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August 11, 2017 / iDriveWarships

75 Years Later: The Raid on Makin Island

Makin-Raiders

Sgt. Walter Carroll and Pfc. Dean Winters of the 2nd Marine Raiders Battalion – “Carlson’s Raiders” – prepare to debark from the submarine USS Nautilus before the Makin Raid. The strike was designed to divert Japanese attention from the U.S. landings on Guadalcanal and boost American morale. National Archives photo

In honor of the 75th anniversary of the raid on Makin Island we bring you the inspiring story of grit and determination of the strike. This World War II battle became not only the stuff of legend, but the namesake of several of U.S. Navy ships.

The coral atoll in the Pacific’s Gilbert Island chain known as Makin Island (though it’s real name is Makin Atoll) became the site of American troops’ first amphibious attack made from submarines. The raid on Makin Island began August 17, 1942 when 222 Marines from two companies of the 2nd Raider Battalion launched from submarines USS Argonaut (APS 1) and USS Nautilus (SS 168).

The Raiders’ mission was to destroy the Japanese installations, gain intelligence on the area, take prisoners, and divert Japanese attention and reinforcements from Guadalcanal and Tulagi, where American Marines had landed earlier in the month.

Marine Lt. Col. Evans F. Carlson led the men ashore under the cover of night. Notable amongst his troops was his executive officer, Maj. James Roosevelt, the son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. However, things didn’t exactly go as planned.

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Makin Atoll, aka Makin Island

Once topside the men, known as “Carlson’s Raiders,” were met with gale force winds and rough seas. While making their way to the beach many of their small boat engines were drowned out by the bad weather, and the men had to paddle them to shore. As the Raiders arrived, they spotted a small boat and a large transport ship in the waters nearby. Using only radios to relay communications and compass readings from Carlson, Nautilus fired her 6-inch guns into the night and was able to sink both vessels.

Despite all this, the men were able to remain undetected until landing on the beach. Shortly after landing, an accidental burst of gunfire from one of the men’s rifles announced their arrival. Within 20 minutes the fighting began. As the mission unfolded, the men faced-off against everything from heavy sniper fire, tanks, and machine guns, to flamethrowers and aerial bombing from at least 12 aircraft. But they were able to evade the threat and eliminate the enemy.

After several attempts the men were able to pass the breakers August 18 and make their way aboard the submarines, which immediately steamed to Pearl Harbor. An accurate account of the men couldn’t be made until they reached Hawaii. There it was revealed 30 of Carlson’s Raider’s hadn’t returned.

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Marine Raiders and Sailors crowd the deck of USS Argonaut as she is warped into the dock at Pearl Harbor after the Makin Island raid. National Archives photo

It was eventually determined that seven drowned, 14 were killed by Japanese forces, and nine were unaccounted for. It was later discovered those nine were somehow marooned on the island. With help from sympathetic locals they evaded Japanese forces for some time but were eventually caught and taken to Kwajalein where they were beheaded.

While there has been some debate about the success of the mission objectives, it was at the time considered both a success and a morale raiser for the troops, as well as a sign to the world that the U.S. was gaining control of the war.

The will and determination of Carlson’s Raiders left a lasting impression and less than two years later the Casablanca-class escort carrier USS Makin Island (CVE 93) was commissioned. Although the original Makin Island was decommissioned in 1946, the gritty, fighting spirit of her namesake Raiders is carried on in the present USS Makin Island (LHD 8), an amphibious assault ship.

USS Makin Island is home ported in San Diego where the crew is now enjoying some time ashore after returning from a seven-month deployment in July.

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