Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Makin Island Raid (17–18 August 1942)

U.S. Marine assault on Makin Atoll in the Gilbert Islands group in the Central Pacific. This operation by the 2nd Marine Raiders was designed to divert Japanese attention from the Solomons Campaign and to boost American morale. U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Chester Nimitz decided to employ Lieutenant Colonel Evans F. Carlson's 2nd Raider Battalion. Specific plans called for the two large, 2,700-ton, minelaying submarines Nautilus and Argonaut to land two companies of 221 raiders on Butaritari Island of Makin Atoll just before dawn on 17 August in order to wipe out the Japanese garrison there. Withdrawing that evening, they were to land the next day on Little Makin Island and destroy its installations. The stated goals were to gather intelligence and take prisoners, destroy Japanese supplies and installations, and distract Japanese attention from the U.S. reinforcement of Guadalcanal and Tulagi.

The submarines arrived off Makin early on 16 August and put the Raiders ashore early the next morning. Unfortunately for the Americans, the premature discharge of a rifle by one of the Marines destroyed the element of surprise. Carlson's Raiders then moved inland and engaged the Japanese troops on Makin Island, virtually wiping them out. Following Japanese air strikes, Carlson decided to withdraw, but rough seas and the failure of outboard engines capsized a number of the boats and stranded Carlson and some 120 Raiders ashore, most of them without their weapons. Fearing he was surrounded, Carlson considered surrender and even sent out a patrol with a surrender note.

On the morning of 18 August, Carlson led a patrol inland and discovered 83 Japanese bodies. Utilizing rubber boats and dugouts made by local peoples, most of the remaining Raiders had returned to the submarines by 11:00 that night. In the raid, the Japanese lost perhaps 160 dead; the Marines had 19 killed and 9 missing. The 9 Marines evaded capture with help from locals until their food ran out. They surrendered on 30 August. The Japanese then took these men to Kwajalein and beheaded them as war criminals. The Raiders had fought well, and Sergeant Clyde Thomason, who sacrificed his life to save several comrades, became the first enlisted Marine in World War II to win the Medal of Honor.

Although the raid did divert attention from Guadalcanal, it also taught the Japanese that they needed to strengthen their defenses. As a result, they heavily fortified Tarawa, which witnessed one of the bloodiest Marine landings of the Pacific War 16 months later.

In 1943, Hollywood produced a movie about the raid, entitled Gung Ho! and starring Randolph Scott. Between 2000 and 2001, the remains of the 19 dead Raiders were returned to the United States. Thirteen were interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

William Head


Further Reading
Beau, Jerome J. C. The U.S. Marine Raiders of World War II: Those Who Served. Richmond, VA: American Historical Foundation, 1996.; Blankfort, Michael. The Big Yankee: The Life of Carlson of the Raiders. Boston: Little, Brown, 1947.; Hoffman, Jon T. From Makin to Bougainville: Marine Raiders in the Pacific War. Washington, DC: Marine Corps Historical Center, 1995.
 

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