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Webmatters : The US 2nd Division memorial at Belleau Wood
Rough Map of Area

2nd US Division

Location

The village of Belleau is situated approximately ten kilometres to the west of the town of Château-Thierry in the Department of the Aisne.

From the town centre take the D 1003 in the direction of Meaux and the Monument Americain. At the top of the hill the road sweeps around to the left and you will see the entrance to the American Memorial. On your right you will see the junction for the D 9 indicating Étrépilly and Belleau.

Follow this road for seven kilometres and you will arrive at Belleau. The cemetery is immediately on your left. Belleau Wood and the USMC Monument is immediately behind it.

To reach this memorial stone you have to take the pathway leading up the hill behind the cemetery chapel. It is stepped and can be slippery when wet.

Note that direct access to Belleau Wood is not possible from the cemetery. You have to take the road (facing the church) which runs up and behind the cemetery.

GPS N E Wikimapia
Decimal 49.077275 3.292621 Map

The 2nd Division Monument at Belleau

 

Background

On 27th May 1918 the Germans launched their third offensive of their Spring Offensive (The Kaiserschlacht) which smashed its way through the French and British held lines along the Chemin des Dames (The scene of terrible fighting by the French in 1917)

Following a whirlwind bombardment lasting three hours seventeen German Divisions penetrated the French lines held by just six Divisions. Within four days the Germans had advanced about fifty kilometres and reached Château-Thierry and the river Marne.

On 3rd June the tired French attempted a counter attack. In itself it achieved little in the way of territorial gains, but the German reserves were now exhausted as well. As the US 2nd Division took over the line that evening, the front had begun to stabilise.

German trench mortar -- 17 cm minenwerfer

German 17cm minenwerfer

In front of Torcy and Belleau Wood lay the 4th US Marine Brigade composed of the 5th and 6th Regiments US Marines.

On their right the 3rd Brigade stationed the 23rd US Infantry Regiment in the area of Le Thiolet and the 9th Regiment on the far the right flank in front of Vaux.

German 77mm field gun

German 77mm field gun

On 6th June 1918 the Americans launched their assault. That evening, 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.

In the popular consciousness it might be thought that the battle was quickly fought and won but in reality it was only on the morning of 26th June 1918 that Major Maurice Shearer of the 3rd Bn 5th Marines was able to declare:

“Woods now entirely—US Marine Corps”.

On the right of Belleau Wood the 9th and 23rd Infantry Regiments were also hard at work in the sector in front of Vaux (A different location to the famous fort on the Verdun battlefield) which fell on 1st July 1918. An action which went pretty much unnoticed as the Marines PR machine went into overdrive.

Although thrown into the line at short notice the Division had shown that the Americans were not to be derided as fighting troops.

 

The Memorial

2nd US Division monument at Belleau Wood

There are a number of these memorial stones in the area. An important one is in the square at Lucy le Bocage from where the Division launched its assaults in June 1918.

Immediately to the left of this stone is a small, now rather worn, stone commemorating the US 2nd Engineers who served with the Division.

2nd US Engineers in Belleau Wood

 

Other memorials in the area