Battle of Belleau Wood, 1918

BATTLE OF BELLEAU WOOD – WWI

1–26 June 1918

SUMMARY

The first large-scale American battle of WWI was the Battle of Belleau Wood.  Two U.S. Army Divisions, a Marine Brigade, along with French and British troops, went on the offensive and repelled elements from 5 German Divisions from their defensive positions in the French woods near the Marne River after 26 days of battle.  This was one of only 2 times in U.S. history that Marines were under the command of an Army officer.

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BACKGROUND

After the Russian surrender on the Eastern Front, 50 German Divisions became combat ready to participate in the Spring Offensive on the Western Front.  German forces pushed towards Paris and were met at the Marne River by the U.S. Army’s 3rd Division at Château-Thierry, France.  German troops then maneuvered about 11 kilometers northwest to Belleau Wood – approximately 88 kilometers from the French capital.

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LOCATION

Belleau Wood near the Marne River, France

Shell Hole in Belleau Wood, 1918, www.history.navy.mil-Public Domain

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ALLIED POWERS

AMERICAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE

2nd INFANTRY DIVISION

4th MARINE BRIGADE

3rd INFANTRY DIVISION

 

Led by

General John “Black Jack” Pershing

Gen. Pershing, date unknown, Bain Collection, U.S. Library of Congress-Public Domain

Major General Omar Bundy (2nd Division)

Gen. Bundy, date unknown, Bain Collection, U.S. Library of Congress-Public Domain

Brigadier General James Harbord (4th Marines)

Gen. Harbord, date unknown, Bain Collection, U.S. Library of Congress-Public Domain
Pershing and Harbord, 1918, the Bain Collection, U.S. Library of Congress- Public Domain

Major General Joseph T. Dickman (3rd Division)

Gen. Dickman, 14 October 1918, National Archives and Records Administration-Public Domain

Supported by

BRITISH IX CORPS (ELEMENTS)

FRENCH  6EME ARMÉE (ELEMENTS)

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IMPERIAL GERMAN ARMY

237th DIVISION

10th DIVISION

197th DIVISION

87th DIVISION

28th DIVISION

Led by

Crown Prinz Wilhelm

Crown Prinz Wilhelm, 1914, The Wartenburg Trust-Public Domain

General Richard von Conta

Gen. Conta, date unknown, source unknown, wikipediacommons.com-Public Domain

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RESULT

A military victory for the Allies

Marines at Belleau Wood, June 1918, www.history.navy.mil-Public Domain

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CONSEQUENCE

U.S. forces suffered 1,811 killed in action and 7,966 wounded.  German forces suffered unknown casualties with 1,600 taken prisoner of war.  The Germans repelled the Allied offensive 6 times and held their position for 26 days before retreating.  Gen. Pershing said that the battle was the largest battle for U.S. forces since the Battle of Appomattox in the American Civil War.  After the war, the French renamed Belleau Wood “”Bois de la Brigade de Marine” (“Wood of the Marine Brigade”) in honor of the U.S. Marines who fought there.

German POWs at Belleau Wood, June 1918, www.history.navy.mil-Public Domain

 

Dramatic cinematographic reenactment of the Battle of Belleau Wood

 

Documentary with actual footage of the battle

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