WWII Submarines and Marines Unite
From American Submariner Magazine
Makin Raid highlighted Navy-Marine Corps teamwork
By Darrell D. Ames
The USS Nautilus (SS 168) and USS Argonaut (SS 166), led by Group Commander J. M. Haines, got underway from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on August 8, 1942 en route to the Gilbert Islands. In addition to her crew, Argonaut carried 121 U.S. Marines. Nautilus added 90 Marines to her complement.
The Marines were led by the rugged, battle-worn warrior, Colonel Evans F. Carlson. Handpicked by the Corps, Companies A and B of the famous 2nd Raider Battalion were notoriously tough. One of Carlson’s officers was Major James Roosevelt, the President’s son.
The Pacific Fleet Commander, Admiral Chester Nimitz, ordered the group to conduct a commando raid on Makin Island in the Gilberts. The objective was to create a diversion - scramble the enemy’s plans to make them re-deploy their strengths, which were known to be concentrated on a possible attack of Guadalcanal. Carlson’s Marines were to hit Makin hard, wreak as much havoc as possible, and gather intelligence information.
The two submarines were temporarily converted to “troop transports” by removing all torpedoes except those in the tubes and installing extra air conditioning and tiers of bunks. Everything was thrown together in great haste. Living conditions on the subs were far from comfortable. The air conditioning was not adequate. Below decks it was sweltering, and the Marines were either wilting or seasick. To keep them in shape, Haines allowed them to go topside in small groups for ten-minute intervals of fresh air and sun bathing.
Argonaut, making her second patrol after complete overhaul and modernization in Mare Island, Calif., was under the command of Lt. Cmdr. J. R. Pierce. Fresh off a successful patrol in Japanese waters, Nautilus was guided by the able hands of Lt. Cmdr. W. H. Brockman. Despite rough conditions and uncooperative weather, the troops and Submarines were in good hands.
USS Argonaut, mine laying submarine used to land raiders.
The boats arrived off Makin early on the morning of August 16. Shortly after midnight Carlson launched his Marines in rubber boats. Though they had rehearsed it before leaving Hawaii, the debarkation was met with unforgiving conditions. Rough seas flooded the boats, drowning most of the outboard motors. The few boats that ran were able to tow the others as best they could.
By 4:21 a.m. all Marines were clear of the Argonaut while the bridge crew watched them disappear into the darkness. At 5:13 a.m. word came by voice radio that the Marines had reached the beach.
Upon arrival the Marines found the going even tougher than expected. The Japanese suspected some type of attack, with Guadalcanal having been attacked the day before, and were waiting with snipers hidden amongst the many trees on the beach. Darting through the surf, the Marines finally got ashore, in front of the enemy rather than behind as planned. Communications between the Marines and the submarines were sporadic and primitive.
While the action ashore was intense, Brockman maneuvered Nautilus to fire on two Japanese ships in the harbor. Despite limited torpedoing opportunities Brockman managed to destroy both a freighter and one small patrol craft by firing 65 rounds a distance of seven miles. Although the Marines saw the two vessels go down, postwar analysis did not credit Brockman with any sinkings at Makin Island.
Later that night Nautilus and Argonaut attempted to recover the Marines. The recovery proved as difficult as the launch. The violent surf overturned boats and ripped weapons out of Marines’ hands. A mere seven of 19 boats made it back and many men were severely wounded. The submarines’ wardrooms instantly became operating rooms. Brockman and Pierce spent the rest of the night searching for the remainder of the landing party.
At dawn both submarines moved in closer to the beach, recovering three more boats and sending another one in with five Marines onboard to toss guns and arms ashore.
Almost immediately after the rescue launch, Japanese aircraft drove Nautilus and Argonaut under the water while strafing the rescue boat. All five Marines who volunteered for the dangerous mission were killed instantly. The submarines surfaced in the early evening and four boats, laden with weary commandos were recovered. More boats followed in the next few hours and by midnight, all but 30 Marines had been accounted for. They were believed dead, although post-war reports determined that nine survived, were captured, and later beheaded.
USS Natuilus arrives in Pearl Harbor with survivors of Makin Raid
Initially, the Makin Raid was acclaimed a great “victory” and a “brilliant exploit” by the U.S. Department of Defense. Just how successful they were, however, was not known until long afterward. The Makin Raid, primarily a Marine story, made Colonel Carlson a household name. The Marines nearly wiped out the entire enemy garrison. They destroyed a communications station, two planes, military installations and stores, and over 900 barrels of gasoline. Thirty Marines were lost, but the raid accomplished its primary objective by disrupting enemy plans to reinforce Guadalcanal and diverting Japanese guns and aircraft to the Gilberts.
Both submarine crews took great pride in their accomplishments as well. They delivered the Marines to Makin and brought many of them home. They destroyed two enemy ships in the harbor and gained valuable information and experience to be utilized in future island invasions. The teamwork and camaraderie displayed by the Navy-Marine Corps team was never more evident than during the greatest commando raid carried out in the Pacific during World War II.
Editors Note: I recently read an article which stated that Carlson paid the Island Chief to bury his dead. The article stated that two marines drowned while trying to pass a line from the submarines to shore to assist the wounded in making it through the heavy surf. It was obvious that these two submarines were going to extreme lengths to support this mission. Being tethered to shore while on the surface in empire waters speaks loudly. These boats lead the way for our modern Seal insertion submarines. In 1999 following years of searching, the remains of the raiders killed on Makin Island were recovered and returned to the United States for burial.
remains of Raiders being