Why the Marines' first battle in Europe still influences the Corps a century later
By Benjamin Brimelow
via the Business Insider web site
June is usually marked by commemorations of D-Day, when thousands of Allied soldiers landed in Normandy to begin liberating France from the Nazis.
But 26 years before D-Day, 9,500 US Marines fought what became one of the Corps' most defining battles, facing the Imperial German Army in fields and woods about 45 miles northeast of Paris.
The Battle of Belleau Wood in June 1918 was an attempt to halt a German offensive making its way through the battered French and British armies.
It was the first battle for the Marines in Europe and one that had tremendous impact on the Corps. A century later, it still holds a sacred place in Marine Corps history.
A badly needed relief force
The US joined the war on the side of the Allies in April 1917. The French and British armies were exhausted after years of fighting, and the hundreds of thousands of fresh American soldiers were a badly needed relief force.
By the end of June that year, the first American Expeditionary Force soldiers had arrived in France. But the Americans were mostly newcomers to this new kind of warfare and did not join the trenches until October.
At first, American soldiers mostly augmented French and British defensive positions. On March 21, 1918, however, Germany — which had 50 more army divisions available after signing a separate peace treaty that ended Russia's involvement in the war — launched a push in France to defeat the British and French before US forces could fully deploy.
German successes meant the Americans were soon in the thick of the fighting. On May 28, they went on the offensive and retook lost territory at the Battle of Cantigny — the first major American battle of the war.
But the Germans were still advancing elsewhere. By June 1, they were locked in battle with French and American forces at the town of Château-Thierry and were moving toward Belleau Wood.
Desperate to stop the German advance, the Allies sent the US Army's 2nd Infantry Division, which included the 4th Marine Brigade, to hold the line.
The Marines' orders were clear: "No retirement will be thought of on any pretext whatsoever."
Read the entire article on the Business Insider web site.
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