Merrill’s Marauders

Though tens of thousands of Americans served in the China-Burma-India Theater, only a fraction were combat troops on the front line. These were the men of the 5307th Composite Unit, known by their nickname Merrill’s Marauders. Led by their commander Brigadier General Frank Merrill, the Marauders were formed as a long-range penetration jungle warfare unit.

During General Stilwell’s campaign to reopen the land supply route to China, the Marauders played a key role. They were sent on missions deep behind enemy lines in order to facilitate the seizure of key points by the main body of Stilwell’s forces. The Marauders’ mission began with a 1,000-mile walk through dense jungle, without artillery support, into Burma. They had to carry their supplies on their backs and on pack mules, and were resupplied only with airdrops in the middle of the jungle. Merrill’s Marauders succeeded in maneuvering behind much larger Japanese forces to cause the disruptions necessary to throw the enemy into confusion.

After a grueling mountain march, the remaining Marauders, along with elements of the 42nd and 150th Chinese infantry regiments, took the Myitkyina airfield in Burma by surprise. This paved the way for the fall of Myitkyina and the reopening of the land route to China. After the battle, the 5307thwas disbanded due to grievous losses from battle injuries and sickness. Out of 2,997, only 130 combat-effective officers and men remained (Romanus).