Considered one of the most important battles in U.S. Marine Corps history, the story of Belleau Wood continues to have a significant impact on military culture today. On the evening of June 1, 1918, the German Army breached the western front and came within just 45 miles of Paris.
The Marines weren’t going to let them go any further. They positioned themselves and were ready to strike once the orders were passed down. The ensuing battle would last for weeks and was the first large-scale battle fought by American soldiers in World War I. U.S. forces suffered over 9,000 casualties — just over 1,800 killed. The German body count is still unknown — but it was high.
Historians have gone on at length about many of the incredible details of the famous battle, but several aspects have gone largely undiscussed — until now.
Capt. Lloyd Williams, USMC
As the Marines were arriving, the French were retreating
On June 2, 1918, the Marines arrived on the scene under the command of Capt. Lloyd Williams only to see French troops in retreat from the German enemy. The French told the Marines to turn around and head back to from where they came.
Capt. Lloyd Williams replied,
“Retreat? Hell, we just got here.”
The Marines finally got their orders
On June 6, 1918, Allied powers launched their attack on the Germans who were busying preparing to do the same. Marines maneuvered up Hill 142 to prevent a flanking attack on their French allies.
Although 1st Battalion, 5th Marines were heavily outnumbered, that didn’t stop them from bravely dashing toward the enemy across open wheat field.
American Marines are depicted fighting German soldiers in the Battle of Belleau Wood, 1918.
The Marines saw the enemy before they were spotted
As Capt. George Wallace Hamilton and the 49th Company were getting into position, he noticed that they were surrounded by German machine guns — he had caught them off guard. He and his men stormed the guns with bayonets fixed and secured the guns for friendly forces.
Hamilton was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses and a Navy Cross for his bad*ssery.
Twelve on one
After enduring the first round of attacks, the Germans rallied and attempted a counterattack on Hill 142. As 12 German soldiers began their advance, they were met by Gunnery Sgt. Ernest Janson, who wasn’t fond of their idea. He alone prevented the dozen Germans from going any further by killing two of them with his bayonet. The others quickly fled.
For his actions, Janson became the first U.S Marine to earn the Medal of Honor during the war.
After 6 attacks, the Germans finally threw in the towel.
During the multi-week campaign, the Marines suffered heavy losses, but dealt out ass-kickings in kind. Like much of World War I, the Battle of Belleau Wood was slow-moving and brutal, but the Americans finally claimed victory after attacking six separate times.
On Jun. 26, 1918, the Germans decided the battle was unwinnable and retreated from the blood-soaked arena.
Check out the Marines video below to watch the footage from an immensely important time in military history.