Battle of Belleau Wood

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Battle of Belleau Wood
Part of the Western Front of World War I
Scott Belleau Wood.jpg
American Marines in Belleau Wood (1918)
Date 1–26 June 1918
Location Belleau Wood near Paris, France
Coordinates: 49°04′23″N 3°17′24″E / 49.073°N 3.290°E / 49.073; 3.290
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
 United States
 France
 British Empire
 Germany
Commanders and leaders
United States John J. Pershing
United States James Harbord
German Empire Crown Prince Wilhelm
Strength
2 U.S. Army divisions (including 1 brigade of United States Marines)
French 6th Army (elements)
British IX Corps (elements)
5 German divisions (elements)
Casualties and losses
1,811 killed
7,966 wounded[1]
Unknown
1,600 captured[1]

The Battle of Belleau Wood (1–26 June 1918) occurred during the German 1918 Spring Offensive in World War I, near the Marne River in France. The battle was fought between the U.S. Second (under the command of Major General Omar Bundy) and Third Divisions and an assortment of German units including elements from the 237th, 10th, 197th, 87th, and 28th Divisions.[2] The battle has become a deep part of the lore of the United States Marine Corps.

Background[edit]

Main article: Spring Offensive

In March 1918, with nearly 50 additional divisions freed by the Russian surrender on the Eastern Front, the German Army launched a series of attacks on the Western Front, hoping to defeat the Allies before U.S. forces could be fully deployed. A third offensive launched in May against the French between Soissons and Reims, known as the Third Battle of the Aisne, saw the Germans reach the north bank of the Marne river at Château-Thierry, 95 kilometres (59 mi) from Paris, on 27 May. On 31 May, the 3rd Division held the German advance at Château-Thierry and the German advance turned right towards Vaux and Belleau Wood.[3]

On 1 June, Château-Thierry and Vaux fell, and German troops moved into Belleau Wood. The U.S. 2nd Division—which included a brigade of U.S. Marines—was brought up along the Paris-Metz highway. The 9th Infantry Regiment was placed between the highway and the Marne, while the 6th Marine Regiment was deployed to their left. The 5th Marines and 23rd Infantry regiments were placed in reserve.[4]

Battle[edit]

On the evening of 1 June, German forces punched a hole in the French lines to the left of the Marines' position. In response, the U.S. reserve—consisting of the 23rd Infantry regiment, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, and an element of the 6th Machine Gun Battalion—conducted a forced march over 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) to plug the gap in the line, which they achieved by dawn. By the night of 2 June, the U.S. forces held a 20 kilometres (12 mi) front line north of the Paris-Metz Highway running through grain fields and scattered woods, from Triangle Farm west to Lucy and then north to Hill 142. The German line opposite ran from Vaux to Bouresches to Belleau.[5]

Map showing location of the battle of Belleau Wood (U.S. Military Academy)

German advance halted at Belleau Wood[edit]

German commanders ordered an advance on Marigny and Lucy through Belleau Wood as part of a major offensive, in which other German troops would cross the Marne River. The commander of the Marine Brigade, Army Gen. James Harbord, countermanding a French order to dig trenches further to the rear, ordered the Marines to "hold where they stand". With bayonets, the Marines dug shallow fighting positions from which they could fight from the prone position. In the afternoon of 3 June, German infantry attacked the Marine positions through the grain fields with bayonets fixed. The Marines waited until the Germans were within 100 yd (91 m) before opening deadly rifle fire which mowed down waves of German infantry and forced the survivors to retreat into the wood.[6]

Having suffered heavy casualties, the Germans dug in along a defensive line from Hill 204, just east of Vaux, to Le Thiolet on the Paris-Metz Highway and northward through Belleau Wood to Torcy.[7] After Marines were repeatedly urged to turn back by retreating French forces, Marine Captain Lloyd W. Williams of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines uttered the now-famous retort "Retreat? Hell, we just got here."[8] Williams' battalion commander, Major Frederic Wise, later claimed to have said the famous words.[7]

On 4 June, Maj. Gen. Bundy—commanding the 2nd Division—took command of the American sector of the front. Over the next two days, the Marines repelled the continuous German assaults. The 167th French Division arrived, giving Bundy a chance to consolidate his 2,000 yards (1,800 m) of front. Bundy's 3rd brigade held the southern sector of the line, while the Marine Brigade held the north of the line from Triangle Farm.[7]

Attack on Hill 142[edit]

At 03:45 on 6 June, the Allies launched an attack on the German forces, who were preparing their own strike. The French 167th Division attacked to the left of the American line, while the Marines attacked Hill 142 to prevent flanking fire against the French. As part of the second phase, the 2nd Division would capture the ridge overlooking Torcy and Belleau Wood, as well as occupying Belleau Wood. However, the Marines failed to scout the woods. As a consequence, they missed a regiment of German infantry dug in, with a network of machine gun nests and artillery.[7]

At dawn, the Marine 1st Battalion, 5th Marines—commanded by Major Julius Turrill—was to attack Hill 142, but only two companies were in position. The Marines advanced in waves with bayonets fixed across an open wheat field that was swept with German machine gun and artillery fire, and many Marines were cut down.[9][10] Captain Crowther commanding the 67th Company was killed almost immediately. Captain Hamilton and the 49th Company fought from wood to wood, fighting the entrenched Germans and overrunning their objective by 6 yards (5.5 m). At this point, Hamilton had lost all five junior officers, while the 67th had only one commissioned officer alive. Hamilton reorganized the two companies, establishing strong points and a defensive line.[11]

In the German counter-attack, then-Gunnery Sergeant Ernest A. Janson—who was serving under the name Charles Hoffman—repelled an advance of 12 German soldiers, killing two with his bayonet before the others fled; for this action he became the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor in World War I. Also cited for advancing through enemy fire during the counter-attack was then-Gunner Henry Hulbert.[12]

The rest of the battalion now arrived and went into action. Turrill's flanks lay unprotected and the Marines were rapidly exhausting their ammunition. By the afternoon, however, the Marines had captured Hill 142, at a cost of nine officers and most of the 325 men of the battalion.[12]

Marines attack Belleau Wood[edit]

Location of U.S. Marine forces in Belleau Wood and surrounding areas, 6 June 1918.

At 17:00 on 6 June, the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines (3/5)—commanded by Major Benjamin S. Berry, and the 3rd Battalion 6th Marines (3/6)—commanded by Maj. Tyler M. Meyer, on their right—advanced from the west into Belleau Wood as part of the second phase of the Allied offensive. Again, the Marines had to advance through a waist-high wheat field into murderous machine gun fire. One of the most famous quotations in Marine Corps legend came during the initial step-off for the battle when Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly, a recipient of two Medals of Honor who had served in the Philippines, Santo Domingo, Haiti, Peking and Vera Cruz, prompted his men of the 73rd Machine Gun company forward with the words: "Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?"[13]

The first waves of Marines—advancing in well-disciplined lines—were slaughtered; Major Berry was wounded in the forearm during the advance. On his right, the Marines of Major Meyer's 3/6 Battalion swept into the southern end of Belleau Wood and encountered heavy machine gun fire, sharpshooters and barbed wire. Marines and German infantrymen were soon engaged in heavy hand-to-hand fighting. The casualties sustained on this day were the highest in Marine Corps history to that time.[9] Some 31 officers and 1,056 men of the Marine brigade were casualties. However, the Marines now had a foothold in Belleau Wood.[14]

Fighting in Belleau Wood[edit]

Map showing location of Marine push to secure Belleau Wood, 25 June 1918

The battle was now deadlocked. At midnight on 7–8 June, a German attack was stopped cold and an American counter-attack in the morning of 8 June was similarly defeated. Meyer's battalion—having sustained nearly 400 casualties—was relieved by the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines. Major Shearer took over the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines for the wounded Berry.[15] On 9 June, an enormous American and French barrage devastated Belleau Wood, turning the formerly attractive hunting preserve into a jungle of shattered trees. The Germans counter-fired into Lucy and Bouresches and reorganized their defenses inside Belleau Wood.[15]

In the morning of 10 June, Maj. Hughes' 1st Battalion, 6th Marines—together with elements of the 6th Machine Gun Battalion—attacked north into the wood. Although this attack initially seemed to be succeeding, it was also stopped by machine gun fire. The commander of the 6th Machine Gun Battalion—Major Cole—was mortally wounded. Captain Harlan Major—senior captain present with the battalion—took command. The Germans used great quantities of mustard gas.[16] Next, Wise's 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines was ordered to attack the woods from the west, while Hughes continued his advance from the south.[17]

At 04:00 on 11 June, Wise's men advanced through a thick morning mist towards Belleau Wood, supported by the 23rd and 77th Companies of the 6th Machine Gun Battalion,[16] and were cut to pieces by heavy fire. Platoons were isolated and destroyed by interlocked machine gun fire. It was discovered that the battalion had advanced in the wrong direction. Rather than moving northeast, they had moved directly across the wood's narrow waist. However, they smashed the German southern defensive lines. A German private, whose company had 30 men left out of 120, wrote "We have Americans opposite us who are terribly reckless fellows."[18]

Overall, the woods were attacked by the Marines a total of six times before they could successfully expel the Germans. They fought off parts of five divisions of Germans, often reduced to using only their bayonets or fists in hand-to-hand combat.

On 26 June, the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, under command of Major Maurice E. Shearer, supported by two companies of the 4th Machine Gun Battalion and the 15th Company of the 6th Machine Gun Battalion, made an attack on Belleau Wood, which finally cleared that forest of the enemy.[16] On that day, Major Shearer submitted a report simply stating, "Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely,"[19] ending one of the bloodiest and most ferocious battles U.S. forces would fight in the war.

Aftermath[edit]

A recruiting poster by Charles B. Falls makes use of the "Teufel Hunden" nickname
Main article: Devil Dog

U.S. forces suffered 9,777 casualties, included 1,811 killed.[1] Many are buried in the nearby Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. There is no clear information on the number of Germans killed, although 1,600 Germans were taken prisoner.[20]

After the battle, the French renamed the wood "Bois de la Brigade de Marine" ("Wood of the Marine Brigade") in honor of the Marines' tenacity. The French government also later awarded the 4th Brigade the Croix de guerre. An official German report classified the Marines as "vigorous, self-confident, and remarkable marksmen..."[21] General Pershing—Commander of the AEF—even said, "The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle!"[citation needed] Pershing also said "the Battle of Belleau Wood was for the U.S. the biggest battle since Appomattox and the most considerable engagement American troops had ever had with a foreign enemy."[21]

In spite of the legend, it is unlikely that the Germans ever used the term "Teufelshunde" ("devil dogs") for the Marines, as the term was not known in contemporary German. The closest common German term would be "Höllenhunde" which means "hellhound". Though the meanings are similar, neither of these terms has been found in any German documents of the time.

Legacy[edit]

In 1923, an American battle monument was built in Belleau Wood. Army General James. G. Harbord—the commander of the Marines during the battle—was made an honorary Marine. In his address, he summed up the future of the site:

"Now and then, a veteran ... will come here to live again the brave days of that distant June. Here will be raised the altars of patriotism; here will be renewed the vows of sacrifice and consecration to country. Hither will come our countrymen in hours of depression, and even of failure, and take new courage from this shrine of great deeds."[8]

U.S. Marines & French soldiers at the 92nd anniversary memorial service of the battle.

White crosses and Stars of David mark 2,289 graves, 250 for unknown service members, and the names of 1,060 missing men adorn the wall of a memorial chapel. Visitors also stop at the nearby German cemetery where 8,625 men are buried; 4,321 of them—3,847 unknown—rest in a common grave. The German cemetery was established in March 1922, consolidating a number of temporary sites, and includes men killed between the Aisne and the Marne in 1918, along with 70 men who died in 1914 in the First Battle of the Marne.[8][22]

In New York City, a 0.197 acres (800 m2) triangle at the intersection of 108 Street and 51st Avenue in Queens is dedicated to Marine Pvt. William F. Moore, 47th Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.[23] The Fifth and Sixth Marine Regiments were awarded the French Fourragère for their actions at Belleau Wood.[24] Two U.S. Navy vessels have been named the USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24 and LHA-3) after the battle.

"Belleau Wood" is a song released by American Country Music artist Garth Brooks. It was the 14th track from his 1997 album Sevens. The battle described in the song's lyrics is not the Battle of Belleau Wood; it is instead a fictional account based on the Christmas truce phenomenon of 1914.

Lloyd Williams' famous quote is the basis for the motto of his unit, the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines. Williams himself has been honored with a building on the campus of his alma mater Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University named in remembrance of him.[25]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Stewart, p. 32
  2. ^ Château-Thierry: The Battle for Belleau Wood.
  3. ^ Moskin, pp.106–107
  4. ^ Moskin, p.107
  5. ^ Moskin, pp.107–108
  6. ^ Moskin, p.108
  7. ^ a b c d Moskin, p.109
  8. ^ a b c Kozaryn.
  9. ^ a b Duffy
  10. ^ Moskin, p.110
  11. ^ Moskin, pp 110–111
  12. ^ a b Moskin, p.111
  13. ^ Moskin pp. 99–100
  14. ^ Moskin p.102
  15. ^ a b Moskin, p.112
  16. ^ a b c Curtis p.17
  17. ^ Moskin pp.112–113
  18. ^ Moskin p.113
  19. ^ McBreen, p. 3
  20. ^ Rickard, J (10 August 2007). "Battle of Belleau Wood, 6–26 June 1918". Retrieved 25 September 2008. 
  21. ^ a b McBreen, p. 4
  22. ^ http://www.volksbund.de
  23. ^ William F. Moore Park. Moore attended PS 17 as a youth before enlisting in April 1917; he was killed just over a year later in the battle.
  24. ^ http://www.i-mef.usmc.mil/DIV/5MAR/1bn/fourragere.asp
  25. ^ http://www.vt.edu/about/buildings/major-williams-hall.html

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Alexander, Joseph H. Three Touchstone Battles: Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir. Quantico, Va: Marine Corps Association, 1997. ISBN 0-940-32820-8 OCLC 41291781
  • Andriot, R. Belleau Wood and the American Army : the 2nd and 26th Divisions (June and July 1918). Foster, RI : Brass Hat, 1986. OCLC 13908162
  • Asprey, Robert B. At Belleau Wood. New York, Putnam [1965]. OCLC 1183470
  • Axelrod, Alan. Miracle at Belleau Wood : the birth of the modern U.S. Marine Corps. Guilford, Conn: Lyons Press, 2007. ISBN 1-599-21025-8 OCLC 144579996
  • Bonk, David, and Peter Dennis. Château Thierry & Belleau Wood 1918: America's Baptism of Fire on the Marne. Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Pub, 2007. ISBN 1-846-03034-X OCLC 85443414
  • Bosco, Peter I., and Antoinette Bosco. World War I. New York : Facts on File, 2003. ISBN 0-816-04940-8 OCLC 49627626
  • Brady, James. Why Marines fight. New York : Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2007. ISBN 0-312-37280-9 OCLC 141386317
  • Camp, Richard D. Leatherneck legends : conversations with the Marine Corps' Old Breed. St. Paul, MN : Zenith Press, 2006. ISBN 0-760-32157-4 OCLC 64743738
  • Camp, Richard D. The Devil Dogs at Belleau Wood : U.S. Marines in World War I. Minneapolis, MN : Zenith Press, 2008. ISBN 0-760-33189-8 OCLC 173480600
  • Catlin, Albertus W., and Walter A. Dyer. "With the help of God and a few marines" : the battles of Chateau Thierry and Belleau Wood. Yardley : Westholme, [2013]. ISBN 1-594-16188-7 OCLC 847837399
  • Clark, George B. Devil dogs : fighting marines of World War I. Novato, CA : Presidio Press, 1999. ISBN 0-891-41653-6 OCLC 39292794
  • Clark, George B. The History of the Third Battalion 5th Marines, 1917-1918. Pike, N.H. : Brass Hat, 1996. OCLC 45901714
  • Clark, George B. Their time in hell : the 4th Marine Brigade at Belleau Wood, June 1918. Pike, N.H. : Brass Hat, 1996. OCLC 41409483
  • Cowley, Robert. The Great War : perspectives on the First World War. New York : Random House, 2003. ISBN 0-375-50909-7 OCLC 51046965
  • Crocker, H.W. The Yanks are coming : a military history of the United States in World War I. Washington, D.C. : Regnery Publishing, 2014. ISBN 1-621-57262-5 OCLC 870288525
  • Daniels, Josephus, William, John J. Pershing, and Charles F. Horne. Château-Thierry and Belleau Wood : how America held back the Germans at the Marne, May 31st-July 1st. S.l: s.n, 1923 OCLC 13240374
  • Devil Dogs Chronicle: Voices of the 4th Marine Brigade in World War I. Lawrence, Kan: University Press of Kansas, 2013. ISBN 0-700-61896-1 OCLC 816317940
  • Dowswell, Paul. War stories : true stories from the first and second World Wars. Tulsa, Oklahoma : EDC Publishing, 2006. ISBN 0-794-51499-5 OCLC 77737363
  • Eisenhower, John S. D., and Joanne Thompson Eisenhower. Yanks : the epic story of the American Army in World War I. New York : Free Press, 2001. ISBN 0-684-86304-9 OCLC 45835619
  • Farwell, Byron. Over there : the United States in the Great War, 1917-1918. New York : Norton, 2000. ISBN 0-393-32028-6 OCLC 45164508
  • Fenster, J. M. Lafayette Escadrille The Battle of Belleau Wood. [United States]: Buckingham, Beacon Hardy, 1996. ISBN 1-882-07173-5 OCLC 36150741
  • Fenster, J. M. World War I : voices from the front. [United States] : Buckingham, Beacon Hardy, 1996. ISBN 1-882-07173-5 OCLC 36412816
  • Fleming, Thomas J. Days of valor. Chicago : Follett Educational, 1970. OCLC 8734096
  • Grant, R. G. World War I : the definitive visual history : from Sarajevo to Versailles. New York : DK Publishing, 2014. ISBN 1-465-41938-1 OCLC 859882695
  • Hallas, James H. Doughboy war : the American Expeditionary Force in World War I. Boulder, Colo. : Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000. ISBN 1-555-87855-5 OCLC 41211519
  • Harbord, Jaes Guthrie. A month in Belleau Wood in 1918. Detroit, Mich: s.n, 1928. OCLC 8684518
  • History of the Fifth Regiment Marines, (May 1917-December 31, 1918. Pike, N.H.: Brass Hat, 2000. OCLC 45566929
  • Leckie, Robert. Great American battles. Illustrated with maps, prints, and photos. New York, Random House [1968]. OCLC 10478
  • Linn, Louis C., Laura Jane Linn Wright, and B. J. Omanson. At Belleau Wood with Rifle and Sketchpad : Memoir of a United States Marine in World War I. Jefferson : McFarland & Co., Publishers, 2012. ISBN 0-786-48799-2 OCLC 774276731
  • Marrin, Albert. The Yanks are coming : the United States in the First World War. Princeton, NJ: Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, 2007. OCLC 153985150
  • McClellan, Edwin North. The Battle of Belleau Wood. Washington, D.C.: Historical Section, U.S.M.C., 1930. OCLC 11237183
  • Mead, Gary. The Doughboys : America and the First World War. New York : Overlook Press, 2000. ISBN 1-585-67061-8 OCLC 44426879
  • Metzger, Fritz, and Mark Fuller. Oral History Interview with Fritz Metzger. 1982. OCLC 505269118
  • Moore, Ray T. With the Marines at Belleau Wood : a vivid description of personal experiences in battle. Wake Forest, N.C.: Euzelian Society, 1921. OCLC 313750663
  • Pattullo, George. Hellwood. New York: U.S. Marine Corps Mobilization Bureau, 1918. OCLC 7848855
  • Pike, Lloyd E. The battle for Belleau Wood, as I remember it, about 60 years later. 1977. OCLC 51845429
  • Rice, Earle. The Battle of Belleau Wood. San Diego : Lucent Books, 1996. ISBN 1-560-06424-2 OCLC 32853962
  • Simmons, Edwin H., and Joseph H. Alexander Through the wheat : the U.S. Marines in World War I. Annapolis, Md. : Naval Institute Press, 2008. ISBN 1-591-14791-3 OCLC 213602032
  • Stallings, Laurence. Blood Belleau Wood. New York. : American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., 1963. OCLC 671277467
  • Stephenson, Michael. Battlegrounds : geography and the history of warfare. Washington, D.C. : National Geographic, 2003. ISBN 0-792-23374-3 OCLC 52347848
  • Suskind, Richard. Do you want to live forever!. New York : Bantam Books, 1964. OCLC 4018290
  • Suskind, Richard. The Battle of Belleau Wood; the Marines stand fast. [New York] Macmillan [1969]. OCLC 4562
  • Terry, Charles. Wilson's war : America in the First World War. [S.l. : s.n.], 2011. ISBN 1-461-09267-1 OCLC 767875193
  • United States. Diary of Fourth Brigade, Marine Corps, Am. E.F. ; May 30, 1918 to June 30, 1918. [S.l. : s.n.], 1918. OCLC 17285300
  • Venzon, Anne Cipriano. The United States in the First World War : an Encyclopedia. Hoboken : Taylor and Francis, 2013. ISBN 1-135-68453-7 OCLC 865332376
  • Webb, Robert N., and Shannon Stirnweis. Stories of great battles. Racine, Wis. : Whitman Pub. Co., 1960. OCLC 1746568

External links[edit]