A few weeks ago I posted consecutively on The Burmese Harp and The Stilwell Road. It thus seems appropriate to follow yesterday’s post on Fires on the Plain with a piece about Merrill’s Marauders – officially the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) of the US Army under the command of Brigadier General Frank D Merrill. The unit was active in northern Burma in roughly the first half of 1944, and played a key role both in recapturing Myitkyina on August 3, and in clearing the way for construction of the Ledo Road – which, as previously explained, was ultimately renamed the Stilwell Road. So something of a pattern is visible here, even if it’s somewhat sketchy. My source is a book of little more than 100 pages originally published in 1945 by the Historical Division of the US War Department. Its title: Merrill’s Marauders: February – May 1944.
The narrative draws mainly on interviews conducted with soldiers in late 1944 and early 1945 – and what a narrative it is. The Marauders, at most totaling 2997 officers and men, worked behind enemy lines to harass and annoy the hell out of Japanese forces with far superior numerical strength. Mostly they did so in close coordination with troops from the Chinese 22nd and 38th Divisions. Their sphere of operations was the notably difficult jungle of northern Burma, where heat, humidity and disease generated great difficulties. Their effectiveness relied on speed and flexibility. Their supplies were minimal, replenished from time to time by air drop. Nevertheless, in five major and 30 minor engagements, the Marauders succeeded in defeating the Japanese 18th Division. The impact of these foot soldiers on the course of the war was therefore highly significant. All in all, it’s a fabulous tale of derring-do.
Following the fall of Myitkyina, the Marauders were reorganized on August 10, 1944 as the 475th Infantry Regiment of the US Army. In no more than a few months, they had already secured for themselves an important place in the history of the Burmese theatre during World War II.