Evans Carlson and the Marine Raiders of World War II

 
« Previous story
Next story »
 
Evans Carlson and the Marine Raiders of World War II

Last night I was watching Ken Burns’ documentary “The War” and it had a bit about the Marine Raiders, and today as I looked at the History Channels “This Day in History” I saw that today is the anniversary of one of their more infamous raids:

On this day in 1942, Lt. Col. Evans F. Carlson and a force of Marine raiders come ashore Makin Island, in the west Pacific Ocean, occupied by the Japanese. What began as a diversionary tactic almost ended in disaster for the Americans.

Two American submarines, the Argonaut and the Nautilus, approached Makin Island, an atoll in the Gilbert Islands, which had been seized by the Japanese on December 9, 1941. The subs unloaded 122 Marines, one of two new raider battalions. Their leader was Lt. Col. Evans Carlson, a former lecturer on post-revolutionary China. Their mission was to assault the Japanese-occupied Makin Island as a diversionary tactic, keeping the Japanese troops “busy” so they would not be able to reinforce troops currently under assault by Americans on Guadalcanal Island.

Carlson’s “Raiders” landed quietly, unobserved, coming ashore on inflatable rafts powered by outboard motors. Suddenly, one of the Marines’ rifles went off, alerting the Japanese, who unleashed enormous firepower: grenades, flamethrowers, and machine guns. The subs gave some cover by firing their deck guns, but by night the Marines had to begin withdrawing from the island. Some Marines drowned when their rafts overturned; about 100 made it back to the subs. Carlson and a handful of his men stayed behind to sabotage a Japanese gas dump and to seize documents. They then made for the submarines too. When all was said and done, seven Marines drowned, 14 were killed by Japanese gunfire, and nine were captured and beheaded.

Here’s a pretty good history of the Raiders if you have a chance to watch something today:

Evans himself is an amazing man, earning three Navy Crosses:

CARLSON, EVANS FORDYCE
First Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps
Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua
Date of Action: May 16, 1930 – May 1, 1931

The Navy Cross is presented to Evans Fordyce Carlson, First Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while attached to the Guardia Nacional from 16 May 1930 to 1 May 1931. Upon joining the Guardia Nacional, First Lieutenant Carlson was assigned at Jalapa in the bandit area of Nueva Segovia. On 8 July 1930, he received a report that a group of one hundred bandits were looting the town of Portillo. He immediately left with a detachment of sixteen men to gain contact. Four of the men deserted en route but with the remaining twelve men he pushed on and overtook and gained contact with a group of forty bandits, completely routing them, killing two and wounding seven, without any casualties to his detachment. Arms, ammunition, equipment and clothing looted from the town of Portillo were recaptured. Lieutenant Carlson maintained his district in a most excellent manner and by his activities and well-directed operations kept it singularly free from banditry.

Makin Island, Raid (August 17–18, 1942)

CARLSON, EVANS FORDYCE
Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve)
Commanding Officer, 2d Marine Raider Battalion
Date of Action: August 17–18, 1942

The Navy Cross is presented to Evans Fordyce Carlson, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service as Commanding Officer of the Second Marine Raider Battalion in action against Japanese forces on Makin Island, 17–18 August 1942. In the first operation of this type ever conducted by United States forces, Lieutenant Colonel Carlson personally directed his forces in the face of intense fire of enemy ground troops and aerial bombing barrage, inflicting great personnel and material damage on the enemy. In the withdrawal of his forces under adverse sea conditions, he displayed outstanding resourcefulness, initiative and resolute purpose in evacuating all wounded and disabled men. His high courage and excellent leadership throughout the engagement were in keeping with the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Guadalcanal, Long Patrol (November 4–December 4, 1942)

CARLSON, EVANS FORDYCE
Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve)
Commanding Officer, 2d Marine Raider Battalion
Date of Action: November 4–December 4, 1942

The Navy Cross is presented to Evans Fordyce Carlson, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism and courage as leader of the Second Marine Raider Battalion in action against enemy forces in the British Solomon Islands during the period from 4 November to 4 December 1942. In the face of most difficult conditions of tropical weather and heavy growth, Lieutenant Colonel Carlson led his men in a determined and aggressive search for threatening hostile forces, overcoming all opposition and completing their mission with small losses to our men while taking heavy toll of the enemy. His personal valor and inspiring fortitude reflect great credit upon Lieutenant Colonel Carlson, his command and the United States Naval Service.

Alas, Carlson would die of a cardiac arrest in 1947 at the age of 51, and is now buried at Arlington National Cemetery.  The Marine Raiders would be disbanded in January of 1944 because these "handpicked outfits [were] detrimental to morale of other troops."

But in 2015 the US Marine Corps decided that they would change the name of their Special Operations units to match that of their historical antecedent:

The fabled Marine Raiders live again, if in name only. The commandant of the Marine Corps said Wednesday that Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command will be renamed and rebranded in honor of the elite World War II unit.

During MARSOC's change of command ceremony at its headquarters in Sneads Ferry, N.C., Gen. Jim Amos said all units within the parent command would undergo a name change: 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion would become 1st Marine Raider Battalion, and so forth….

"The recent Marine Raider reunions have highlighted their strong desire for their legacy to not be forgotten and to be carried on by another Marine Corps unit," MARSOC spokesman Capt. Barry Morris said in a statement. "We feel we owe it to those Marine Raiders still alive and their families to make every attempt to do so."

Morris said the move also creates a logical historical link between the work of MARSOC and the elite Pacific missions of the Raiders, seven decades ago. Raiders were renowned for mounting long-term operations deep behind enemy lines, with little to no logistical support from larger American forces. Not unlike the Army's Long Range Recon Platoons years later in Vietnam, Marine Raiders were proficient at the types of unconventional warfare methods most often attributed to today's Special Operations Command.

Posted in the burner | 0 comments
 
« Previous story
Next story »

 

* To comment without a Facebook account, please scroll to the bottom.

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.
Have a tip for us? A link that should appear here? Contact us.
News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.