Marine Raider History

The U.S. Marine Raiders, also known as the Marine Corps Raiders, are a storied and elite special operations force within the United States Marine Corps. Their history dates back to World War II, and they continue to play a vital role in the Marine Corps’ special operations capabilities. Here is a comprehensive history of the U.S. Marine Raiders:

World War II:

The Marine Raiders were officially established on February 16, 1942, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Merritt A. “Red Mike” Edson. They were modeled after the British Commandos and carried out daring amphibious raids behind enemy lines in the Pacific Theater during World War II.


Lieutenant Colonel Merritt A. “Red Mike” Edson played a pivotal role in the establishment of the U.S. Marine Raiders during World War II. As a distinguished Marine officer, Edson’s leadership, vision, and innovative thinking were instrumental in the creation of this elite special operations force. In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II, Edson recognized the need for a unique, highly-trained unit capable of conducting daring amphibious raids and long-range reconnaissance behind enemy lines in the Pacific Theater.

Edson’s experience and expertise were well-suited for this challenging task. He had previously served as an infantry officer in China and had gained valuable knowledge of guerrilla warfare and unconventional tactics. Drawing inspiration from the British Commandos and their successes, Edson lobbied for the creation of a similar specialized unit within the Marine Corps. His persistence paid off, and on February 16, 1942, the 1st Marine Raider Battalion was activated, marking the birth of the Marine Raiders.

Under Edson’s command, the Marine Raiders rapidly gained a reputation for their audacious and effective operations. The Makin Island raid in August 1942, where Edson personally led his Raiders, showcased their ability to conduct amphibious assaults and strike deep into enemy-held territory. Edson’s leadership and determination were instrumental in proving the concept of Marine Raiders, and their success paved the way for the expansion of the Marine Raider units during World War II.

The Raiders were involved in several significant operations, including the Makin Island raid in August 1942 and the Battle of Guadalcanal later that year. These operations demonstrated their ability to conduct long-range reconnaissance and direct action missions.

Makin Island Raid
The Makin Island Raid, carried out by the U.S. Marine Raiders in August 1942, was a daring and audacious operation that exemplified the elite unit’s ability to conduct amphibious raids deep into enemy-held territory during World War II. Led by Lieutenant Colonel Evans Carlson, the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, and elements of the 2nd Raider Battalion under Captain James Roosevelt, the mission was to disrupt Japanese operations in the Pacific by attacking the heavily fortified island of Makin (now known as Butaritari) in the Gilbert Islands.

The Raiders, using submarines to reach their destination, faced several challenges from the outset, including rough seas and navigational difficulties. Despite these obstacles, they successfully landed on Makin Island on August 17, 1942. The Raiders quickly launched a surprise attack on the Japanese garrison, capturing the airstrip and destroying communications facilities, enemy aircraft, and supplies. The raid inflicted significant damage on the Japanese forces stationed there, disrupted their operations in the Pacific, and served as a morale boost for the Allied forces.

The Makin Island Raid, while considered a tactical success, was not without its challenges. After the initial assault, the Raiders faced fierce Japanese counterattacks and had to fight their way back to their submarines. Despite these difficulties, the raiders managed to withdraw from Makin Island, having accomplished their mission objectives. The raid’s success highlighted the versatility and effectiveness of the Marine Raiders, showcasing their ability to conduct precision strikes deep behind enemy lines, a capability that would continue to be vital in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

Battle of Guadacanal

The U.S. Marine Raiders played a significant role in the Battle of Guadalcanal, a pivotal campaign in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Beginning in August 1942, the battle saw the Marines fighting against entrenched Japanese forces on the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. The Marine Raiders, alongside other Marine units, made vital contributions to the success of this grueling and protracted campaign.

One of the key Raider units involved in the Battle of Guadalcanal was the 1st Marine Raider Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Merritt A. “Red Mike” Edson. These elite forces were instrumental in defending Henderson Field, an airstrip on Guadalcanal that was a strategic target for both American and Japanese forces. The Raiders, known for their toughness and resourcefulness, fiercely defended the airstrip against relentless Japanese assaults. Edson’s Raiders became renowned for their tenacity and courage, earning them the nickname “Edson’s Raiders.”

The Battle of Guadalcanal was characterized by fierce combat, harsh jungle conditions, and naval engagements in the surrounding waters. Despite the challenges, the Marine Raiders, alongside other Marine units, ultimately played a crucial role in securing Guadalcanal and its vital airfield. The battle marked a turning point in the Pacific War, as it was the first significant offensive action taken by U.S. forces against the Japanese Empire. The contributions of the Marine Raiders in this campaign underscored their elite status and their ability to adapt to the harshest of conditions, setting a high standard for future special operations units in the U.S. Marine Corps.

The Marine Raiders were disbanded in 1944, partly due to conflicts with the U.S. Army over overlapping missions. However, their legacy lived on, and their expertise laid the foundation for future Marine Corps special operations units.

Post-World War II Era:

After World War II, the Marine Corps focused on conventional warfare, and the concept of special operations units took a back seat.

In 2006, the Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) was officially activated, marking the rebirth of Marine special operations. MARSOC was inspired by the legacy of the Marine Raiders and was tasked with conducting a wide range of special operations missions.
MARSOC’s Role:

MARSOC is divided into Marine Raiders and Critical Skills Operators (CSOs). Marine Raiders are the enlisted members of MARSOC, while CSOs are the officers.

Marine Raiders are trained to conduct special reconnaissance, direct action, unconventional warfare, and counter-terrorism operations.

Since their re-establishment, Marine Raiders have deployed worldwide in support of the Global War on Terror, conducting missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and various other locations.

Marine Raiders are known for their unique training pipeline, which includes the Individual Training Course (ITC) and the more specialized Advanced Skills Operator Course (ASOC).

MARSOC continues to evolve and adapt to meet the ever-changing demands of modern warfare.

The U.S. Marine Raiders have a storied history of conducting specialized operations in some of the world’s most challenging environments. They are a testament to the Marine Corps’ commitment to maintaining elite, versatile forces capable of carrying out high-stakes missions. As they continue to operate in the 21st century, the legacy of the Marine Raiders lives on, inspired by their predecessors from World War II.

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