MERRILL'S MARAUDERS. In 1943, global priorities dictated that General Joseph W. Stilwell's command be scaled down from a 30,000-man corps to a three-battalion (3,000-man), all-volunteer force for his forthcoming operation to retake north Burma and reopen the land route to China. Coded GALAHAD and numbered the 5307th Provisional Unit, the force was nicknamed "Merrill's Marauders" by the press, after its field commander, General Frank D. Merrill. Merrill broke his three battalions down into two 472-man combat teams (the remainder had noncombat duties), plus pack animals.
Benefiting from the experience of British army officer Brigadier O. C. Wingate, GALAHAD's strengths lay in its tactical mobility, its potential to hit Japanese flanks and rear areas, and its unique air supply. The Marauders were to spearhead short envelopments while Stilwell's Chinese columns pushed back the enemy's front.
Entering combat on 24 February 1944, GALAHAD attacked down the Hukawng Valley and by March 29 entered the Mogaung Valley, gateway to the Irrawaddy River and its rail system. Stilwell aimed for Myitkyina, with a road to the Burma Road junction at Wanting. Reduced in numbers, the Marauders struck at Myitkyina's strategic airfield through a 6,100-foot mountain pass, surprising the 700-man Japanese garrison on 17 May. The Japanese retaliated with a force of 4,000 men, beginning a siege that would not end until 3 August. By 4 June, GALAHAD was spent: 123 dead, 293 wounded, 8 missing, 570 ill. Grievances that had mounted during a five-month, 500-mile campaign broke out dramatically at Myitkyina until Stilwell bestowed a Distinguished Unit Citation and explained how they had given heart to the Chinese soldiers to fight on to their homeland.
Bjorge, Gary J. Merrill's Marauders. Fort Leavenworth, Kans.: Combat Studies Institute, 1996.
Hunter, Charles N. GALAHAD. San Antonio, Tex.: Naylor, 1963.