The Marine Raider Battalion

There is a reluctance amongst military formations which consider themselves elite to form subunits which feel themselves even further set apart.  Despite it size, the Marine Corps rightly considered itself a select body.  Yet for a short while there existed within the Corps a body of troops who regarded themselves as that little bit different.  These were the Marine Raiders.

The Raiders endured an odd relationship with the rest of the Corps.  The intention was clear enough; to provide a swift, highly mobile force which could hit Japanese interests and be gone before the enemy could react.  The feeling it seems was that any Marine unit should be capable of doing so, so why the need for a specialist outfit?  The same problem had faced the British Commandos.  The Royal Marines had four Battalions of men perfectly capable of undertaking assaults from the sea, so why did the Army want the same?  In Britain the argument was quelled by the intervention of Winston Churchill.  He wanted the Commandos and, thankfully, he got them.  The Royal Marines converted to the same structure and were rewarded for their patience when the Army Commandos were demobilised at the end of the war, not the Marines.

The Marine Raiders had no such benefactor though, and at the beginning of 1944 the existing units were either deactivated or re-designated as 'normal' Marine Battalions.

The Marine Raider Battalion, circa 1942

Headquarters Company (11 Officers, 139 men)

Battalion Headquarters Section (8 Officers, 18 men)

Intelligence Section (12 men)

Personnel Section (6 men)

Supply Section (15 men)

Casual Section (1 Officer, 31 men)

Communication Platoon (1 Officer, 22 men)

Quartermaster & Motor Transport Platoon (1 Officer, 35 men)

Weapons Company (7 Officers, 204 men)

Company Headquarters (2 Officers, 24 men)

Antitank Rifle Section (7 men)

Demolition Platoon (2 Officers, 74 men)

Mortar Platoon (1 Officer, 35 men)

Two Machine Gun Platoons, each (1 Officer, 32 men)

Four Rifle Companies (5 Officers, 130 men) each comprised of;

Company Headquarters (1 Officer, 17 men)

Weapons Platoon comprised of;

Platoon HQ (1 Officer, 4 men)

Antitank Rifle Section (7 men)

Mortar Section (9 men)

Machine Gun Section (9 men)

Three Rifle Platoons, each comprised of;

Platoon HQ (1 Officer, 4 men)

Three Rifle Squads, each comprised of 8 men

Total Strength of 901 all ranks (38 Officers and 863 men)

Points of note

Akin to the British Commandos, the Raiders took their existing Battalion formation and trimmed it down.  In this case, it facilitated the formation of a fourth Rifle Company.  The total all ranks is inclusive of US Navy personnel who provided medical staff for the Battalion as elsewhere in the Marine Corps.

The elements of the Battalion

Battalion Headquarters - contained the command staff of Battalion Commander (Lieutenant-colonel), Executive Officer (Major), Operations officer (Captain) and three Lieutenant.  These latter three acted as Adjutant (doubling as commander of HQ Company), Intelligence and Supply officers.  There was also a US Navy Medical Detachment of two officers and ten men.

Intelligence Section - included nine scouts and observers, with four of the scouts issued with M1903 rifles with telescopic sights.

Supply Section - handled the distribution of supplies throughout the Battalion, and curiously held two spare 60-mm mortars.

Further to these, the Battalion also maintained a weapons pool with twenty two extra BARs (see below for where four of these may have been issued), and two hundred .45-cal submachine guns.  These were issued to the Rifle Squads as required, as discussed below.

Casual Section - perhaps better termed a reserve section, this held a pool of replacement personnel organised as six Squads under a Lieutenant and Sergeant.  There was one Mortar Squad with two 60-mm weapons and one LMG Squad with two M1919A4s.  The remaining four Squads were Rifle, and while my copy of the table is incomplete re the weapons allocation from the totals, I would suggest each was allocated one BAR and one antitank rifle.

Communication Platoon - provided the usual signals services

Motor Platoon - provided the Quartermaster and supply elements, along with the Battalion's motor pool of twelve Jeeps and six trucks.

Mortar Platoon - the Mortar Platoon was the first sign this was a light infantry unit as it served just three 60-mm mortars.  The 81-mm was obviously more effective but it was heavier and less ammunition could be carried for the same weight load of 60-mm rounds. 

Machine Gun Platoon - the Machine Gun Platoons again demonstrated the light weight approach, each serving four M1919A4 light machine guns, with no heavier M1917s issued.

Demolition Platoon - the Demolition Platoon typified the Raider aim of getting in, blowing up items the Japanese regarded as important and then leaving.  It fielded eight Squads, each of eight men, paired up into Sections under a Sergeant and a Platoon HQ commanded by a Captain assisted by a Lieutenant.

The Rifle Company - the Rifle Company was far larger than its Ranger and Commando contemporaries.  Its building block the,  Rifle Squad, provides one of those conundrums of organisation that often appear just when you think you understand matters.

The authorised table of organisation stated an eight man Rifle Squad, comprised of a Corporal, four riflemen, two automatic riflemen and a sniper.  The first five men were each armed with a rifle, the two automatic gunners each a BAR, and the sniper the M1903 Springfield.  Platoon HQ had a Lieutenant and Sergeant, armed with Carbines, a Sergeant Guide (demolitions) and two runners, all armed with rifles. 

This Squad is notably different to the nine man version described in much of the literature on the Raiders, and provides a classic example of the reorganisation of units in the field to meet tactical circumstances.

In this, three teams, each of three men became a favoured option.  In some operations, this was used to field a unique blend of automatic firepower.  Two teams were each equipped with a pair of sub machine guns and one rifle.  The third team substituted a BAR for one of the SMGs.  This naturally meant the Squad had a much reduced range, but reportedly it was a highly efficient unit in combat and despite its weapons was not given to wasteful use of ammunition.  If no additional men were provided in this model, then Platoon HQ would have had to shrink to perhaps no more than an Officer and one man, almost certainly the Platoon Sergeant.

The Weapons Platoon served two 60-mm mortars and two M1919A4 light machine guns in its two Sections.  Its Antitank Rifle Section was initially issued with two British Boys anti-tank rifles, which were to be replaced by the Bazooka when available.  A few Boys models were procured for evaluation by the US but quickly rejected as obsolete.  The Marines in general though were not high on the list for receipt of the new Bazooka in 1942 and the Raiders less so.  The Boys could penetrate a light Japanese tank, the type most likely to be encountered and perhaps it was for this reason they were adopted.  Heavy calibre antitank rifles were also used as long range sniper weapons in many armies.

Company HQ was split into a Combat Section of ten men and a Supply Section of eight.  The Company was commanded by a Captain, unusually with no Executive Officer, with a small staff of NCOs and runners, plus two US Navy  medics.

Summary

The Raider Battalion looked decidedly heavy compared to the stripped back Rangers.  However, there were variations even between the Raider Battalions themselves.  2nd Raiders tried six Rifle Companies and no Weapons Company for example.  The four Raider Battalions eventually settled on three Rifle and one Weapons Company during 1943, though there were other formats before this.  Quite how these changes impacted on the Company organisation is unclear, as the September 1942 tables would appear to be the only ones issued. 

In early 1944, three of the Raider Battalions were used to reconstitute the 'missing' 4th Marine Regiment and the Raider concept passed into history.  In their remarkably short service career though, the Raiders proved the value of light infantry operations against Japanese garrisons.  But as the campaign drew ever closer to the Home Islands, the Marines were not interested in hit and run tactics.  The ground they took they intended to keep, and as such the Raider concept was deemed exhausted.

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