When we last discussed the Chindit forces more than a year ago, we came to the conclusion that the perceived successes of Orde Wingate’s brainchild were greater than the actual success. But we also realized that, in early 1943, any good news for the Allies was pounced on and broadcast to the masses back home.
Prime Minister Churchill was fascinated by Wingate and formed a friendship with the wildly eccentric military man. When the Quadrant Conference began in August of 1943, Wingate was invited to join Churchill. Based on his experience with the Chindits, Wingate presented a larger, more ambitious plan to the Allied Supreme Command. Of course, President Franklin Roosevelt was in attendence, and took a keen interest in the proposals he heard concerning these “unconventional” forces.
He returned home, mulled it over for a bit, and then took action. In his book The Burma Road, Webster describes it for us. “…on August 31, 1943, in the United States – and throughout the entire U.S. Army – a call from President Roosevelt himself had gone out. The request was for 2,830 army officers and troops to volunteer for ‘a dangerous and hazardous mission.’” The men would need to be physically fit and trained in jungle warfare.
Borrowing heavily from pattern of the Chindits, the unit was officially called the 5307th Composite Unit and code-named “Galahad”. The men came from jungle training camps. Some came from the far flung island fights in the South Pacific. Others came from army jails and psychiatric wards. They were about as unconventional and could be.
And eventually, they would take the name that made them famous in the jungles of the CBI…the name of their leader, Brigadier General Frank Merrill. Merrill was no stranger to the jungles of Southeast Asia. He had been with General Joseph Stilwell as the region was overrun in 1942 as an Army Major. He had accompanied “Vinegar Joe” on his walk out of Burma, developing a heart malady for his efforts. And now he had his own version of the Chindits.
Merrill’s Marauders. Born on this day in history by order of the President of the United States.