One of the earliest forms of Special Operations Forces in the United States military was indeed that of the U.S. Marine Corps’ elite Raider Battalions. The concept of a raiding force behind enemy lines seems to be a natural choice for the US Marines, as they specialize in amphibious assaults. The pinnacle of the Raiders’ ‘Rubber Boat Raids’ came in summer 1942, during the raid on Makin Atoll. This would turn out to be the textbook style Raider mission, although the operation was anything but.
The Raiders descended, one might say, from the British Commandos. The President had a keen interest in British military affairs, and the Presidents’ son Jimmy also pushed for a fast, hard-hitting, behind the lines special raiding outfit. It was only natural that it be formed in James’ own US Marine Corps. The original cadre of the Raiders actually came from 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in the 1st Marine Division. It was then renamed “1st Separate Battalion” 6 January 1942, That Battalion was transferred to the Pacific Fleet Amphibious Force specifically for engaging in small raids. Because of the Japanese seemingly total dominance in the Pacific Theater, striking back behind the lines seemed to be a good way to keep the Japanese in check, in some form. The 1st Separate Battalion began training on APD’s and Submarines for rubber boat raids. The 2nd Separate Battalion was created 4 February 1942 at Camp Elliot, California. The cadre for this Battalion came from A Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment under the legendary Evans F. Carlson. The name “Raiders” officially came on 16 February 1942 when the original 1st Seperate Battalion became the 1st Raider Battalion.
The original plan of the Makin Atoll island raid was that of a diversion. The original offensive was taking place on Guadalcanal in the Soloman Islands. The idea was to send the Raiders by submarine to attack the Gilbert Islands (Makin Atoll specifically) to attempt to lure the japanese away from the real landing site in the Solomans.
A and B companies of the 2nd Raiders under Evans F Carlson were tasked with the raid. They would be inserting via the USS Nautilus and USS Argonaut. B Company would be on the Nautilus and A Company would go in the Argonaut, waiting until darkness then launching in their rubber boats.
The raid turned out very chaotic, from the swamping of the rubber board outboard engines in the heavy surf at night, losing of weapons and accidental discharge of a BAR when loading it after getting ashore. The Raiders fought many running gun battles with the Japanese until they needed to extract back to the submarines waiting offshore.
Uniform of the Raiders
The main uniform worn by the Raiders of B Company seems to have been the standard issue fatigue uniform of the US Marine Corps. Called Utilities these Model 1941 herringbone twill uniforms were a sage green and very tough. These particular ones shown in the recreation have the common method of marking names across the back – First two initials and last name. It seems that some of the other men in A company were wearing black dyed khakis during the raid, but I will cover that in another post. Precious few photographs exist of the raiders just prior to the raid, but those that exist show burlap style helmet covers. These helmet covers were designed to remove the shine of the helmets when wet.
Here you can see the US Marine Corps issued grenade vest. These look almost identical to the US Army models from WW1. However, you will notice there is a distinctly different buckle for the shoulder strap, and the actual construction of the pocket flaps differs, being much thinner. Also most of the USMC contract examples seemed to have actually been made during wartime, as opposted to WW1.
The Bergmann Raider boots were purchased locally while the 2nd Battalion was training at Jacques Farm, California in 1942.