The Devil Dogs of Belleau Wood: US Marines of World War One
By Sean Korsgaard
via the Skillset Magazine web site
By March of 1918, with Russia out of the war, Germany was quick to rush 50 divisions of soldiers from the Eastern Front into an advance on the Western Front. In what became known as the Spring Offensive, Germany made some of the largest gains since the start of the war, capturing hundreds of miles of ground in a war where months-long battles previously had been waged with little to no gain on either side.
Though their advance had slowed down by May, German troops were within 39 miles of Paris. The city began to evacuate, and a German victory was within sight.
All that stood in their way were 10,000 men of the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division, including the 5th and 6th Marine regiments. Within three weeks of fighting, more Marines would die at Belleau Wood than had been killed in the previous 143-year history of the Corps.
The Battle Begins
The battlefield was a square mile of heavily wooded hillsides ringing a wheat field, and the Germans were entrenched along the high ground, with the Marines dug in behind the wheat field. The opening American actions were costly. Early on June 6, Marines would take Hill 142, giving them a foothold in the hills. Charges across the wheat field meanwhile were met with German machine gun fire, resulting in gruesome casualties to gain a purchase in the woods along the other side.
The butcher’s bill that first day was steep—the Marines suffered 1,056 casualties, and June 6, 1918, would become the deadliest day in Corps history, a dubious honor it would hold until the Battle of Tarawa in 1943. Despite this, the Marines secured the northern third of Belleau Wood and repelled nine separate German counterattacks over the following week. Next, they would launch their own attacks.
Towards The Front
On June 11, following heavy bombardment by Allied artillery, the Marines would advance once more toward German positions. The Germans responded with mustard gas and countercharges. What followed were weeks of bloody close-quarters, or hand-to-hand, fighting. In that savage fighting, the Marines would earn a fearsome reputation among German ranks for their deadly use of trench shotguns and bayonets as well as for their adaptability and aggressiveness.
The lines were fluid in the weeks that followed, and although the Germans threw everything they could, the Americans held firm. The Marines would attack German positions in the woods six separate times before finally driving the Germans out. On June 26, Maj. Maurice E. Shearer, commander of the 5th Marine Regiment, submitted a final report that would become famous for its brevity: “Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely.”
Read the entire article on the Skillset Magazine web site here:
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