The Battle of Belleau Wood – Brutal WW1 Face Off that saw US Marines Come Into Their Own

H/T War History OnLine.

The “Teufelshunde” Devil Dogs lived up to that nickname at the battle of Belleau Woods.

The Battle of Belleau Wood in France became a defining battle of World War I. For the Americans, it’s particularly significant. How come? Well before this brutal engagement with German forces took place, the US Marines weren’t on the map. They’d been around a while, but Belleau Wood was when they first came into their own and gained a reputation as elite fighters.

The story of Belleau Wood is about Allied Victory but it also forms a key chapter in the development of US Marines. So how did it all start…?

World War I had been raging for 3 years before America got involved. Once Germany started attacking US merchant ships, the die was cast. By 1918 the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) were established. Gen Jon J. Pershing – who had the nickname “Black Jack” – was in charge. After a year of backing up the Allies, an American fighting force had finally been assembled to take the heat to the Kaiser.

World War I The fight of the U.S. Marines in Belleau Wood. From the painting by the French artist Georges Scott.
World War I The fight of the U.S. Marines in Belleau Wood. From the painting by the French artist Georges Scott.

The Germans were hitting France hard as part of their Spring Offensive on the Western Front. In June 1918 Paris was under threat, and the aggressors had to be intercepted. Belleau Wood, around 50 miles outside the French capital and near the River Marne, was packed with Germans. Alongside British and French troops, US Marines under the command of Gen James Harbord were sent to this complex battleground to drive them out.

Why complex? Belleau Wood sounds harmless enough, but it was rough terrain. Around a mile long and half a mile wide, it contained thick brush. Not exactly somewhere a soldier could stroll through! In addition, a gorge was running through the middle. There were all kinds of places for the enemy to conceal themselves. And in terms of where they were based, the Germans had picked a dangerous doozy of a spot to fight from.

Here, after the battle, the exhausted and seriously depleted ranks of the 6th Marines gather outside Belleau Wood before moving on.
Here, after the battle, the exhausted and seriously depleted ranks of the 6th Marines gather outside Belleau Wood before moving on.

A knoll lying across a wheat field hosted the Kaiser’s finest, led by Gen Richard von Conta. If the Allies wanted to get near the enemy they had to cross an exposed area of 400 yds. The Marines suffered heavy losses during that first push. A reported 222 men were lost to machine gun fire. It was a slow and savage confrontation. Reportedly as the Americans arrived, the French were in the process of leaving. Confidence clearly wasn’t high. After a rocky start, said to be poorly thought out, the Marines gradually gained a foothold.

Various stories of bravery in the field exist. The place known as Hill 142 was a key part of the battle. In fact when their orders came in, that’s where the Americans headed. One of the most extraordinary stories concerns Gunnery Sgt Ernest Janson. When no less than a dozen Germans made for Hill 142 as part of a counter-attack, he was waiting for them. Janson was alone, armed with a bayonet. He took on 2 of the soldiers, killing them. This act drove off the rest. For his courage he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Janson made history, as the first ever US Marine to be given the medal during World War I.

If it wasn’t for the keen eyes of Capt George Wallace Hamilton of the 49th Company there would have been absolute slaughter at an early stage. He noticed his team were hemmed in by German machine guns. Thankfully the Marines overpowered the enemy and took the weapons for themselves. The Captain earned 2 Distinguished Service Crosses and a Navy Cross as a result.

Overall the battle lasted 3 weeks, between the 1st and the 26th of June. The Americans needed to attack 6 times before the Germans gave up. As America’s first major battle of World War I it was a small but important step toward defeating the Germans. According to some commentators if the Marines had arrived at Belleau Wood just a matter of hours later, they might not have stopped the enemy marching into Paris.

Marines from the 6th Marine Regiment march during the Memorial Day ceremony at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery.
Marines from the 6th Marine Regiment march during the Memorial Day ceremony at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery.

Floyd Gibbons was a journalist who covered the conflict. It was he who coined the name “Devil Dog Dan”, in ref to First Sergeant Dan Daly. Daly launched a one man assault on a machine gun emplacement. Gibbons immortalized him and others.

The Battle of Belleau Wood was a grim chapter, despite the victory. 1,811 Americans died and nearly 8,000 were wounded. On the German side, casualties numbered over 10,000. What started as a hail of bullets and grenades descended into stabbings and hand to hand combat. “Toad stickers”, blades mounted on knuckles, made the battle especially bloody.

The place was renamed “Bois (Wood) de la Brigade de Marine” after the Americans went home. They had joined the war effort and passed the first test with flying colors.

Steve is a writer and comedian from the UK. He’s a contributor to both The Vintage News and The Hollywood News and has created content for many other websites. His short fiction has been published by Obverse Books.

Armistice (Veteran’s) Day

 

How many of you know that Veteran’s Day was originally called Armistice Day?

The Armistice was signed to end World War I.

It was signed at the end of the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month.

November 11, 1918 marked the end of the fighting.

The official end of World War I came on June 28, 1919 with the Treaty of Versailles.

I was born the year the name was officially changed, 1954.

On June 1, 1954 the name was changed from Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day.

 
When I was younger, a lot of people still referred to Veteran’s Day as Armistice Day.

In 1968 Congress moved Veteran’s Day to the fourth Monday in October.

Then in 1978 Congress moved Veteran’s Day back to November 11th.

As a nation, we need to recall and honor all of our veterans.

Sadly, many do not recall or honor our veterans.

I have several reasons to recall and honor our veterans.

These will be passed on to our daughters so they will honor and remember our veterans.

The first reason is the freedom we enjoy.

The next reason is because I had an uncle who paid the supreme price. P.F.C. Frank Walters was KIA 12/03/1944.

 

One of my uncles was a commando—a fact I learned in the last years of his life.

I know he was in the war, but nothing else. I learned he was in North Africa with my friend’s grandfather.

Lastly, I have an uncle who recently passed away due to radiation exposure during the war.

The radiation made his liver fail and turn to stone.

We must remember all veterans, living and dead.

From Bunker Hill to Baghdad, we owe the veterans so much more than we could ever repay.

Please take time to recall and honor them.

If you know a veteran or see a veteran ask to shake their hand and thank them for their service.

I have made a practice to shake a veterans hand when I met them.

Lawrence of Arabia – New Video from Yarnhub

H/T War History OnLine.

Lawrence of Arabia’s story needs to be told and retold.

Thomas Edward Lawrence, aka “Lawrence of Arabia”, is one of the world’s best known military figures. Immortalized in David Lean’s 1962 movie starring Peter O’ Toole, it actually took a long time for his name and accomplishments to be recognized.

Born in Carnarvonshire, Wales 1888, Lawrence’s fascination with the Middle East began at a young age. Whilst in his early 20s, he walked approx 1,000 miles across Syria and Palestine researching his student thesis.

He endured many hardships, such as being robbed and assaulted. However, when the opportunity came to go back to Syria with the British Museum as a graduate archaeologist he took it.

New video from Yarnhub

World War I saw him working for British intelligence in Cairo. This was behind a desk, but Lawrence of Arabia wanted to get out there and fight.

After 2 years he was sent to Arabia, where his legend began. As a political liaison officer he took part in the Great Arab Revolt, battling alongside Amir Faisal al Husayn against the Turks. Incredibly, Lawrence did not receive official combat training.

Paris Peace Conference of 1919; left to right: Rustum Haidar, Nuri al-Said, Prince Faisal (front), Captain Pisani (rear), Lawrence, Faisal’s servant (name unknown), Captain Hassan Khadri
Paris Peace Conference of 1919; left to right: Rustum Haidar, Nuri al-Said, Prince Faisal (front), Captain Pisani (rear), Lawrence, Faisal’s servant (name unknown), Captain Hassan Khadri

Nevertheless, he went into some of the most dangerous situations. Later he was captured and subjected to brutal torture.

He returned home with a deep respect for the Arab people. Feeling they should have their independence from the British, he rejected a knighthood in front of King George V himself. He shunned the limelight and even changed his name to avoid publicity.

If it wasn’t for war correspondent Lowell Thomas’s photos and accompanying tour in 1919, people might not know what Lawrence looked like. Lawrence then wrote his famous memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom, published in 1926.

Though he had many arduous adventures in the Middle East, it was England where Lawrence of Arabia met his end in 1935. Out on a motorcycle ride in the Dorset countryside, he nearly collided with 2 boys on their bicycles. Lawrence was thrown to the ground, suffering fatal brain injuries. He died at the age of just 46.

A Sniper Hid Inside a Papier-Mache Horse in No-Mans Land

H/T War History OnLine.

They Replaced a dead horse with  papier-mache one.
They Replaced a dead horse with papier-mache one.

The horse was the mainstay of battle logistics in World War One, pulling munitions and armaments, transporting the sick and wounded.

But they were also casualties in the war that saw the end of their extensive use in modern warfare. The rotting corpses of fallen horses were a common sight on the battlefields of the Somme.

The area that became no-mans-land between the trenches became a hellish region, blasted by shelling, strewn with barbed wire and booby traps, the final resting place of thousands of infantrymen from both sides.

It was impossible to cross, and trench warfare later became synonymous with stalemate.

During this period, finding out what your enemy was doing became a key activity as both sides tried to push forward and take ground by any means.

The Allies and the Germans both needed intelligence in order to gain any sort of advantage and reverted to very creative means in order to get it.

A dead horse was replaced with a papier-mache one
A dead horse was replaced with a papier-mache one

The French had already been experimenting with papier mâché making realistic heads which they propped above the edge of the trenches in the winter of 1915, in order to draw out sniper fire.

Letting the sniper hit these fake infantrymen meant that the location of the shooter could be established and then accurately targeted.

But their use of papier mâché did not end there. Emboldened by their success with mannequins the French changed up a gear and created an entire phoney horse carcass.

The idea was inspired by observing that the carcasses of horses, some quite close to enemy trenches, went largely ignored by the Germans.

One night a group of French soldiers snuck up close to the enemy line and dragged away the dead horse and replaced it with the papier mâché replica.

Pictured above are US Government photographs showing the same subject from two camera angles. The top photo appears to be the carcass of a dead horse on a World War I battlefield, but the bottom photo shows that it is only a papier mâché simulation of a horse carcass, with a sniper hidden inside.
Pictured above are US Government photographs showing the same subject from two camera angles. The top photo appears to be the carcass of a dead horse on a World War I battlefield, but the bottom photo shows that it is only a papier mâché simulation of a horse carcass, with a sniper hidden inside.

A sniper crawled inside while his comrades reeled out a telephone wire from the horse to the trenches so the sniper could report any observations of enemy troop movements.

The French got away with this subterfuge for three days before the Germans spotted the sniper climbing out of the phoney pony.

They wasted no time in obliterating the decoy, but the first attempt was considered such a success it went on to be used again on a number of occasions.

Such cunning with regard to camouflage was not the sole preserve of the French military, the German army for their part were also able to come up with remarkably durable spyware.

In Belgium there was an array of blackened and burned out stumps called Oosttaverne wood smack in the middle of no-man’s land, near Messines.

In 1917 the German military built a twenty-five-foot-tall tree stump out of steel pipe, painting it to resemble burned bark to merge with the remaining tree trunks.

tree stump
Sniper ‘tree’

It was a tight space but had just enough room to conceal a sniper, who would also be able to report back troop movements he had seen from his forward position.

Using diversionary fire to distract the allies the Germans cut down an existing tree and replaced it with the steel replica.

The fake tree was brazenly set up overnight in a huge logistic effort amongst the remains of the wood.

It stayed in operation until the Germans had to retreat following the Battle of Messines, when the British tunnelled under the German lines and destroyed their trenches from below.

tree stump
The “O.P. Tree” was an Observation Post Tree deployed during World War I.

However, the tree was so successful that the Allies had no idea for months that their movements were being spied on from such close quarters.

Indeed, the British had been established in their forward positions, alongside the fake tree for several months before it was finally discovered. After the war, the tree was put on display at the Australian War Memorial.

 

The work of the World War One war horses has been commemorated in many memorials, books, films and stage shows.

 

 

Lieutenant Commander James Jonas Madison

H/T Home Of The Heros.

War / Conflict World War I
KIA-MIA-POW
Photo
Bio James Jonas Madison suffered amputation of his leg from wounds in this incident, that forced his retirement from the Navy on August 20, 1920.
Date of Birth May 20, 1884
Where Born Jersey City, New Jersey
Remarks Tiffany Cross
Action Date October 4, 1918
Battle-Incident Aboard Ship, At Sea
Citation The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Commander James Jonas Madison, United States Navy (Reserve Force), for exceptionally heroic service in a position of great responsibility as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. TICONDEROGA, when, on 4 October 1918, that vessel was attacked by an enemy submarine and was sunk after a prolonged and gallant resistance. The submarine opened fire at a range of 500 yards, the first shots taking effect on the bridge and forecastle, one of the two forward guns of the TICONDEROGA being disabled by the second shot. The fire was returned and the fight continued for nearly two hours. Lieutenant Commander Madison was severely wounded early in the fight, but caused himself to be placed in a chair on the bridge and continued to direct the fire and to maneuver the ship. When the order was finally given to abandon the sinking ship, he became unconscious from loss of blood, but was lowered into a lifeboat and was saved, with thirty-one others, out of a total number of 236 on board.
Award Authority
Award Presentation
Company Commanding Officer
Battalion
Regiment
Division U.S.S. Ticonderoga
Date of Death December 25, 1922
Cemetery Fairview Cemetery
Where Buried Fairview, New Jersey

Sergeant Louis Cukela

H/T Home Of The Heros.

War / Conflict World War I
KIA-MIA-POW
Photo
Bio Sergeant Cukela served a two-year “hitch” in the army from 1914 – 1916, then joined the Marine Corps when his army enlistment was fulfilled. He retired as a Major in 1940, but returned to service when war broke out and served until 1946. He is one of five Marines to receive TWO Medals of Honor in World War I, and one of only 19 Total Double Recipients of the award.
Date of Birth May 1, 1888
Where Born Spalato, Yugoslavia
Remarks Tiffany Cross
Action Date July 18, 1918
Battle-Incident Villers-Cotterets, France
Citation The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor (Navy Award) to Sergeant Louis Cukela (MCSN: 207), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving with the 66th Company, 5th Regiment (Marines), 2d Division, A.E.F., during action in Forest de Retz, near Viller-Cotterets, France, 18 July 1918. Sergeant Cukela advanced alone against an enemy strong point that was holding up his line. Disregarding the warnings of his comrades, he crawled out from the flank in the face of heavy fire and worked his way to the rear of the enemy position. Rushing a machine-gun emplacement, he killed or drove off the crew with his bayonet, bombed out the remaining part of the strong point with German hand grenades, and captured two machine guns and four men.
Award Authority
Award Presentation
Company 66th Rifle Company
Battalion
Regiment Fifth Regiment (Marines)
Division 2d Division, American Expeditionary Forces
Date of Death March 19, 1956
Cemetery Arlington National Cemetery
Where Buried Arlington, Virginia

First Lieutenant (Infantry) Harold Arthur Furlong

H/T Home Of The Heros.

War / Conflict World War I
KIA-MIA-POW
Photo
Bio Harold Furlong joined the Michigan National Guard after earning the Medal of Honor on active duty.
Date of Birth August 1, 1895
Where Born Pontiac, Michigan
Remarks
Action Date November 1, 1918
Battle-Incident Bantheville
Citation The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant (Infantry) Harold Arthur Furlong, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 1 November 1918, while serving with Company M, 353d Infantry, 89th Division, in action at Bantheville, France. Immediately after the opening of the attack in the Bois-de-Bantheville, when his company was held up by severe machinegun fire from the front, which killed his company commander and several soldiers, First Lieutenant Furlong moved out in advance of the line with great courage and coolness, crossing an open space several hundred yards wide. Taking up a position behind the line of the machineguns, he closed in on them, one at a time, killing a number of the enemy with his rifle, putting four machinegun nests out of action, and driving 20 German prisoners into our lines.
Award Authority War Department, General Orders No. 16 ( January 22, 1919)
Award Presentation Presented at Chaumont, France, by General John J. Pershing on February 9, 1919
Company Company M
Battalion
Regiment 353d Infantry
Division 89th Division
Date of Death July 27, 1987
Cemetery Oak Hill Cemetery
Where Buried Pontiac, Michigan

Lieutenant Commander (Dental Corps) Alexander Gordon Lyle

H/T Home Of The Heros.

War / Conflict World War I
KIA-MIA-POW
Photo
Bio
Date of Birth November 12, 1889
Where Born Gloucester, Massachusetts
Remarks
Action Date April 23, 1918
Battle-Incident French Front Lines, France
Citation The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Commander (Dental Corps) Alexander Gordon Lyle, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty while serving with the Fifth Regiment (Marines), 2d Division, American Expeditionary Forces. Under heavy shellfire, on 23 April 1918, on the French Front, Lieutenant Commander Lyle rushed to the assistance of Corporal Thomas Regan, who was seriously wounded, and administered such effective surgical aid while bombardment was still continuing, as to save the life of Corporal Regan.
Award Authority Date of Issue: December 11, 1919
Award Presentation
Company Dental Corps (Attached)
Battalion
Regiment 5th Regiment (Marines)
Division 2d Division, American Expeditionary Forces
Date of Death July 15, 1955
Cemetery Arlington National Cemetery
Where Buried Arlington, Virginia

Captain (Infantry) Louis Warlaw Miles

H/T Home Of The Heros.

War / Conflict World War I
KIA-MIA-POW
Photo
Bio
Date of Birth March 23, 1873
Where Born Baltimore, Maryland
Remarks
Action Date September 14, 1918
Battle-Incident Revillon, France
Citation The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Captain (Infantry) Louis Warlaw Miles, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 14 September 1918, while serving with 308th Infantry, 77th Division, in action at Revillon, France. Captain Miles volunteered to lead his company in a hazardous attack on a commanding trench position near the Aisne Canal, which other troops had previously attempted to take without success. His company immediately met with intense machinegun fire, against which it had no artillery assistance, but Captain Miles preceded the first wave and assisted in cutting a passage through the enemy’s wire entanglements. In so doing he was wounded five times by machinegun bullets, both legs and one arm being fractured, whereupon he ordered himself placed on a stretcher and had himself carried forward to the enemy trench in order that he might encourage and direct his company, which by this time had suffered numerous casualties. Under the inspiration of this officer’s indomitable spirit his men held the hostile position and consolidated the front line after an action lasting two hours, at the conclusion of which Captain Miles was carried to the aid station against his will.
Award Authority War Department, General Orders No. 44 (April 2, 1919)
Award Presentation
Company
Battalion
Regiment 308th Infantry
Division 77th Division
Date of Death June 27, 1944
Cemetery Green Mountain Cemetery
Where Buried Baltimore, Maryland

Pharmacist’s Mate First Class John Henry Balch

H/T Home Of The Heros.

War / Conflict World War I
KIA-MIA-POW
Photo
Bio
Date of Birth January 2, 1896
Where Born Edgerton, Kansas
Remarks
Action Date July 19 & October 5, 1918
Battle-Incident Vierzy & Somme-Py, France
Citation The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Pharmacist’s Mate First Class John Henry Balch, United States Navy, for gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, while serving with the Sixth Regiment, U.S. Marines, in action at Vierzy, France, on 19 July 1918. Pharmacists Mate First Class Balch unhesitatingly and fearlessly exposed himself to terrific machinegun and high-explosive fire to succor the wounded as they fell in the attack, leaving his dressing station voluntarily and keeping up the work all day and late into the night unceasingly for Sixteen hours. Also in the action at Somme-Py, France, on 5 October 1918, he exhibited exceptional bravery in establishing an advanced dressing station under heavy shellfire.
Award Authority Date of Issue: September 1919
Award Presentation Presented at Great Lakes Naval Station, Illinois, by Admiral William A. Moffett in September, 1919
Company Corpsman (Attached)
Battalion
Regiment 6th Regiment (Marines)
Division 2d Division, American Expeditionary Forces
Date of Death October 15, 1980
Cemetery Riverside National Cemetery
Where Buried Riverside, California