Marine Raider Battalions in the Pacific Campaign, 1942-1944
[Excerpted from Marine Corps History on MarineLink the Official Homepage of the United States Marine Corps]
Then-Lieutenant Colonel Merritt A. Edson and almost 5,000 Marine Corps Raiders of World War II were legend in the South Pacific.
Organized in January 1942 and disbanded just two years later, the Raider battalions were developed as a Marine Corps special mission force, based on the success of the British commandos and Chinese guerrillas operating in northern China.
From Guadalcanal and the Makin Atoll to Bougainville and New Georgia, lightly armed and intensely trained Raiders had a three-fold mission: spearhead larger amphibious landings on beaches thought to be inaccessible, conduct raids requiring surprise and high speed, and operate as guerrilla units for lengthy periods behind enemy lines.
Tested first during the Aug. 7, 1942, Guadalcanal landing, Edsons Raiders, the 1st Raider Battalion, struck at Tulagi, an island across the channel from the main landing force.
Ten days later a force of 221 from the 2nd Raider Battalion, named Carlsons Raiders for its commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Evans F. Carlson, landed from two submarines on Butaritari Island, Makin Atoll. The raid inflicted heavy damage and forced the Japanese to divert troops from reinforcing Guadalcanal.
Edson and his Raiders, in conjunction with the Marines 1st Parachute Battalion, left their mark on the Guadalcanal campaign during the night of Sept. 13|14. The intense and vicious close quarters fight is known as the Battle of Edsons Ridge or Bloody Ridge. Among those decorated for heroism was Edson, who received the Medal of Honor.
Refitted, rested and rearmed, the 2nd Raiders, again led by Carlson, landed on a remote Guadalcanal beach and conducted their famous Thirty Days Behind the Lines operation from Nov. 4 to Dec. 4.
Moving up the Solomon Island chain after the capture of Guadalcanal, the 4th Raider Battalion, led by Lieutenant Colonel Michael S. Currin, slipped ashore on New Georgia in late June 1943. For two months the 4th Raiders and their colleagues from the 1st Raider Battalion joined with other Marine and Army units to fight a series of actions in the dense jungle and deep swamps. Bairoko Harbor, New Georgia, in August 1943, was the final action for these men as members of the 1st and 4th Raider battalions.
Bougainville, the largest of the Solomon Islands at nearly 30 miles wide and 125 miles long, was the assignment of the 2nd and 3rd Raider battalions as they led the way for the Nov. 1 invasion. The units led by Lieutenant Colonels Joseph S. McCaffery and Fred S. Beans suffered heavy casualties during their more than two months ashore on Bougainville as they fought beside Army and Marine Corps troops. By mid-January the Raiders were withdrawn from Bougainville, and less than a month later the elite Raider battalions were disbanded.
The 1st, 3rd and 4th Raider battalions became the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd battalions of 4th Marine Regiment when that regiment was re-established on Feb. 1, 1944, bearing the name and honors of the original 4th regiment lost in the Philippines in 1942. The 2nd Battalion became Weapons Company, 4th Marine Regiment.
The legacy of the short-lived Raider history lives on in the perpetual memorial of the former USS Edson (DD-946), the destroyer bearing the name of the first Marine Raider. Twenty-two other U.S. Navy ships are named for men of the 1st Raider Battalion who were killed in action.