During the summer of 1942 Admiral Nimitz decided to employ Carlson's
battalion for its designated purpose. Planners selected Makin Atoll
in the Gilbert Islands as the target. They made available two large mine-laying
submarines, the Nautilus and the Argonaut. Each one could carry a company
of raiders. The force would make a predawn landing on Butaritari
Island, destroy the garrison (estimated at 45 men), withdraw that evening,
and land the next day on Little Makin Island. The scheduled D-day
was 17 August, 10 days after the lst Marine Division and the lst Raiders
assaulted the lower Solomons. The objectives of the operation were diverse:
to destroy installations, take prisoners, gain intelligence on the area,
and divert Japanese attention and reinforcements from Guadalcanal and
Tulagi. Companies A and B drew the mission and boarded the submarines
on 8 August. Once in the objective area, things began to go badly.
The subs surfaced in heavy rain and high seas. Due to the poor conditions,
Carlson altered his plan at the last minute. Instead of each company landing
on widely separated beaches, they would go ashore together. Lieutenant
Oscar F. Peatross, a platoon commander, did not get the word; he and the
squad in his boat ended up landing alone in what became the enemy rear.
The main body reached shore in some confusion due to engine malfunctions
and weather, then the accidental discharge of a weapon ruined any hope
First Lieutenant Merwyn C. Plumley's Company A quickly crossed
the narrow island and turned southwest toward the known enemy positions.
Company B, commanded by Captain Ralph H. Coyt, followed in trace
as the reserve. Soon thereafter the raiders were engaged in a firefight
with the Japanese. Sergeant Clyde Thomason died in this initial action
while courageously exposing himself in order to direct the fire of his
platoon. He later was awarded the Medal
of Honor, the first enlisted Marine so decorated in World War II.
The raiders made little headway against Japanese machine guns and
snipers. Then the enemy launched two banzai attacks, each announced
with a bugle call. Marine fire easily dispatched both groups of charging
enemy soldiers. Unbeknownst to the Americans, they had nearly wipeout
the Japanese garrison at that point in the battle.
At 1130 two enemy aircraft appeared over the island and scouted
the scene of action. Carlson had trained his men to remain motionless
and not fire at planes. With no troops in sight and no contact from their
own ground force, the planes finally dropped their bombs, though none
landed within Marine lines. Two hours later 12 planes arrived on
the scene, several of them seaplanes. Two of the larger flying boats landed
in the lagoon. Raider machine guns and Boys antitank rifles fired at them.
One burst into flame and the other crashed on takeoff after receiving
numerous hits. The remaining aircraft bombed and strafed the island for
an hour, again with most of the ordnance hitting enemy-occupied territory.
Another air attack came late in the afternoon.
The natives on the island willingly assisted the Americans
throughout the day. They carried ammunition and provided intelligence.
The latter reports suggested that enemy reinforcements had come ashore
from the seaplanes and from two small ships in the lagoon. (The submarines
later took the boats under indirect fire with their deck guns and miraculously
sunk both.) Based on this information, Carlson was certain there was still
a sizable Japanese force on the island. At 1700 he called several individuals
together and contemplated his options. Roosevelt and the battalion operations
officer argued for a withdrawal as planned in preparation for the next
day's landing on Little Makin. Concerned that he might become too heavily
engaged if he tried to advance, Carlson decided to follow their recommendation.
This part of the operation went smoothly for a time. The
force broke contact in good order and a group of 20 men covered the rest
of the raiders as they readied their rubber boats and shoved off. Carlson,
however, forgot about the covering force and thought his craft contained
the last men on the island when it entered the water at 1930. Disaster
then struck in the form of heavy surf. The outboard engines did not work
and the men soon grew exhausted trying to paddle against the breakers.
Boats capsized and equipment disappeared. After repeated attempts
several boat-loads made it to the rendezvous with the submarines, but
Carlson and 120 men ended up stranded on the shore. Only the covering
force and a handful of others had weapons. In the middle of the night
a small Japanese patrol approached the perimeter. They wounded a
sentry, but not before he killed three of them.
With the enemy apparently still full of fight and his raiders
disorganized and weakened, Carlson called another council of war. Without
much input from the others, he decided to surrender. His stated reasons
were concern for the wounded, and for the possible fate of the president's
son (who was not present at the meeting). At 0330 Carlson sent his operations
officer and another Marine out to contact the enemy. They found
one Japanese soldier and eventually succeeded in giving him a note offering
surrender. Carlson also authorized every man to fend for himself -those
who wished could make another attempt to reach the submarines. By the
next morning several more boatloads made it through the surf, including
one with Major Roosevelt. In the meantime, a few exploring raiders
killed several Japanese, one of them probably the man with the surrender
With dawn the situation appeared dramatically better. The
two-man surrender party reported that there appeared to be no organized
enemy force left on the island. There were about 70 raiders still ashore,
and the able-bodied armed themselves with weapons lying about the battlefield.
Carlson organized patrols to search for food and the enemy. They
killed two more Japanese soldiers and confirmed the lack of opposition.
The raider commander himself led a patrol to survey the scene and
carry out the demolition of military stores and installations. He counted
83 dead Japanese and 14 of his own killed in action. Based on native reports,
Carlson thought his force had accounted for more than 160 Japanese. Enemy
aircraft made four separate attack during the day, but they inflicted
no losses on the raider force ashore.
The Marines contacted the submarines during the day and arranged
an evening rendezvous off the entrance to the lagoon, where there was
no surf to hinder an evacuation. The men hauled four rubber boats across
the island and arranged for the use of a native outrigger. By 2300 the
remainder of the landing force was back on board the Nautilus and Argonaut.
Since the entire withdrawal had been so disorganized, the two companies
were intermingled on the submarines and it was not until they returned
to Pearl Harbor that they could make an accurate accounting of their losses.
The official tally was 18 dead and 12 missing.
Only after the war would the Marine Corps discover that nine
of the missing raiders had been left alive on the island. These
men had become separated from the main body at one point or another during
the operation. With the assistance of the natives the group evaded capture
for a time, but finally surrendered on 30 August. A few weeks later the
Japanese beheaded them on the island of Kwajalein.
The raid itself had mixed results. Reports painted
it as a great victory and it boosted morale on the home front. Many believed
it achieved its original goal of diverting forces from Guadalcanal, but
the Japanese had immediately guessed the size and purpose of the operation
and had not let it alter their plans for the Solomons. However, it did
cause the enemy to worry about the potential for other such raids on rear
area installations. On the negative side, that threat may have played
a part in the subsequent Japanese decision to fortify heavily places like
Tarawa Atoll, the scene of a costly amphibious assault later in the war
. At the tactical level, the 2d Raiders had proven themselves in direct
combat with the enemy. Their greatest difficulties had involved rough
seas and poor equipment; bravery could not fix those limitations. Despite
the trumpeted success of the operation, the Navy never again attempted
to use submarines to conduct raids behind enemy lines.
Carlson received the Navy Cross for his efforts on Makin,
and the public accorded him hero status. A few of those who served
with him were not equally pleased with his performance. No one questioned
his demonstrated bravery under fire, but some junior officers were critical
of his leadership, especially the attempt to surrender to a non-existent
enemy. Carlson himself later noted that he had reached "a spiritual
low" on the night of the 17th. And again on the evening of the 18th, the
battalion commander contemplated remaining on the island to organize the
natives for resistance, while others supervised the withdrawal of his
unit. Those who criticized him thought he had lost his aggressiveness
and ability to think clearly when the chips were down. But he and his
raiders would have another crack at the enemy in the not too distant future.
* * *
Eulogy Given by Colonel Carlson at the Memorial Meeting After
the Return of the 2nd. Battalion from Makin Island. August 1942
We are gathered here today to honor the memory of our comrades
who remain at Makin. We miss them. Each had his special place among us,
and that place is imperishably his. Being human, we mourn the loss of
each. But I believe that these gallant men who so eagerly, so willingly
went forth to meet the enemy would not have us weep and bemoan their passing.
They loved life, those comrades of ours. They were vital, eager, thoughtful
and realistic. They had convictions and they lived those convictions even
to the point of sacrificing their lives.
They are still with us in spirit. Allard with his boyish smile, Johnson
with his strange scowl, Jerry Holton with his lumbering stride and
eager, half embarrassed manner, and the others. You know the
characteristics of each as well as I. Who will say that the spirit of
all these men we knew so intimately does not remain with us?
It was not possible to render honors to these fallen comrades on
the field of battle. I did what I could. I went to each as he lay with
his face toward the enemy. I placed each on his back that he might
rest more easily, and I said a silent prayer over each. With the native
Gilbertese I arranged for each to be given a Christian burial.
And so they lie there today, in the soil of the delightful South Pacific
Island, beneath the palms under which they won their victory.
It behooves us who remain to rededicate ourselves to the task that lies
ahead. The convictions of these comrades are our convictions. With the
memory of their sacrifice in mind, let us here dedicate ourselves to the
task of bringing into reality the ideals for which they died; that their
sacrifice will not have been in vain.
We salute you, comrades. We salute you as Raiders, as Marines, as Americans,
as men! God bless you!
* * *
ISLAND RAIDERS (part1)
ISLAND RAIDERS (part2)
T. Hoffman: From Makin to Bougainville
Raid Picture Gallery
Marsh's Makin Island Pictures
Raid Submarine - Argonaut
(LHD8) web site
Raid - Book Review
of the Raider Marines
Clyde Thomason 1st WW II Enlisted Marine Medal of Honor
Marine Raider Page
Marines Killed on Makin Atoll
Raider to Hospital
About Butaritari Island, Makin Atoll
Republic of Kiribati
Butaritari - World War 2
Home Page - Your Passport to the South Seas
Makin Raiders Body Recovery
Atoll Yields Missing Bodies
of Makin Raiders Returned Home After 57 Years (PDF)
Raider Recovery Team to be Part of Reunion Program (PDF)
of Raiders Killed in Action on Makin Raid (PDF)
Corps Raiders Home At Last
II Marine Raiders, Returning Home
in Action Update
search for the Missing
Scientists Helps Solve 58-year Mystery
Offers "Irreplaceable Introduction" to Forensic Science
Home 58 Years Later
Raiders Laid to Rest
WWII Raiders to be Buried Together
Army Archaeologists Search Kwajalein For Fallen Makin Raiders
for the Missing
Teams Begin 68th Search for Missing
ARMY CENTRAL IDENTIFICATION LABORATORY, HAWAII
on Beheaded Raiders
Raider Attends Memorial
P. Maulding, Private US Marine Corps
II Marines Buried at Arlington
Raider's Memorial, August 17, 2001
Raiders to be Honored at Arlington
of WW II Marines to be Buried at Arlington
of Makin Raiders Returned Home After 57 Years (PDF)
Marine Raiders Space and Missle Command
Kwajalein Control Facility
Regan test site
Hourglass April 11, 2000 Pages 4&5
Mapes Visits Kwajalein
Index to the Pacific
Names New Amphibious Assault Ship Makin Island
1943 Marine Raider
Makin Island (LHD 8) Home Page
Links to recovery of Missing Makin
ultimate sacrifice - Ceremony held to honor fallen Marines