Today marks the 69th anniversary of the disbandment of the US Marine Corps’ four Marine Raider Battalions. The Battalions were initially formed to conduct operations behind enemy lines in the Pacific Theater during World War II. The Raiders are perhaps most famous for their operation in August 1942 against Japanese forces on tiny Makin Atoll in the Gilbert Islands.
In order to gather intelligence on enemy forces in the area and to sow confusion in the Japanese command as to where the main Allied thrusts would occur, Admiral Chester Nimitz ordered the 2nd Marine Raiders Battalion, better known as Carlson’s Raiders, to assault Makin Atoll on August 17, shortly after the initial invasion of the Lower Solomons by US forces. On August 8, companies A and B of Carlson’s Raiders were embarked aboard two submarines, USS Nautilus and USS Argonaut, and stealthily made their way to Makin Atoll.
Going ashore in small combat rubber raiding craft, the two companies quickly became intermingled in heavy surf and lost the element of surprise shortly after landing. Over two days of fighting, though, the Raiders annihilated the Japanese ground force and fended off multiple air attacks – all while losing only eighteen dead and twelve missing. Additionally, their supporting submarines sank several small craft with fire from their deck guns. Carlson’s Raiders then re-embarked and made their way to Pearl Harbor to a hero’s welcome. Unfortunately, in the chaos of combat, nine Raiders were left behind and later beheaded after they surrendered on August 30th.
During their brief existence, the men of the Marine Raider Battalions earned seven Medals of Honor and several dozen Navy Crosses and one member went on to earn the Medal of Honor in the Korean War. Today, the spirit of the Marine Raiders live on through their sister WWII unit, the Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion, which has since become Force Recon; as well as through the MARSOC units stood up as part of the US Marine Corps contribution to SOCCOM. The Marine Raiders accomplisments are also remembered through the US Navy’s amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island. The units have also found their place in popular culture with Makin Atoll missions being featured in the wildly popular Call of Duty and Medal of Honor video game franchises.