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thedrifter
06-12-03, 01:16 PM
When the U.S. Marines Saved France



By Jason Williscroft



By the spring of 1918, Europe lay in ruins. The Western Front was a shattered wasteland of muddy trenches and shell holes. Rot and poison gas befouled the soil, and rats grew fat on the ubiquitous flesh of the dead. All else starved.



The German high command determined to strike a decisive blow in anticipation of the American Army’s imminent arrival in France. In the early hours of May 27, General Erich von Ludendorff unleashed a ferocious artillery assault on the Allied line defending the Chemin des Dames, stretching along a crest between the Aisne and Ailette rivers. More than 4,000 heavy artillery pieces delivered a deadly hail of high explosive and poison gas across a 25-mile front, catching the Allies entirely by surprise and virtually wiping out the British IX Corps.



Within six hours, in a maneuver starkly prescient of Nazi blitzkrieg tactics employed by the Germans two decades later, Ludendorff’s forces smashed through eight more Allied divisions – four British, four French – and reached the river Aisne. By June 3, the Germans had taken 50,000 Allied prisoners and advanced to within 50 miles of Paris. Troop fatigue, logistical problems, and Allied counter-attacks fortunately took their toll; by June 6, at a cost of 130,000 Allied casualties, the German advance seemed stalled on the banks of the Marne.



Paris wept with dread behind the bones of a hundred thousand freshly shattered sons.



On June 1, as the German offensive machine approached the Marne, the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division arrived to set up a defensive line across the Paris-Metz road, just north of Lucy-le-Bocage. The Army’s 23rd and 9th Infantry Regiments guarded the flanks, with the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments holding the center.



Over the following two days, units of the German 237th Division entered and occupied Belleau Wood directly to the north of the Marine positions. Initially deployed without the benefit of heavy machine gun support, the Marines soon taught the Germans to fear the effects of long-range marksmanship, picking them off with deadly precision from across the 800-yard expanse of wheat and barley bordering the Wood.



But by the evening of June 3, the forward Allied defensive line had disintegrated, and American positions were inundated with retreating French soldiers. A French major confronted Marine Capt. Lloyd Williams with news of the advancing German attack. Taking a pad of paper, writing in English, the senior officer issued Williams a direct order to retreat. Famously, Captain Williams exploded with rage. “Retreat, hell!” he shouted. “We just got here!”



Captain Williams would die in Belleau Wood nine days later, blinded by gas and gutted by German shrapnel.



On June 5, having effectively abandoned the defense of Paris to American forces, the French XXI Corps ordered the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division to recapture Belleau Wood. Responsibility for the assault fell to the two Marine regiments positioned directly south of the Wood. French intelligence indicated that the Germans occupied only a single corner of the Wood, and anticipated light resistance.



A sallow sun marked the morning of June 6, 1918. At 0500, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment attacked Hill 142 to the west of Belleau Wood. Though the assault was a success, capturing a critical strategic high point, the Germans quickly counterattacked.



Marine Gunnery Sgt. Ernest A. Janson spied twelve enemy soldiers, armed with five light machine guns, crawling toward his position atop Hill 142. Janson leaped to his feet, bellowed an alarm, and stomped off to engage the enemy alone. Two German leaders died instantly with Janson’s bayonet in their guts. The violence of Janson’s assault so demoralized the remaining ten Germans that they abandoned their weapons and fled into the morning mist.



Following the war – after receiving two Medals of Honor for this action, one each from the Army and the Navy – Janson legally reclaimed his birth name, Charles F. Hoffman, and his birthright as a proud American of German descent.



Twelve hours after the assault on Hill 142, battalions of the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments launched a full frontal assault on Belleau Wood. The broad wheat fields bordering the forest offered little concealment and even less cover. German heavy machine guns mowed down the advancing Marines like bloody scythes.



As men bit and tore at the earth to escape the murderous fire shredding their rucksacks not twelve inches off the ground, Gunnery Sgt. Dan Daly – already a recipient of two Medals of Honor for gallantry under fire in China and Haiti – leaped to his feet. “Come on, you sons of *****es!” he roared at his men. “You wanna live forever?” Thus inspired, Daly’s Marines – outnumbered, outgunned, and unsupported from the rear – seized a German machine gun nest and turned its guns on the fleeing enemy, establishing the first Allied foothold in Belleau Wood.



Despite assurances of French intelligence to the contrary, Belleau Wood was lousy with Germans. The three-square-mile patchwork of forest and field held thousands of crack German troops, manning hundreds of well camouflaged, liberally supplied heavy machine gun emplacements.



The battle raged – continuously – for twenty days. Near the end, as starvation and exhaustion closed in, trapped together in close quarters among the trees and suffering from a shortage of ammunition, both sides were reduced to bitter, hand-to-hand combat.



Finally, armed with little beyond bayonets and bare hands, the U.S. Marines drove the Germans from Belleau Wood and prevented the sack of Paris. In twenty days of combat, the Marines suffered 9,777 casualties, including 1,811 dead – a record of bloody sacrifice that would stand until the Marine assault on the island of Tarawa over 20 years later.



Stunned by the ferocity of the Marines’ assault, surviving Germans cursed them with a name that the Marines cherish fondly to this day: Teufelhunden.



Devil Dogs.



A nation moves toward tomorrow on wheels greased with the fat of yesterday’s fallen. Canada has her Flanders Fields. The Tommies remember Gallipoli. The U.S. Marines have Belleau Wood and Dan Daly, armed with two hand grenades and a Colt .45, kicking apart a German machine gun nest with murderous intent.



Contemporary events suggest that – at least so far as America is concerned – the French national memory has not survived the Great War.



Jason Williscroft is a former enlisted Marine who received a commission in the U.S. Navy following graduation from the Naval Academy. Following 12 years of active-duty service, he founded a private financial management firm and works as an independent engineering consultant. He can be reached at jscroft@hotquant.com.



Sempers,

Roger

CPLRapoza
06-12-03, 02:57 PM
Thank for the history lesson of our beloved Corps that we've come to know and love.

yellowwing
06-12-03, 03:17 PM
Thanks for the reminder. It's almost bitter-sweet that despite the recent annoyances of the French, we'd go save their butts again if called upon.

thedrifter
07-27-05, 07:47 AM
Bump

Ellie

Joseph P Carey
07-27-05, 10:34 AM
I know that I am always a bucket of cold water on some things, but how did two regiments of Marines come down with 9,777 casualties in 20 days, with 1,811 of them dead? Just the dead alone is close to Two Battalions of the six in the two Regiments!

I mean no disrespect by this! I am just asking the question.

"...In twenty days of combat, the Marines suffered 9,777 casualties, including 1,811 dead – a record of bloody sacrifice that would stand until the Marine assault on the island of Tarawa over 20 years later..."

Nagalfar
07-27-05, 12:02 PM
For Sale; French Military rifles, dropped twice, unfired!

yellowwing
07-27-05, 04:34 PM
Finally, armed with little beyond bayonets and bare hands, the U.S. Marines drove the Germans from Belleau Wood and prevented the sack of Paris.

You poolees remember this and take it to heart.

We do have the most advanced weapons on today's battlefield...but it is our Marine Corps training and ferocity that really wins the day.

Semper Fi :marine:

Grimmy
08-01-05, 01:15 AM
I remember a story about a platoon of US Marines at the Marne that were ordered to hold their possition no matter what along the bank of the river. In the orders was "keep one foot in the water" or words to that effect.

When the German assualt barges started approaching the beach in front of the Marine possition the Marines advanced to keep "one foot in the water" and commenced throwing hand grendades at the approaching craft and eventually engaged in close range and then hand to hand combat.

I dont know if it was true or from some historical novel I might have read.

Anyone else heard of anything like that?

Joseph P Carey
08-01-05, 03:50 AM
Grimmy,

I looked, but I could not find any reference to the "One foot in the water" Order, but I did find some comments by Commandant Krulak, made in 1998 at the Cemetary at Belleau Woods, and I have also read through The United States Marine Corps in the World War by Major Edwin N. McClellan, USMC, and could not find any reference to it. I n the mean time General Krulaks remarks about the Marines in WWI:

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
BELLEAU, France, June 18, 1998 -- For military historians and battlefield buffs, the wheat fields and farm villages here are rich in the details of heroic attacks, untold sacrifices and ultimate victory. For others, especially the U.S. Marine Corps, this is hallowed ground, a sacred place of pilgrimage.

American, French and German military men and women come here to honor fallen brethren. They also come so that those who fought and died live on in the hearts and minds of those who follow.

Silently, they visit the American cemetery, where 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. They also visit a nearby German cemetery where 8,625 men are buried; 4,321 of them -- 3,847 unknown -- rest in a common grave. In death, friend and foe are honored alike for their courage.

Little has changed in the 80 years since 8,000 U.S. Marines, hundreds of Army soldiers and a handful of Navy medical corpsmen fought a prolonged battle to halt the Germans' advance toward Paris, a mere 30 miles away. It was here, in a former hunting preserve named Belleau Wood, that they faced what Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Charles C. Krulak considers the Marines' first crucible.

"The flower of America's youth fought and bled to wrest this wood from the Germans," Krulak said at a May 31 memorial service marking the battle's 80th anniversary. The commandant and French dignitaries addressed 250 active duty U.S. Marines stationed in Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, and several hundred French visitors at the cemetery at the edge of Belleau Wood.

Today, nestled among rolling fields, the 200-acre, 1.5- mile-long wood remains untouched. Sunlight filters through thick greenery, barely reaching the dark forest floor. Visitors pay homage to "Iron Mike," a faceless bronze statue in the heart of the wood.

Outside the forest, crops flourish under warm summer sun. Villages stand as they did then, stone monuments to an unchanging agrarian life. Spent brass rifle shells and a lone artillery round rest on a shelf behind the bar in a rustic cafe.

War shattered this peaceful countryside in June 1918. Artillery rounds sheared tree trunks, rending the still forest with the cracking thunder of war. Americans fought desperately using artillery, machine guns, rifles, bayonets, grenades, pistols and trench knives. Nearly 700 Americans died. Another 7,300 were wounded.

France, with the help of the United States, had formed a last line of defense along the Marne River near Chateau Thierry. The U.S. 4th Marine Brigade, made up of the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments, was in the center with the French 167th Division on its left and U.S. Army 3rd Brigade to the right. The advancing German spearhead struck the Marine brigade near Belleau Wood on June 4.

New to Europe and the First World War, the combat-ready Marines encountered retreating, battle-worn veteran French troops, who predicted only doom. Turn back, the French advised.

"Retreat, hell. We just got here," responded Marine Capt. Lloyd Williams of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. Untried, but soon to prove their mettle, the Marines surged through a hail of machine gun fire to take Hill 142 on June 6.

During a series of attacks and counterattacks on the way to the wood and in nearby villages, the Americans prevailed despite confusion and poor communications. Expert marksmen surprised German foes, hitting their targets from hundreds of yards away. Individual Marines charged German machine gun nests. When officers fell, sergeants took the lead. When sergeants fell, corporals led the way. When corporals fell, privates fought on.

The Marine Corps lost more men on June 6 than it had in all the rest of its history. The 4th Brigade suffered 31 officer casualties and 1,056 enlisted -- of those numbers, six officers and 222 enlisted men were killed or later died of wounds.

Only by walking the battlefield can one truly appreciate what happened at Belleau Wood, Krulak said. Walk among the rows of crosses and stars, among the wheat fields and trees of Belleau Wood. Krulak said he took his first walk a year ago, starting near the town of Lucy-le-Bocage, where the World War I Marines launched their attack June 6.

"I walked toward the tree line through waist-high wheat, just as they did 80 years ago," the commandant said. "History books describe that 800-yard advance, but I never fully appreciated it until I walked it myself. The Germans had every square inch of that field covered by machine gun and artillery fire. The Marines paid dearly with every step they took."

Within Belleau Wood, Krulak said, he saw the grossly distorted, misshapen trees that today bear testament to the carnage. "It took them 20 days to go through that forest -- 20 days of little sleep, little food, poison gas, machine gun fire, artillery, loneliness and death," Krulak said. "In those 20 days they beat back five German counterattacks, fighting off more than four divisions of crack German troops. They did it with their rifles, their bayonets and sometimes with their fists."

What remained of the 4th Marine Brigade emerged victorious from Belleau Wood on June 26. The battle marked a turning point in the war: The American victory rekindled hope among war-weary Europeans and destroyed German confidence.

Belleau Wood was dedicated as an American battle monument in July 1923. Army Gen. James. G. Harbord, the 4th Marine Brigade commander during the battle, was made an honorary Marine. In his address, he predicted the attraction future military men and women would feel for the site.

Joseph P Carey
08-09-05, 12:21 PM
When I read this article, 'When the U.S. Marines Saved France,' By Jason Williscroft, the part that stuck in my mind was this piece he entered as fact : "Finally, armed with little beyond bayonets and bare hands, the U.S. Marines drove the Germans from Belleau Wood and prevented the sack of Paris. In twenty days of combat, the Marines suffered 9,777 casualties, including 1,811 dead – a record of bloody sacrifice that would stand until the Marine assault on the island of Tarawa over 20 years later."

I, at the time, said this could not be so when I wrote : "I know that I am always a bucket of cold water on some things, but how did two regiments of Marines come down with 9,777 casualties in 20 days, with 1,811 of them dead? Just the dead alone is close to Two Battalions of the six in the two Regiments! ... I mean no disrespect by this! I am just asking the question."

What I found, in the republished release, The United States Marine Corps in the World War, by Major Edwin N. McClellan, USMC, (First Printed 1920, Facsimile Reprinted 1968, Historical Branch, G-3 Division Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, Washington, D. C. 20380). Then Commandant, Major General George Barnett, directed that a Historical Division be established at Marine Corps Headquarters and that a history of our participation in that war be written. McCellan was made Historian of the Marine Corps after WWI, and he as well served in the fighting of these battles. He writes on Page 10, Paragraphs 1, 2, 3 :
Within one year after the outbreak of war the Marine Corps placed about as many enlisted men in France as there were in the Marine Corps when war was declared.
During the month of June, 1918, when the battle deaths around Hill 142, Bouresches, Belleau Wood, and Vaux, of Americans attached to the Second Division amounted to 1,811 (of which at least 1,062 were Marines) and the nonfatal casualties to 7,252 more (of which 3,615 were Marines), the legislative strength of the Marine Corps was but 1,323 officers and 30,000 enlisted men; the actual strength on June 30, 1918, including reserves, was 1,424 officers and 57,298 enlisted men, and of this total about 300 officers and 14,000 enlisted men were in France. These latter figures include those Marines who suffered casualties in the battles of June, 1918.
Approximately 30,000 Marines were sent overseas to join the American Expeditionary Forces, and 1,600 for naval duty ashore.

Mr Williscroft left out the added areas where it covered the Marines' actual numbers, the other numbers in those battles must surely be Regular Army that were with the 4th US Marine Brigade in the US Army's 2nd Division Regulars, otherwise he used the exact writings of McClellan. This is truly a most amazing chapter in the History of the US Marines, and although there were not 9,777 Marines casualties, instead there were only 3,615 nonfatal casualties, and instead of the 1,811 Fatalities, there were in actuality 1,062 Marine Fatalities, a total of 4,677 Marines that were wounded or killed in this action, which makes the count more so believable, considering that there were only 14,300 Marines and Officers in France at the time, there is still the great History and tradition of the US Marines, and their amazing fighting spirit without embellishing the actual numbers to any degree.

I am just setting the record straight!

lurchenstein
09-10-05, 05:40 PM
Originally posted by Joseph P Carey
I know that I am always a bucket of cold water on some things, but how did two regiments of Marines come down with 9,777 casualties in 20 days, with 1,811 of them dead? [/B]

Good detective work and an interesting post, Carey.

jscroft
12-07-06, 03:30 PM
Wow, you Marines are thorough! I hadn't realized my article was the topic of this thread, or I would have weighed in earler, but--just to set the record straight--I got my casualty data from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Belleau_Wood

Semper Fi!

Jason G. Williscroft
The Dead Hand (http://thedeadhand.com/jscroft)

Camper51
12-07-06, 04:29 PM
Wow, you Marines are thorough! I hadn't realized my article was the topic of this thread, or I would have weighed in earler, but--just to set the record straight--I got my casualty data from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Belleau_Wood

Semper Fi!

Jason G. Williscroft
The Dead Hand (http://thedeadhand.com/jscroft)

Wikipedia stated that those casualty figures were american casualties. It did not say they were all Marine casualties.

After the battle

In the end, U.S. Forces suffered a total of 9,777 casualties, 1,811 of them being fatal.

Still a great post to remind us all of our great heritage and Esprit de Corps...

drumcorpssnare
12-28-06, 09:27 AM
I recall reading an account of U.S. Marines in action in WW I that went something like this...

A group of Marines that had recently been put into the line of battle, were being observed by a small group of French and U.S. Army officers.
A section of enemy soldiers began to advance, with covering fire. The Marines laid low; holding their fire. A French officer began to panic. "Tell your men to fire!" An American observer cautioned, "Just wait...."
Soon, the Marine riflemen began to shoot back at the Germans. Again, the French officer becomes impatient. "They must shoot faster! They will be overrun!"
The Army officer said, "Watch what is happening. They are taking careful aim, and with each shot, they are killing a German."
"Ah," said the Frenchman, "this is a new technique? We, and our British allies always fire as many bullets at the enemy as possible!"
"Yes," said the American, "but then, you are not United States Marines!"

SEMPER FI
drumcorpssnare:usmc:

Zulu 36
12-28-06, 01:01 PM
I've never read that particular story, however, I know that very early in WWI, the initial British Army forces sent to France were long-service professional soldiers. Their marksmanship was of a very high quality, and with their 10-shot SMLE rifles, the Germans sometimes thought they were under extremely accurate machine gun fire at long range. At the time, the British Army had very few machine guns. The Germans did not like attacking the Brits because of this accurate fire whether from rifles or machine guns.

Due to attrition, the marksmanship quality of the British infantry declined, but I don't think it ever sank to the level of the French riflemen, who were generally abysmal shooters at any distance (some elite units were exceptions). This was mainly due to a lack of training as the French were wedded to an attack, attack, attack policy, using the bayonet as the primary weapon. The French commanders didn't expect their troops to have to shoot except upon closing with the enemy when almost any idiot could hit a target.

When forced into the defensive posture of trench warfare, the French never adapted, always believing their ability to resume the attack was just around the corner. They depended on machine guns and artillery to do the majority of the defensive work, while infantry was reserved for the attack (with bayonets of course).

When the infantry had to shoot in the defense, they just shot a lot and fast hoping some of the Germans would bump into a stray bullet or two. They still had the Napoleonic outlook of line up the mob and basically shoot volleys.

So there might be a little to that story.

drumcorpssnare
12-28-06, 02:24 PM
WHAT? The French fired their rifles? Damn, I'm gonna have to re-read my history books. Must have missed a chapter or two...:D
drumcorpssnare:usmc:

Zulu 36
12-28-06, 05:03 PM
WHAT? The French fired their rifles? Damn, I'm gonna have to re-read my history books. Must have missed a chapter or two...:D
drumcorpssnare:usmc:

Well, yeah. People do weird things when in a panic state. :marine:

recruit0107
02-12-07, 08:53 PM
You poolees remember this and take it to heart.

We do have the most advanced weapons on today's battlefield...but it is our Marine Corps training and ferocity that really wins the day.

Semper Fi :marine:


Noted.Will carry that to boot camp with me.

jinelson
02-12-07, 09:12 PM
http://www.francesucks.com/france2.gif