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Best of the Best.
12 June 2017 | by See all my reviews

Early in World War II, the Marine Raiders were formed and divided into two outfits, one battalion under Evans Carlson and one under Merrit Evers. The latter raised itself above even the Marine Corps standards in adherence to regulation. Carlson, on the other hand, during a separation from the Marine Corps, had visited China and seen how Mao Dz Dung treated his troops. Carlson adopted the methods of the communists (the word never appears) and had his men and officers undergo the same training and live in the same areas. Carlson also held what amounted to military group therapy sessions in which anyone could ask questions or make proposals.

The Raiders were an elite force within an elite force and were resented by "ordinary" Marines, but Roosevelt and Nimitz saw the need for them. The British commandos were a considerable irritation to the Nazis, and the Raiders were created as a light amphibious force designed to land by rubber boats, approach the enemy quietly and surprise him, then kill him, destroy his post, and then get out fast. The mass landings of Marines on Pacific islands were to come later. The earliest need was for nettlesome attacks. Later, the Raiders were absorbed into regular Marine infantry units.

Their initial raid was on the Japanese-occupied island of Mekin (pronounced something like Muggin). It's always interesting to compare historical reality with its treatment by Hollywood. The feature film of the Mekin raid was called "Gung Ho" and starred Randolph Scott as Carlson under a different name. In the movie, the rubber boats land exactly as planned and surprise was complete. In reality, after transport by submarine, a rough sea prevented the rubber boats from landing at seven different places and they all wound up landing at the same spot. Surprise was spoiled by a Raider's accidentally discharging his weapon and alerting the enemy.

The fire fight that followed was fierce and Carlson ordered his Raiders to withdraw to the beach. They launched their rubber boats but the outboard motors often stalled. The surf overturned or swamped some of the boats so they never got far offshore and, in the process, lost much of their equipment. Some of the men drowned. So the boats returned to the beach and patrols indicated that the enemy had left the field. The Raiders' mission had been accomplished and they returned to the submarine waiting offshore. Unwittingly they had left behind seven men who had become lost in the confusion. The men were captured, taken to Kwagelein, and beheaded.

After that, the Raiders fought on Guadalcanal, New Georgia (where they were forced to retreat), and were folded into existing Marine Corps units. They won a number of decorations and had distinguished themselves in combat, but by 1943 special units were no longer needed because of a change in tactics. No more hit and runs were called for, just large assaults involving many infantrymen.

The program consists mostly of combat and newsreel footage with a judicious use of reenactments. Several participants are interviewed. It's still startling to hear one of them joke about how he stabbed a Japanese soldier to death.


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