"Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?"

The Battle of Belleau Wood (1-26 June 1918) happened during the German 1918 Spring Offensive in World War I, near the Marne River in France. The battle was fought between the U.S. Second (under the command of John A. Lejeune) and Third Divisions and a hodgepodge of German units including elements from the 237th, 10th, 197th, 87th, and 28th Divisions.


After their victories at Cantigny on May 28, 1918 and Chateau-Thierry on June 3-4, 1918, the 2nd and 3rd Divisions of the U.S. Army (including the 4th Brigade of U.S. Marines attached to the 2nd Division) moved into Belleau Wood. The Marines were forced to make six highly forceful sweeps into the meadows and trenches within the forest, as well as unoccupied portions of the wood. The Germans held out stubbornly (despite the fact that the Americans held most of the significant portions of the wood for much of the battle) and launched several counterattacks, all of which were duly repulsed. The Germans did not surrender until Prince Wilhelm ordered a general retreat of soldiers surrounding the area. The battle was characterized by the different fire superiority tactics. The Americans used sharpshooters and snipers, while the Germans attempted to rake the battlefield with machine guns.


In a battle noteworthy because of both its extremely bloody nature and its close proximity to the French capital of Paris, the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) launched a counter-attack designed to stop the German advance. The Second Division was tasked with taking the woods, and the US 4th Marine Brigade with its 5th and 6th Marine Regiments were sent forward. In order to enter and take the woods, it was necessary to advance across an open field of wheat that was continuously swept with German machine gun and artillery fire. After Marines were repeatedly urged to turn back by retreating French forces, Marine Captain Lloyd Williams of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines uttered the now-famous retort "Retreat? Hell, we just got here."

On 6 June, the casualties were the highest in Marine Corps history (and remained so until the capture of Tarawa in November 1943). Overall, the woods were taken by the Marines (and the US Army 3rd Infantry Brigade) a total of six times before they could successfully expel the Germans. They fought off more than four divisions of Germans, often reduced to using only their bayonets or fists in hand-to-hand combat. In order to rally his platoon of pinned-down Marines, Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly encouraged them with what would become another famous phrase "Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?"

On 26 June, a report was sent out simply stating, "Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely," ending the bloodiest and most ferocious battle U.S. forces would fight in the war.

After the battle

In the end, U.S. Forces suffered a total of 9,777 casualties, 1,811 of them fatal. Many are buried in the nearby Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. There is no clear information on the total number of Germans killed, although 1,600 troops were taken prisoner.

After the battle, the French renamed the wood "Bois de la Brigade de Marine" ("Wood of the Marine Brigade") in honor of the Marines' tenacity. The French government also later awarded the 4th Brigade the Croix de Guerre. Belleau Wood is also where the Marines got their nickname "Teufel Hunden" allegedly meaning "Devil Dogs" in poor German, for the ferocity with which they attacked the German lines. An official German report classified the Marines as "vigorous, self-confident, and remarkable marksmen..."

General Pershing, Commander of the AEF said, "the Battle of Belleau Wood was for the U.S. the biggest battle since Appomattox and the most considerable engagement American troops had ever had with a foreign enemy".

Another side note is that the Marines spent over 40 days in the trenches awaiting orders to take the woods.

Posted by admin on Thursday 23 August 2007 - 18:03:33 | LAN_THEME_20

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