Merrill’s Marauders had been officially designated as 5307th Composite Unit (provisional) with a code name Galahad. They were trained in long-range penetration tactics under Wingate, commander of the Chindits. General Stilwell appointed Brigadier General Frank Merrill to command them. American correspondents dubbed the unit Merrill’s Marauders.
Each battalion contained two Japanese-American soldiers, who were invaluable when fighting at close quarters with Japanese troops. They used tactics similar to the Chindits. On 7 February 1944, wearing green outfits, green under-clothing, green handkerchiefs and green matches for complete concealment in the jungle, the Marauders marched through the Hukawng Valley under the command of Brigadier General Frank Merrill. They marched down the Ledo Road that linked Ledo in India through to the Burma Road, and on to Yunnan in China. American engineers who had chiselled a track through swamps and mountains from late 1943 for twenty-seven months had constructed the road. It is one of the most forgotten routes today.
The Marauders were used as Stilwell’s Shock troops to slash the hamstrings of the Japanese armies in Burma. After engaging in fierce battles for three months, they were badly in need of rest and recuperation, but Stilwell pressed them on, commanding Merrill to take Myitkyina. Handicapped by the monsoons, disease and exhaustion, they suffered from malaria, black water fever, typhus and dysentery. Victims of dysentery resorted to cutting a hole in the seat of their pants to avoid unnecessary time loss when their bowels moved.
Merrill collapsed when they reached Myitkyina airfield.
After the Mauraders captured the airfield, enabling American and Chinese reinforcements to be flown in, Stilwell was compelled to withdraw them from the frontline trenches at Myitkyina.
Heaven Tempers the Wind. Story of a War Child by Hazel Barker