The Battle of Belleau Wood in June 1918 was the first real taste of war for the US Marines in World War One.
General Peshing called Belleau Wood the most important battle fought by the US force since the US Civil War, with troops significantly aiding the Allies as they drove the Germans from Amiens to Paris in response to the Spring Offensive.
As part of their Spring Offensive, the Germans had come close to breaking Allied lines that were protecting Amiens, a crucial railroad hub. Ludendorff’s forces had been reinforced by tens of thousands of soldiers who had moved to the Western Front following Russia’s withdrawal from the war.
The German’s push had been so successful - thanks to storm troopers - that they had moved too far ahead of their supplies and had to halt their advance a few miles short of Amiens.
However, along the line of advance they had succeeded to constructing heavily defended positions in many strategic locations, including Belleau Wood.
The task of clearing the Germans from Belleau Wood was given to the 2nd and 3rd Divisions of the US Army, which included troops from the US Marine Corps.
In order to reach the woods, the marines were forced to cross fields and meadows, which had been littered with carefully placed machine guns. The Germans could periodically sweep the fields with accurate and high intensity fire, forcing the marines to take cover.
It took the marines six attacks to break through the German defences, resulting in the highest number of casualties in the US Marine Corps history to that date. However, once they entered the woods they were able to gain protection from the tightly packed trees and used snipers to pick off German machine gun posts. General Pershing went on to say that “the deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle”.
By 26th June, the Marines had taken Belleau Woods, but the battle had resulted in 9,777 casualties and 1,811 fatalities. More than 1,600 German prisoners were taken, although German casualties were difficult to calculate.
The psychological damage the defeat had on the Germans is considered to be some of the greatest of the war. The Germans began the battle with a well-defended stronghold and ended it with a significant loss that was a huge blow to the German’s overall position.
Once the battle was over, the French renamed Belleau Wood “Bois de la Brigade de Marine” – Wood of the Marine Brigade and the 4th Brigade was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French in recognition of their achievement.
"The Battle of Belleau Wood". HistoryLearning.com. 2019. Web.