FROM MAKIN TO BOUGAINVILLE: Marine Raiders in the Pacific War
by Major Jon T Hoffman, USMCR
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 di
visions 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 in
doctrination," 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
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.