The Makin Atoll Raid was a raid that was carried out by the United States 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, otherwise known as Carlson's Raiders. The raid itself took place on August 17, 1942 with the main objective being to distract the Japanese from the main Invasion of Guadalcanal. Furthermore, the raid would provide a morale boost and be a general test of the ability for Marine Raider Battalions to quickly raid and leave Japanese-held territories.

The raid was also aimed to capture Japanese soldiers and gathering intel on the island. Unfortunately for the Raiders, the attack did not meet up with most objectives. No prisoners were taken and no significant information was obtained. Of the two-hundred and eleven Raiders sent a total of thirty troops were lost.[1] Nine of these were afterwards confirmed to be captured by the Japanese.

Planning and Preparations

Japanese presence on the island was relatively light. The Japanese first gained the territory on December 9, 1941 with a 300 strong SNLF task force made for the capture of the Gilbert island chain, largely because there were so few civilians on the island. By 1942, much of the garrison established on Makin was moved out because of little Allied threat leaving the Japanese garrison on the island with a small seaplane base, weather station, and limited radio communications. Perhaps the most important role of Makin was to resupply and allow the air crews of large float planes flying from Kwajalein on huge patrols to rest.[2] The American plan for raiding the island was largely centered around striking quickly and exiting just as fast. To transport Raiders, the United States Navy used two submarines, named the USS Nautilus (SS-168) and the USS Argonaut (SM-1). The force from the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion was made up of two companies, A Company and B Company. They would come ashore on the island at two distinct points before meeting up. For the purposes of the raid, the Marine Raider Battalion was given state of the art equipment, including the new M1 Garand rifle which would not see mass service for some time. The Marines also used a special dyed-black uniform for operating in the night. Departing Pearl Harbor on August 8, the submarines would need to travel for nine days under radio silence. Notably also going into the operation was the son of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, James Roosevelt.

The Battle

When the Marines were finally close enough to the atoll, the Raiders climbed out of their cramped submarines and set off in small rubber boats. Right before the raid took place however, there was a change in plans made by Lt. Col. Evans F. Carlson. This caused one of the boats, which had not received word of the change, to land southwest of the main group.[3]

It did not take long before the Marines' element of surprise was lost due to an accidental discharge. However, to the Marine’s surprise, the landing zones were clear of Japanese. Conferring with local civilians, Carlson soon learned that the Japanese were actually located about 2,000 meters south of their position. Not long after, the raiders first engaged Japanese troops at approximately 6:30. While defeating them, the raiders were further hampered by snipers for some two hours. Attempting to reorganize, raider casualties only mounted. By this time the lost Marines who had landed southwest of the main group, commanded by Lt. Oscar Peatross, managed to make their way across the island, losing three out of eleven as one had been sent out previously to meet up with Carlson but was unable to return.

At 7:16, the Nautilus bombarded the lagoon area under orders by Carlson to hopefully destroy two patrol boats which he assumed contained reinforcements. Remarkably, both were hit in the sporadic volley.[4]

At 11:30, two Japanese E6N2 floatplanes flew over the island and dropped their bombs. No marines were hit, though at 1:20, an array of twelve additional aircraft ranging from two Kawanishi H8K1s to four A6M “Zero” fighters began to strafe the island for about an hour. Though the ten left shortly after, one H8K and one floatplane landed in the lagoon. While pulling into the lagoon properly, the marines used their machine guns and Boys anti-tank rifles to successfully set fire to both aircraft. While most of the garrison was in fact wiped out, the raiders began to withdraw from the atoll at 19:30 in fear of more air attacks and reinforcements. However, the motors for the rubber boats had been damaged and a tough surf pushing back many to the beach, with only eighty marines making it to the submarines. This left the rest of the men on the island, some without a boat. While surrender was considered, the presence of James Roosevelt convinced Carlson that it would be far worse to surrender and have Roosevelt captured than to make another try for the submarines. 

Smoke from Radio Station, Makin 1942

Smoke from the burning radio station as seen from one of the submarines

In the morning, the raiders took advantage of native canoes present in the lagoon to relay to the submarines where they should be positioned to take on the rest of the Marines. With canoes and rubber boats alike, the Marines also used the calmer waters to send another fifty men to the submarines. However, at 8:00, Japanese aircraft began strafing the boats, sinking the messenger boat launched by the submarines, though no one was hit. However, the submerging Argonaut made the Marines still on shore assume that it had been sunk as well. Retreating inland, Carlson rallied his Marines and carried out as much of the mission as possible, destroying the radio station and counting the dead. The total ended with 113 dead Japanese and nine dead Marines on the island. At 19:30, the Marines combined together their canoes and rubber boats and managed to paddle for miles until they reached the submarines. However, one boat had decided to break off and make for the submarines themselves and was lost afterwards. Meanwhile, those who had been on the messenger boat were also unaccounted for. After the raid, the Japanese heavily reinforced the island of Makin, deploying hundreds of troops. This in fact made it more difficult to capture the island later in the Battle of Makin


  2. Rottman, L. Gordon. Carlson’s Marine Raiders:Makin Island 1942. Osprey Publishing (2014), Page 21
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