Early in World War II, FDR let it be known he was fascinated with commando type units. As a rule of thumb, senior leadership in all the services tended to think it was a diversion of manpower and talent to field special units. In effect, to raise a special unit mean to lower the quality of the rest of the force. And with war on an industrial scale, it was the regular units that would ultimately have to win the fight.
But FDR was the boss. And in some circumstances, there were missions that would call for units with greater training, and higher standards than the rest of the force. Airborne, Rangers, and the First Special Service Force (which you may know from the film The Devil’s Brigade) were examples in the Army.
The Marines were not exempt from this call. They formed the 1st Parachute Battalion.
And they also formed two battalions that came to be known as the 1st and 2nd Marine Raider Battalions. Intended to strike hit and run raids on Japanese occupied islands well behind the front lines, it was hoped that surprise raids would force the Japanese to spread their garrisons over a wider range of islands, thereby weakening the garrisons on those islands we would eventually have to attack.
Probably the most famous mission of the Raiders was the Makin Island Raid of 17-18 August, 1942. You’ll note that following so closely on the heels of the initial landings on Guadalcanal, it was likely hoped that the raid would distract the Japanese from Guadalcanal. In that sense, it wasn’t terribly successful. Still, an additional two Raider Battalions were constituted, the 3rd and 4th. A provisional Raider Regiment was also organized.
As the buildup of strength in the Pacific, and the size of the Marines in general, gathered steam, the need for Raider Battalions was seen as diminishing. Raider battalions had tended to be used as traditional infantry battalions. Accordingly, in early 1944, the Raiders were disestablished, and formed the core of a reconstituted 4th Marine Regiment, part of the 6th Marine Division.
Despite their brief existence, the Raiders have long been a cherished, honored part of the Marine’s heritage, with some very, very vocal advocates for their legacy. And when you consider just how vocal the average Marine is about that sort of thing, that gives you an idea how vocal the Raiders advocates were!
When the Marines established MARSOC, or Marines Special Operations Command in 2003, as the Marine component of the US Special Operations Command, there were quite a few people that thought MARSOC should be named Raiders. But the opponents of that won out.
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 move is a significant reversal for Amos, who has been careful to maintain official distance between the eight-year-old legacy of MARSOC and that of the Raiders, who many people consider the first elite Marine operators. In 2011, Amos rejected a proposal to rename MARSOC for the Raiders during a gathering of general officers in New Orleans, saying, according to one general in attendance, ‘your allegiance, your loyalty … is to the Marine Corps, based on the title you have on your uniform.’”
Nonetheless, Amos has been lobbied heavily by the Marine Raider association to make the change. Amos appeared at the organization’s annual reunion last August as the guest of honor, where a member of the group managed to surreptitiously slap a Raider patch on his uniform just as photographers snapped a photo.