The U.S. Marine Raiders were designed to serve as an elite, hard-hitting, behind the lines force that could quickly take the fight to the Japanese. They were modeled after the British Commandos. The Commandos operated against the Nazi's behind the lines in Europe. They would come ashore under cover of darkness, strike silently, and swiftly be extracted back to England. Many in the U.S. Marine Corps thought the Marines could use a similar force. There was much political jockeying going on during the process of getting the Raiders approved. There were a number of high-ranking Marine Corps officers who did not condone the idea of having commando type units. The Marine Corps as a whole is an elite fighting force. Many felt adding another level of elite within the elite would take away from the solidarity of the Corps. A young Marine Captain by the name of James Roosevelt, who just happened to have a father in the White House, wrote a letter to Thomas Holcomb, the Commandant of the Marine Corps. In this letter he made a convincing case for the establishment of the Raiders. By many accounts this letter expedited the commissioning of U.S. Marine Raider Battalions. The Raiders were commissioned in February 1942. A small group of Marines went to England to train with the Commandos. They brought these training techniques back to the U.S. and trained the men who would become the Marine Raiders. The Raiders were able to successfully inflict damage and destruction to the Japanese early in the Pacific theater of operations, a time when the U.S. was on the defensive.
The Raiders were the elite of the elite. They were a carefully selected group who went through an intense screening process. The ideal candidate was extremely fit, strong, smart, and aggressive. All candidates were volunteers who knew they would be assigned to extremely dangerous missions once training was completed. The training Raiders underwent made the rigors of standard Marine training seem easy. The Raiders received training on hand-to-hand combat, demolition, survival skills, scuba/swimming, covert operations, and rubber boat maneuvering. They specialized in coming ashore from a submarine under cover of darkness. They are the only U.S. military organization authorized to include a death head skull in their emblem.
The first action by Marine Raiders was by the 1st Marine Raider Battalion in early August 1942 on Tugali Island in the Solomon’s. The 2nd Marine Raider Battalion saw their first action approximately two weeks later on Maikin Island. The two Raider Battalions specialized in destroying supplies, intelligence gathering, demoralizing the enemy, and drawing enemy attention away from areas where major landing of troops was occurring.
Later 3rd and 4th Raider battalions were formed. Colonel James Roosevelt commanded the 3rd Raider Battalion. To this day there is controversy over the whether the Raiders were actually a successful undertaking. The 1st and 2nd sustained heavy losses in the Solomon’s. Accounts of what happened on Maikin Island differ depending on whom you talk to. We do know that there were at least 5 Marines left behind. Most say that they were dead when the two submarines, which came to get them, evacuated the 2nd Raiders. It was certainly a long day with a confusing end and no real way of accounting for all the Marines whereabouts. Critics argue that dead or alive, Marines don’t leave their brothers behind. In the summer of 2000 the remains of those five Marines were recovered and returned to the United States. Some of the artifacts found are on display at the Raider Museum in Richmond, VA.
Marine Corps Heritage Foundation
“The Corps II”
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