After 76 years, Merrill’s Marauders, a legendary guerilla warfare unit, has been recognized by Congress for its achievements in the fight against the Japanese Empire during World War II.
The Merrill’s Marauders was a special operations unit that operated in Southeast Asia from February to May 1944 during the Second World War. Officially known as the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), the unit took its nickname by its commander, Major General Frank D. Merrill.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese military conducted a Pacific version of the German Blitzkrieg. In a short period of time, the Japanese were inflicting defeat after defeat on the Allies. British-held Singapore fell with alarming ease, as did most of Southeast Asia. India, the crown jewel of the British Empire, seemed to be next.
To fend off the Japanese onslaught, the Allies stood up two special operations units to harry the Japanese and create a link between Allied forces in Burma and India with the Chinese troops further up north. These were the Merrill’s Marauders and the British Long-Range Penetration Groups, also known as the Chindits.
Comprised of almost 3,000 officers and men, the Merrill’s Marauders targeted the Japanese forces in Burma, conducting long-range operations deep behind enemy lines in the unforgiving environment of the region. Jungles, mountains, and rivers meant that these old school commandos had to carry almost all of their equipment on their backs or on horses and mules while taking the fight to the Japanese. They wreaked havoc on the Japanese supply trains from the South and forced Japanese commanders to dedicate significant forces for the protection of their logistical lines. In such, they directly helped the Chinese forces who were fighting the Japanese from the North.
During their multi-month long operation, the Merrill’s Marauders covered 1,000 miles through the dreaded jungles of Burma through and fought a total of 35 engagements (5 large and 30 minor) with the Japanese. They won every time.
The capture of the Myitkyina airfield, the sole airfield in all northern Burma that could be operated regardless of the weather, in a daring raid is perhaps their greatest achievement and a great special operation.
Finally recognizing the feats and honoring the Marauders’ legacy, Congress has decided to award the deactivated unit the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award that Congress can give out in recognition of outstanding achievement.
The Marauders will be joining a small band of 160 individuals and units that have won the Congressional Gold Medal since the Revolutionary War. At the time, every member of the unit was awarded the Bronze Star, while numerous individuals won higher awards, including the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star.
The modern-day 75th Ranger Regiment, the world’s premier special operations light infantry unit, traces its legacy back to the intrepid spirit of the Merrill’s Marauders.