Eyewitness: Capt. George W. Hamilton, USMC, on the Capture of Hill 142 During the Battle of Belleau Wood

Published: 6 November 2023

By Mike Hanlon
via the Roads to the Great War web site

Location of Hill 142 on Marine Left Flank

Note Location of Hill 142 on Marine Left Flank.

Editor’s Note:  Capt. Hamilton was the on-the-scene commander of the Marine companies of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, charged on 6 June 1918 with the capture of Hill 142 overlooking right flank of the attacking French 167th Division and the left flank of the subsequent U.S. main assault on Belleau Wood. He was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The account of the action was included in a November 1919 letter to the Marine Corps commandant requesting a clarification in the citation accompanying the award.

Shortly after midnight on the night of June 5-6, 1918, General Wendell C. Neville, Marine Corps, (then a Colonel), came to the basement of the power house in Marigny, France, the Headquarters of Lieut.-Colonel (then Major) Julius S. Turrill, and gave him the orders for an attack which was to take place at 3:45 a.m. June 6, 1918 on Hill 142, in the Chateau Thierry Region. The two companies from the First Battalion selected for the attack, were the 67th, commanded by First Lieutenant Crowther, and the 49th, commanded by me. Both companies were in reserve positions near Marigny at the time, and about two miles from that portion of our front lines which we were to relieve before the attack. A French battalion was to attack on our left and the Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, on our right. We were to base on the French. Due to the great haste necessary, Lieutenant Crowther and I were the only company officers who were told of the attack plans, and were the only ones given maps. We later gave our platoon officers as much information as possible, but as we were rushed for time, could not satisfactorily do this.

Capt. George W. Hamilton, USMC

I arrived in the front line with my company at 2:40 a.m. but could not find the company commander to be relieved until 3:00 a.m. After talking over the matter of relief with him, we decided that it would be impossible, in the shorter time remaining, to make a regular relief, so I had to decide what method I was to use in order to get my company into position. It was now just beginning to get light, and I had about fifteen minutes to complete all arrangements. I gave orders to the company being relieved not to fire at anything in the foreground, or at any suspicious movements, and warned them that a friendly company was occupying a position in front of the woods in which they were entrenched. I then moved my company into the open, and with a prayer that they would not be seen, arranged them for the attack. The enemy were only eighty yards away. At 3:45 a.m. we were ready to advance. I ran over to the left of my company to see if the 67th company was ready. They had just taken position. There was no sign of the French and no sign of our Third Battalion. At 3:50 a.m. I grabbed Lieutenant Ashley, commanding the right platoon of the 67th company, told him we would have to start regardless of the French, and blew my whistle for the advance. We had not gone twenty yards when a deadly machine gun fire broke out from the woods ahead and both companies dropped to their bellies.

It is here necessary to explain that our French instructors had taught us that in an attack, when a hostile machine gun opened up, all men were to immediately lie down. The automatic rifles were then to concentrate on the nest, the rifle grenadiers were to drop grenades in its vicinity, and hand bombers were to crawl up on the flanks and destroy the nest.

I saw immediately that such tactics would not do in this case. They might work against one nest, or two, but here was a nest broader than our battalion front and containing more machine guns than we had automatics. (No heavy machine guns attacked with us, and none joined us until several hours later.)

I here credit myself with doing the only thing which made that attack possible. As quickly as possible I ran along the entire line, made every man get on his feet and rush across to the cover of the woods. It was necessary in some instances to kick men to their feet. These tactics were demoralizing. Not even the non-commissioned officers knew just what they were to do, and how far they were to advance. Although the machine guns in these first woods had been routed, most men had already lost their sense of direction and stood helpless, working their bolts in a frenzy and firing with absolutely no regard to direction or purpose. They needed noise to distract their thoughts from the horrors of the wheatfield behind them, and it was again “up to me”. I could not find an officer, but as quickly as possible gathered five or six non-commissioned officers. My instructions to them were hurried, and about as follows: “Here is our direction. We go about one mile farther. When you come to a road, just over the nose of this hill, halt and dig in. Let’s go. Give ‘em a yell.” Myself yelling at the top of my lungs, I ran along the line telling the men to follow on, assuring them that we “had ‘em on the run” and telling them only to fire when they had something to fire at.

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