Merrill’s Marauders served in Burma during World War Two and fought behind the Japanese lines in that country to great effect. Officially known as the 5307th Composite Unit, they got the nick-name Merrill’s Marauders as a result of their commanding officer’s name – Brigadier General Frank Merrill.
The call for a special forces unit to operate in the Far East came in 1943. The success of various special forces in the western sector of the war resulted in this call. Both Churchill and Roosevelt supported the creation of such a unit which would operate behind the lines of the Japanese and create havoc with their supply and communication lines.
The ‘advert’ for the new unit could hardly have been more honest – men were wanted for “a dangerous and hazardous mission”. Just under 3,000 men responded to this call – the vast majority were already hardened battle veterans.
The new unit was trained in great secrecy in the jungles of India. From here six Marauder teams of 400 men per team marched across the Himalayas into Burma. The Marauders were classic special forces men. They travelled light and without the support of artillery and tanks etc. They engaged in hit-and-run tactics that did a great deal to undermine the morale of the Japanese forces in Burma. Supplied by air-drops, they could operate deep behind the enemy’s lines for months on end.
The main target of the Marauders was the Japanese 18th Division – the unit that had captured Singapore. Though vastly outnumbered by the 18th Division, the Marauders engaged in five main battles with them and a number of minor skirmishes. The 18th Division’s supply and communication lines were severely undermined by these attacks and the Marauders did a great deal to weaken this unit in Burma.
In July 1944, the Marauders were awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation which, twenty-two years later, was changed to a Presidential Unit Citation. In August 1944, Merrill’s Marauders was absorbed into the 475th Infantry.