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Shaping the Raiders

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The raider battalions soon received first priority in the Marine Corps on men and equipment. Edson and Carlson combed the ranks of their respective divisions and also siphoned off many of the best men pouring forth from the recruit depots.   They had no difficulty attracting volunteers with the promise that they would be the first to fight the Japanese.   Carlson’s exactions were much greater than those required to fill out Edson’s battalion, but both generated resentment from fellow officers struggling to flesh out the rapidly expanding divisions on a meager skeleton of experienced men. The raiders also had carte blanche to obtain any equipment they deemed necessary, whether or not it was standard issue anywhere else in the Corps.

Carlson and Roosevelt soon broke the shackles that Holcomb had attempted to impose on them. They rejected most of the men whom Edson sent them, and they adjusted the organization of their battalion to suit their purposes.  They also inculcated the unit with an unconventional military philosophy that was an admixture of Chinese culture, Communist egalitarianism, and New England town hall democracy.  Every man would have the right to say what he thought, and their battle cry would be “Gung Ho!” Chinese for “work together”. Officers would have no greater privileges than the men, and would lead by consensus rather than rank.  There also would be “ethical indoctrination,” which Carlson described as “giving conviction through persuasion ” That process supposedly ensured that each man knew what he was fighting for and why.

The 2d Raiders set up their pup tents at Jacques Farm in the hills of Camp Elliot, where they remained largely segregated from civilization Carlson rarely granted liberty, and sometimes held musters in the middle of the night to catch anyone who slipped away for an evening on the town. He even tried to convince men to forego leave for family emergencies, though he did not altogether prohibit it.

Training focused heavily on weapons practice, hand-to-hand fighting, demolitions, and physical conditioning, to include an emphasis on long hikes. As the men grew tougher and acquired field skills, the focus shifted to more night work.  Carlson also implemented an important change to the raider organization promulgated from Washington.  Instead of a unitary eight-man squad, he created a 10-man unit composed of a squad leader and three fire teams of three men each. Each fire team boasted a Thompson submachine gun, a Browning automatic rifle (BAR), and one of the new Garand M-1 semiautomatic rifles.   To keep manpower within the constraints of the carrying capacity of an APD, each rifle company had just two rifle platoons and a weapons platoon.  Carlson’s system of organization and training was designed to create a force suited “for infiltration and the attainment of objectives by unorthodox and unexpected methods.”   He and Roosevelt were developing the guerrilla unit they had envisioned.

Edson’s battalion retained the table of organization he had designed.  It was based on an eight-man squad, with a leader, two BAR men, four riflemen armed with the M-1903 Springfield bolt-operated rifle, and a sniper carrying a Springfield mounting a telescopic sight. (Later in the war he would champion the four man fire team that became the standard for all Marine infantry.) With smaller squads, his companies contained three rifle platoons and a weapons platoon. His weapons company provided additional light machine’ guns and 60mm mortars.  (The 81mm mortar platoon, added to the headquarters company by the Commandant, would not deploy overseas with the battalion.)

Training was similar to that in the 2d Raiders, except for more rubber boat work due to the convenient location of Quantico on the Potomac River.   The lst Raiders also strove to reach a pace of seven miles per hour on hikes, more than twice the normal speed of infantry. They did so by alternating periods of double-timing with fast walking. Although Red Mike emphasized light infantry tactics, his men were not guerrillas.  Instead, they formed a highly trained battalion prepared for special operations as well as more conventional employment.

Edson’s style of leadership contrasted starkly with that of his counterpart. He encouraged initiative in his subordinates, but rank carried both responsibility and authority for decision-making. He was a quiet man who impressed his troops with his ability on the march and on the firing ranges, not with speeches.   His raiders received regular liberty, and he even organized battalion dances attended by bus loads of secretaries from nearby Washington.

The two raider battalions bore the same name, but they could hardly have been more dissimilar. What they did have in common was excellent training and a desire to excel in battle.