Merrill’s Marauders

Members of the US Army 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) “Merrill’s Marauders” resting outside of Nhpum Ga in Northern Burma, circa late Mar or early Apr 1944

In 1943, the colorful and eccentric British general, Orde Wingate, created his famous “Chindits” for long range deep penetration raids behind Japanese lines in Burma support of Slim’s 14th Army. Not to be outdone, Joseph Stillwell wanted a similar American formation for long range deep penetration raids behind Japanese lines in Burma in support of his Chinese American Army along the Burma/Ledo Road. A call went up throughout the US military for volunteers for a long and dangerous mission in some of the most unhospitable and unforgiving terrain imaginable. 3000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines from across the Pacific and continental US headed to India to train. They were formed into the 5307th Composite unit (Provisional), codename “Galahad”, and were commanded by BG Frank D. Merrill.

They quickly took the nickname,”Merrill’s Marauders”. On 26 February 1944, 2700 marauders departed Ledo on the 1000 mile march through the Himalayan foothills and Burmese jungle to destroy the Japanese logistics hub at Walabum. Like the Chindits, they were to be supplied completely by air. Due to the Japanese counteroffensive into India in March, the two month operation turned into a four month operation. In those four months of living in the jungle, they had five major and dozens of minor engagements with the Japanese, marched over 2000 miles, fought through the height of the monsoon season, and made Japanese operation in northern Burma a living Hell until they finally seized the vital Myitkyina airfield in late May, 1944. But they wouldn’t be pulled off the line until June.

Malaria, typhus, jungle rot, and particularly dysentery took its toll (Because of this, they all had flaps sewn into their pants so they didn’t have to drop their drawers when they needed to defecate). BG Merrill even had to be evacuated for malaria (and a second heart attack) in April. By the time the Marauders returned to Ledo, they had a staggering 95% casualty rate: only 149 of the original 2997 were not killed, wounded, captured, missing or stricken with disease.

Those 149 would go on to form the nucleus of the 475th Infantry Regiment, which of course would be redesignated after the war to the 75th Infantry Regiment (Ranger).

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