Merrill's Marauders: The Untold Story of Unit Galahad and the Toughest Special Forces Mission of World War IIby Gavin Mortimer
From late 1941 through 1942, Japan overran much of the Pacific, including Burma. In March 1943, British Gen. Orde Wingate and his famed long-range penetration unit, the “Chindits,” cut through the Burmese jungle, skirmishing with Japanese troops, destroying bridges, and cutting rail lines. Their advance and success shocked the Japanese, who had been… See more details below
From late 1941 through 1942, Japan overran much of the Pacific, including Burma. In March 1943, British Gen. Orde Wingate and his famed long-range penetration unit, the “Chindits,” cut through the Burmese jungle, skirmishing with Japanese troops, destroying bridges, and cutting rail lines. Their advance and success shocked the Japanese, who had been conquering East Asia at an unstoppable pace. The Chindits’ success, however, came at a price: they lost one-third of their three thousand men during the two-month-long mission. But though the Chindits were ultimately pushed back to India, their mission set the foundation for long-range penetration troops into Japanese-controlled territory.
Months later, in August 1943, a call went out for three thousand American troops to volunteer for a hazardous secret mission in the Burmese jungle. Casualties were expected to be 85 percent.
Despite these unfavorable odds, the required number of troops was raised, comprising men with varied military and personal backgrounds, such as Sioux and Japanese-Americans who later formed the core of the unit’s elite intelligence and reconnaissance platoons. Code-named “Unit Galahad” but lacking an official designation, they were christened the “Dead End Kids” by an embedded newspaper correspondent. After Col. Charles Hunter, the unit’s commander during training, was reassigned to second-in-command and replaced by Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill, other members of the press coined the more popular nickname for the unit that eventually stuck: Merrill’s Marauders.
After training for months in India, the Marauders made their way into Burma in February 1944 and cut their way over mountain passes and through thick jungle growth, fighting off malaria and dysentery. The Marauders continued their trek through the Burmese jungle and engaged in several skirmishes with Japanese troops on their way to their ultimate goal: capturing the vital Japanese-controlled airstrip at Myitkyina, which linked northern Burma to the rest of the country.
Once the airfield was captured through a series of brilliant outflanking movements assisted by Chinese units and Kachin hill tribes, the Marauders dug in to defend it until troops from the First Chinese Army arrived. Only two hundred of the original three thousand Marauders remained in fighting condition when the support came. General Joseph Stilwell reorganized the group with reinforcements and then focused on taking the town of Myitkyina, which the Allies finally wrestled from the Japanese in August 1943.
For their bravery in the harshest fighting conditions, the group received a Presidential Unit Citation, six Distinguished Service Crosses, four Legions of Merit, and forty-four Silver Stars. Merrill’s Marauders is the story of this highly decorated unit, one of the toughest special forces units of World War II.
Award-winning historian Gavin Mortimer is one of the world’s foremost experts on World War II special forces. His history of the wartime Special Air Service was praised by the BBC as “a highly authoritative but also absorbing account,” and it is currently under option from GK-TV in Hollywood. He has also written The Daring Dozen: Special Forces Legends of World War II, a study of twelve of the most influential wartime special forces soldiers from the United States, Britain, and Germany. He contributes regularly to World War II magazine, MHQ (Military History Quarterly), and other historical publications on both sides of the Atlantic.
- Zenith Press
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