Tiger of Malaysia
Thomas Calebrese – Merrill’s Marauders (named after General Frank Merrill) codename Unit Galahad, officially named the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), was a United States Army long range penetration special operations jungle warfare unit, which fought in the China-Burma-India Theater (CBI) during World War II. The unit became famous for its deep-penetration missions behind enemy lines, often engaging Japanese forces far superior in numbers to them.
In early 1944, the Marauders were organized as a light infantry assault unit, with mule transport for their 60 mm mortars, bazookas, ammunition, communications gear and supplies. Although the 5307th’s three battalions were equivalent to a regimental-size unit, its lack of heavy weapons support meant the force had a combat power less than that of a single regular American infantry battalion. The unit relied on flexibility and surprise to fight enemy forces.
While in Burma, the Marauders battled troops from the 18th Japanese Division and always inflicted many more casualties than they suffered. Led by Kachin scouts, (a confederation of ethnic groups who inhabited the Kachin Hills in Northern Burma) the Marauders harassed and disrupted supply and communication lines, ambushed patrols and assaulted rear areas.
The Japanese were continually surprised by the heavy and accurate volume of fire they received when attacking 5307th positions. The Marauders’ combat-experienced officers had carefully integrated light mortar and machine guns into their platoons. Every man was armed with either a self-loading or automatic weapon in which he was trained to a high level of marksmanship.
During March 1944, they severed the vital Japanese supply lines in the Hukawng Valley. In slightly more than five months in Burma, the Marauders had advanced 750 miles through some of the harshest jungle terrain in the world and fought in four major engagements, (Walawbum, Shaduzup, Inkangahtawng, Nhpum Ga) and engaged in combat on thirty-two separate occasions. Battling a tenacious enemy, malnutrition, fevers and diseases, the Marauders had the distinction of traversing more jungle terrain on their long-range missions than any other U.S. Army unit during World War II.
Weakened and sickened, the 5307th continued fighting through the height of the monsoon season. Worsening the situation, some Marauders contracted typhus after sleeping on infected areas of earth and grass. Racked with bloody dysentery and sleeping in the mud, the Marauders alternately assaulted Japanese forces, then were forced to defend their own positions when the enemy retaliated in a series of brutal back-and-forth engagements.
Their final battle would be Myitkina. The Marauders would be at their weakest and going up against 4,600 well-armed and fanatical Japanese soldiers, who were willing to fight to the death. It was a suicide mission, no matter how you looked at it. After one brutal engagement, when Sergeant Chuck Hayward lost half of his platoon, he was still able to lead the survivors back into the jungle. They crawled, staggered and dragged each other, but somehow made it back to their base camp.
Crackshot sighed in total exhaustion, “If I had any strength, I’d kill myself right now.”
“You won’t have to, you’ll be dead soon enough like the rest of us,” Joby grumbled.
Stock shook his head, “The first thing I’m going to tell the Devil when I get to hell and he asks me how I ended up there is that I was crazy enough to volunteer for this unit.”
Sergeant Hayward grew impatience at listening to his men bitch and grumble, so he growled back at them like a wounded and protective lion, “You can do all the dying you want after we take Myitkina!”
Before the final assault, some Marauders were so sick that they could barely walk, let alone fight. Hayward had to ask his men to do something that he didn’t think could be done, but his feelings were secondary to the success of the mission. The airfield had to be taken at all costs, the term ‘all costs’ usually meant a lot of lives. Hayward knew that this would be the last time that he would see some of these men alive. He called his most trusted men to an area away from the others. Included in this close-knit group were Riggs, Gibson, Glover, Crackshot, Joby, Doc, Willie and Rusty Kono, the Japanese interpreter, “This is it, last battle then we’re done.”
Willie grumbled, “I’ve heard that before, don’t make promises that you can’t keep.”
“I’ll keep this one,” Sergeant Hayward vowed, “Or I’m going kill me a couple Generals.”
The remaining 1,300 Marauders, along with elements of the 42nd and 150th Chinese Infantry Regiments, attacked the unsuspecting Japanese at the airfield on 17 May 1944. The mission was a complete success. When the fighting had subsided, it was difficult to tell the dead from the living as the survivors laid among the corpses that were spread over the airfield. They were too exhausted, sick or wounded to move.
However, the town of Myitkina could not immediately be taken with the forces on hand. An initial assault by elements of the two Chinese regiments was repulsed by the Japanese and they suffered heavy losses. Intelligence staff had once again badly underestimated enemy troop strength in the town.
Colonel Charles N. Hunter, who had assumed command after General Frank Merrill suffered his second heart attack combined with a serious bout of malaria, walked slowly among the fallen, both American and Japanese. He called out to the victors of the airfield battle and asked them to support the Chinese in their assault on the nearby town. “All you have to do is stand up and put one foot in front of the other!”
Executive Officer, Major Rob Lynchfield turned to his commander, “You’re asking these men to do something that they are physically and mentally incapable of doing.”
Colonel Hunter stoically replied, “They’ve been doing the impossible for months. It should be routine for them by now.”
One by one, the American warriors rose from the jumbled mass of bloody and torn humanity and followed Colonel Hunter. Reinforced by a recently arrived Chinese army division, the town of Myitkina finally fell to the Allies on 3 August 1944. The Japanese Commander, Colonel Maruyama managed to escape with some of his men while 3800 enemy soldiers were killed in combat.
In their final heroic mission, the Marauders suffered 272 killed, 955 wounded and 980 were evacuated for illness and disease.
Sergeant Hayward, Crackshot, Stock, Joby, Doc and Rusty Kono were lying on elevated stretchers next to each other while medics treated them. Crackshot spit out a mouthful of blood and commented, “I’ve got only one question.”
Sergeant Hayward asked without opening his eyes, “Yeah, what’s that?”
Crackshot, “When is our next mission?”
“Don’t make me laugh, it hurts too much,” Joby grimaced.
While awaiting medical evacuation, Interpreter Rusty Kono commented, “I was interrogating one of the captured officers and he said that Maruyama is the son-in-law of General Yamashita.”
Riggs asked, “Why should that matter to me?”
“Yamashita has been looting the Far East since he assumed command of the 5th Imperial Army. According to this officer, Maruyama has a map of where this massive treasure is hidden.”
Doc interjected, “Maruyama is out in the jungle somewhere?”
Rusty Kono said, “This officer told me that he can lead us to him if we don’t let the Chinese execute him.”
Sergeant Hayward commented, “I wouldn’t mind being rich…been poor my whole life.”
“Where is this officer right now?” Stock asked.
Rusty answered, “With the other prisoners in the Chinese compound. We don’t have much time if we do decide to go get him.”
Doc warned his fellow Marauders, “My official medical recommendation is we stay right where we are.”
That reasonable advice was not heeded however. The Marauders looked at each other and slowly got out of their cots. Minutes later, the ragged and sickly bunch of Americans arrived at the Chinese compound. Rusty walked over to one of the guards and pointed to a Japanese prisoner. The Chinese released the man to the Americans. The Marauders took him to a private place in the jungle where the interpreter questioned him.
Rusty then turned to his comrades, “There’s a cave complex about a mile from here. That’s where Maruyama is hiding with some of his men.”
Sergeant Hayward instructed Rusty, “Tell him if he leads us there we’ll do our best that he doesn’t get returned to the Chinese.”
The Japanese officer accepted the deal because it was the best one he was going to get. He led the Marauders to the fortified cave complex. Rusty convinced Colonel Maruyama to surrender. He was searched, interrogated and reluctantly gave up the map. The Marauders brought the two Japanese officers and a dozen enlisted men to American military intelligence and turned them over.
Sergeant Hayward explained, “These two officers are willing to give us Intel as long as you don’t turn them over to the Chinese.”
Captain McKenzie responded, “What the hell are you doing, Sergeant? You and your men should be getting some rest and medical attention, not going after the enemy. We’ll handle it from here.”
Once the casualty count was completed, the numbers for the Myitkina were devastatingly bad. Of the 2,750 Marauders to enter Burma six months earlier, only two hundred were still alive and of those, only two had never been wounded or hospitalized.
On August 10, 1944, the 5307th was officially disbanded. The wounded were evacuated to the 47th General Hospital in New Guinea and pumped full of antibiotics to treat a variety of illnesses and infections. Their open wounds were cleaned and re-bandaged several times a day to prevent infection. It was a slow recovery process, but these were resilient and strong men with great resolve. They weren’t about to give up now, especially after all that they had been through.
During their free time at the field hospital, the Marauders sat together and examined the map, making small talk about the wide range of possibilities. Sergeant Hayward reminded his comrades of the risks and difficulties of going treasure hunting in a war zone, “We’ll have to go behind enemy lines…you’re aware of that?”
Murtaugh shrugged, “Hell, we just spent six months behind enemy lines…that’s no big deal to me.”
“We made it out alive…why push our luck?” Doc said.
Riggs added, “The Japanese officer said that Yamashita has hidden crates of gold and jewels. Even if we found it, how would we move it and where would we take it? We don’t have those capabilities.”
Crackshot interjected, “In my opinion, I think we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. We don’t even know if this treasure exists.”
“Right on target, I agree,” Joby said.
The men looked at each other and knew what they had to do. Their curiosity would not let this go; so instead of being evacuated back to the states, the Marauders convinced an admin clerk to cut orders to transfer them to Manila. They boarded a Navy supply ship for the 2000-mile journey to the Philippines.
Another time and place, the Marauders would have been questioned, but many of the men still serving in the Pacific were battle weary and couldn’t care less about of their fellow Americans’ travel itinerary, so the Marauders made it to Subic Bay without any problems. Once they disembarked the U.S.S. George Washington in Subic Bay, the Marauders appropriated two jeeps and drove into the dense jungles of Luzon. They were heavily armed and ready to engage the Japanese if need be, but hoped that would not be necessary. The Marauders had fought the enemy for too long to get careless now.
The map led them to a mountain range outside Baguio City. For two days, the Marauders searched every foot of the area where the map indicated the treasure was buried and were almost ready to give up. On the 3rd day, Riggs noticed a group of rocks and logs and for some reason it aroused his suspicions, “Over here,” he called out.
The Marauders worked for several hours moving things out of the way until they unearthed an opening big enough for them to enter. While Crackshot and Murtaugh stood guard at the entrance, the other men ventured into the cave. It didn’t take long to find one section of the elaborate underground structure filled with wooden boxes and crates.
Sergeant Hayward pried open one of the boxes with his bayonet and found it filled with diamonds and rubies. The Marauders eagerly opened 50 more containers and found that every one of them was also filled with gold or precious stones.
Sergeant Hayward made the most reasonable suggestion, “Let’s fill up our packs with some jewels. We’ll make a plan to come back later for the heavy stuff.”
The logs and rocks were placed back in front of the entrance until it looked exactly like it did when they first got there. On the way back to Manila, they engaged a Japanese patrol and killed them after a fierce firefight.
The Marauders made their way back to San Diego, California with a valuable portion of the extensive treasure. Before returning home to visit their families, they traveled by train to Los Angeles and sold 100 thousand dollars’ worth of rare gems to the famous jeweler Harry Winston. The money was equally divided and the rest of the jewels were placed in a safe deposit box.
Hayward said. “Okay, we’ll visit our families, then meet back here in 30 days.” Everyone nodded in agreement.
Stock asked, “We’re going back for the rest…right?”
“Absolutely,” Hayward said, “We don’t discuss this with anyone…right?”
Once again, the Marauders were in agreement.
In January 1945, General McArthur and his forces invaded the island of Luzon. In February, the Marauders returned from their hometowns and rented a home in Oceanside near Camp Pendleton, while devising a plan to get the remainder of the treasure.
Every time they got ready to depart California, another event in the war derailed their plan. Money was not an issue because every time they needed cash, they would just sell more gems to Harry Winston.
On September 2, 1945, the Japanese officially surrendered, and the war in the Pacific was over. The Marauders quickly made arrangements to lease a freighter for their return to the Philippines. They bought several large trucks and had them loaded on to the vessel. It was almost 8,000 miles from San Diego to Manila, so once they were onboard, they had plenty of time to fantasize about what they were going to do with their shares of the treasure.
With the surrender of Japan, Admiral Yamashita knew he had to expedite his return to the Philippines to gather his ill-gotten gains and escape Allied justice. With a private security force estimated at 75 well-armed men, Yamashita stayed hidden on one the 1,200 coral atolls in the Marshall Islands. He knew that he would be tried for war crimes if he was caught, but he also realized it was worth the risks. The massive wealth would buy his freedom.
When the Marauders arrived in the Philippines, it was September 25, 1945 and the mood was festive and celebratory. It had been a brutal occupation for the Filipino people, with almost 900,000 civilian deaths. The Japanese were a cruel and murderous occupying force, but the clouds of doom had given way to blue skies. After unloading the four trucks from the freighter, the Marauders made their way back to the treasure site.
Two hours later, on the other end of the island, Admiral Yamashita and his men secretly landed and headed to the treasure site. The Americans had finished loading the last truck and were ready to return to their ship.
Sergeant Hayward called out, “Let’s go home!”
Just about that time they came under heavy fire when the Japanese arrived. Crackshot turned to Murtaugh, “Some things never change.”
Murtaugh grumbled, “Shut up and shoot!”
Sergeant Hayward sighed, “I should have figured it wasn’t going to be this easy,” and fired a burst from his BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle).
Joby and Stock took the bazooka and several high explosive rounds and began firing at the Japanese. Explosions rocked the countryside. The Marauders would have been overrun if it had not been for a group of Filipino freedom fighters who had been patrolling the area looking for Japanese stragglers when they heard the shooting.
Admiral Yamashita was captured and most of his private force was killed. The Americans gave the Filipinos several boxes of the treasure in return for their assistance, then continued back to the ship. The trucks were loaded onto the freighter and the Marauders headed home. The Filipinos turned the Japanese Admiral over to the American authorities.
From 29 October to 7 December 1945, an American military tribunal in Manila tried General Yamashita for war crimes and atrocities against civilians and prisoners of war and sentenced him to death. This controversial case became a precedent regarding command responsibility. It later became known as the Yamashita Standard. On 23 February 1946, Yamashita was hanged at Los Baños, Laguna Prison Camp, outside Manila.
Upon their return to the United States, these brave Americans’ first order of business was to slowly and discreetly begin selling enough of the treasure so that they could send 100,000 dollar cashier checks to their fellow surviving members of Merrill Marauders. It was estimated that the entire value of the treasure in today’s money would have been 40 billion dollars.
History would honor them for their valor and sacrifice, including being remembered as the legendary Marauders of Myitkina who accomplish the impossible in Burma, then traveled to the Philippines where they captured the infamous Tiger of Malaysia. The End
– This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.