How The Bergmann Boot Became the Marine Corps "Raider" Boot

Eastman Leather Clothing recreated the Iconic WWII USMC "raider" boot. But How did this civilian boot go from loggers in the Pacific Northwest to Marine Raiders on Guadalcanal?

Earlier this year, Eastman Leather Clothing reproduced the “raider boot,” worn by some of the members of the US Marine Corps’ 2nd Marine Raider Battalion during WWII. These iconic boots with their destinctive lace to toe style, are one of the the most unique pieces of US WWII kit, making them ever sought after and equally elusive. Before we find out how boots, made for loggers in the Pacific Northwest, ended up as an obscure piece of WWII USMC history, you need to know about the Marine Raiders, and how they came about in the first place.

The Creation of The Marine Corps Raiders

Following the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from France at Dunkirk in 1940, Churchill called for the creation of a special raiding force to conduct attacks against German-occupied Europe. By the end of June 1940, this new amphibious raiding force, named “Commandos” – after the Boer forces from which their tactics were partially based – had been formed, trained, and conducted their first mission.

By the end of 1941, the British Commandos had become a famous fighting force and the Americans could not help but take notice. The two most enamored with the idea of an American Commando unit were President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his son, Major James Roosevelt II, of the United States Marine Corps. At their prodding and taking a cue from how the British Royal Marines had embraced the Commandos, the Marine Corps was designated as the branch to create the US’s own commando unit by the Joint Chiefs of Staff shortly prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Marine Raiders doing rubber boat training stateside. It was forseen that this was going to be how the Marine Raiders would principally operate in combat.

On January 6, 1942, the Marine Corps redesignated the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines as the 1st Separate Battalion and transferred it from the 1st Marine Division to the direct command of Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet, so it could conduct raids not dissimilar to those of British Commandos. However, the commandant directed that this experimental battalion only be referred to as Marines because that term was already good enough to “indicate a man ready for duty at any time and that the injection of a special name such as Commando, would be undesirable and superfluous.” Further, the commandant would go on to state, “The organization, equipment, and training of infantry units of the Marine Divisions should, in practically all respects, be identical to that of the ‘Commandos.’”

On February 4, 1942, at the behest of the Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet, the Commanding General, Amphibious Force Pacific Fleet, ordered the creation of a four-company strength raiding unit that the Marine Corps designated as the 2nd Separate Battalion. To help seed the creation of this new battalion, a company of men from the 1st Separate Battalion was dispatched to help act as cadre.

It was at this point that the two “founders” of the Raiders were appointed after considerable pressure from the White House. First was Lt. Col. Merrit A. Edson who would command the 1st Separate Battalion. Edson had served in France during World War I, was a Marine aviator, had commanded Marine Corps Marksmanship Teams, and had acted as an observer to Japanese fighting in China. His executive officer also had observed the British Commando training program.

Lt. Col. Evans Carlson, one of the founding fathers of the Marine Corps Raiders. He introduced the Marine Corps to the phrase “Gung-Ho” and was hated by the rest of the USMC’s officer corps. He brought a unique command style to his Raider Battalion.

The other was Lt. Col. Evans F. Carlson whose claim to fame, besides being friends with President Roosevelt and his son, was that he had traveled extensively and observed the Communist Chinese Eighth Route Army of guerillas taking special note of their tactics and organization.

The 1st Separate Battalion was redesignated the 1st Raider Battalion with Edson in Command, and the 2nd Separate Battalion at Camp Elliot in San Diego, was designated as the 2nd Raider Battalion with Carlson in Command and James Roosevelt as his executive officer. These two new Raider units were given the following basic mission: (1) to be the spearhead of amphibious landings by larger forces on beaches generally thought to be inaccessible; (2) to conduct raiding expeditions requiring great elements of surprise and high speed; and (3) to conduct guerilla type operations for protracted periods behind enemy lines.

The Second Marine Raider Battalion

One of the most unique things about the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, compared to its sister Battalion and the Marine Corps generally,was the philosophy and culture instilled by its Commander, Carlson. It had bits and pieces of Chinese culture, Communist egalitarianism, and New England town hall-style democracy. Every man could say exactly what they thought, and they adopted a new battle cry, “Gung-Ho,” which was a Chinese phrase meaning “work together.” Officers would have no privileges over their men, they would be forced to lead by consensus and not rank.

Lt. Col. Carlson and Maj. Roosevelt with the 2nd Raider Battalion on a field exercise at the Jacques Farm. Notice a number of the men wearing the soon-to-be discarded hunting vests.

One of the other unique facets of the 2nd Raider Battalion was their love of cool and unique equipment, regardless of its practicality. The first gadget was the M1 “Garand” Rifle. While the rest of the Marine Corps was still using, for a number of reasons, the old bolt-action 1903 Springfield Rifle, thanks to the powerful effects of having the son of the President as executive officer, Carlson was able to have his entire battalion equipped with the brand new semi-automatic M1. This gave the battalion a clear advantage in technology and firepower not just over their brethren in the 1st Raider Battalion but also their expected enemy, the Japanese, who would be equipped with bolt-action Arisaka rifles.

However, from there, the practicality of the gadgets quickly diminished. For instance, the 2nd Raider Battalion purchased a number of commercial hunting vests to be worn on top of their standard combat equipment. These vests, a signature item in many photographs of the Battalion training at Camp Elliot, proved to be hot, bulky, and impractical and did not make it overseas.

Another example is knives. The 1st Raider Battalion adopted as its knife the Camillus Cutlery Company Model #5665 on March 18, 1942. This knife was 8 7/8” overall with a 5” 13 gauge carbon steel clip-point blade hunting & utility knife. This was an exceptionally practical utility knife, designed for the use of hunters and outdoorsmen and perfectly suited for the Raiders as a good general-purpose knife.

The Western L77 stiletto with a plastic pommel and handguard. Designed for killing and not much else, it proved both fragile and impractical for the uses that one usually finds oneself in need of a knife for in combat.

The 2nd Raider Battalion went another route, initially going with the Western L77 stiletto. The stiletto, as a knife designed solely for killing, lacks much practical utility and, in the L77 form, proved quite fragile due to its plastic pommel and hand guard. This problem continued with the official Marine Corps-wide replacement, which featured a fragile cast-zinc handle. The other knife the 2nd Battalion adopted organically was the Collins No. 18 Machete, of which 1,000 were purchased and distributed to the Battalion by Carlson in September 1942 in Hawaii. This was a large bowie-style knife with a 9 1/2 “ blade. While loved by the raiders who had them and incorporated into their insignia, they were found to be not terribly practical outside of opening up coconuts in a single blow. They were too large for most utilitarian purposes but too small to be a good machete and thus were neither fish nor fowl. The Bergmann boot was another one of those “gadgets” peculiar to the 2nd Raider Battalion.

Top: A pair of “original” raider boots. Original pairs range in color from a medium brown to nearly black. While some of that is likely due to the effects of age and polish, a significant portion of that is also due them being a commercial off the shelf product and not something formally procured through the supply system Bottom: The Eastman Leather Clothing interpretation of the Bergmann Raider Boot. 

The Bergmann Boot

The Theo. Bergmann Shoe Manufacturing Co. was founded in Portland, Oregon in 1904. Theodore Bergmann, the founder, born in Rötha, Germany in 1856, learned the shoemaking trade there and immigrated to the United States in 1882 at the age of 37. Initially residing in St. Louis, he moved to Portland in 1893 where he started the eponymous shoe manufacturing company in 1904, principally making outdoor footwear for hikers, explorers, and lumbermen. From the founding, he made a vow that “the factory would turn out only high-grade, honest footwear.”

A photograph of the interior of Bergmann’s factor from shortly prior to World War 1

It started in a small two-story building in downtown Portland with 43 men and 2 women, with the employees paid an impressive salary of the time of $3,000 a month to help ensure quality as Bergmann didn’t want workers to “slight their work because of a desire to expedite it.” They also boasted that the “Bergmann heel never comes off,” priding themselves on using inch-and-half-long nails for their logging boots. They had 11 shoe types including the Bergmann Logger, with heights from 8 to 17 inches and priced from $8.50 to $11.50. The shoes were sold by traveling salesmen, who mostly combed the small towns of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Northern California, Colorado, Nevada, and Alaska. It was with this quality and line-up that the company won the gold medal at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915 for presenting the best logging boots as well as the best men’s boots and shoes, an honor that was unanimous among the judges.

An example of the pre-World War 1 advertising, showcasing one of the numerous ways the company was spearheading the development of quality footwear.

By World War I, the reputation of the quality of his footwear and the sample delivered to the War Department were such that when the first 12,000 pairs were delivered to the Army in 1918, the Army decided not to waste its time inspecting the shoes. Bergmann describes his efforts in ensuring his footwear was up to his peerless quality:

Since we entered the war, in their hurry to produce leather to keep up with their orders, some tanners with whom I had been dealing employed processes inimical to the production of the best leathers. Acids were employed to expedite the tanning process, resulting in stock so brittle that it would crack with ordinary usage. I got some of this stock, much to my chagrin and financial loss. On discovery of this, I boarded a train for the East and visited all the leading tanneries and shoe factories. In this way I found leather of the kind suitable to my purposes, used it in my work for the government.

Soldiers receiving these shoes during World War I fell in love with them. Captain Richard V. Dennison wrote to Bergmann in January 1919, shortly after the end of the war, stating:

[I want to] tell you, in my own way, the great comfort the shoes you made for me in October, 1917, have given me during this war in France. I have been one of the few during these many rainy months who could boast of dry feet. They (the shoes) have been the envy of many. I can assure you; so much so that when I was wounded I had to sleep with them under my head a pillow until I finally reached base hospital 202 at Orleans, France, where I carefully took a receipt for them and was able to wear them on my discharge. They are as good as new save that they will need a pair of new soles in the future. I write you feeling you will be interested in knowing you did more than your bit in starting me off to battle with the best pair of shoes in the army.

The war allowed Bergmann to double the size of his factory and with the cessation of hostilities, he also went back to making high-quality outdoor footwear with advertising specifically directed towards loggers, cruisers, miners, and sportsmen with an emphasis on its supreme water resistance. By the end of the 1920s, the company’s quality was so well known that a cobbler's previous employment by Bergmann would be used as an advertising feature, and when Bergmann passed away in 1932, his obituary was carried by the Associated Press.

An advertising following the death of the founder of Theodore Bergmann showcasing the new practice of putting his face on the box as a testament to its quality and the increasing range of boots they offered.

With Bergmann’s passing, his face would adorn the box, as a sign of quality. It was also around this time that a new boot was added to the ever-increasing line-up at Bergmann’s company: The Bergmann Knockabout. This was a boot that came up just above the ankle with 5 eyelets and 3-speed hooks. Designed to be soft, lightweight, easy on the feet, and cheaper than Bergmann’s other offerings, it also saw the introduction by Bergmann of its classic lace-to-toe style. The popularity of the lace-to-toe feature quickly saw its addition to its logging boots as an option. Bergmann introduced a heavyweight corded sole as an option for its logging boots by 1940.

While the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion was training at Jacque Farms, near Camp Elliot, San Diego, there were many in the Battalion who found that the standard issue Marine Corps ‘Field Shoe,” often referred to as “boondockers,” were inadequate for the constant heavy marching. It was at this point that it was decided to purchase boots from Theo. Bergmann Shoe Company. How the Bergmann Shoe Company was chosen is not fully known. It can be surmised that due to their decades-long fame on the West Coast of being the premier or one of the premier outdoor boot companies and most of the Raiders in the 2nd Battalion being from the West Coast, someone key in making the decision was familiar with the brand and their reputation.

What they ended up choosing from all of Bergmann’s offerings was the 8-inch tall 12-eyelet lace-to-toe logging boot which included a corded rubber sole that Bergmann had introduced by 1940. When exactly they received their boots is open to some debate. While there is some indication that they received them while training at Jacque Farms, they don’t appear in photographs of their time training there, in Hawaii, or the Makin Island Raid. It is certain, however, that they did have them by the time they left for Guadalcanal.

Raiders of the 2nd Raider Battalion leaving Guadalcanal. Note both the M1 Rifles and the Bergmann boots.

Initial reception of the boots was positive overall, with Ben Carson of the 2nd Raider Battalion remembering that the boots “were comfortable, but much heavier than boondockers, and much harder to dry out after fording a creek.” That noted difficulty in drying the boots out after they would get wet is part of what makes the decision to choose a heavy leather logging boot for a unit whose principal mission was amphibious raiding in rubber boats from submarines so peculiar and inexplicable.

With the first certain use by the boots on Guadalcanal during the 2nd Raider Battalion’s “Long March,” the boot’s comfort and resilience were praised. However, that same difficulty in drying after getting wet would again emerge.

A Marine Raiders on Bougainville inspects a captured Japanese pistol with a pair of Bergmann boots in the background.

On Bougainville, during the Raider’s final campaign, the Bergmann boot was compared against the standard issue Field Shoe and the Army’s Jungle Boot. The review of the Field Shoe was short and sweet: “the best field shoe in any service to date.” The Army’s Jungle boot was reviewed thusly as “good for short scouting and reconnaissance missions, but not for an operation.” The Bergmann’s were extremely well reviewed:

The footwear review section of the Marine Raider Regiment’s After Action Report from the Bougainville Campaign

Of note, they don’t touch upon its drying ability if it were to get submerged and wet.
No more of the boots would be purchased en-masse like the initial 2nd Raider Battalion order, though there is evidence of Marines from other Battalions purchasing pairs. The Raiders would be disbanded after the Bougainville in 1944, only completing one doctrinal raid, the Makin Raid, which nearly ended in disaster. For most of the combat the four Raider Battalions saw, they were used like any other Marine Battalion. The four Battalions would be converted, when disbanded, into the reborn 4th Marine Regiment and would see combat with the 6th Marine Division on Guam and Okinawa. When Marine Special Operation Forces were reinvented after World War II, they would not re-adopt a logging-style boot. Instead, they would use Converse All Stars and other lightweight canvas rubber-soled sneakers, better suited for the submarine-based rubber boat operations that were at the center of their doctrinal purpose. The Bergmann Shoe Company itself would eventually close its doors in 1957.

Marine Raiders from the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion waiting to leave Guadalcanal. Note the two-tone corded sole on one of the Raider’s boots; because of the war and the item being a commercial off-the-shelf product, the exact style of corded sole could vary quite a bit.

Today the Bergmann Raider Boot serves as an interesting footnote of World War II equipment history. It was adopted as part of a slew of less than practical articles of equipment by the more unique of two unwanted Raider Battalions. Totally impractical for the unit’s doctrinal purpose, amphibious raiding, it proved to do exceptional work for the basic grunt style combat the Battalion ended up being used for. The boots, as Theodore Bergmann promised when he started the company, “were high-grade, honest footwear,” and that was enough for them to overcome harsh climatic conditions that the Pacific battlefield threw at them, earning them a place of respect in the hearts of the Raiders that wore them.

About The Author

Joshua M. Kerner is an attorney in Richmond, Virginia, who has been researching & collecting US Army and Marine Corps clothing and equipment for over 15 years. Focusing on primary source, he has conducted research at archives across the country, including the National Archives, The Institute of Heraldry, and the Quartermaster Corps Museum, and has been consulted by a number of reproduction manufacturers on how to improve their wares.

Eastman's Raider Boot

By Joshua M. Kerner

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