Friday, June 06, 2008

The sixth of June

Something else happened on a June 6. General Pershing, Commander of the AEF said of it, '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'". On that day on June 6, 1918:

the casualties were the highest in Marine Corps history to that point. Overall, the woods were attacked by the Marines a total of six times before they could successfully expel the Germans. ... One of the most famous quotations in Marine Corps lore came during the initial step-off for the battle when Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly prompted his men forward with the words: "Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?"

Did they make a difference? Those who followed Sergeant Daly that day posed the question. What answer does posterity give?

Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
And we were young.

-- A. E. Housman

Belleau Wood today.

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Blogger stackja1945 said...

Yet some today still want to retreat.

6/06/2008 04:56:00 AM  
Blogger Salt Lick said...

"Retreat? Hell, we just got here.”

These are the famous words uttered by Captain Lloyd W. Williams of the U.S. Marine Corps during the Battle of Belleau Wood. He was a company commander in the 5th Marines; when it was recommended he should withdraw his men, he uttered this phrase which lives on in Marine Corp history.

6/06/2008 05:19:00 AM  
Blogger Marine 83 said...

I had the privilege of visiting the Wood of the Marine Brigade several years ago. It is an awesome and solemn place. Semper Fi.

6/06/2008 05:59:00 AM  
Blogger Genji said...

"Hunde, wollt ihr ewig leben?" - Frederick the Great to his retreating troops on a famous occasion.

Digressing slightly, Wretchard, if you have not read David Fraser's Biography of Frederick, I highly recommend it.

6/06/2008 06:08:00 AM  
Blogger Teresita said...

The wood was merely one square mile, yet it took until the 26th of June before Major Maurice Shearer sent the signal, "Woods now entirely US Marine Corps." Six hundred acres of hell for three weeks.

6/06/2008 06:27:00 AM  
Blogger Paul Allen said...

"The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and is rifle"

- General John J. Pershing, US Army

6/06/2008 06:43:00 AM  
Blogger Teresita said...

I thought that was Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in "Full Metal Jacket".

6/06/2008 08:10:00 AM  
Blogger Storm-Rider said...

“We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” George Orwell

“War is evil, but it is often the lesser evil.” George Orwell

“As our enemies have found we can reason like men, so now let us show them we can fight like men also.” Thomas Jefferson

6/06/2008 08:32:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew X said...

"Retreat? Hell, we just got here.”

“We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” George Orwell

“War is evil, but it is often the lesser evil.” George Orwell

“As our enemies have found we can reason like men, so now let us show them we can fight like men also.” Thomas Jefferson


"Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" David Farragut

Don't cheer me, G-- d--n you, fight! Philip Sheridan

Send us more Japs! Commandant, Wake Island


But, DON'T YOU ALL UNDERSTAND?? These people all came of age before 1968! Therefore, they had to be cavemen who enjoyed "human sacrifice". They CAN'T have been as enlightened, and moral, and good, and decent, as just plain fuzzy wonderful as WE are now, who unerstand that none of them were any better than the ones they fought against, and what they fought for was (is) totally corrupt anyway!

THAT'S how much smarter than them WE are! Don't you all get it?? What's the matter with you?

6/06/2008 08:56:00 AM  
Blogger Mike H. said...


6/06/2008 09:04:00 AM  
Blogger burton said...

There is no one left alive who experienced the Battle of Belleau Wood. With only one American veteran of WWI left alive (Frank Buckles, age 107 - driver with the army in France) and no German veterans of WW1 left, it won't be long until the last memories of that war are lost to time.

6/06/2008 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger benning said...

Excellent reminder! By the way, another way to read "Teufelhunde" is not Devil Dogs but Hell Hounds. Either way, the Marines scared the Germans. They were that good. And got better still!

6/06/2008 09:58:00 AM  
Blogger Murray said...

The biggest American military cemetery in Europe is from WWI, small compared to some French and British cemeteries from that war, but still...

6/06/2008 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger Teresita said...

With only one American veteran of WWI left alive (Frank Buckles, age 107 - driver with the army in France) and no German veterans of WW1 left, it won't be long until the last memories of that war are lost to time.

All that remains is lessons-learned and a proud warfighting tradition. And that, too, can be lost to time if it is allowed to fade away. Prussia was absorbed into Poland and the Soviet Union.

6/06/2008 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

I read somewhere that the most popular tome in German trenches was one Nietzsche's books. The most popular book for american soldiers in the trenches was the bible.

6/06/2008 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

And They Thought We Wouldn't Fight, p. 304

A small platoon line of Marines lay on their faces and bellies at the edge of a wheat field. Two hundred yards across that flat field the enemy was located in trees. I peered into the trees but could see nothing, yet I knew that every leaf in the foliage screened scores of German machine guns that swept the field with lead. The bullets nipped the tops of the young wheat and ripped the bark from the trunks of the trees three feet from the ground on which the Marines lay. The minute for the Marine advance was approaching. An old gunnery sergeant commanded the platoon in the absence of the lieutenant, who had been shot and was out of the fight. This old sergeant was a Marine veteran. His cheeks were bronzed with the wind and sun of the seven seas. The service bar across his left breast showed that he had fought in the Philippines, in Santo Domingo, at the walls of Pekin, and in the streets of Vera Cruz. I make no apologies for his language. Even if Hugo were not my precedent, I would make no apologies. To me his words were classic, if not sacred.

As the minute for the advance arrived, he rose from the trees first and jumped out onto the exposed ledge of the field that ran with lead, across which he and his men were to charge. Then he turned to give the charge order to the men of his platoon--his mates--the men he loved. He said:


Sergeant Major Daniel ("Dan") Daly, USMC

6/06/2008 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger Marine 83 said...

Dan Dailey was one of two Marines to have won the Medal of Honor twice, the other being Major Smedley Butler.

6/06/2008 01:16:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Befort said...

The U.S. had 53,400 battle deaths in WWI, nearly all in the (approx.) 160 days between Cantigny in late May 1918 and the Armistice. As the mass-produced divisions took the field, deaths rose to thousands weekly. The graph at
shows the dimensions of the worst bloodletting an American army ever had to stand up to. We forget how bad it was.

6/06/2008 01:21:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Bill Befort said:

"The U.S. had 53,400 battle deaths in WWI... ...shows the dimensions of the worst bloodletting an American army ever had to stand up to. We forget how bad it was."

World War I was a "walk in the park" compared to the Civil War. In the Battle of Antietam we lost approximately 23,000 soldiers in a single day of combat.

6/06/2008 03:49:00 PM  
Blogger The Wobbly Guy said...

And let's not forget that the machine gun did not exist in the civil war, and repeating rifles weren't exactly the norm.

Which makes the American Civil War anything but civil.

6/07/2008 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Befort said...

The 23,000 casualty figure for Antietam may be confusing, as it is the sum of killed, wounded and missing on both sides. Battle deaths were 2100 Union and 1550 CSA, the highest one-day toll of the Civil War ( ). After Antietam, both eastern armies returned to camp for nearly three months.

What we tend to forget is that the AEF in WWI underwent comparable slaughters on a weekly basis over five months of continuous, rapidly escalating contact in worsening weather.

A better choice for a Civil War comparison might be Grant's spring 1864 campaign.

6/07/2008 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

I stand corrected. The 23,000 statistic for the Battle of Antietam was for casulties and not KIA. Also I accidently placed another comment for this thread in another area. I have repeated the comment below and deleted the misplaced original.


The Wobbly Guy said:

"And let's not forget that the machine gun did not exist in the civil war, and repeating rifles weren't exactly the norm."

It's interesting to compare this with ancient warfare. The military leader who invented trench warfare (which continued to be used in WW-I and the Iran-Iraq war) was Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Sulla lead the Romans into a major battle that is seldom remembered, i.e. the Battle of Chaeronea. In this battle the Romans killed approximately 110,000 Greeks in a single day. The killing was done mainly with swords and spears. This obscure and unsung battle permanently established Roman dominance over the Greeks and enabled Sulla to eventually wreck the Roman republic.

6/07/2008 06:31:00 PM  
Blogger 3Case said...

Was not the technology advance that increased the slaughter in the Civil War the onset of rifling available on a mass scale?

6/08/2008 06:59:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Do you want to live forever? And yet they do. The Marines of Belleau Wood are talked about wioth awe 90 years after the fact while no one eulogizes cowards ,weasels and traitors who often people the set today.

6/08/2008 09:01:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This battle was an important historical mark for US Marines. Not so much because of the valor and tenacity of the Marines who fought it, that is common currency in our tribe. It was not much more than the expected norm.

It was, however, the first time the USMC fought as an infantry force larger than battalion size.

The USMC was initially formed as a Naval ship police and defense organization based on small, semi-independent detachments.

In the olden days, Marines were paid less than any other service. Often denied their share of prize monies paid for enemy ships captured. The most senior Marine of a ship detachment was below the lowest Naval midshipman in authority. Marines were despised by the Navy.

The task of a Marine detachment was to be able to do such things as guard the rum ration, protect the ship's commander and officers from mutiny, and to engage enemy crews with rifle fire and/or direct boarding action during fights. They were also tasked with guarding Naval shore installations and being capable of fast raids against enemy shore facilities.

The USMC was heavily oriented toward small detachments throughout its history, up until WW1. Detachments would often recruit and train their own members. There was no centralized basic training.

This is one of the reasons USMC units remain lowest level organization aligned in their feelings of attachment to the Corps.

There is the "Marine tribe" concept that binds us all, but most Marines, when asked "who were you with?" will respond with company/battalion, rather than division. So it usually goes something like:
"Who were you with?"
"Weaps, 2/4, you?"
"Ops, 2/3".
That would be, the first guy was weapons company, second battalion, 4th Marine Reg. The reg is required because all Regiments have 1st, 2nd, and 3rd battalions. So you gotta say which reg in order to specify which battalion. You do this because the other battalions are just a little bit foreign devil and probably have strange customs and habits.

The second guy is the exchange would be at least a little bit "pogue". He's an office dweller. Probably non infantry. Operations for the 2st btn/3 Mar.

That's the other big division within the Corps. Grunts and pogues. Pogue is anything other than Grunt. Grunts are infantry. Sometimes it's extended out to all combat arms, such as armor and cannon cockers. But not usually.

Grunts dont like pogues and pogues don't like grunts. That is, unless there's some skanky heathen (anyone other than Marine) starting crap, then the Marine Tribe thing takes precedence.

But, back on target for a sec, it was in this fight in WW1, that the USMC was remade into a light infantry force capable of regiment and, later, division sized elements.

The USMC also went about building up for WW1 in the exact opposite manner that is usual for armies in a build up.

The usual practice is to have an upper echelon command/HQ element picked and in place, then an officer and senior NCO framework established, then to flesh it out with newly recruited troops.

The USMC centralized its recruit training for the first time, and concentrated on recruiting and training Marines, first. Marines would be trained in the old manner of making sure the individual was capable of standing up to the demands that his duty would require, then as enough Marines were deemed worthy at that level, they'd be formed up into squads and trained at that level.

The best among them was placed as Squad Leader. As enough squads were formed up, platoons would be made and the best among them would be selected as officers and given additional training for the duties and requirements of platoon leading.

So on and so forth, until a regiment was made. It was only at battalion and regimental level that "old salts" were given priority in command positions, but only after there were enough Marines in the training cycle to warrant the positions.

It was because of this, that Marine detachments were highly sought after throughout the whole theater as rear area guards, policing elements, depot security, etc. It was well known that any randomly selected USMC squad or small detachment would be assigned to such a task and it would maintain good order and discipline and a high degree of task adhesion, without the need for constant supervision.

This almost undid the efforts to build the Corps.

6/08/2008 07:59:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

Thanks for the info on Marine Corps History and evolution.

Makes a lot more sense now.

6/08/2008 10:25:00 PM  
Blogger John said...

I have a post on the battle of Belleau Wood, which might possibly be of interest...

6/09/2008 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Levy said...

I spent an hour in Belleau wood last October, on a tour of WWI and WWII battlefields. You can still see a few trenches and shell-holes. The French have left a few pieces of artillery in the wood (75s, I believe), including one with a burst barrel.

Nearby there is a massive memorial on a hill, showing Americal and France holding hands in solidarity (oh the irony!). The memorial has a few bullet holes from a short-lived battle in WWII - one of them still has the bullet wedged inside.

But it doesn't have ghosts like Verdun...

6/15/2008 08:57:00 AM  

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