Battle of Belleau Wood
Overview
 
The Battle of Belleau Wood (1–26 June 1918) occurred during the German 1918 Spring Offensive
Spring Offensive
The 1918 Spring Offensive or Kaiserschlacht , also known as the Ludendorff Offensive, was a series of German attacks along the Western Front during World War I, beginning on 21 March 1918, which marked the deepest advances by either side since 1914...

 in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, near the Marne River
Marne River
The Marne is a river in France, a right tributary of the Seine in the area east and southeast of Paris. It is long. The river gave its name to the départements of Haute-Marne, Marne, Seine-et-Marne, and Val-de-Marne....

 in France. The battle was fought between the U.S. Second (under the command of Major General Omar Bundy
Omar Bundy
Omar Bundy was a U.S. Army general who participated in the Indian Wars and the Spanish-American War in Cuba, fought in the Philippine Insurrection and the Moro Expedition, and commanded a regiment on the Mexican border...

) and Third Divisions and an assortment of German
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 units including elements from the 237th, 10th, 197th, 87th, and 28th Divisions.
In March 1918, with nearly 50 additional divisions freed by the Russian surrender on the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War I)
The Eastern Front was a theatre of war during World War I in Central and, primarily, Eastern Europe. The term is in contrast to the Western Front. Despite the geographical separation, the events in the two theatres strongly influenced each other...

, the German Army launched a series of attacks on the Western Front, hoping to defeat the Allies before U.S.
Encyclopedia
The Battle of Belleau Wood (1–26 June 1918) occurred during the German 1918 Spring Offensive
Spring Offensive
The 1918 Spring Offensive or Kaiserschlacht , also known as the Ludendorff Offensive, was a series of German attacks along the Western Front during World War I, beginning on 21 March 1918, which marked the deepest advances by either side since 1914...

 in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, near the Marne River
Marne River
The Marne is a river in France, a right tributary of the Seine in the area east and southeast of Paris. It is long. The river gave its name to the départements of Haute-Marne, Marne, Seine-et-Marne, and Val-de-Marne....

 in France. The battle was fought between the U.S. Second (under the command of Major General Omar Bundy
Omar Bundy
Omar Bundy was a U.S. Army general who participated in the Indian Wars and the Spanish-American War in Cuba, fought in the Philippine Insurrection and the Moro Expedition, and commanded a regiment on the Mexican border...

) and Third Divisions and an assortment of German
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 units including elements from the 237th, 10th, 197th, 87th, and 28th Divisions.

Background

In March 1918, with nearly 50 additional divisions freed by the Russian surrender on the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War I)
The Eastern Front was a theatre of war during World War I in Central and, primarily, Eastern Europe. The term is in contrast to the Western Front. Despite the geographical separation, the events in the two theatres strongly influenced each other...

, 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. In the north, the British 5th Army was virtually destroyed by two major offensive operations, Michael
Operation Michael
Operation Michael was a First World War German military operation that began the Spring Offensive on 21 March 1918. It was launched from the Hindenburg Line, in the vicinity of Saint-Quentin, France...

 and Georgette around the Somme. A third offensive launched in May against the French between Soissons
Soissons
Soissons is a commune in the Aisne department in Picardy in northern France, located on the Aisne River, about northeast of Paris. It is one of the most ancient towns of France, and is probably the ancient capital of the Suessiones...

 and Reims
Reims
Reims , a city in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, lies east-northeast of Paris. Founded by the Gauls, it became a major city during the period of the Roman Empire....

, known as the Third Battle of the Aisne
Third Battle of the Aisne
The Third Battle of the Aisne was a battle of the German Spring Offensive during World War I that focused on capturing the Chemin des Dames Ridge before the American Expeditionary Force could arrive completely in France. It was one of a series of desperate offensives, known as the Kaiserschlacht,...

, saw the Germans reach the north bank of the Marne river
Marne River
The Marne is a river in France, a right tributary of the Seine in the area east and southeast of Paris. It is long. The river gave its name to the départements of Haute-Marne, Marne, Seine-et-Marne, and Val-de-Marne....

 at Château-Thierry, 40 miles (64.4 km) from Paris, on 27 May. Two U.S. Army divisions, the 2nd and the 3rd, were thrown into the Allied effort to stop the Germans. On 31 May, the 3rd Division held the German advance at Château-Thierry and the German advance turned right towards Vaux
Fort Vaux
Fort Vaux, located in Vaux-Devant-Damloup, Meuse, France, became the second Fort to fall in the Battle of Verdun. The first fort to fall had been Fort Douaumont which was virtually undefended and had been captured by a small German raiding party in February 1916 . Fort de Vaux , on the other hand ,...

 and Belleau Wood.

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
23rd Infantry Regiment (United States)
The 23rd Infantry Regiment is an infantry regiment in the United States Army originally formed on June 26th 1812. The 23rd saw action in 14 battles during the War of 1812...

 regiments were placed in reserve.

Battle

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 12 miles (19.3 km) front line north of the Paris-Metz Highway running through grain fields and scattered woods, from Triangle Farm west to Lucy
Lucy-le-Bocage
Lucy-le-Bocage is a commune in the Aisne department in Picardy in northern France.-References:*...

 and then north to Hill 142. The German line opposite ran from Vaux to Bouresches
Bouresches
Bouresches is a commune in the department of Aisne in Picardy in northern France....

 to Belleau
Belleau, Aisne
Belleau is a commune in the department of Aisne in Picardy in northern France.-Population:-See also:*Communes of the Aisne department*Battle of Belleau Wood*The Marine Memorial*Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial...

.

German advance halted at Belleau Wood

German commanders ordered an advance on Marigny
Marigny-en-Orxois
Marigny-en-Orxois is a commune in the Aisne department in Picardy in northern France.-Population:-References:*...

 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
James Harbord
James Guthrie Harbord was a Lieutenant General in the United States Army and President and Chairman of the Board of RCA....

, countermanding a French order to dig trenches further to the rear, ordered the Marines to "hold where they stand". With bayonet
Bayonet
A bayonet is a knife, dagger, sword, or spike-shaped weapon designed to fit in, on, over or underneath the muzzle of a rifle, musket or similar weapon, effectively turning the gun into a spear...

s, 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 yards (91.4 m) before opening deadly rifle fire which mowed down waves of German infantry and forced the survivors to retreat into the wood.

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
Torcy-en-Valois
Torcy-en-Valois is a commune in the Aisne department in Picardy in northern France.-Population:-References:*...

. After Marines were repeatedly urged to turn back by retreating French forces, Marine Captain Lloyd W. Williams of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines
2nd Battalion 5th Marines
2nd Battalion 5th Marines is an infantry battalion in the United States Marine Corps consisting of approximately 800 Marines and Sailors. They are based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California and fall under the command of the 5th Marine Regiment and the 1st Marine Division...

 uttered the now-famous retort "Retreat? Hell, we just got here." Williams' battalion commander, Major Frederic Wise, later claimed that he had said the famous words.

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 2000 yards (1,828.8 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.

Attack on Hill 142

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.

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. 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.

In the German counter-attack, then-Gunnery Sergeant
Gunnery Sergeant
Gunnery Sergeant is the seventh enlisted rank in the United States Marine Corps, just above Staff Sergeant and below Master Sergeant and First Sergeant, and is a staff non-commissioned officer...

 Ernest A. Janson
Ernest A. Janson
Sergeant Major Ernest August Janson was a United States Marine who was highly decorated for his heroic actions in World War I, receiving both the Army and Navy Medal of Honor and the French Medaille Militaire, as well as decorations from Montenegro, Portugal, and Italy. During World War I he...

—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
Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed by the President, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her...

 in World War I. Also cited for advancing through enemy fire during the counter-attack was then-Gunner Henry Hulbert.

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.

Marines attack Belleau Wood

At 17:00 on 6 June, the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines
3rd Battalion 5th Marines
3rd Battalion 5th Marines is an infantry battalion in the United States Marine Corps. The battalion, nicknamed "Dark Horse", is based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California and consists of approximately 1,000 Marines and Sailors...

 (3/5)—commanded by Major Benjamin S. Berry, and the 3rd Battalion 6th Marines
3rd Battalion 6th Marines
3rd Battalion 6th Marines is an infantry battalion in the United States Marine Corps based out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Also known as "Teufelhunden", it consists of approximately 1000 Marines and Sailors...

 (3/6)—commanded by Maj. Berton W. Sibley, 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?"

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 Sibley'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. Some 31 officers and 1,056 men of the Marine brigade were casualties. However, the Marines now had a foothold in Belleau Wood.

Fighting in Belleau Wood

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. Sibley'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. 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.

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
Sulfur mustard
The sulfur mustards, or sulphur mustards, commonly known as mustard gas, are a class of related cytotoxic, vesicant chemical warfare agents with the ability to form large blisters on exposed skin. Pure sulfur mustards are colorless, viscous liquids at room temperature...

. Next, Wise's 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines was ordered to attack the woods from the west, while Hughes continued his advance from the south.

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, 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."
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 division
Division (military)
A division is a large military unit or formation usually consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. In most armies, a division is composed of several regiments or brigades, and in turn several divisions typically make up a corps...

s of Germans, often reduced to using only their bayonet
Bayonet
A bayonet is a knife, dagger, sword, or spike-shaped weapon designed to fit in, on, over or underneath the muzzle of a rifle, musket or similar weapon, effectively turning the gun into a spear...

s or fists in hand-to-hand combat.

On 26 June, the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines—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. On that day, a report was sent out simply stating, "Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely," ending one of the bloodiest and most ferocious battles U.S. forces would fight in the war.

Aftermath

U.S. forces suffered 9,777 casualties, included 1,811 killed. Many are buried in the nearby Aisne-Marne American Cemetery
Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial
The Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial is a World War I cemetery in Belleau, Northern France. It is at the foot of the hill where the Battle of Belleau Wood was fought, with many American fatalities...

. There is no clear information on the number of Germans killed, although 1,600 Germans were taken prisoner.

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
Croix de guerre
The Croix de guerre is a military decoration of France. It was first created in 1915 and consists of a square-cross medal on two crossed swords, hanging from a ribbon with various degree pins. The decoration was awarded during World War I, again in World War II, and in other conflicts...

. Belleau Wood is allegedly also where the Marines got their nickname "Teufelshunde"—roughly translated as "Devil Dog
Devil Dog
Teufel Hunden, a mistranslation of Devil Dogs in German, is a motivational nickname for a U.S. Marine.-U.S. Marine Corps legends:...

s"—because of the ferocity with which they attacked. An official German report classified the Marines as "vigorous, self-confident, and remarkable marksmen..." General Pershing—Commander of the AEF—even said, "The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle!" Pershing also said "the Battle of Belleau Wood was for the U.S. the biggest battle since Appomattox
Battle of Appomattox Courthouse
The Battle of Appomattox Court House, fought on the morning of April 9, 1865, was the final engagement of Confederate States Army General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia before it surrendered to the Union Army under Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and one of the last battles of the American...

 and the most considerable engagement American troops had ever had with a foreign enemy."

Legacy

In 1923, an American battle monument was built in Belleau Wood. Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 General
General
A general officer is an officer of high military rank, usually in the army, and in some nations, the air force. The term is widely used by many nations of the world, and when a country uses a different term, there is an equivalent title given....

 James. G. Harbord
James Harbord
James Guthrie Harbord was a Lieutenant General in the United States Army and President and Chairman of the Board of RCA....

—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."

White crosses
Christian cross
The Christian cross, seen as a representation of the instrument of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, is the best-known religious symbol of Christianity...

 and Stars of David
Star of David
The Star of David, known in Hebrew as the Shield of David or Magen David is a generally recognized symbol of Jewish identity and Judaism.Its shape is that of a hexagram, the compound of two equilateral triangles...

 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
First Battle of the Marne
The Battle of the Marne was a First World War battle fought between 5 and 12 September 1914. It resulted in an Allied victory against the German Army under Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke the Younger. The battle effectively ended the month long German offensive that opened the war and had...

.

In New York City, a 0.197 acres (797.2 m²) triangle at the intersection of 108 Street and 51st Avenue in Queens
Queens
Queens is the easternmost of the five boroughs of New York City. The largest borough in area and the second-largest in population, it is coextensive with Queens County, an administrative division of New York state, in the United States....

 is dedicated to Marine Pvt. William F. Moore, 47th Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment
2nd Battalion 5th Marines
2nd Battalion 5th Marines is an infantry battalion in the United States Marine Corps consisting of approximately 800 Marines and Sailors. They are based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California and fall under the command of the 5th Marine Regiment and the 1st Marine Division...

. The Fifth and Sixth Marine Regiments were awarded the French Fourragère
Fourragère
The fourragère is a military award, distinguishing military units as a whole, that is shaped as a braided cord. The award has been firstly adopted by France, followed by other nations such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal.- History :...

 for their actions at Belleau Wood. Two U.S. Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 vessels have been named the (CVL-24 and LHA-3) after the battle.

"Belleau Wood" is a song released by American Country Music artist Garth Brooks
Garth Brooks
Troyal Garth Brooks , best known as Garth Brooks, is an American country music artist who helped make country music a worldwide phenomenon. His eponymous first album was released in 1989 and peaked at number 2 in the US country album chart while climbing to number 13 on the Billboard 200 album chart...

. It was the 14th track from his 1997 album Sevens
Sevens (album)
Sevens is the seventh studio album by American country music artist Garth Brooks. It was released on November 25, 1997, and debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, and on the Top Country Albums chart. The album also topped the Country album charts in Britain for several months and crossed over into the...

. The song was co-written by Joe Henry and tells the story of opposing forces joining in the singing of Silent Night
Silent Night
"Silent Night" is a popular Christmas carol. The original lyrics of the song "Stille Nacht" were written in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria, by the priest Father Joseph Mohr and the melody was composed by the Austrian headmaster Franz Xaver Gruber...

during the Christmas Truce
Christmas truce
Christmas truce was a series of widespread unofficial ceasefires that took place along the Western Front around Christmas of 1914, during the First World War...

, although that had occurred in 1914 before the U.S. entered the war, and Belleau Wood was not on the front lines at that time.

External links

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