Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Creating the Raiders
Shaping the Raiders
Getting to the Fight
Edson's Ridge
The Long Patrol
Reshaping the Raiders
New Georgia
The Raider Legacy
Major General Merritt A. Edson
Brigadier General Evans F. Carlson
Special Subjects
Destroyer Transports
Raiders Weapons and Equipment
The Raider Training Center
The Raider Patch

FROM MAKIN TO BOUGAINVILLE: Marine Raiders in the Pacific War
by Major Jon T Hoffman, USMCR

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 en joyed 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.

2d Raider Battalion
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

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.

Pvt Roy Grier
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

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 fore seeable 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. 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.

Marine Drive
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 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.

Next Page Document Cover Next Page
MARINES The Few. The Proud.
Back to Top
Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division