During the early years of World War II, the United States Marine Corps Raider battalions became the first American elite units committed to battle the Axis. Though originally conceived as a counterpart to the British commandos, the Raiders proved to be much more, and like their English brethren, laid the groundwork for the future while carving out an illustrious list of accomplishments that earned it a hallowed place in military history.

Lieutenant Colonel Merritt "Mike" Edson
LTC Merritt "Mike" Edson

Born by order of President Franklin Roosevelt, the 1st and 2nd Raider Battalions were formed and activated on February 16, and 19, 1943, respectively, under control of two of the Corp’s most capable officers.

The 1st battalion came under command of Lieutenant Colonel Merritt “Mike” Edson, who decided to train his men from a more traditional standpoint and used basic Marine Corps doctrine as far as strategy, tactics and discipline mattered.

As for 2nd battalion’s commander, Lieutenant Evans Carlson, it was he who had been one of the officers that encouraged Roosevelt to green light the Raiders.

Carlson once served as Marine intelligence officer in China, where he observed tactics used by guerillas against the Japanese. This left a great impression on him about how irregular units could be used, and after assuming leadership of the 1st’s leadership, he exhorted his men to learn his new methods, such as employing three-man fire teams as a basic element of fire and maneuver, downplaying importance of rank to better bond units, and introducing a new word that has since become part of the Marine lexicon:

‘Gung Ho’ (Work Together).

Those who volunteered found training in both battalions to be relentless and in time, for each unit, both commanders methods proved to be ideal, as both soon found themselves fighting on islands in the Pacific, but under much different circumstances.

LTC Evans Carlson with MAJ James Roosevelt
LTC Evans Carlson with MAJ James Roosevelt<br>Image Credit: mca-marines.org

On August 7th 1942, as part of the Guadalcanal campaign, Edson’s Raiders, along with 2nd battalion, 5th Marine regiment, landed on the western shore of Tulagi, a seductive calm greeting them on the beach.