Iconic Photograph From The Battle of Belleau Wood. This photo is frequently used with a caption stating these four men are marines. But, they are not. The are doughboys from the 23rd regiment U.S. Army.
And now you will learn the rest of the story, the one you never hear.
Because of the surprise of the German attack, much of the beginning of the battle was throwing regiments into gaps. Then those expanding those fronts to allow other units to withdraw, get badly needed replacements, and reorganize before going back into the battle line to allow other units to do the same.
Later in the battle when the allies were attacking and counter-attacking casualties continued to be high. Though not as high in the opening days of the war. They continued to use the tactic of bringing up a unit, and the unit expanding its front so other units could withdraw to replace men, reorganize, and rejoin the fight.
The marines took the woods without prepatory artillery bombardment to soften enemy positions. The marines took more casualties than in any battle of any war to that point in time. After the marines took the woods the Americans began using artillery to soften enemy positions before attack and to support allied troops during the attack. This lowered the casualties, but numbers remains high throughout the battle.
Hurriedly brought up on 1 June and thrown in to the battle line to fill holes, by 5 June the American lines stabilized. This allowed to French forces to withdraw and reorganize before rejoining combat.
The battle continued like this, attack, counter-attack, consolidate. The troops were attacked with rifles, machine guns, artillery, and mustard gas. On the 16th of June three army battalions were brought up to replace the marine brigade with its army artillerymen and army engineers (who fought as infantry during battle and built emplacements between attacks).
A part of the three army battalions was the 7th regiment 3rd US Army Division (on loan to the 2nd US Army Division). This was when my great-uncle was killed.
By the 25th of June the Americans (made up primarily of the US 2nd and 3rd Army Divisions) had taken all of its major objectives.
The one objective remaining for the allies was the German held town of Vaux. It created a salient bulging into the allies lines disrupting routes of supply for the allies. The buildings and homes in Vaux were made if stone and the German troops has placed themselves in those stone structures. This was going to be difficult.
The allied artillery opened with a 12 hour bombardment to soften the German positions beginning at 5 AM on 1 July. As a part of the bombardment the allies dropped mustard gas behind the town to keep the Germans from bringing up reinforcements to Vaux.
At 5 PM the ferocity of the bombardment increased while troops were in the final preparations to assault the town. The German dropped more than 33,000 artillery shells around Vaux to break up the allies attack. It did not work.
At 6 PM the attack began and the Americans took the town. On 2 July the Germans counter-attack, but were beaten back.
By the 4th of July when the 23rd US Army Division relieved the 2nd & 3rd Army Divisions (with the marines that were assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division) the front lines were secure and stable. The battle was won. The closest the Germans were able to advance before being driven back was 45 miles from Paris.
And now you know the great secret of the Battle of Belleau Wood – the US Army’s part in the battle that “made the marines.”
Part three “The Battle of Belleau Wood”