Webmatters Title
Webmatters : The American assault on Belleau Wood June 1918
Rough Map of Area

Belleau Wood 1918

The attack on 6th June 1918

At 0500 hours the 5th Marines launched an attack against Hill 142 to the west of Belleau Wood. Commenced in terrible conditions it was nevertheless a complete success with the First Medal of Honor being awarded to a soldier of the AEF: Gunnery Sergeant Ernest Janson of the 5th Marines (Though he actually served under the name of Charles Hoffman).

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Château-Thierry, France, 6 June 1918. Immediately after the company to which G/Sgt Janson belonged [The 49th], had reached its objective on Hill 142, several hostile counter attacks were launched against the line before the new position had been consolidated.

G/Sgt Janson was attempting to organize a position on the north slope of the hill when he saw 12 of the enemy, armed with 5 light machine guns, crawling toward his group. Giving the alarm, he rushed the hostile detachment, bayoneted the 2 leaders, and forced the others to flee, abandoning their guns.

His quick action, initiative and courage drove the enemy from a position from which they could have swept the hill with machine gun fire and forced the withdrawal of our troops.

 

That evening at 1700 hours, in launching an attack against the village of Bouresches and the south of Belleau Wood the Marines suffered terrible casualties whilst crossing a wheat field. By 2200 hours the village was in American hands but at great cost, with only a few dozen men left from 3/6th Marines to beat off constant counter attacks throughout the night.

The Americans were attempting, at this stage, to advance from West to East.
It is incorrect to think of them starting at Lucy le Bocage and advancing northwards.

2nd US Division monument at Lucy le Bocage

In front of the village church at Lucy le Bocage is a memorial to the US 2nd Division.

Every attempt made to advance or bring up reserves was mercilessly gunned down by well positioned Germans. The day has gone into the history books as the most bloody ever for the Marines with 1,087 killed or wounded in the space of twenty-four hours.

Rue Lieutenant Osborne at Bouresches

A reminder to the fighting in Bouresches is found in the form of the Rue du Lieutenant Osborne—who would be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions here.
He is buried in the Aisne Marne Cemetery (Grave: A 3 39).

Perhaps I need to point out that his first name was Weedon.
The J.G. you see quoted everywhere is in fact for Lieutenant Junior Grade.

In deciding to forego an artillery preparation of the enemy lines the Americans had paid a heavy price. Pershing believed in Infantry. Everybody else had a greater trust in shells.

On 9th June the Franco-American artillery put the German held sectors of the wood under heavy bombardment in an effort to drive the enemy further back and allow the Americans to advance to a Start Point for a further assault at 0430 on 10th June.

As with other well defended woods elsewhere on the front, every bush, tree and shell crater was a potential (and often too real) machine gun nest. Despite the Marines advancing metre by metre (or perhaps it would have been yard by yard!) the major part of the wood remained tenaciously held by the Germans and a further assault had to be launched the following day (during which Captain Lloyd Williams was fatally injured).

The centre of Bouresches

The village of Bouresches

The 5th Marines wrongly thought that they had reached the northern edge of the wood and were facing Belleau, in fact they had lost direction and come out facing Bouresches.

On 13th June at 0200 hours the German artillery launched a gas bombardment against Bouresches and the ensuing attack almost overwhelmed the Marines and the 23rd Regiment, but somehow they managed to hang on.

 

Gunnery Sergeant Fred Stockham

During the attack another Gunnery Sergeant was to win the Medal of Honor. Fred Stockham from Detroit and serving with 96 Company of the 6th Regiment.

During an intense enemy bombardment with high explosive and gas shells which wounded or killed many members of the company, G/Sgt Stockham, upon noticing that the gas mask of a wounded comrade was shot away, without hesitation, removed his own gas mask and insisted upon giving it to the wounded man, well knowing that the effects of the gas would be fatal to himself.

He continued with undaunted courage and valor to direct and assist in the evacuation of the wounded, until he himself collapsed from the effects of gas, dying as a result thereof a few days later.

His courageous conduct undoubtedly saved the lives of many of his wounded comrades and his conspicuous gallantry and spirit of self-sacrifice were a source of great inspiration to all who served with him.

In fact it was only in 1939 that he was to receive his posthumous citation and award.
The original recommendation had never been acted upon.

 

The wood is taken

It wasn’t only the Americans who were suffering heavy casualties, the German attacks had not been allowed to go unpunished and for the next few days the Germans contented themselves with artillery bombardments rather than further costly assaults.

Over the following week the 7th US Infantry Regiment (3rd Division) took over the line from the Marines allowing themselves a moments repose before they would be required once more to take up the attack on Belleau Wood.

Although the 7th continued attacks within the wood they were badly supported by artillery and not particularly well organised.

Command decided that the next attack on the wood would, once and for all, dislodge and drive the Germans out of Belleau Wood.

The Hunters' Lodge at Belleau Wood

To this end the French brought up sufficient heavy artillery to systematically pulverise Belleau Wood into the ground. After fourteen hours of intense bombardment the term Wood was inaccurate.

At 1700 hours on 25th June 1918 the infantry assault began and raged all night.

In the north of the wood in the area of the Pavillon de Chasse (Hunters Lodge) the 5th Marines found themselves in a terrific hand to hand struggle before at last pushing the Germans the last hundred metres out of the wood and down the slope towards the village.

By morning of 26th June, Major Maurice Shearer of the 3rd Bn 5th Marines was able to declare:

“Woods now entirely—US Marine Corps”.

On 30th June 1918 Général Jean Degoutte the commander of the 6th French Army under whom the Americans had been fighting, issued an order stating that as a result of their brilliant storming of the wood in the face of a well held and deadly defence, in all official publications from hence le Bois de Belleau would bear the name: le Bois de la Brigade de Marines.

Thus it has been known since with the wood being bought by the Belleau Wood Association in 1923.

As a footnote, it should be pointed out that the Marines never reached further than the wood. The village of Belleau would be taken by the 26th Division.