. In the summer of 1937 he transferred to Shanghai to become the operations officer for the 4th Marines. He arrived just in time for a ringside seat when the Sino-Japanese War engulfed that city. That gave him ample opportunity to observe Japanese combat techniques at close range. In June 1941, Red Mike assumed command of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines at Quantico.
After his stint with the 1st Raiders and the 5th Marines on Guadalcanal, Edson remained in the Pacific. He served as chief of staff of the 2d Marine Division at Tarawa, and as assistant division commander on Saipan and Tinian. During each of these campaigns he again distinguished himself under fire. Ultimately, the Marine Corps discovered that Edson's courage was matched by his skill as a staff officer. He spent nine months as chief of staff for the Fleet Marine Force Pacific and closed out the war in charge of the Service Command.
Following the war Edson headed the effort to preserve the Marine Corps in the face of President Truman's drive to "unify" the services. He waged a fierce campaign in the halls of Congress, in the media, and in public appearances across the nation. Finally, he resigned his commission in order to testify publicly before committees of both houses of Congress. His efforts played a key role in preserving the Marine Corps. After stints as the Commissioner of Public Safety in Vermont, and as Executive Director of the National Rifle Association, Edson died in August 1955.
would advance inland, seize key terrain dominating the proposed beachhead, and thus protect the main landing from counterattack. A year later, during FLEX 7, Smith had three destroyer transports. He designated the three companies of the 7th Marines embarked on these ships as the Mobile Landing Group. During the exercise these units again made night landings to protect the main assault, or conducted diversionary attacks.
Smith eventually crystallized his new ideas about amphibious operations. He envisioned making future assaults with three distinct echelons. The first wave would be composed of fast-moving forces that could seize key terrain prior to the main assault. This first element would consist of a parachute regiment, an air infantry regiment (gliderborne troops), a light tank battalion, and "at least one APD [highspeed destroyer transport] battalion." With a relatively secure beachhead, the more ponderous combat units of the assault force would come ashore. The third echelon would consist of the reserve force and service units.
In the summer of 1941 Smith was nearly in a position to put these ideas into effect. He now commanded the Amphibious Force Atlantic Fleet (AFAF), which consisted of the 1st Marine Division and the Army's 1st Infantry Division. During maneuvers at the recently acquired Marine base at New River, North Carolina, Smith embarked the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, in six APDs and made it an independent command reporting directly to his headquarters. The operations plan further attached the Marine division's sole company of tanks and its single company of parachutists to the APD battalion. The general did not use this task force to lead the assault, but instead landed it on D plus 2 of the exercise, on a beach well in the rear of the enemy's lines. With all aviation assets working in direct support, the mobile force quickly moved inland, surprised and destroyed the enemy reserves, and took control of key lines of communication. Smith called it a "spearhead thrust around the hostile flank."
The AFAF commander had not randomly selected the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, for this role. In June 1941 he personally had picked
Lieutenant Colonel Merritt A. "Red Mike" Edson to command that battalion and had designated it to serve permanently with the Navy's APD squadron. Smith began to refer to Edson's outfit as the "light battalion" or the "APD battalion." When the 5th Marines and the other elements of the 1st Marine Division moved down to New River that fall, the 1st Battalion remained behind in Quantico with Force headquarters. Reports going to and from AFAF placed the battalion in a category separate from the rest of the division of which it was still technically a part. Lieutenant Colonel Gerald C. Thomas, the division operations officer, ruefully referred to the battalion as "the plaything of headquarters."
Edson's unit was unique in other ways. In a lengthy August 1941 report, the lieutenant colonel evaluated the organization and missions of his unit. He believed that the APD battalion would focus primarily on reconnaissance, raids, and other special operations--in his mind it was a waterborne version of the parachutists. In a similar fashion, the battalion would rely on speed and mobility, not firepower, as its tactical mainstay. Since the APDs could neither embark nor offload vehicles, that meant the battalion had to be entirely foot mobile once ashore, again like the parachutists. To achieve rapid movement, Edson recommended a new table of organization that made his force much lighter than other infantry battalions. He wanted to trade in his 81mm mortars and heavy machine guns for lighter models. There also would be fewer of these weapons, but they would have larger crews to carry the ammunition. Given the limitations of the APDs, each company would be smaller than its standard counterpart. There would be four rifle companies, a weapons company, and a headquarters company with a large demolitions platoon. The main assault craft would be 10-man rubber boats.
The only thing that kept Smith from formally removing the
Brigadier General Evans F. Carlson, USMC
Evans F. Carlson got an early start in his career as a maverick. He ran away from his home in Vermont at the age of 14 and two years later bluffed his way past the recruiters to enlist in the Army. When war broke out in 1917, he already had five years of service under his belt. Like Merritt A. Edson, he soon won a commission, but arrived at the front too late to see combat. After the war he tried to make it as a salesman, but gave that up in 1922 and enlisted in the Marine Corps. In a few months he earned a commission again. Other than a failed attempt at flight school, his first several years as a Marine lieutenant were unremarkable.
In 1927 Carlson deployed to Shanghai with the 4th Marines. There he became regimental intelligence officer and developed a deep interest in China that would shape the remainder of his days. Three years later, commanding an outpost of the Guardia Nacional in Nicaragua, he had his first brush with guerrilla warfare. That became the second guiding star of his career. In his only battle, he successfully engaged and dispersed an enemy unit in a daring night attack. There followed a tour with the Legation Guard in Peking, and a stint as executive officer of the presidential guard detachment at Warm Springs, Georgia. In the latter job Carlson came to know Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Captain Carlson arrived in Shanghai for his third China tour in July 1937. Again like Edson, he watched the Japanese seize control of the city. Detailed to duty as an observer, Carlson sought and received permission to accompany the Chinese Communist Party's 8th Route Army, which was fighting against the Japanese. For the next year he divided his time between the front lines and the temporary Chinese capital of Hangkow. During that time he developed his ideas on guerrilla warfare and ethical indoctrination. When a senior naval officer censured him for granting newspaper interviews, Carlson returned to the States and resigned so that he could speak out about the situation in China. He believed passionately that the United States should do more to help the Chinese in their war with Japan.
During the next two years Carlson spoke and wrote on the subject, to include two books (The Chinese Army and Twin Stars of China), and made another trip to China. With war looming for the United States, he sought to rejoin the Corps in April 1941. The Commandant granted his request, made him a major in the reserves, and promptly brought him onto active duty. Ten months later he created the 2d Raider Battalion.
After his departure from the raiders in 1943, Carlson served as operations officer of the 4th Marine Division. He made the Tarawa landing as an observer and participated with his division in the assaults on Kwajalein and Saipan. In the latter battle he received severe wounds in the arm and leg while trying to pull his wounded radio operator out of the line of fire of an enemy machine gun. After the war Carlson retired from the Marine Corps and made a brief run in the 1946 California Senate race before a heart attack forced him out of the campaign. He died in May 1947.
The origins of the destroyer transports are relatively obscure. The first mention of them came in the 1st Marine Brigade's after action report on Fleet Landing Exercise 3 (FLEX 3). Brigadier General James J. Meade suggested in that February 1937 document that destroyers might solve the dual problem of a shortage of amphibious transports and fire support. With such ships "troops could move quickly close into shore and disembark under protection of the ships' guns." The Navy apparently agreed and decided to experiment with one of its flush-deck, four-stack destroyers. It had built a large number of these during World War I and most were now in mothballs.
In November 1938 the Navy reclassified Manley (DD 74) as a miscellaneous auxillary (AG 28). After a few weeks of hasty work in the New York Navy Yard, the ship served as a transport for Marine units in the Caribbean. In the fall of 1939 Manley went back into the yards for a more extensive conversion. Workers removed all torpedo tubes, one gun, two boilers, and their stacks. That created a hold amidships for cargo and troops. The Chief of Naval Operations made it a rush job so the ship would be available for FLEX 6 in early 1940. Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, was the first unit to use the revamped Manley. It used rubber boats to execute its 23 February 1940 assault landing against Culebra in the Caribbean.
Satisfied by the utility of the destroyer transport, the Navy redesignated Manley yet again, this time as the lead ship of a new class, APD-1. The APD designation denoted a highspeed transport. By the end of 1940 the Navy yards had reactivited five of Manley's sister ships and converted them in the same fashion. In its haste, the Navy had left out any semblance of amenities for embarked Marines. When Lieutenant Colonel Edson took his battalion on board the APD squadron in the summer of 1941, each troop compartment was nothing more than an empty space--no ventilation, no bunks, and just four washbasins for 130 men. It took a high-level investigation, launched by one Marine's letter to his congressman, to get the billeting spaces upgraded.
These original six APDs would be the only ones available until the Navy rushed to complete more in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. As the two raider battalions moved out into the Pacific, so did the APDs. All six ships saw service in the Solomons campaign, but only Manley and Stringham (APD 6) survived. Japanese bombers sank Calhoun (APD 2) on 20 August 1942, just after it had transferred a company of the 1st Raiders from Tulagi to Guadalcanal. Enemy destroyers sank Gregory (APD 3) and Little (APD 4) in the early morning hours of 5 September 1942 after the two transports had participated with the 1st Raiders in a reconnaissance of Savo Island. A torpedo bomber ended the existence of McKean (APD 5) on 17 November 1943 as she ferried troops to Bougainville. Before the war was over, the Navy would convert another 133 destroyers and destroyer escorts to the transport role.
1st Battalion, 5th Marines, from the 1st Marine Division was the lack of troops to make the regiment whole again. As it was, many units of the division still existed only on paper in the fall of 1941. At the very beginning of 1942, with the United States now at war and recruits pouring into the Corps, Smith wrote the Major General Commandant and asked him to redesignate the battalion. On 7 January Edson received word that he now headed the 1st Separate Battalion.
A week later James Roosevelt wrote his letter to the Commandant about raid forces. On 14 January General Holcomb sought the reaction of his senior generals to the President's plan to place Donovan in charge of a Marine Corps version of the commandos. In his 20 January reply to the younger Roosevelt, the Major General Commandant pointed out that "the APD Battalion. . . is organized, equipped, and trained for this duty, including in particular the use of rubber boats in night landings." He expressed the hope that the Navy would make destroyer transports available on the West Coast in the near future to support organization of a second APD battalion there. Holcomb obviously intended to use Smith's new force as a convenient means to channel outside interference toward a useful end. His plan did not entirely work.
On 23 January the Navy leadership, undoubtedly in response to political pressure, directed the Pacific Fleet to put together a commando-type unit. The 2d Separate Battalion officially came to life on 4 February. To ensure that this new organization developed along proper lines, the Commandant ordered Edson to transfer a one-third slice of his unit to California as a cadre for the 2d Battalion, which initially existed only on paper. Headquarters
also adopted Red Mike's recommended tables of organization and promulgated them to both battalions. The only change was the addition of an 81mm mortar platoon (though there was no room on the ships of the APD squadron to accommodate the increase). Holcomb even offered to transfer Edson to the 2d Separate, but in the end the Commandant allowed the commanding general of the 2d Marine Division, Major General Charles F. B. Price, to place Major Carlson in charge. James Roosevelt became the executive officer of the unit. In mid-February, at Price's suggestion, the Major General Commandant redesignated his new organizations as Marine Raider Battalions. Edson's group became the 1st Raiders on 16 February; Carlson's outfit was redesignated to the 2d Raiders three days later.
Shaping the Raiders
The raider battalions soon received first priority in the Marine Corps on men and equipment. Edson and Carlson combed the ranks of their respective divisions and also siphoned off many of the best men pouring forth from the recruit depots. They had no difficulty attracting volunteers with the promise that they would be the first to fight the Japanese. Carlson's exactions were much greater than those required to fill out Edson's battalion, but both generated resentment from fellow officers struggling to flesh out the rapidly expanding divisions on a meager skeleton of experienced men. The raiders also had carte blanche to obtain any equipment they deemed necessary, whether or not it was standard issue anywhere else in the Corps.
Carlson and Roosevelt soon broke the shackles that Holcomb had attempted to impose on them. They rejected most of the men whom Edson sent them, and they adjusted the organization of their battalion to suit their purposes. They also inculcated the unit with an unconventional military philosophy that was an admixture of Chinese culture, Communist egalitarianism, and New England town hall democracy. Every man would have the right to say what he thought, and their battle cry would be "Gung Ho!"--Chinese for "work together." Officers would have no greater privileges than the men, and would lead by consensus rather than rank. There also would be "ethical indoctrination," which Carlson described as "giv[ing] conviction through persuasion." That process supposedly ensured that each man knew what he was fighting for and why.
The 2d Raiders set up their pup tents at Jacques Farm in the hills of Camp Elliot, where they remained largely segregated from civilization. Carlson rarely granted liberty, and sometimes held musters in the middle of the night to catch anyone who slipped away for an evening on the town. He even tried to convince men to forego leave for family emergencies, though he did not altogether prohibit it.
Training focused heavily on weapons practice, hand-to-hand fighting, demolitions, and physical conditioning, to include an emphasis on long hikes. As the men grew tougher and acquired field skills, the focus shifted to more night work. Carlson also implemented an important change to the raider organization promulgated from Washington. Instead of a unitary eight-man squad, he created a 10-man unit composed of a squad leader and three fire teams of three men each. Each fire team boasted a Thompson submachine gun, a Browning automatic rifle (BAR), and one of the new Garand M-1 semiautomatic rifles. To keep manpower within the constraints of the carrying capacity of an APD, each rifle company had just two rifle platoons and a weapons platoon. Carlson's system of organization and training was designed to create a force suited "for infiltration and the attainment of objectives by unorthodox and unexpected methods." He and Roosevelt were developing the guerrilla unit they had envisioned.
Edson's battalion retained the table of organization he had designed. It was based on an eight-man squad, with a leader, two BAR men, four riflemen armed with the M-1903 Springfield bolt-operated rifle, and a sniper carrying a Springfield mounting a telescopic sight. (Later in the war he would champion the four-man fire team that became the standard for all Marine infantry.) With smaller squads, his companies contained three rifle platoons and a weapons platoon. His weapons company provided additional light machine guns and 60mm mortars. (The 81mm mortar platoon, added to the headquarters company by the Commandant, would not deploy overseas with the battalion.)
Training was similar to that in the 2d Raiders, except for more rubber boat work due to the convenient location of Quantico on the Potomac River. The 1st Raiders also strove to reach a pace of seven miles per hour on hikes, more than twice the normal speed of infantry. They did so by alternating periods of double-timing with fast walking. Although Red Mike emphasized light infantry tactics, his men were not guerrillas. Instead, they formed a highly trained battalion prepared for special operations as well as more conventional employment.
Edson's style of leadership contrasted starkly with that of his counterpart. He encouraged initiative in his subordinates, but rank carried both responsibility and authority for decision-making. He was a quiet man who impressed his troops with his ability on the march and on the firing ranges, not with speeches. His raiders received regular liberty, and he even organized battalion dances attended by busloads of secretaries from nearby Washington.
The two raider battalions bore the same name, but they could hardly
have been more dissimilar. What they did have in common was excellent training and a desire to excel in battle.
Getting to the Fight
It did not take long for the raiders to move toward the sound of the guns. In early April 1942 the majority of the 1st Raiders boarded trains and headed for the West Coast, where they embarked in the Zeilin. They arrived in Samoa near the end of the month and joined the Marine brigades garrisoning that outpost. Company D, the 81mm mortar platoon, and a representative slice of the headquarters and weapons companies remained behind in Quantico. This rear echelon was under the command of Major Samuel B. Griffith II, the battalion executive officer. (He had recently joined the raiders after spending several months in England observing the British commandos.) This small force maintained some raider capability on the East Coast, and also constituted a nucleus for a projected third raider battalion.
The 2d Raiders spent the month of April on board ship learning rubber boat techniques. The Navy had transferred three of its APDs to the West Coast, and Carlson's men used them to conduct practice landings on San Clemente Island. In May the 2d Raiders embarked and sailed for Hawaii, arriving at Pearl Harbor on 17 May.
Carlson's outfit hardly had arrived in Hawaii when Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander-in-chief of the Pacific Fleet and the Pacific Ocean Areas (CinCPac/CinCPOA), ordered two companies of raiders to Midway to reinforce the garrison in preparation for an expected Japanese attack. They arrived on 25 May. Company C took up defensive positions on Sand Island, while Company D moved to Eastern Island. Trained to fight a guerrilla campaign of stealth and infiltration, these raiders had to conduct a static defense of a small area. In the end, Navy and Marine aircraft turned back
The 10-man rubber boat was designed to be the primary assault landing craft of the Marine raiders. These members of the 1st Raider Battalion sprint ashore after a practice landing through the surf on the island of Samoa in the summer of 1942.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 54087
the invading force in one of the great naval victories of the war. Combat for the Marines on the ground consisted of a single large enemy air attack on the morning of 4 June. Although the Japanese inflicted considerable damage on various installations, the raiders suffered no casualties. Not long after the battle, the two companies joined the rest of the battalion back in Hawaii.
During the summer of 1942 Admiral Nimitz decided to employ Carlson's battalion for its designated purpose. Planners selected Makin Atoll in the Gilbert Islands as the target. They made available two large mine-laying submarines, the Nautilus and the Argonaut. Each one could carry a company of raiders. The force would make a predawn landing on Butaritari Island, destroy the garrison (estimated at 45 men), withdraw that evening, and land the next day on Little Makin Island. The scheduled D-day was 17 August, 10 days after the 1st Marine Division and the 1st Raiders assaulted the lower Solomons. The objectives of the operation were diverse: to destroy installations, take prisoners, gain intelligence on the area, and divert Japanese attention and reinforcements from Guadalcanal and Tulagi.
Companies A and B drew the mission and boarded the submarines on 8 August. Once in the objective area, things began to go badly. The subs surfaced in heavy rain and high seas. Due to the poor conditions, Carlson altered his plan at the last minute. Instead of each company landing on widely separated beaches, they would go ashore together. Lieutenant Oscar F. Peatross, a platoon commander, did not get the word; he and the squad in his boat ended up landing alone in what became the enemy rear. The main body reached shore in some confusion due to engine malfunctions and weather, then the accidental discharge of a weapon ruined any hope of surprise.
First Lieutenant Merwyn C. Plumley's Company A quickly crossed the narrow island and turned southwest toward the known enemy positions. Company B, commanded by Captain Ralph H. Coyt, followed in trace as the reserve. Soon thereafter the raiders were engaged in a firefight with the Japanese. Sergeant Clyde Thomason died in this initial action while courageously exposing himself in order to direct the fire of his platoon. He later was awarded the Medal of Honor, the first enlisted Marine so decorated in World War II.
The raiders made little headway
17-18 August 1942
Sgt Clyde Thomason was posthumously decorated with the Medal of Honor for his leadership in turning back a Japanese counterattack during the Makin raid. He was the first enlisted Marine so decorated in World War II.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 310616
against Japanese machine guns and snipers. Then the enemy launched two banzai attacks, each announced with a bugle call. Marine fire easily dispatched both groups of charging enemy soldiers. Unbeknownst to the Americans, they had nearly wiped out the Japanese garrison at that point in the battle.
At 1130 two enemy aircraft appeared over the island and scouted the scene of action. Carlson had trained his men to remain motionless and not fire at planes. With no troops in sight and no contact from their own ground force, the planes finally dropped their bombs, though none landed within Marine lines. Two hours later 12 planes arrived on the scene, several of them seaplanes. Two of the larger flying boats landed in the lagoon. Raider machine guns and Boys antitank rifles fired at them. One burst into flame and the other crashed on takeoff after receiving numerous hits. The remaining aircraft bombed and strafed the island for an hour, again with most of the ordnance hitting enemy-occupied territory. Another air attack came late in the afternoon.
The natives on the island willingly assisted the Americans throughout the day. They carried ammunition and provided intelligence. The latter reports suggested that enemy reinforcements had come ashore from the seaplanes and from two small ships in the lagoon. (The submarines later took the boats under indirect fire with their deck guns and miraculously sunk both.) Based on this information, Carlson was certain there was still a sizable Japanese force on the island. At 1700 he called several individuals together and contemplated his options. Roosevelt and the battalion operations officer argued for a withdrawal as planned in preparation for the next day's landing on Little Makin. Concerned that he might become too heavily engaged if he tried to advance, Carlson decided to follow their recommendation.
Nautilus (SS 168) enters Pearl Harbor on 26 August 1942 following the 2d Raider Battalion raid on Makin. On deck besides the crew are members of Companies A and B, some wearing Navy-issue clothing to replace that which was lost in the surf attempting to return to the sub. A number of raiders are dressed in black-dyed khaki that they wore in the raid.
This part of the operation went smoothly for a time. The force broke contact in good order and a group of 20 men covered the rest of the raiders as they readied their rubber boats and shoved off. Carlson, however, forgot about the covering force and thought his craft contained the last men on the island when it entered the water at 1930. Disaster then struck in the form of heavy surf. The outboard engines did not work and the men soon grew exhausted trying to paddle against the breakers. Boats capsized and equipment disappeared. After repeated attempts several boatloads made it to the rendezvous with the submarines, but Carlson and 120 men ended up stranded on the shore. Only the covering force and a handful of others had weapons. In the middle of the night a small Japanese patrol approached the perimeter. They wounded a sentry, but not before he killed three of them.
With the enemy apparently still full of fight and his raiders disorganized and weakened, Carlson called another council of war. Without much input from the others, he decided to surrender. His stated reasons were concern for the wounded, and for the possible fate of the president's son (who was not present at the meeting). At 0330 Carlson sent his operations officer and another Marine out to contact the enemy. They found one Japanese soldier and eventually succeeded in giving him a note offering surrender. Carlson also authorized every man to fend for himself--those who wished could make another attempt to reach the submarines. By the next morning several more boatloads made it through the surf, including one with Major Roosevelt. In the meantime, a few exploring raiders killed several Japanese, one of them probably the man with the surrender note.
With dawn the situation appeared dramatically better. The two-man surrender party reported that there appeared to be no organized enemy force left on the island. There were about 70 raiders still ashore, and the able-bodied armed themselves with weapons lying about the battlefield. Carlson organized patrols to search for food and the enemy. They killed two more Japanese soldiers and confirmed the lack of opposition. The raider commander himself led a patrol to survey the scene and carry out the demolition of military stores and installations. He counted 83 dead Japanese and 14 of his own killed in action. Based on native reports, Carlson thought his force had accounted for more than 160 Japanese. Enemy aircraft made four separate attacks during the day, but they inflicted no losses on the raider force ashore.
The Marines contacted the submarines during the day and arranged an evening rendezvous off the entrance to the lagoon, where there was no surf to hinder an evacuation. The men hauled four rubber boats across the island and arranged for the use of a native outrigger. By 2300 the
remainder of the landing force was back on board the Nautilus and Argonaut. Since the entire withdrawal had been so disorganized, the two companies were intermingled on the submarines and it was not until they returned to Pearl Harbor that they could make an accurate accounting of their losses. The official tally was 18 dead and 12 missing.
Only after the war would the Marine Corps discover that nine of the missing raiders had been left alive on the island. These men had become separated from the main body at one point or another during the operation. With the assistance of the natives the group evaded capture for a time, but finally surrendered on 30 August. A few weeks later the Japanese beheaded them on the island of Kwajalein.
The raid itself had mixed results. Reports painted it as a great victory and it boosted morale on the home front. Many believed it achieved its original goal of diverting forces from Guadalcanal, but the Japanese had immediately guessed the size and purpose of the operation and had not let it alter their plans for the Solomons. However, it did cause the enemy to worry about the potential for other such raids on rear area installations. On the negative side, that threat may have played a part in the subsequent Japanese decision to fortify heavily places like Tarawa Atoll, the scene of a costly amphibious assault later in the war. At the tactical level, the 2d Raiders had proven themselves in direct combat with the enemy. Their greatest difficulties had involved rough seas and poor equipment; bravery could not fix those limitations. Despite the trumpeted success of the operation, the Navy never again attempted to use submarines to conduct raids behind enemy lines.
Carlson received the Navy Cross for his efforts on Makin, and the public accorded him hero status. A few of those who served with him were not equally pleased with his performance. No one questioned his demonstrated bravery under fire, but some junior officers were critical of his leadership, especially the attempt to surrender to a non-existent enemy. Carlson himself later noted that he had reached "a spiritual low" on the night of the 17th. And again on the evening of the 18th, the battalion commander contemplated remaining on the island to organize the natives for resistance, while others supervised the withdrawal of his unit. Those who criticized him thought he had lost his aggressiveness and ability to think clearly when the chips were down. But he and his raiders would have another crack at the enemy in the not too distant future.
The Makin operation had not been Nimitz's first choice for an amphibious raid. In late May he had proposed an attack by the 1st Raiders against the Japanese seaplane base on Tulagi, in the lower Solomon Islands. The target was in the Southwest Pacific Area, however, and General Douglas MacArthur opposed the plan. But Tulagi remained a significant threat to the maritime lifeline to Australia. After the Midway victory opened the door for a more offensive Allied posture, the Japanese advance positions in the Solomons became a priority objective. In late June the Joint Chiefs of Staff shifted that region from MacArthur's command to Nimitz's Pacific Ocean Areas command, and ordered the seizure of Tulagi. The Americans soon discovered that the Japanese were building an airfield on nearby Guadalcanal, and that became the primary target for Operation WATCHTOWER. The 1st Marine Division, with the 1st Raider Battalion attached, received the assignment.
In answer to Edson's repeated requests, the rear echelon of his battalion (less the 81mm mortar platoon) finally joined up with him on 3 July in Samoa. The entire unit then moved on to New Caledonia. The 1st Raiders received definitive word on WATCHTOWER on 20 July. They would seize Tulagi, with the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, in support. The 1st Parachute Battalion would take the conjoined islets of Gavutu-Tanambogo. The 1st Marine Division,
7-8 August 1942
less one regiment in reserve, would capture the incomplete airfield on Guadalcanal.
Edson offered to make amphibious reconnaissance patrols of the objectives, but the naval commander rejected that idea. Most of the information on Tulagi would come from three Australians, all former colonial officials familiar with the area. Tulagi was 4,000 yards long and no more than 1,000 yards wide, and a high ridge ran along its length, except for a low, open saddle near the southeast end. The only suitable landing beaches from a hydrographic standpoint were those on either side of this low ground, since coral formations fringed the rest of the island. Intelligence officers estimated that the island held several hundred men of the Japanese Special Naval Landing Force; these were elite troops of proven fighting ability. Aerial reconnaissance indicated they were dug in to defend the obvious landing sites. Planners thus chose to make the assault halfway up the western coast at a place designated as Beach BLUE. They wisely decided to make the first American amphibious assault of the war against natural obstacles, not enemy gunfire.
The raiders sailed from New Caledonia on 23 July and joined up with the main task force for rehearsals on Koro Island in the Fijis. These went poorly, since the Navy boat crews and most of the 1st Marine Division were too green. On the morning of 7 August the task force hove to and commenced unloading in what would become known as Iron-bottom Sound. Although Edson's men had trained hard on their rubber boats, they would make this landing from Higgins boats. After a preliminary bombardment by a cruiser and destroyer, the first wave, composed of Companies B and D, headed for shore. Coral forced them to debark and wade the last 100 yards, but there was no enemy opposition. Companies A and C quickly followed them. The four rifle companies spread out across the waist of the island and then advanced in line to the southeast. They met only occasional sniper fire until they reached Phase Line A at the end of the ridge, where they halted as planned while naval guns fired an additional preparation on the enemy defenses.
The attack jumped off again just before noon, and promptly ran into heavy Japanese resistance. For the remainder of the day the raiders fought to gain control of the saddle from the entrenched enemy, who would not surrender under any circumstances. The Marines quickly discovered that their only recourse was to employ explosives to destroy the men occupying the caves and bunkers. As evening approached, the battalion settled into defensive lines that circled the small ridge (Hill 281) on the tip of the island. The 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, had already scoured the remainder of the island and now took up positions in the rear of the raiders.
The Japanese launched their classic banzai counterattack at 2200 that night. The initial effort punched a small hole in the raider lines between Companies A and C. A second assault, which might have exploited this gap, instead struck full against Company A's front. This time the raiders held their ground. For the remainder of the night the Japanese relied on infiltration tactics, with individuals and small groups trying to make their way into the American rear by stealth. By this means they attacked both the 2d Battalion's command post (CP) and the aid station set up near BLUE Beach. They also came within 50 yards of the raider CP. Edson tried to call for reinforcements, but communications were out.
In the morning things looked much better, just as they had on Makin. At 0900 two companies of the 5th Marines passed through raider lines and swept over the southern portions of Hill 281. The remaining enemy were now isolated in a ravine in the midst of the small ridge. After a lengthy barrage by the 60mm mortars of Company E and their heavier 81mm cousins of the rifle battalion, infantrymen from both outfits moved through the final enemy pocket. Grenades and dynamite were the weapons of choice against the Japanese still holed up in their caves and dugouts. At 1500 Edson declared the island secured. That did not mean the fighting was entirely over. For the next few days Marines scoured the island by day, and fended off occasional infiltrators at night, until they had killed off the last enemy soldier. In the entire battle, the raiders suffered losses of 38 dead and 55 wounded. There were an additional 33 casualties among other Marine units on the island. All but three of the 350 Japanese defenders had died.
On the night of 8 August a Japanese surface force arrived from Rabaul and surprised the Allied naval forces guarding the transports. In a brief engagement the enemy sank four cruisers and a destroyer, damaged other ships, and killed 1,200 sailors, all at minimal cost to themselves. The American naval commander had little choice the next morning but to order the early withdrawal of his force. Most of the transports would depart that afternoon with their cargo holds still half full. The raiders were in a particularly bad way. They had come ashore with little food because the plan called for their immediate withdrawal after seizing the island. Moreover, since they had not cleared the enemy from the only usable beaches until D plus 1, there had been little time to unload anything. The result would be short rations for some time to come.
The 1st Raiders performed well in their initial exposure to combat. Like their compatriots in the 2d Raiders, they were both brave and daring.
This enemy Model 92 7.7mm Lewis machine gun was sited to cover the obvious landing beaches on the southeastern shore of Tulagi. The 1st Raider Battalion made a safe landing by assaulting unfavorable but undefended terrain elsewhere.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 50969
Major Kenneth D. Bailey demonstrated the type of leadership that was common to both units. When an enemy machine gun held up the advance of his company on D-day, he personally circled around the bunker, crawled on top, and pushed a grenade into the firing port. In the process he received a gunshot wound in the thigh. Edson established his reputation for fearlessness by spending most of his time in the front lines, where he contemptuously stood up in the face of enemy fire. More
Marine Gunner Angus H. Goss (shown here training other raiders in 1943) played an unexpected lead role in the seizure of Tulagi. When Japanese holed up in caves, Goss and his demolition platoon attached TNT charges to ends of poles and fashioned the techniques needed to root out the remaining defenders on the island.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 55268
important, he aggressively employed his force in battle, while many other senior commanders had grown timid after years of peacetime service. Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift, commander of the 1st Marine Division, soon wrote Commandant Holcomb that "Edson is one of the finest troop leaders I ever saw."
As August progressed the Japanese moved a steady stream of reinforcements to Guadalcanal in nightly runs by destroyers and barges, a process soon dubbed the "Tokyo Express." The Marines repulsed the first enemy attack at the Tenaru River on 21 August, but Vandegrift knew that he would need all the strength he could muster to defend the extended perimeter surrounding the airfield. At the end of the month he brought the raiders and parachutists across the sound and placed them in reserve near Lunga Point. The latter battalion had suffered heavily in its assault on Gavutu-Tanambogo, to include the loss of its commander, so Vandegrift attached the parachutists to Red Mike's force.
Edson quickly established a rapport
with Lieutenant Colonel Thomas, the division operations officer, and convinced him to use the raiders offensively. The first product of this effort was a two-company patrol on 4 September to Savo Island, where intelligence believed the enemy had an observation post. While Griffith commanded that operation, Red Mike planned a reconnaissance-in-force against Cape Esperance for the next day. When the Savo patrol returned in the late afternoon on Little (APD 4) and Gregory (APD 3), the men began debarking before they received the order to remain on board in preparation for the next mission. Once he became aware of the mix up, Edson let the offload process proceed to completion. That night Japanese destroyers of the Tokyo Express sank the two APDs. It was the second close escape for the raiders. During the shift to Guadalcanal,
This photo, taken on Guadalcanal in 1942, captured three men who figured prominently in the brief history of the raiders. LtGen Thomas Holcomb, left front, authorized the activation of the raiders in February 1942. Col Merritt A. Edson, right rear, played a major hand in creating the raider concept. MajGen Alexander A. Vandegrift, left rear, relied heavily on the raiders in winning the Guadalcanal campaign, then disbanded them in early 1944 when he became Commandant.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 5132
enemy planes had sunk the Colhoun (APD 2) just after it had unloaded a company.
Marine attention soon shifted from Cape Esperance as it became evident that the primary terminus of the Tokyo Express was the village of Tasimboko. On 6 September Edson and Thomas won permission from Vandegrift to raid the area on the eighth. After the loss of three of their APDs, shipping was at a premium, so the raiders boarded the McKean (APD 5), Manley (APD 1), and two converted tuna boats for the operation. The raider rifle companies would comprise the first echelon; the ships then would shuttle back to the Lunga for the weapons company and the parachutists. Native scouts reported there were several thousand Japanese in the area, but division planners discounted that figure. However, Edson did rely on their reports that the enemy defenses faced west toward Marine lines. He decided to land beyond the village at Taivu Point and then advance overland to take the target from the rear.
When the raiders went ashore just prior to dawn on 8 September, they quickly realized the scouting reports had been accurate. As they moved along the coast toward Tasimboko, they discovered more than a thousand life preservers placed in neat rows, a large number of foxholes, and even several unattended 37mm antitank guns. In previous days Major General Kiyotaki Kawaguchi had landed an entire brigade at Tasimboko, but it was then advancing inland. Only a rearguard of about 300 men secured the village and the Japanese supply dumps located there, though this force was nearly as big as the raider first echelon. The Marines soon ran into stubborn resistance, to include 75mm artillery pieces firing pointblank down the coastal road and the orderly rows of a coconut plantation. While Edson fixed the attention of the defenders with two companies, he sent Griffith and Company A wide to the left flank.
Concerned that he might be facing the enemy main force, Red Mike radioed a plea for a supplemental landing to the west of Tasimboko. The last part of the message indicated there was trouble: "If not, request instructions regarding my embarkation." Forty-five minutes later Edson again asked for fresh troops and for more air support. Division responded the same way each time--the raiders were to break off the action and withdraw. Red Mike ignored that order and continued the attack. Not long afterwards, enemy resistance melted away, and both wings of the raider force entered the village around noon. The area was stockpiled with large quantities of food, ammunition, and weapons ranging up to 75mm artillery pieces. Vandegrift radioed a "well done" and repeated his order to withdraw yet again.
The raider commander chose to stay put for the time being, and his men set about destroying as much of the cache as they could. Troops wrecked a powerful radio station, bayoneted cans of food, tore open bags of rice and urinated on the contents or spilled them on the ground, tied guns to landing boats and towed them into deep water, and then finally put the torch to everything that was left. They also gathered all available documents. As the sun went down, the men reembarked and headed for the perimeter, many of them a little bit heavier with liberated chow, cigarettes, and alcohol.
The raid was a minor tactical victory in terms of actual fighting. The Marines counted 27 enemy bodies and estimated they had killed 50. Their own losses were two dead and six wounded. But the battle had important repercussions. The raiders had put a serious dent in Japanese logistics, fire support, and communications. The intelligence gathered had more far-reaching consequences, since it revealed many of the details of the coming Japanese offensive. Finally, the setback hurt the enemy's morale and further boosted that of the raiders. They had defeated the Japanese yet again, and were literally feasting on the fruits of the victory.
The next day Red Mike discussed the situation with division planners. Intelligence officers translating the captured documents confirmed that 3,000 Japanese were cutting their way through the jungle southwest of Tasimboko. Edson was convinced that they planned to attack the currently unguarded southern portion of the perimeter. From an aerial photograph he picked out a grass-covered ridge that pointed like a knife at the airfield. His hunch was based on his own experience in jungle fighting and with the Japanese. He knew they liked to attack at night, and that was also the only time they could get fire support from the sea. And a night attack in the jungle only had a chance if it moved along a well-defined avenue of approach. The ridge was the obvious choice. Thomas agreed. Vandegrift did not, but they convinced the general to let the raiders and parachutists shift their bivouac to the ridge in order to get out of the pattern of bombs falling around the airfield.
The men moved to the new location on 10 September. Contrary to their hopes, it was not a rest zone. Japanese planes bombed the ridge on the 11th and 12th. Native scouts brought reports of the approaching enemy column, and raider patrols soon made contact with the advance elements of the force. The Marines worked to improve their position under severe handicaps. There was very little barbed wire and no sandbags or engineering tools. Troops on the ridge itself could not dig far before striking coral; those on either flank were hampered by thick jungle that would conceal the movement of the enemy. Casualties had thinned ranks,
Night of 12-13 Sep 1942
while illness and a lack of good food had sapped the strength of those still on the lines.
Edson and Thomas did the best they could with the resources available. Red Mike used the spine of the ridge as the dividing point between his two rump battalions. One company of parachutists held the left of his line, with the rest of their comrades echeloned to the rear to protect that flank. Two companies of raiders occupied the right, with that flank anchored on the Lunga River. A lagoon separated the two raider units. Edson attached the machine guns to the forward companies and kept the remaining raiders in reserve. (Company D was no larger than a platoon now, since Red Mike had used much of its manpower to fill holes in the other three rifle companies.) He set up his forward command post on Hill 120, just a few hundred yards behind the front lines.
Thomas placed the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, in reserve between the ridge and the airfield. Artillery forward observers joined Edson and registered the howitzers. The Marines were as ready as they could be, but the selection of the ridge as the heart of the defense was a gamble. To the west of the Lunga there were only a few strongpoints occupied by the men from the pioneer and amphibious tractor battalions. To the east of Red Mike's line there was nothing but a mile of empty jungle.
Kawaguchi was having his own problems. In addition to the setback at Tasimboko, his troops were having a tough time cutting their way through the heavy jungle and toiling over the many ridges in their path. Some of his difficulties were self-inflicted. His decision to attack from the south had required him to leave his artillery and most of his supplies behind, since they could not be hauled over the rough jungle trail. Thus he would go into battle with little fire support and poor logistics. He then detailed one of his four battalions to make a diversionary attack along the Tenaru. This left him with just 2,500 men for the main assault. Finally, he had underestimated the time needed to reach his objective.
On the evening of 12 September, as the appointed hour for the attack approached, Kawaguchi realized that only one battalion had reached its assigned jumpoff point, and no units had been able to reconnoiter the area of the ridge. He wanted to delay the attack, but communications failed and he could not pass the order. Behind schedule and without guides, the battalions hastily blundered forward, only to break up into small groups as the men fought their way through the tangled growth in total darkness. At 2200 a Japanese plane dropped a series of green flares over the Marine perimeter. Then a cruiser and three destroyers opened up on the ridge. For the next 20 minutes they poured shells in that direction, though most rounds sailed over the high ground to land in the jungle beyond, some to explode among the Japanese infantry.
When the bombardment ceased, Kawaguchi's units launched their own flares and the first piecemeal attacks began. The initial assault concentrated in the low ground around the lagoon. This may have been an attempt to find the American flank,
or the result of lack of familiarity with the terrain. In any case, the thick jungle offset the Marine advantage in firepower, and the Japanese found plenty of room to infiltrate between platoon strongpoints. They soon isolated the three platoons of Company C, each of which subsequently made its way to the rear. The Marines on the ridge remained comparatively untouched. As daylight approached the Japanese broke off the action, but retained possession of Company C's former positions. Kawaguchi's officers began the slow process of regrouping their units, now scattered over the jungle and totally disoriented.
In the morning Edson ordered a counterattack by his reserve companies. They made little headway against the more-numerous Japanese, and Red Mike recalled them. Since he could not restore an unbroken front, he decided to withdraw the entire line to the reserve position. This had the added benefit of forcing the enemy to cross more open ground on the ridge before reaching Marine fighting holes. In the late afternoon the B Companies of both raiders and parachutists pulled back and anchored themselves on the ridge midway between Hills 80 and 120. Thomas provided an engineer company, which Edson inserted on the right of the ridge. Company A of the raiders covered the remaining distance between the engineers and the Lunga. The other two parachute companies withdrew slightly and bulked up the shoulder of the left flank. The remains of Companies C and D assumed a new reserve position on the west slope of the ridge, just behind Hill 120. Red Mike's command post stayed in its previous location.
The Japanese made good use of the daylight hours and prepared for a fresh effort. This time Kawaguchi would not make the mistake of getting bogged down in the jungle; he would follow the tactics Edson had originally expected and concentrate
Maj Kenneth D. Bailey was awarded the Medal of Honor for his part in the battle of Edson's Ridge, which saved Henderson Field and the entire Marine perimeter. Although he survived that intense fight, he died just two weeks later leading his men against a Japanese position along the Matanikau River.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 310563
his attack on the open ground of the ridge. The new assault kicked off just after darkness fell. The initial blow struck Company B's right flank near the lagoon. A mad rush of screaming soldiers drove the right half of the raider company out of position and those men fell back to link up with Company C on the ridge. Inexplicably, Kawaguchi did not exploit the gap he had created. Possibly the maneuver had been a diversion to draw Marine reserves off the ridge and out of the way of the main effort.
Edson had to decide quickly whether to plug the hole with his dwindling reserve or risk having the center of his line encircled by the next assault. The enemy soon provided the answer. By 2100 Japanese soldiers were massing around the southern nose of the ridge, making their presence known with the usual barrage of noisy chants. They presumably were going to launch a frontal assault on the center of the Marine line. Red Mike ordered Company C of the raiders and Company A of the parachutists to form a reserve line around the front and sides of Hill 120. Japanese mortar and machine-gun fire swept the ridge; the Marines responded with artillery fire on suspected assembly areas.
The assault waves finally surged forward at 2200. The attack, on a front all across the ridge, immediately unhinged the Marine center. As Japanese swarmed toward the left flank of his Company B, Captain Harry L. Torgerson, the parachute battalion executive officer, ordered it to withdraw. The parachutists in Company C soon followed suit. Torgerson gathered these two units in the rear of Company A's position on Hill 120, where he attempted to reorganize them. The remaining Company B raiders were now isolated in the center. The situation looked desperate.
At this point, the Japanese seemed to take a breather. Heavy fire raked the ridge, but the enemy made no fresh assaults. Edson arranged for more artillery support, and got his own force to provide covering fire for the withdrawal of the exposed raiders of Company B. For a time it looked like the series of rearward movements would degenerate into a rout. As a few men around Hill 120 began to filter to the rear, Red Mike took immediate steps to avert disaster. From his CP, now just a dozen yards behind the front, he made it known that this was to be the final stand. The word went round: "Nobody moves, just die in your holes." Major Bailey ranged up and down the line raising his voice above the din and breathing fresh nerve into those on the verge of giving up. The commander of the Parachute Battalion broke down; Edson relieved him on the spot and placed Torgerson in charge.
The new position was not very strong, just a small horseshoe bent around the hill, with men from several units intermingled on the bare slopes. Red Mike directed the artillery to maintain a continuous
Night of 13-14 Sep 1942
barrage close along his front. When the Japanese renewed their attack, each fresh wave of Imperial soldiers boiled out of the jungle into a torrent of steel and lead. In addition to the firepower of artillery and automatic weapons, men on the lines tossed grenade after grenade at whatever shapes or sounds they could discern. Supplies of ammunition dwindled rapidly, and division headquarters pushed forward cases of belted machine gun ammunition and grenades.
One of the Japanese assaults, probably avoiding the concentrated fire sweeping the crest, pushed along the jungle edge at the bottom of the slope and threatened to envelop the left flank. Edson ordered Torgerson to launch a counterattack with his two reorganized parachute companies. These Marines advanced, checked the enemy progress, and extended the line to prevent any recurrence. Red Mike later cited this effort as "a decisive factor in our ultimate victory."
At 0400 Edson asked Thomas to commit the reserve battalion to bolster his depleted line. A company at a time, the men of the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, filed along the top of the ridge and into place beside those who had survived the long night. By that point the Japanese were largely spent. Kawaguchi sent in two more attacks, but they were hit by artillery fire as the troops assembled and never presented much of a threat. A small band actually made it past the ridge and reached the vicinity of the airfield; the Marines providing security there dealt with them.
The onset of daylight brought an end to any organized effort, though remnants of Japanese assault units were scattered through the fringing jungle to the flanks and rear of the Marine position. Squads began the long process of rooting out these snipers. Edson also ordered up an air attack to strike the enemy units clinging to the southern end of the ridge. A flight of P-400s answered the call and strafed the exposed enemy groups. Kawaguchi admitted failure that afternoon and ordered his tattered brigade to retreat.
The raiders and parachutists had already turned over the ridge to other Marines that morning. The 1st Raiders had lost 135 men, the 1st Parachute Battalion another 128. Of those, 59 men were dead or missing-in-action. Seven hundred Japanese bodies littered the battlefield, and few of Kawaguchi's 500 wounded would survive the terrible trek back to the coast.
The battle was much more than a tremendous tactical victory for the Marines. Edson and his men had turned back one of the most serious threats the Japanese were to mount against Henderson Field. If the raiders and parachutists had failed, the landing strip would have fallen into enemy hands, and the lack of air cover probably would have led to the defeat of the 1st Marine Division and the loss of Guadalcanal. Such a reversal would have had a grave impact on the course of the war and the future of the Corps.
Vandegrift wasted no time in recommending Edson and Bailey for Medals of Honor. Red Mike's citation noted his "marked degree of cool leadership and personal courage." At the height of the battle, with friendly artillery shells landing just 75
yards to the front, and enemy bullets and mortars sweeping the knoll, Edson had never taken cover. Standing in the shallow hole that passed for a CP, he had calmly issued orders and served as an inspiration to all who saw him. War correspondents visiting the scene the day after the battle dubbed it "Edson's Ridge."
The depleted parachutists (55 per cent casualties in the campaign) left Guadalcanal on 17 September on board the convoy that brought in the 7th Marines. The 1st Raiders (33 per cent casualties) remained, and received precious little rest. Just six days after the battle, Vandegrift ordered them to make a reconnaissance south of Edson's Ridge and destroy any Japanese stragglers. The raiders passed through their old position, now strongly defended by the 7th Marines, and followed the track of their beaten foe, a trail marked by abandoned weapons and bodies. Edson made liberal use of artillery and his crew-served weapons against the slightest sign of resistance. At a cost of three wounded, the raiders captured a single dismantled howitzer and killed 19 enemy soldiers. The greatest point of danger in the operation turned out to be the return trip. As the battalion neared friendly lines, the jittery new arrivals of the 7th Marines opened fire on the raiders. Luckily no one was hit.
That same day Vandegrift shipped out several excess colonels and reorganized the senior ranks of the division. Edson took command of the 5th Marines and Griffith succeeded him as head of the 1st Raiders. Red Mike's departure did not take the raider battalion out of the spotlight. Lieutenant Colonel Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller's 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, departed the perimeter on 23 September with the mission of clearing enemy units from the vicinity of the Matanikau River. Once that was accomplished, division wanted to place the raiders in a patrol base near Kokumbona to prevent the enemy's return. That would keep Japanese artillery out of range of the airfield.
On the 24th Puller's men surprised a Japanese unit and routed it, but lost seven killed and 25 wounded in the process. Division sent out the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, as a relief force, since Puller had to use most of his battalion to get the casualties safely back into the perimeter. Puller then continued on with his one remaining rifle company and the 2d Battalion. The combined force reached the Matanikau on 26 September, proceeded down the east bank, then tried to cross the sandbar at the river's mouth. A Japanese company blocked the way and drove the Marines back with heavy fire. Meanwhile another enemy company moved into defensive positions on the eastern end of the single-log bridge that served as the only crossing upstream. The Marines remained ignorant of that move. That afternoon Vandegrift ordered Edson to take charge of the operation, and sent the raiders along to assist him.
Puller and Edson jointly devised a new plan that evening. In the morning the raiders would move upriver, cross at the bridge, and then come back downriver on the far bank to take the Japanese at the river mouth in the flank. To ensure that the enemy force did not retreat out of the trap, the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, would pressure them with its own attack across the sandbar. Finally, the bulk of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, then in the perimeter after the casualty evacuation, would make an amphibious landing beyond Point Cruz to slam shut any possible escape route. The ambitious plan received division's blessing.
After a night of heavy rain, the 2d Battalion launched its assault at the river mouth, but made no progress against continuing strong opposition. The raiders, reinforced by Puller's lone company, advanced upriver, but soon found themselves wedged into a narrow shelf between the water and a steep ridge. The Japanese had placed a tight stopper in this bottle with infantry supported by machine guns and mortars. Bailey responded in his typical fashion and tried to lead the assault--he soon fell mortally wounded. Griffith ordered Company C up the ridge in an effort to outflank the enemy. The Japanese had this approach covered too. When the battalion commander appeared on the ridgeline to observe the action firsthand, a sniper put a bullet in his shoulder. With no outside fire support, the raiders could make no headway against the dug-in Japanese.
Poor communications made things worse. Edson misinterpreted a message from the raiders and thought they were across the river. He launched the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, in yet another assault, this time with help from additional mortars and 37mm antitank guns, but it met the same fate as all previous attempts. Upon landing in the enemy's rear, the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, was surrounded by a large-force enemy bivouaced in the vicinity. The unit had brought no radios ashore and consequently could not immediately inform division of its plight. Eventually the Marines used air panels to signal supporting aircraft. When that word reached Puller, he wanted the 2d Battalion to renew the assault to take pressure off his men, but Edson refused to incur further casualties in a hopeless frontal attack.
Puller eventually extricated his beleaguered force with naval gunfire and messages passed by semaphore flags. Red Mike then ordered the raiders to pull back to the river mouth to join 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, after which both units withdrew to the division perimeter. The units engaged had lost 67 dead and 125 wounded in the course of the operation. This aborted action along the Matanikau was the only defeat the Marines suffered during the
Raider casualties during the all-day action had been comparatively light--two killed and 11 wounded--but that total included both senior officers in the battalion. Command now devolved upon Captain Ira J. "Jake" Irwin. The battalion was worn down by two months of steady fighting, and by the ravages of the tropics. Large numbers of men were ill with malaria and other diseases. The battalion had seen more action than any other on the island, and rumors persisted that they would soon ship out like the parachutists. One raider later recalled that "a more sickly, bedraggled, miserable bunch of Marines would have been hard to find."
The 1st Raiders had one more battle to go on Guadalcanal. In early
Raider Weapons and Equipment
Given their special priority early in the war, the raider battalions had ample opportunity to experiment with weapons and equipment. The result was an interesting collection of items that were often unique to the raiders. The most famous of these were the various models of raider knives. One was a heavy Bowie-type knife with a blade more than nine inches long. These were manufactured specifically for the 2d Raiders and consequently came to be known as "Gung Ho" knives. An entirely different version, a lighter stiletto-type, was modeled on the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife used by the British commandos. These raider stilettos were issued to all four battalions for the later campaigns.
The emphasis on rapid movement on foot drove both Carlson and Edson to emphasize the acquisition of light weapons with a lot of firepower. Both men rejected the standard heavy machine guns and 81mm mortars carried by regular infantry and adopted lighter models. The 2d Raider Battalion was one of the first Marine units to receive the semiautomatic M1 Garand .30-caliber rifle as standard issue; most units, including the 1st Raiders, started the Guadalcanal campaign with the old bolt-action Springfield M1903. The Browning automatic rifle, the reviled Reising sub-machine gun, and the more dependable Thompson sub-machine gun, were favored weapons, particularly in the 2d Raiders, where each fire team boasted a BAR and a Thompson.
Perhaps the oddest weapon carried by the raiders was the Boys antitank rifle, a 35-pound behemoth firing a .55-caliber round. Edson adopted these Canadian weapons to provide his men with a light but serviceable capability against enemy armor. The rifle eventually saw use with other raider battalions. The heavy round was accurate at more than 1,000 yards, and the 2d Raiders used a Boys on Makin to destroy two Japanese seaplanes.
The raiders experimented with a number of odd items of equipment, everything from collapsible bicycles to belly bands. Carlson introduced the latter, a cloth rectangle that could be wrapped around the midsection, where it supposedly prevented intestinal disorders. The 2d Raiders also employed a hunting jacket that could double as a pack--inevitably it was dubbed the "Gung Ho" jacket. Edson's men tried out portable individual field stoves, toggle ropes, and other innovative items. The eight-foot toggle ropes had a loop at one end and a peg at the other; they were helpful when it came time to scale cliffs. The raiders also pioneered the use of camouflage-patterned uniforms and of burlap strips to break up the distinctive outline of their helmets.
A two-man Boys antitank rifle crew mans their weapon during a training exercise in 1943. Two other raiders provide flank protection against enemy infantry. The Boys rifle fired a .55-caliber round guaranteed to penetrate armor.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 56107
October intelligence indicated that the Japanese were building up their forces west of the Matanikau in preparation for another offensive against the perimeter. Division headquarters decided to strike first to secure the crossings over the river. In a plan reminiscent of the beginnings of the previous operation, two battalions of the 5th Marines would move down the coast road, seize the near bank of the Matanikau, and fix the attention of the Japanese forces on the far side. Three other battalions would cross the Matanikau at the single-log bridge and attack north toward the sea. Once they cleared the far side of the river, a force would garrison Kokumbona and prevent further enemy operations in the vicinity. In addition to strengthening the assault forces, this time division provided ample fire support. All units were to move into position on 7 October in preparation for launching that attack the next morning.
When the 5th Marines deployed forward on 7 October, they ran into a Japanese company dug in on the near side of the river just inland from the sandbar. Edson's 2d Battalion managed to secure most of its assigned frontage farther upriver, but his 3d Battalion was unable to break the enemy resistance centered on a well-fortified defensive position. He committed Company L to the battle and then radioed division for reinforcements so he could reconstitute a regimental reserve. Division assigned Company A, 1st Raiders to the task and the unit marched off down the coast road to bivouac next to Red Mike's CP.
That night the Japanese on the near side of the river probed the lines of the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, and mauled the company nearest the sandbar. Early in the morning of 8 October, Edson decided to commit the raiders of Company A to the task of reducing the Japanese pocket. He placed Major Lewis W. Walt in charge of the effort. (Walt had been Company A's commander until Edson had brought him over as operations officer for the 5th Marines.) The raiders drove in a few enemy outposts, but could make little headway against the interlocking fires of the concealed Japanese positions. Meanwhile, heavy rains during the night had continued into the day, and division delayed the move across the river for 24 hours. Vandegrift also decided to alter his original plan to a quick envelopment of the west bank and a return to the perimeter.
Based on these changed circumstances and his own observation at close range of Company A's predicament, Edson halted the attack on the strongpoint. His 3d Battalion would continue to encircle most of the enemy position, while Company A went into the defense on their right flank. The latter's position was shaped like a horseshoe, with the left linking up with the 3d Battalion and facing south toward the bunker complex, the center facing west toward the sandspit, and the right on the beach facing north toward the sea. To fill out the thin line, mortarmen and company headquarters personnel occupied the left flank positions. The raiders expected a Japanese assault across the river mouth to relieve the surrounded bridgehead, so the Marines strung barbed wire at the friendly end of the sandbar. The remainder of the raider battalion came up the coast road and went into reserve.
Just after dusk the Japanese in the strongpoint rushed from their positions in an effort to break through to their own lines. They quickly overran the surprised left flank of Company A and hit the center of the raider line from the rear. The enemy who survived the close-quarters fighting in both locations then ran headlong into the wire, where fire from the remaining Marines cut them down. The lieutenant commanding the raider company tried to recover from the confusion and establish a fresh line farther back along the coast road. In the morning there was some more fighting with a handful of Japanese who had sought refuge in Marine foxholes. Company C of the raiders moved up to occupy the abandoned enemy position and killed three more Japanese still holed-up there. They found an elaborate complex of trenches and bunkers connected by tunnels to an underground command post. The Marines counted 59 bodies stacked up against the wire or strewn about the perimeter. The battalion lost 12 dead and 22 wounded during this stint on the Matanikau.
The raiders suffered one additional casualty during the operation. When Red Mike had gone over to the 5th Marines, he had taken with him his longtime runner, Corporal Walter J. Burak. While carrying a message along the river on the afternoon of 9 October, Japanese machine-gun fire killed the former raider. He was the last member of the 1st Raiders to die in action on Guadalcanal. On 13 October a convoy delivered the Army's 164th Infantry to the island and embarked the raider battalion for transport to New Caledonia. There were barely 200 effectives left in the unit--just a quarter of the battalion's original strength.
The Long Patrol
Not long after the departure of the 1st Raiders, it was the turn of the 2d Raiders to fight on Guadalcanal. Carlson's outfit had been refitting in Hawaii after the Midway and Makin battles. In early September the unit boarded a transport for Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, the primary staging area for most reinforcements going to the southern Solomons. There they continued training until Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner (Commander, Amphibious Force, South Pacific) decided to land a force at Aola Bay on the northeast coast of Guadalcanal to build another airfield. He assigned Carlson and two
companies of raiders to secure the beachhead for an Army battalion, Seabees, and a Marine defense battalion. The McKean and Manley placed Companies C and E ashore on the morning of 4 November. There was no opposition, though it soon became apparent the swampy jungle was no place to put an airfield.
On 5 November Vandegrift sent a message to Carlson by airdrop. Army and Marine elements were moving east from the perimeter to mop up a large force of Japanese located near the Metapona River. This enemy unit, the 230th Infantry Regiment, had cut its way through the jungle from the west as part of a late-October attack on Edson's Ridge by the Sendai Division. For various reasons, the 230th had failed to participate in the attack, and then had completed a circumnavigation of the Marine perimeter to reach its current location in the east. The Tokyo Express had recently reinforced it with a battalion of the 228th Infantry. Vandegrift wanted the raiders to march from Aola and harass the Japanese from the rear. Carlson set out with his force on 6 November, with a coastwatcher and several native scouts as guides. Among the islanders was Sergeant Major Jacob Vouza, already a hero in the campaign. The men initially carried four days of canned rations.
The raiders moved inland before heading west. The trails were narrow and overgrown, but the native scouts proved invaluable in leading the way. On 8 November the point ran into a small Japanese ambush near Reko. The Marines killed two Japanese; one native suffered wounds. The next day the column reached Binu, a village on the Balesuna River eight miles from the coast. There Carlson halted while his patrols made contact with Marine and Army units closing in on the main Japanese force. On 10 November Companies B, D, and F of the 2d Raiders landed at Tasimboko and moved overland to join up with
4 November-4 December 1942
their commander. (Company D was only a platoon at this point, since Carlson had used most of its manpower to fill out the remaining companies prior to departing Espiritu Santo.) From that point on the raiders also received periodic resupplies, usually via native porters dropped on the coast by Higgins boats. Rations were generally tea, rice, raisins, and bacon--the type of portable guerrilla food Carlson thrived on--reinforced by an occasional D-ration chocolate bar.
On the nights of 9 and 10 November about 3,000 Japanese escaped from the American ring encircling them on the Metapona. They were hungry and tired, and probably dispirited now that they had orders to retrace their steps back to the western side of the perimeter. But they were still a formidable force.
On the 11th the 2d Raiders had four companies out on independent patrols while the fifth guarded the base camp at Binu. Each unit had a TBX radio. At mid-morning one
Native scouts lead a combat/reconnaissance patrol of the 2d Raider Battalion across the hills of Guadalcanal. The patrol lasted for less than a month, during which the Marines covered 150 miles and fought more than a dozen actions.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 51728
outfit made contact with a patrol from 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, and learned of the enemy breakout. A few minutes later Company C ran into a large force of Japanese near Asamama on the Metapona River. The Marines had been crossing a wide grassy area. When the advance guard entered a wooded area on the opposite side it surprised the enemy in their bivouac. In the initial action, the advance guard inflicted significant casualties on the Japanese, but lost five men killed and three wounded. In short order the enemy had the remainder of the company pinned down in the open with rifle, machine gun, and mortar fire.
Carlson vectored two of his patrols in that direction to assist, and dispatched one platoon from the base camp. As it crossed the Metapona to reach the main battle, Company E tangled with another enemy group coming in the opposite direction. The more numerous Japanese initially forced the Marines to withdraw, but Major Richard T. Washburn reorganized his company and counterattacked the enemy as they attempted to cross the river. The raiders inflicted significant casualties on their opponent, but could not push through to link up with Charlie Company. In mid-afternoon, Carlson himself led Company F toward Asamama.
By the time he arrived, Company C had extricated itself under covering fire from its own 60mm mortars. Carlson called in two dive bombers on the enemy, ordered Company E to break off its independent action, and launched Company F in a flanking attack against the main Japanese force. Those raiders completed the maneuver by dusk, only to find the enemy position abandoned. The battalion assembled back at Binu that night. There Company D reported that it had run into yet another group
Maj James Roosevelt, the president's son, served as executive officer of the 2d Raiders during the Makin raid and commanded the 4th Raiders after that unit was activated.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 56328
of enemy and been pinned down for most of the afternoon. The understrength unit had lost two killed and one wounded.
On 12 November Carlson led Companies B and E back to the woods at Asamama. Throughout the day enemy messengers attempted to enter the bivouac site under the mistaken notion that it still belonged to their side; the raiders killed 25 of them. In the afternoon Carlson ordered Company C to join him there. The next day he observed enemy units moving in the vicinity, and he placed artillery and mortar fire on five separate groups. After each such mission the raiders dealt with Japanese survivors trying to make their way into the woods. On 14 November Carlson decided to pull back to Binu. That same day a Company F patrol wiped out a 15-man enemy outpost that had been reported by native scouts.
After a brief period to rest and replenish at Binu, the 2d Raiders moved their base camp to Asamama on 15 November. During two days of patrolling from that site, Carlson determined that the main enemy force had departed the area. At Vandegrift's request, the raider commander entered the perimeter on 17 November. Vandegrift directed Carlson to search for "Pistol Pete," an enemy artillery piece that regularly shelled the airfield. The battalion also was to seek out trails circling the perimeter, and any Japanese units operating to the south. The raiders moved forward to the Tenaru River over the next few days.
On 25 November Company A arrived from Espiritu Santo and joined the battalion. For the next few days the 2d Raiders divided into three combat teams of two companies apiece, with each operating from its own patrol base. Each day they moved farther into the interior of the island, in the area between the headwaters of the Tenaru and Lunga rivers. Carlson remained with the center team, from which point he could quickly reinforce either of the flank detachments.
On 30 November the battalion crossed over the steep ridgeline that divided the valleys of the Tenaru and Lunga. Discovery of a telephone wire led the raiders to a large bivouac site, which held an unattended 75mm mountain gun and a 37mm antitank gun. Marines removed key parts of the weapons and scattered them down the hillside. Farther on the advance guard entered yet another bivouac site, this one occupied by 100 Japanese. Both sides were equally surprised, but Corporal John Yancey charged into the group firing his automatic weapon and calling for his squad to follow. The more numerous enemy were at a disadvantage since their arms were stacked out of reach. The handful of raiders routed the Japanese and killed 75. Carlson called it "the most spectacular of any of our engagements." For this feat Yancey earned the first of his two Navy Crosses (the second came years later in Korea).
The next day, 1 December, a Douglas R4D Skytrain transport air-dropped badly needed rations, as well as orders for the battalion to enter the perimeter. Carlson asked for a few more days in the field and got it. On 3 December he held a "Gung Ho" meeting to motivate his exhausted men for one more effort. Then he divided the 2d Raiders in half, sending the companies with the most field time down to Marine lines. The rest he led up to the top of Mount Austen, where a raider patrol had discovered a strong but abandoned Japanese position. The force had barely reached their objective when they encountered an enemy platoon approaching from a different direction. After a two-hour fire fight and two attempts at a double envelopment, the Marines finally wiped out their opponents. The result was 25 enemy dead at a cost of four wounded Marines (one of whom died soon after). The raiders spent a tough night on the mountain, since there was no water available and their canteens were empty. The next day Carlson led the force down into the Marine perimeter, but not without one last skirmish. Seven Japanese ambushed the point and succeeded in killing four men before the raiders wiped them out.
The long patrol of the 2d Raiders was extremely successful from a tactical point of view. The battalion had killed 488 enemy soldiers at a cost of 16 dead and 18 wounded. Carlson's subsequent report praised his guerrilla tactics, which undoubtedly played an important role in the favorable exchange ratio. Far away from the Marine perimeter, the Japanese became careless and allowed themselves to be surprised on a regular basis, a phenomenon other Marine units had exploited earlier in the campaign. Since the 2d Raiders operated exclusively in the enemy rear, they reaped the benefit of their own stealthiness and this Japanese weakness.
The stated casualty figures, however, did not reflect the true cost to the Marines. During the course of the operation, the 2d Raiders had evacuated 225 men to the rear due to severe illness, primarily malaria, dysentery, and ringworm. Although sickness was common on Guadalcanal, Carlson's men became disabled at an astonishing rate due to inadequate rations and the rough conditions, factors that had diminished significantly by that point in the campaign for other American units. Since only two raider companies had spent the entire month in combat, the effect was actually worse than those numbers indicated. Companies C and F had landed at Aola Bay with 133 officers and men each. They entered the perimeter on 4 December with a combined total of 57 Marines, barely one-fifth their original strength. Things would have been worse, except for the efforts of native carriers
The Raider Training Center
The Raider Training Center got its start in late 1942, when the Major General Commandant authorized a slight increase in the table of organization of the newly formed 4th Raider Battalion. These additional two officers and 26 enlisted men became the cadre for the center, which formally came into being at Camp Pendleton, California, on 5 February 1943. The purpose of the center was to train new men up to raider standards and thus create a pool of qualified replacements for the battalions overseas. Prior to this, each raider unit had solicited fresh volunteers from other organizations in rear areas and then incorporated them directly into their ranks. Since most of these young Marines had only rudimentary training in weapons and tactics, the raiders had to expend considerable effort on individual instruction. Worse still, that old system provided no means to replace casualties during prolonged combat operations. Lieutenant Colonel Samuel B. Griffith II had been a prime proponent of the improved setup.
The course was eight weeks long. Carlson's vision of the raiders initially influenced the training program, probably via Lieutenant Colonel James Roosevelt's part in setting up the center. Their hands were obvious in the selection of classes on guerilla warfare and "individual cookery." The latter was a fetish of Carlson's--he thought regular infantry relied too heavily on bulky field kitchens. There also was a week-long field problem in which the students divided into a main body and two guerilla bands acting as agressors. Rubber boat operations occupied a significant block of the schedule. Otherwise, the course focused heavily on traditional individual skills and small unit tactics; marksmanship, scouting, patrolling, physical conditioning, individual combat, and so forth.
While other raiders watch, two instructors demonstrate the dexterity required for hand-to-hand knife fighting.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 54683
Clad in camouflage utilities and fully combat equipped, a raider vaults a barbed-wire obstacle while in training.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 55237
Shown here is one aspect of raider training, crossing a river on a two-rope bridge, not often encountered in combat.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 55234
Negotiating an obstacle course while TNT charges explode nearby, this raider carries a folding-stock Reising gun.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 54686A
Hiking was a major training component for raiders, considering their primary mission as light infantry in combat.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 54678
to keep the raiders supplied. Guerrilla tactics inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy, but at an equally high cost in friendly manpower.
Nevertheless, the 2d Raiders could hold their heads high. Vandegrift cited them for "the consumate skill displayed in the conduct of operations, for the training, stamina and fortitude displayed by all members of the battalion, and for its commendable aggressive spirit and high morale."
Reshaping the Raiders
The 2d Raiders boarded a transport on 15 December and returned to Camp Gung Ho on Espiritu Santo. There they recuperated in pyramidal tents in a coconut grove along the banks of a river. The camp and the chow were Spartan, and the only relief came when a ship took the battalion to New Zealand in February 1943 for two weeks of liberty. The 1st Raiders had returned to Camp Bailey in New Caledonia in October 1942. Their living conditions were similar, except for a slightly better hillside site looking over a river. They spent a month in New Zealand over the Christmas holidays.
These were no longer the only raider battalions in the Marine Corps. Admiral Turner had tried to force each Marine regiment to convert one battalion to a raider organization, but General Holcomb, with an assist from Nimitz, put a stop to that interference in the Corps' internal affairs. However, the Commandant did authorize the creation of two additional battalions of raiders. The 3d Raiders came into being on Samoa on 20 September 1942. Their commander was Lieutenant Colonel Harry B. "Harry the Horse" Liversedge, a former enlisted Marine and a shotputter in the 1920 and 1924 Olympics. The battalion drew on volunteers from the many Marine units in Samoa, and also received small contingents from the 1st and 2d Raiders.
The Corps activated the 4th Raider Battalion in Southern California on 23 October 1942. Major Roosevelt commanded this new unit. The 3d and 4th Raiders both arrived in Espiritu Santo in February 1943.
There as yet existed no common raider table of organization. Carlson retained his six companies of two rifle platoons and a weapons platoon. Griffith adopted the fire team concept, but added a fourth man to each team and retained the four rifle companies and a weapons company established by Edson. Roosevelt's battalion had four rifle companies plus a Demolition and Engineer Company.
On the anniversary of the creation of the 2d Raiders, Carlson addressed his men in a "Gung Ho" meeting. He issued a press release later to publicize his words. In addition to announcing his decision to establish Marine Raider Organization Day, he reviewed the battalion's first year of existence. He noted that his morale had been "low" at times, as the officers and men struggled to learn and implement the philosophy of "Gung Ho." In his mind, the tactical successes of the outfit were less significant than the way in which he had molded it. "Makin brought the story of our methods of living and training to the world. Perhaps this fact was of even greater importance than the material gains of the raid." However, the days of Carlson's influence on the raiders were numbered.
On 15 March 1943 the Marine Corps created the 1st Raider Regment and gave it control of all four
Col Harry B. "Harry the Horse" Liversedge brought the 3d Raider Battalion into existence in September 1942 and then became the first commander of the 1st Marine Raider Regiment upon its activation in March 1943. Here he cuts a cake for his raiders in honor of the Marine Corps birthday on 10 November 1943.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 67934
MajGen Alexander A. Vandegrift (with riding crop) troops the line of the 2d Raider Battalion in New Caledonia in 1943. LtCol Alan Shapley, the battalion commander, is on Vandegrift's left. Shapley ended Carlson's "Gung Ho" experiments.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 60133
battalions. Liversedge, now a colonel, took charge of the new organization. A week later, Lieutenant Colonel Alan Shapley took over command of the 2d Raiders. He was an orthodox line officer who had earned a Navy Cross on board the Arizona (BB 39) on 7 December 1941. He thought the Makin Raid had been a "fiasco," and he had no interest in "Gung Ho." Shapley wasted no time in turning the unit into "a regular battalion." Carlson temporarily became the regimental executive officer, but served there only briefly before entering the hospital weak from malaria and jaundice. Soon thereafter he was on his way stateside. A month later Lieutenant Colonel Michael S. Currin, another officer with more orthodox views, took command of the 4th Raiders from Roosevelt.
The regiment enforced a common organization among the battalions. The result was a mixture of Edson and Carlson's ideas. Carlson bequeathed his fire team and squad to the raiders (and later to the Corps as a whole). But each battalion now had a weapons company, and four rifle companies composed of a weapons platoon and three rifle platoons. Edson's other imprint was the concept of a highly trained, lightly equipped force using conventional tactics to accomplish special missions or to fill in for a line battalion. The 1st Raider Regiment was no guerrilla outfit. Given the changing thrust of the Pacific war, the choice was a wise one. In the future the Marines would be attacking Japanese forces holed up in tight perimeters or on small islands. Guerrilla tactics provided no answer to the problem of overcoming these strong defensive positions.
As the fighting on Guadalcanal drew to a close in early 1943, American commanders intensified their planning for the eventual seizure of Rabaul, the primary Japanese stronghold in the Southwest Pacific. This major air and naval base on the eastern end of New Britain was centrally located between New Guinea and the northwestern terminus of the Solomons. That allowed the Japanese to shift their air and naval support from one front to the other on short notice. Conversely, simultaneous American advances through New Guinea and the Solomons would threaten Rabaul from two directions. With that in mind, Admiral William F. Halsey's South Pacific command prepared to drive farther up the Solomons chain, while MacArthur continued his operations along the New Guinea coast.
Halsey's planners initially focused on New Georgia, a large island located on the southern flank of the Slot about halfway up the Solomons chain. By December 1942, the Japanese had managed to complete an airstrip on New Georgia's Munda Point. Seizure of the island would thus remove that enemy threat and advance Allied aircraft one-third of the way to Rabaul. However, the South Pacific command also was worried about enemy activity in the Russell Islands, located 30 miles northwest of Guadalcanal's Cape Esperance. The Russells had been a staging point for the enemy's reinforcement and subsequent evacuation of Guadalcanal. Strong Japanese forces there would be a thorn in the side of an operation against New Georgia and possibly a threat to Guadalcanal itself. Halsey thus decided to seize the Russells prior to action elsewhere in the Solomons. As an additional benefit, American
fighter planes stationed in the Russells would be able to provide more effective support to the eventual assault on New Georgia.
The landing force for Operation CLEANSLATE (the codename for the Russells assault) consisted of the 43d Infantry Division and the 3d Raider Battalion. The Army division would seize Banika Island while the Marines took nearby Pavuvu. The APDs of Transdiv 12 carried the raiders from Espiritu Santo to Guadalcanal in mid-February. Four days prior to the 21 February D-day, a lieutenant and a sergeant from the raiders scouted both objectives--they found them empty of the enemy. The 3d Raiders thus made an unopposed landing in their first offensive action. The 159th Infantry followed them ashore and assisted in the occupation of the island.
The greatest challenges the Marines faced on Pavuvu were logistical and medical. Due to the Navy's legitimate concern about an enemy air and naval response, the landing plan relied on a rapid offload and quick withdrawal of the transports. The Higgins boats of the APDs were preloaded with raider supplies, while the men went ashore in their rubber boats. A rash of outboard motor failures played havoc with the landing formations, and Liversedge's after action report noted that this could have resulted in "serious consequences." Once ashore, the light raiders suffered from their lack of organic transport as they struggled to manhandle supplies from the beach to inland dumps. During the battalion's subsequent four-week stay on Pavuvu, the diet of field chow and the tough tropic conditions combined to debilitate the troops. Fully one-third developed skin problems, all men lost weight, and several dozen eventually fell ill with malaria and other diseases. Although it was not entirely the fault of planners, the hard-hitting capabilities of the Marine battalion were wasted on
A BAR man in the bow of the rubber landing craft provides covering fire as the 10-man boat crew reaches the undefended beach of Pavuvu in the Russell Islands.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 54765
The 3d Raider Battalion squad pulls its boat into cover on Pavuvu and heads inland.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 54468
As the raider skirmish line maneuvers cautiously through the coconut groves and keeps an eye out for snipers in the treetops, it is also wary of enemy elsewhere.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 54473
CLEANSLATE. Only the two-man scouting team had performed a mission in accordance with the original purpose of the raiders.
In the midst of the execution of CLEANSLATE Halsey continued preparations for subsequent operations in the Central Solomons. This included repeated use of the scouting capability demonstrated in the Russells. At the end of February a Navy lieutenant and six raiders landed at New Georgia's Roviana Lagoon. With the aid of coastwatchers and natives, they spent the next three weeks collecting information on the terrain, hydrographic conditions, and Japanese defenses. On 21 March Consolidated Catalina PBYs landed four raider patrols at New Georgia's Segi Point. From there they fanned out with native guides and canoes to scout Kolombangara, Vangunu, and New Georgia. Other groups visited these areas and Rendova over the course of the next three months. The patrols provided valuable information that helped shape landing plans, and the final groups emplaced small detachments near designated beaches to act as guides for the assault forces.
During May and June the Japanese reinforced their garrisons in the central Solomons to 11,000 men, but this number was grossly insufficient to cover all potential landing sites on the numerous large islands in the region. That gave Halsey's force great flexibility. The final plan called for several assaults, all against lightly defended or undefended targets. On D-day the Eastern Landing Force, consisting of the 103d Infantry, an Army regiment, and the 4th Raider Battalion, would occupy Wickham Anchorage, Segi Point, and Viru Harbor. Naval construction units would immediately build a fighter strip at Segi and a base for torpedo boats at Viru. The Northern Landing Group (the 1st Raider Regiment headquarters, the 1st Raider Battalion, and two army battalions) would simultaneously go ashore at Rice Anchorage, then
Showing Landing Plan and Scheme of Maneuver
attack overland to take Enogai Inlet and Bairoko Harbor. This would cut off the Japanese barge traffic that supplied reinforcements and logistics. The last D-day operation would be the Southern Landing Group's seizure of the northern end of Rendova and its outlying islands. On D plus 4 many of these same units from the 43d Infantry Division would conduct a shore-to-shore assault against the undefended beaches at Zanana and Piraka on New Georgia. Planes from Segi Point and artillery from the Rendova beachhead would render support as the Army regiments advanced overland to capture Munda airfield. D-day was 30 June.
Things did not go entirely according to plan. During June the Japanese used some of their reinforcements to extend their coverage of New Georgia. They ordered a battalion to Viru with instructions to clean out native forces operating in the vicinity of Segi. The Solomon Islanders, under command of Coastwatcher Donald G. Kennedy, had repeatedly attacked enemy outposts and patrols in the area. As the Japanese battalion advanced units closer to Segi Point, Kennedy requested support. On 20 June Admiral Turner ordered Lieutenant Colonel Currin and half of his 4th Raiders to move immediately from Guadalcanal to Segi. Companies O and P loaded on board APDs that day and made an unopposed landing the next morning. On 22 June two Army infantry companies and the advance party of the airfield construction unit arrived to strengthen the position.
Viru presented a tougher problem. The narrow entrance to the harbor was flanked by high cliffs and covered by a 3-inch coast defense gun. Numerous enemy machine guns, including .50-caliber models, occupied supporting positions. Most of the defenses were oriented toward an attack from the sea, so American leaders quickly decided to conduct an overland approach. But that was not easy either, given the difficulty of the trails. After reconnaisance and consultation with higher headquarters, Currin decided to take his raiders by rubber boat to Regi, where they would begin their trek. The assault on Viru would be a double envelopment. Lieutenant Devillo W. Brown's 3d Platoon, designated Task Force B, would take the lightly defended village of Tombe on the eastern side of the harbor. The remainder of the force would attack the main enemy defenses at Tetemara on the opposite shore. The simultaneous assaults were to take place on the originally
Raiders cross one of the many rivers encountered during the New Georgia campaign. (Note that two of the men are armed with Boys .55-caliber antitank rifles.)
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 60166C
scheduled D-day. Once the approaches were secured, APDs would land two Army infantry companies.
The Marines departed Segi the evening of 27 June and landed at Regi just after midnight. They rested a few hours and then moved out single file on the narrow trail. Company O took the lead with Company P bringing up the rear. Native scouts served as guides and the point. The small force had not gone very far when the path disappeared into a swamp. After three hours of tough movement, firing erupted at the end of the column. One of the Japanese patrols known to be in the area had stumbled upon the rear guard. The raiders killed four of the enemy and suffered no casualties. About an hour later a Japanese force of about 20 men, possibly the same force, came up from a side trail and hit the rear guard in the flank. After an hour of firing the enemy broke off the action. There were no known casualties on either side, but the five-man rear point failed to rejoin the Marine column. (They later turned up back at Segi.)
The raiders crossed the Mohi River late in the afternoon and set up a perimeter defense for the night. The wicked terrain and the two forced halts convinced Currin that he would not make it to Viru in time for D-day. Since he no longer had any working radios, he sent two native runners to Kennedy asking him to relay a message to higher command that the 4th Raiders would be a day late in making its attack.
After a miserable rainy night, the Marines moved out. They reached the Choi River late in the morning. As the rear elements crossed, an enemy force on a hill 300 yards to the battalion's flank opened up with heavy fire from machine guns and rifles. The battalion halted again as Currin tried to determine what was transpiring. After about three hours he knew that his rear had successfully engaged a small unit, probably another enemy patrol, so the remainder of the force proceeded on its way. The raiders crossed the snake-like Choi River twice more before halting for the night at 1800. The 3d Platoon reached the perimeter at 2100. They had lost five killed and another man was wounded, but they had counted 18 enemy dead.
It seemed likely that the enemy at Viru was now aware of the Marine presence. Since the native scouts indicated that the area north of the harbor was considered impassable, Currin suspected that the Japanese would reinforce Tombe against an attack from the east. In view of that and the losses to Brown's unit, the colonel decided to strengthen that wing of his assault. Captain Anthony "Cold Steel" Walker would now lead two platoons of his Company P against Tombe. Given the difficulties with the terrain and communications, there would be no attempt to coordinate the two arms of the envelopment; Walker was free to attack whenever he chose after dawn on 1 July. With the plans finalized, the raiders settled in for another night of rain.
The battalion resumed the march early the next morning, but Walker's unit soon branched off on the shorter route to Tombe. During the course of the day the main force crossed several ridges and the Viru and Tita rivers. Everyone, to include the native bearers carrying the heavy weapons ammunition, felt exhausted. But the worst was yet to come. In twilight the Marines had to ford the Mango, a wide, swift river that was at least six feet deep. They formed a human chain and somehow managed to get everyone across without incident. The tough hills now disappeared, but in their place was a mangrove swamp waist deep. In the pitch darkness the men stumbled forward through the mess of water, roots, and mud. Finally the natives brought forward bits of rotting jungle vegetation from the banks of the Mango. With this luminescent material on their backs, each raider could at least follow the man in front. At the end of the swamp was a half mile climb to the top of a ridge where the unit could rest and prepare for the attack. The nightly rain and the struggles of hundreds of men soon made the steep slope nearly impassable. Several hours after nightfall the battalion finally reached level ground and the Marines huddled on the sides of the trail until dawn.
Unbeknownst to the raiders, the amphibious portion of the assault against Viru had taken place as previously scheduled. Although the Navy
The Raider Patch
The use of Marine Corps shoulder patches in World War II originated with the creation of the 1st Marine Division insignia following the Guadalcanal campaign. This was not a new practice for Marines, since members of the Fourth Marine Brigade wore the Star and Indian Head patch of the Army 2d Infantry Division in France during World War I.
The 1st Marine Division emblem consisted of the word "Guadalcanal" lettered in white on a red numeral "1" placed on a sky-blue diamond. The white stars of the Southern Cross surrounded the number. By July 1943, the I Marine Amphibious Corps had adopted a variation for its own patch--a white-bordered, red diamond, encircled by the white stars of the Southern Cross, on a five-sided blue background. Non-divisional corps units each had a specific symbol inside the red diamond. The emblem of the I MAC raider battalions was a skull. While the raider insignia may not have been the most artistic of the Marine Corps shoulder patches in the war, it certainly was the most striking.
The skull device originated with the 2d Raider Battalion, which began using it not long after that unit came into existence. Carlson issued paper emblems, consisting of a skull-like face superimposed on crossed scimitars, to his raiders prior to the Makin raid. Each piece of paper was backed with glue and allegedly raiders were to use them to mark enemy dead for psychological effect, but they stuck together in the humid tropics and proved impractical. By the time Carlson's battalion reached Guadalcanal, the emblem had evolved into a skull backed by a crossed "Gung Ho" knife and lightning bolt. It is not clear who selected the skull for the official raider patch, but that device readily conveyed the image the raiders effectively cultivated--that of an elite force trained to close with and destroy the enemy in commando-style operations.
commander in charge was aware of Currin's message altering the date of the land attack, he chose to order his APDs to approach the harbor on 30 June. The Japanese 3-inch gun quickly drove them off. Unable to contact Currin, higher headquarters then decided to land the Army force embarked in the APDs near the same spot where the raiders had begun their trek. The new mission was to move overland and support the Marines, who were apparently experiencing difficulties. The Japanese commander at Viru reported that he had repulsed an American landing.
Both wings of the raider assault force moved out early on the morning of 1 July. By 0845 Walker's detachment reached the outskirts of Tombe without being discovered. The men deployed, opened fire on the tiny village, and then rushed forward. Most of the defenders apparently died in the initial burst of fire. The two Marine platoons secured the village without a single casualty and counted 13 enemy bodies. Just as that engagement came to a close, six American aircraft appeared over the harbor. These were not part of the original plan, but headquarters had sent them to soften up the objective when it realized that the raider attack would be delayed. Although this uncoordinated air support could have resulted in disaster, it worked out well in practice. The planes ignored Tombe and concentrated their efforts on Tetemara. The Japanese abandoned some of their fixed defenses and moved inland, directly into the path of the oncoming raiders.
Currin's point made contact with the enemy shortly after the bombing ceased. Company O, leading the battalion column, quickly deployed two platoons on line astride the trail. The raiders continued forward and destroyed Japanese outposts, but then ran into the enemy main body, which was bolstered by several machine guns. Progress then was painfully slow as intermittent heavy rains swept the battlefield. Company O's reserve platoon went into line to the left as noise indicated that the enemy might be gathering there for a counterattack. As the day wore on the raiders pushed the Japanese back, until the Marine right flank rested on high ground overlooking the harbor. Currin fed some of Company P's machine guns into the line, then put his remaining platoon (also from Company P) on his right flank. Demolitions men moved forward to deal with the enemy machine guns.
In mid-afternoon a handful of
Japanese launched a brief banzai attack against the Marine left. Not long after this effort dissolved, Currin launched Lieutenant Malcolm N. McCarthy's Company P platoon against the enemy's left flank, while Company O provided a base of fire. McCarthy's men quickly overran the 3-inch gun and soon rolled up the enemy line, as the remainder of the Japanese defenders withdrew toward the northwest. The raiders had suffered 8 dead and 15 wounded, while killing 48 of the enemy and capturing 16 machine guns and a handful of heavier weapons.
The 4th Raiders consolidated its hold on Viru and conducted numerous patrols over the next several days. The two Army companies landed near Regi finally reached Tombe on 4 July. The Navy brought in more Army units on 9 July and the Marines boarded the LCIs for Guadalcanal.
The other half of the 4th Raider Battalion (Companies N and Q) received its baptism of fire during this same period. This unit was under command of the battalion executive officer, Major James R. Clark. It was assigned to assist the Army's 2d Battalion, 103d Infantry (Lieutenant Colonel Lester E. Brown) in seizing Vangunu and the approaches to Wickham Anchorage on 30 June. Intelligence from the coastwatchers indicated that there were about 100 Japanese occupying the island. The plan called for the raiders to make a predawn landing at undefended Oloana Bay. The Army would follow them ashore after daylight, establish a beachhead, and then deal with the enemy, thought to be located in a village along the coast several miles to the east.
The night landing under conditions of low visibility and heavy seas turned into a fiasco. The APDs began debarkation in the wrong spot, their Higgins boats lost formation when they attempted to pass through the LCIs loaded with soldiers, and the two raider companies ended up being scattered along seven miles of coastline. When the Army units began to land after daylight, they found just 75 Marines holding the designated beachhead. A two-man patrol (one lieutenant each from the raiders and the Army battalion) had been ashore since mid-June to reconnoiter with the aid of native scouts. They provided the exact location of the Japanese garrison, and the joint force soon headed to the northeast toward its objective. Native scouts and the handful of Marines led the way, with two Army companies (F and G) in trace. The remaining raiders were to join up with their unit as soon as they could. All but one platoon did catch up by the time the Americans reached their line of departure a few hundred yards north of the village.
The plan of attack was simple. The Army units passed through the raiders on the east-west trail to assume the eastern-most position. The entire column of files then merely faced to the right, which placed the composite battalion on line and pointing toward the enemy to the south. Company Q held the right flank on the bank of the Kaeruka River. Company N in the center and Company F on the left flank would guide on the movements of Q. Company G held back and acted as the reserve. Within minutes of beginning the advance, the attack ran into resistance. Japanese fire from the west bank of the river was particularly heavy and Company Q crossed over to deal with this threat. At the same time Company F moved to its left to skirt around strong defenses. Company G soon moved in to fill the gap. By late afternoon the Americans were able to clear the east bank of the river. Lieutenant Colonel Brown ordered Company Q to disengage from the west bank and join in the battalion's perimeter defense at the mouth of the river. The Marines had lost 10 dead and 21 wounded, while the Army had suffered similarly.
The enemy made no ground attack that night, but periodically fired mortars and machine guns at
The New Georgia Group
American lines. During a lull at 0200 three Japanese barges approached the beach, apparently unaware that ownership of the real estate was under dispute. As they neared shore, the Marines guarding the seaward portion of the perimeter opened up. One craft sank and the other two broached in the surf. Two Marines and one soldier died in the firefight, but the entire enemy force, estimated at 120 men, was destroyed in the water or on the beach.
The next morning Brown decided to disengage and move to Vura Village, where he could reorganize and direct fire support on the remaining enemy at Kaeruka prior to launching another attack. The Americans received only harassing fire as they withdrew. After a day of preparatory fire by air, artillery, and naval guns, the composite battalion returned to Kaeruka on 3 July. They seized the village against minimal resistance, killed seven more Japanese, and captured one. The raiders returned to Oloana Bay by LCI later the next day. On 9 July they made a predawn landing from an LCT on Gatukai Island to investigate reports of a 50-man Japanese unit. The Marines found evidence of the enemy but made no contact. They returned to Oloana Bay on 10 July and departed for Guadalcanal the day after. There they joined up with Lieutenant Colonel Currin and the rest of the 4th Raider Battalion.
The 1st Raider Battalion and the raider regimental headquarters joined in on the New Georgia operation in the early hours of 5 July. They spearheaded the night landing of the Northern Group at Rice Anchorage, a spot selected because previous reconnaissance showed it to be undefended. Coastal guns from Enogai and the island of Kolombangara fired on the APDs during the landing, but their accuracy was poor in the driving rain. The only serious interference came from enemy destroyers; a
The 1st Raider Battalion captured this Japanese 140mm coastal defense gun after striking Enogai from the rear following the unopposed landing on 5 July 1943.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 59009A
long-range torpedo sunk one of the American transports. Nevertheless, the troops and most of their equipment and supplies made it ashore, and the amphibious group was able to withdraw before daylight left them vulnerable to further enemy counter-action.
From Rice Anchorage the 1st Raider Battalion was to advance overland to seize Dragons Peninsula and the enemy's barge bases at Enogai and Bairoko. The Army's 3d Battalion, 148th Infantry, would head deeper into the interior and establish a blocking position on the trail connecting Enogai-Bairoko with Munda. Another Army unit--3d Battalion, 145th Infantry--would divide itself, with half securing the beachhead and the remainder serving as the reserve force. Intelligence reports indicated 500 Japanese troops were in place on Dragons Peninsula. Liversedge and the regimental headquarters accompanied the 1st Raiders.
A reconnaissance patrol headed by raider Captain Clay A. Boyd had already been on the island for some time when the American force landed on 5 July. His small detachment, a coastwatcher, and the ever-present native scouts helped guide the initial waves of Marines to shore. The natives had also cut fresh trails leading to the Giza Giza River at the head of Enogai Inlet. With this advance preparation, the units covered the seven miles of rough terrain to the Giza Giza before nightfall. With darkness came heavy rain. There were no trails through the swamp on the far side of the Giza Giza, and the rain rendered the Tamoko River unfordable, so it took all of the next day for the force to move less than a mile
Northern Landing Group
and cross the Tamoko. There they halted and endured another night of rain.
Late in the morning on 7 July the raider advance guard met up with the enemy for the first time. In a brief fight it killed two men and captured the remaining five members of a small Japanese patrol near the village of Maranusa. From there the trail followed the steep sides of a coral ridge for a mile. In the village of Triri, at the western end of the ridge, the advance guard encountered a second patrol. The raiders killed 11 Japanese here, but lost three dead and four wounded. The attackers set up around Triri for the night and arranged ambushes along the trails entering the village. At dawn on 8 July a strong enemy force bumped into the platoon of raiders from Company D blocking the trail to Bairoko. The fight lasted all morning and the Japanese did not break off till Company C arrived on the scene. The enemy left behind 50 dead.
While the Army companies held Triri, the raider battalion moved out in the afternoon for Enogai. That trail entered yet another swamp along the southern edge of the inlet. This one was so bad that Griffith decided to return to Triri and try a new route the next day. It was just as well, for the Japanese had renewed their counterattack on the Bairoko trail and were pressing hard on the soldiers. A raider platoon from Company B slipped around the enemy flank and soon caused the Japanese to withdraw again.
On the morning of 9 July the 1st Raider Battalion headed down a different trail toward Enogai. It crossed the swamp by an easier route and led onto the high ground that dominated the objective. At 1500 Company C made contact with the Japanese defenses. Company A went into line on the left of Company C, anchoring its left flank on Leland Lagoon. Company B took the right flank. Thick jungle canopy prevented the use of mortars, but the lack of light also kept undergrowth to a minimum, leaving good fields of fire for small arms. Companies A and C were soon pinned down, though Company B reported no contact to its front. As night fell the firing slacked off.
Early the next morning Company B patrols moved forward and discovered their portion of the front unoccupied. Griffith then ordered his right flank to attack through the open terrain near the inlet. Mortars provided valuable support and Company B advanced quickly. With their flank turned, the Japanese began to pull out and cross to the spit of land on the north side of Leland Lagoon. Company A's machine guns turned that into a bloody retreat, but its infantry platoons still could not crack the tough resistance in their immediate front. By evening, however, the raiders had surrounded these final holdouts. At first light the following day (11 July), Company D attacked with hand grenades and cleaned out the area.
American losses in the campaign against Enogai were 54 dead and 91 wounded. But the Marines and soldiers had killed 350 Japanese and seized 23 machine guns and four 140mm coastal defense guns. These results were remarkable given the handicaps which the American forces faced. The rough terrain had made it impossible for the troops to carry all the rations and ammunition they needed. (The 1st Raiders had gone without food for more than a day when supplies air-dropped to Triri finally reached them on the front lines at Enogai the evening of 10 July.) With the exception of one air strike, fire support had come entirely from the raiders' handful of 60mm mortars.
There was also no way to quickly evacuate wounded to adequate hospitals until the Marines had taken Enogai. Then, on July 11, three PBYs flew in to carry the casualties to the rear. That mission almost had an unhappy ending when two Japanese planes appeared and strafed the PBYs as they sat on the water boarding the wounded. Luckily damage was slight and the amphibian planes were able to take off after the attack. When the PBYs departed they carried two of Liversedge's staff officers with a plea for better aerial resupply and for the 4th Raider Battalion.
Things were worse for the 3d Battalion, 148th Infantry. After breaking off from the line of march of the 1st Raiders on 6 July, the soldiers had moved over equally difficult terrain to assume their blocking position on the Munda-Bairoko Trail on 8 July. After initial success against surprised Japanese patrols, the Army battalion fought a bloody action against an enemy force of similar strength that pushed the American soldiers off high ground and away from the important trail. Heavy jungle and poor maps prevented aerial resupply of their position, while illness and casualties sapped manpower. Liversedge led a reinforcing company from the 3d Battalion, 145th Infantry, to the scene on 13 July. Disappointed at the results of this portion of the operation, and unable to reinforce or resupply this outpost adequately, the raider colonel decided to withdraw the force to Triri. There the soldiers would recuperate for the upcoming move on Bairoko and disrupt enemy movement on the Munda-Bairoko Trail with occasional patrols.
Prior to dawn on 18 July four APDs brought the 4th Raider Battalion and fresh supplies to Enogai.
Seizure of Viru Harbor
4th Marine Raider Battalion
28 June - 1 July 1943
A raider 60mm mortar crew goes into action on New Georgia. Because the raiders had no heavier weapons, their initial efforts at Bairoko were mostly unsuccessful.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 54650
Most of the Rice Anchorage garrison had also moved up to join the main force. This gave Liversedge four battalions, but all of them were significantly understrength due to losses already suffered in the New Georgia campaign. The 4th Raider Battalion was short more than 200 men. The 1st Raiders reorganized into two full companies (B and D), with A and C becoming skeleton units. A detachment of the 3d Battalion, 145th Infantry, remained at Rice Anchorage. More important, the enemy at Bairoko was now aware of the threat to its position. Marine patrols in mid-July noted that the Japanese were busily fortifying the landward approaches to their last harbor on the north coast of the island.
Liversedge issued his order for the attack. It would commence the morning of 20 July with two companies of the 1st Raider Battalion and all of the 4th advancing from Enogai while the 3d Battalion, 148th Infantry, moved out along the Triri Bairoko Trail. The American forces would converge on the Japanese from two directions. The remaining Army battalion guarded Triri; Companies A and C of the raiders defended Enogai. These units also served as the reserve. Liversedge requested an air-strike on Bairoko timed to coincide with the attack, but it never materialized.
The movement toward Bairoko kicked off at 0800 and the 1st Raider Battalion made contact with enemy outposts two hours later. Companies B and D deployed into line and pushed through a series of Japanese outguards. By noon Griffith's men had reached the main defenses, which consisted of four fortified lines on parallel coral ridges just a few hundred yards from the harbor. The bunkers were mutually supporting and well protected by coconut logs and coral. Each held a
The Attack on Bairoko
Northern Landing Group
machine gun or automatic weapon. Here the 1st Battalion's attack ground to a halt. Liversedge, accompanying the northern prong of his offensive, committed the 4th Battalion in an attempt to turn the enemy flank, but it met the same heavy resistance. The raider companies slowly worked their way forward, and by late afternoon they had seized the first two enemy lines. However, throughout this advance enemy 90mm mortar fire swept the Marine units and inflicted numerous casualties.
The southern prong of the attack was faring less well. The Army battalion made its first contact with the enemy just 1,000 yards from Bairoko, but the Japanese held a vital piece of high ground that blocked the trail. With the lagoon on one side and a deep swamp on the other, there was no room for the soldiers to maneuver to the flanks of the enemy position. With the approval of the executive officer of the raider regiment, the commander of the Army battalion pulled back his lead units and used his two 81mm mortars to soften the defenses.
When news of the halt in the southern attack made it to Liversedge at 1600, he asked the commanders of the raider battalions for their input. Griffith and Currin checked their lines. They were running out of water and ammunition, casualties had been heavy, and there was no friendly fire support. Neither battalion had any fresh reserves to commit to the fight. Moreover, a large number of men would be needed to hand-carry the many wounded to the rear. The 4th Raiders alone had 90 litter cases. From their current positions on high ground the Marine commanders could see the harbor just a few hundred yards away, but continued attacks against a well-entrenched enemy with fire superiority seemed wasteful. Not long after 1700 Liversedge issued orders for all battalions to pull back into defensive positions for the night in preparation for a withdrawal to Enogai and Triri the next day. He requested air strikes to cover the latter movement.
The move back across Dragons Peninsula on 21 July went smoothly from a tactical point of view. After failing to provide air support for the attack, higher echelons sent 250 sorties against Bairoko to cover the withdrawal. The Japanese did not pursue, but even so it was tough going on the ground. Water was in short supply and everyone had to take turns carrying litters. The column moved slowly and halted every few hundred yards. In the afternoon rubber boats picked up most of the wounded and ferried them to the rear. By that evening the entire force was back in its enclaves at Enogai and Triri. PBYs made another trip to evacuate wounded, though this time two Zero fighters damaged one of the amphibian planes after take-off and forced it to return to Enogai Inlet. Total American casualties were 49 killed, 200 wounded, and two missing--the vast majority of them suffered by the raider battalions.
The failure to seize the objective and the severe American losses were plainly the result of poor logistics and a lack of firepower. A Joint Chiefs of Staff post mortem on the operation noted that "lightly armed troops cannot be expected to attack fixed positions defended by heavy automatic weapons, mortars, and heavy artillery." Another factor of significance, however, was the absence of surprise. The raiders had taken Enogai against similar odds because the enemy had not expected an attack from anywhere but the sea. Victory at Enogai provided ample warning to the garrison at Bairoko, and the Japanese there made themselves ready for an overland assault. The raiders might still have won with a suicidal effort, but Bairoko was not worth it.
The 1st Raider Regiment and its assorted battalions settled into defensive positions for the rest of July. The sole action consisted of patrols toward Bairoko and nuisance raids from Japanese aircraft. In early August elements of the force took up new blocking positions on the Munda-Bairoko Trail. On 9 August they made contact with Army troops from the Southern Landing Group. (Munda Airfield had fallen four days earlier.) Later in the month two Army battalions moved cautiously
Seizure of Wickham Anchorage
30 June - 3 July 1943
against Bairoko and found their way barred by only an occasional small outpost. The main enemy force had escaped by sea and the soldiers took control of the harbor on 24 August.
The raider headquarters and both Marine battalions embarked in transports on 28 August and sailed for Guadalcanal. The New Georgia campaign had been a costly one. Each raider battalion had suffered battle casualties of more than 25 percent. In addition, sickness had claimed an even greater number. The 1st Raiders now had just 245 effectives; the 4th Raiders only 154.
In the immediate aftermath of the fall of New Georgia, the Allies seized other islands in the vicinity, to include Arundel, Vella Lavella, and Kolombangara. Thereafter the South Pacific command turned its attention to the next major step in the encirclement of Rabaul. There were several options, but the final choice was a landing on Bougainville, the largest island in the Solomons group. A month later MacArthur's command would assault Cape Gloucester on the western end of New Britain. Rabaul would then be within range of Allied land-based fighter aircraft coming from two directions. Air power thus could neutralize the Japanese bastion and allow it to be by-passed. The scheduled D-day for Bougainville was 1 November 1943.
Several factors dictated Halsey's scheme of maneuver for the offensive. First, he had too few transports and Marines to make a direct assault on the heavily defended enemy airfields located on the northern and
Cape Torokina on Bougainville is seen after the Allies built an airstrip. Threatening Puruata Island, assaulted by the 3d Raider Battalion on 1 November 1943, is in the foreground. Tiny Torokina Island lies in between Puruata and the Cape.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 68047
I Marine Amphibious Corps
1 November 1943
southern ends of the island. Another consideration was the range of land-based fighters from bases in the Central Solomons--they could only effectively cover a landing in the southern half of Bougainville. The planners settled on the Empress Augusta Bay-Cape Torokina region on the western side of the island. Defenses were negligible there, and Bougainville's difficult terrain would prevent any rapid reaction from enemy ground forces located elsewhere on the island. Once ashore, the invasion force would seize a defensible perimeter, build an airfield, and eventually neutralize the remainder of the island from this enclave. A patrol landed by submarine in late September discovered that the areas back of the landing beaches were swampy. Aerial reconnaissance in October also discovered the construction of new defenses. Neither of these facts changed the plan, however.
For this operation, the 2d and 3d Raider Battalions were organized as the 2d Raider Regiment, with Shapley in command. Lieutenant Colonel Joseph P. McCaffery took over the 2d Raider Battalion. Because of insufficient shipping, the initial landing consisted of just two regiments of the 3d Marine Division, reinforced by the raiders and the 3d Defense Battalion. The remainder of the Marines and the Army's 37th Division would follow at a later time.
On 1 November, the 3d and 9th Marines, assisted by the 2d Raider Battalion, seized a swath of the coast from Cape Torokina to the northwest. At the same time, the 3d Raider Battalion (less Company M) assaulted Puruata Island off Cape Torokina. Japanese defenses in the landing area consisted of a single company supported by a 75mm gun. One platoon occupied Puruata and a squad held Torokina Island, while the rest of the Japanese infantry and the gun were dug in on the cape itself.
The small Japanese force gave a good account of itself. The 75mm gun enfiladed the eastern landing beaches, while machine guns on the two small islands and the cape placed the approaches to this area in a cross-fire. The result was havoc among the initial right flank assault waves, which landed in considerable disorder. The 75mm gun destroyed four landing craft and damaged 10 others before Sergeant Robert A. Owens of the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines silenced it. (He received a posthumous Medal of Honor for his single-handed charge against the key position.)
The 2d Raider Battalion, landing just to the left of Owens' battalion, suffered from the gun, and from mortar and machine gun fire raking the beach. McCaffery succeeded in reorganizing his force on the beach and launching an attack that swept away the enemy defenses, but he fell mortally wounded in the process. Other battalions farther to the west met little or no resistance, except from high surf that caused many landing craft to broach. Company M, 3d Raiders, temporarily attached to the 2d Raider Battalion, moved out at noon and occupied a blocking position 1,500 yards up the Piva Trail, the main avenue of approach into the beachhead. The 3d Raiders silenced the machine guns on Puruata on D-day, and destroyed the last defenders on that island by late afternoon on 2 November. Total raider casualties to this point were three killed and 15 wounded.
Over the next several days the Marines advanced inland to extend their
Demolition men of the 3d Raider Battalion landed on Torokina Island on 3 November, but found that supporting arms had already killed or driven off all Japanese.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 63165
perimeter. There were occasional engagements with small enemy patrols, but the greatest resistance during this period came from the terrain, which consisted largely of swampland and dense jungle once one moved beyond the beach. The thing most Marines would remember about Bougainville would be the deep, sucking mud that seemed to cover everything not already underwater. On 4 November another unit relieved the 2d Raider Battalion on the line, and both battalions of the raider regiment were attached to the 9th Marines. The raiders maintained responsibility for the roadblock, and companies rotated out to the position every couple of days.
Raiders pose during a lull in the battle next to one of the Japanese dugouts they cleared on Cape Torokina on 1 November.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 68117
Raiders move up the muddy Piva Trail to safeguard the flank of the beachhead.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 70785A
Two small attacks hit Company E at the roadblock the night of 5 November, and a larger one struck Company H there two days later. Company G came forward in support and the enemy withdrew, but the Japanese kept up a rain of mortar shells all that night. On the morning of 8 November Companies H and M occupied the post and received yet another assault, this one the heaviest yet. In midafternoon Companies E and F conducted a passage of lines, counterattacked the enemy, and withdrew after two hours.
The next morning Companies I and M held the roadblock as L and F conducted another counterattack preceded by a half-hour artillery preparation. Japanese resistance was stubborn and elements of Companies I and M, and the 9th Marines eventually moved forward to assist. Shortly after noon the enemy retired from the scene. Patrols soon discovered the abandoned bivouac site of the Japanese 23d Infantry Regiment just a few hundred yards up the trail. In the midst of this action PFC Henry Gurke of Company M covered an enemy grenade with his body to protect another Marine. He received a posthumous Medal of Honor for his heroic act of self-sacrifice.
The raider regiment celebrated the Marine Corps' birthday on 10 November by moving off the front lines and into division reserve. Other than occasional patrols and short stints on the line, the next two weeks were relatively quiet for the raiders. The Army's 37th Division began arriving at this time to reinforce the perimeter. On 23 November the 1st Parachute Battalion came ashore and temporarily joined the raiders, now acting as corps reserve. Two days later the 2d Raider Battalion participated in an attack extending the perimeter several hundred yards to the east, but it met little opposition.
On 29 November Company M of the 3d Raider Battalion reinforced the parachutists for a predawn amphibious landing at Koiari several miles southeast of the perimeter. This operation could have been a repeat of the successful Tasimboko Raid, since the Marine force unexpectedly came ashore on the edge of a large Japanese supply dump. However, the enemy reacted quickly and pinned the Marines to the beach with heavy fire. Landing craft attempting to extract the force were twice driven off. It was not until evening that artillery, air, and naval gunfire support sufficiently silenced opposition that the parachutists and raiders could get back out to sea.
Army troops continued to pour into the enlarging perimeter. On 15 December control of the landing force passed from the I Marine Amphibious Corps to the Army's XIV Corps. The Americal Division gradually replaced the 3d Marine Division, which had borne the brunt of the fighting. For much of the month the 2d Raider Regiment served as corps reserve, but these highly trained assault troops spent most of their time on working parties at the airfield or carrying supplies to the front lines. On 21 December the raiders, reinforced by the 1st Parachute Battalion and a battalion of the 145th Infantry, assumed the position formerly occupied by the 3d Marines. The regiment remained there until 11 January, when an Army outfit relieved it. The raiders boarded transports the next day and sailed to Guadalcanal.
The Raider Legacy
While the 2d Raider Regiment had been fighting on Bougainville, the raiders who had participated in the New Georgia campaign had been recuperating and training in the rear. Both the 1st and 4th Battalions enjoyed a month of leave in New Zealand, after which they returned to their base camps in New Caledonia. Just after Christmas 1943 Colonel Liversedge detached and passed command of the 1st Raider Regiment to Lieutenant Colonel Samuel D. Puller (the younger brother of "Chesty" Puller). The regiment embarked on 21 January and arrived at Guadalcanal three days
later. In short order the 2d Raider Regiment disbanded and folded into the 1st, with Shapley taking command of the combined unit and Puller becoming the executive officer.
Bougainville, however, was the last combat action for any raider unit. Events had conspired to sound the death knell of the raiders. The main factor was the unprecedented expansion of the Corps. In late 1943 there were four divisions, with another two on the drawing boards. Even though there were now nearly half a million Marines, there never seemed to be enough men to create the new battalions needed for the 5th and 6th Divisions. In addition to the usual drains like training and transients, the Corps had committed large numbers to specialty units: defense battalions, parachute battalions, raider battalions, barrage balloon detachments, and many others. Since there was no prospect of increasing the Corps beyond 500,000 men, the only way to add combat divisions was to delete other organizations.
Another factor was the changing nature of the Pacific war. In the desperate early days of 1942 there was a potential need for commando-type units that could strike deep in enemy territory and keep the Japanese off balance while the United States caught its breath. However, there had been only one such operation and it had not been a complete success. The development of the amphibian tractor and improved fire support also had removed the need for the light assault units envisioned by Holland Smith at the beginning of the war. Since then the raiders generally had performed the same missions as any infantry battalion. Sometimes this meant that their training and talent were wasted, as happened on Bougainville and Pavuvu. In other cases, the quick but lightly armed raiders suffered because they lacked the firepower of a line outfit. The failure at Bairoko could be partially traced to that fact. With many large-scale amphibious assaults to come against well defended islands, there was no foreseeable requirement for the particular strengths of the raiders.
Finally, there was institutional opposition to the existence of an elite force within the already elite Corps.
Weary members of the 2d Raider Battalion catch a few moments of rest in the miserable, unrelieved wetness that was the hallmark that all troops experienced as soon as they advanced inland from the beach in the Bougainville operation.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 70777
Marine raider Pvt Roy Grier examines the Nambu pistol he liberated from an enemy officer of the Special Landing Force in an encounter on Bairoko.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 59036
The personnel and equipment priorities given to the first two raider battalions at a time of general scarcity had further fueled enmity toward these units. Now that the war was progressing toward victory, there was less interest on the part of outsiders in meddling in the details of Marine Corps organization. Just as important, two senior officers who had keenly felt pain at the birth of the raiders--Vandegrift and Thomas--were now coming into positions where they could do something about it. On 1 January 1944 Vandegrift became Commandant of the Marine Corps and he made Thomas the Director of Plans and Policies.
In mid-December 1943 Thomas' predecessor at HQMC had already set the wheels in motion to disband the raiders and the parachutists. Among the reasons cited in his study was that such "handpicked outfits . . . are detrimental to morale of other troops." A week later, a Marine officer on the Chief of Naval Operation's staff forwarded a memorandum through the Navy chain of command noting that the Corps "feels that any operation so far carried out by raiders could have been performed equally well by a standard organization specially trained for that specific mission." The CNO concurred in the suggestion to disband the special units, and Vandegrift gladly promulgated the change on 8 January 1944. This gave Thomas everything he wanted--fresh manpower from the deleted units and their stateside training establishments, as well as simplified supply requirements due to increased uniformity.
The raiders did not entirely disappear. On 1 February the 1st Raider Regiment was redesignated the 4th Marines, thus assuming the lineage of the regiment that had garrisoned Shanghai in the interwar years and fought so gallantly on Bataan and Corrigedor. The 1st, 3d, and 4th Raider Battalions became respectively the 1st, 3d, and 2d Battalions of the 4th Marines. The 2d Raider Battalion filled out the regimental weapons company. Personnel in the Raider Training Center transferred to the newly formed 5th Marine Division. Leavened with new men, the 4th Marines went on to earn additional distinctions in the assaults on Guam and Okinawa. At the close of the war, the regiment joined the occupation forces in Japan and participated in the release from POW compounds of the remaining members of the old 4th Marines.
The commanders in the Pacific Theater may not have properly used the raiders, but the few thousand men of those elite units bequeathed a legacy of courage and competence not surpassed by any other Marine battalion. The spirit of the raiders lives on today in the Marine Corps' Special Operations Capable battalions. These infantry units, specifically trained for many of the same missions as the raiders, routinely deploy with amphibious ready groups around the globe.
Seabee Chief Earl J. Cobb and Marine raider Cpl Charles L. Marshall shake hands at the site of a sign erected near Bougainville's travelled "Marine Drive Hi-Way."
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 73151
The best primary documents are the relevant operational and administrative records of the Marine Corps held by the Washington National Records Center in Suitland, Maryland. Of particular note are the files of the Amphibious Force Atlantic Fleet, which detail the efforts of Edson and Holland Smith to create their version of the raiders. Another important source is the Edson personal papers collection at the Library of Congress Manuscript Division. The various offices of the Marine Corps Historical Center provide additional useful information. The Reference Section holds biographical data on most significant individuals. The Oral History Section has a number of interviews with senior raiders and other Marines, particularly Brigadier General Charles L. Banks, Brigadier General Fred D. Beans, Colonel Justice M. Chambers, Brigadier General Samuel B. Griffith II, Major General Oscar F. Peatross, Lieutenant General Alan Shapley, and General Gerald C. Thomas. The Personal Papers Section holds numerous items pertaining to the raiders.
A number of secondary sources deal with the history of the raiders in some depth. The Marine Corps' own World War II campaign monographs were based on interviews and other sources of information in addition to the service's archives. Jeter Isely and Philip Crowl's The U.S. Marines and Amphibious War, James Roosevelt's Affectionately, F. D. R., Michael Blankfort's Big Yankee, and Samuel Griffith's Battle for Guadalcanal are valuable books. The Marine Corps Gazette and Leatherneck contain a number of articles describing the raiders and their campaigns. Of particular interest is Major General Peatross' account of the Makin raid in the August and September 1992 issues of Leatherneck. Charles L. Updegraph, Jr's U.S. Marine Corps Special Units of World War II and Lieutenant Colonel R. L. Mattingly's Herringbone Cloak--GI Dagger are two monographs specifically addressing the formation of the raiders. The publications of the two raider associations, The Raider Patch and The Dope Sheet, contain a number of first-person accounts written by former raiders.
About the Author
Major Jon T. Hoffman, USMCR, has spent more than 12 years on active duty as an infantry officer, an instructor at the Naval Academy, and a historian at Headquarters Marine Corps. Presently he is serving as a reserve field historian for the Marine Corps History and Museums Division. He has a master's degree in military history from Ohio State University and a law degree from Duke University. In 1994 Presidio Press published his biography of Major General Edson, Once A Legend, which won the Marine Corps Historical Foundation's Greene Award. He is the author of numerous articles in the Marine Corps Gazette, Naval Institute Proceedings, Naval History, Leatherneck, and Vermont History. His works have earned several writing prizes, including the Marine Corps Historical Foundation's Heinl Awards for 1992, 1993, and 1994.
THIS PAMPHLET HISTORY, one in a series devoted to U.S. Marines in the World War II era, is published for the education and training of Marines by the History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, D.C., as a part of the U.S. Department of Defense observance of the 50th anniversary of victory in that war.
WORLD WAR II COMMEMORATIVE SERIES
DIRECTOR OF MARINE CORPS HISTORY AND MUSEUMS
Brigadier General Edwin H. Simmons, USMC (Ret)
WORLD WAR II COMMEMORATIVE SERIES
Benis M. Frank
George C. MacGillivray
EDITING AND DESIGN SECTION, HISTORY AND MUSEUMS DIVISION
Robert E. Struder, Senior Editor;
W. Stephen Hill, Visual Information Specialist;
Catherine A. Kerns, Composition Services Technician
Marine Corps Historical Center
Building 58, Washington Navy Yard
Washington, D.C. 20374-5040
PCN 190 003130 00
Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation