12 June 2018 Blogs, K-12

100 Years Ago: Battle of Belleau Wood

It’s summertime and that means vacation

I know one of the last things teachers, librarians and students are thinking about this time of year is eLibrary, but eLibrary’s Research Topics can be a handy tool to use to conduct some quick research before you head out on your summer trip, especially if your destination is a historical port-of-call.

Speaking of history, we are now in the last year of the 100th anniversary of World War I (1914-1918). While I will not be touring any of the First World War battlefields this summer, visiting some of the Great War sites in Europe is definitely on my bucket list of places to see. So far, the closest I’ve been to any of those memorials is seeing the Tomb of the Unknowns (formerly the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) in Washington D.C. The Tomb was originally designed as a memorial for the unidentified dead of World War I.

Practically the entire month of June is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Belleau Wood. A quick overview: In the Spring of 1918, the War was already in its fourth year. The Germans knew that they had no choice but to mount one last major offensive to break the trench-warfare stalemate on the Western Front. The so-called Spring Offensive drove back the allied forces putting the German army within 30 miles of Paris. The Allies, desperate at this point, had to throw untried and untested American troops into the Aisne-Marne breech. “The ensuing Battle of Belleau Wood proved the war's longest, bloodiest and most widely reported test of Americans' readiness to seize the offensive, overcome casualties and eventually defeat veteran German forces.”1

Suffice it to say, the U.S. Marines, along with French and British forces, held firm. They attacked the Germans no less than 6 times before they chased enemy forces from the woods. Reduced to hand-to-hand combat in some circumstances, the Marines fought off 5 divisions of Germans. According to General Pershing, that engagement was, for the U.S., the most important battle since Appomattox.

In all, over 1800 U.S. troops were killed at Belleau Wood, and over 7000 were injured. After the battle, the French renamed the wood "Bois de la Brigade de Marine" ("Wood of the Marine Brigade") in honor of the U.S. Marines. The World War I Aisne-Marne American Cemetery is about one hour north of Paris near the town of Belleau.

Whether or not you are visiting any World War I battle fields this summer, take eLibrary along with you on your phone or tablet and do some research before touring your favorite historical sites.

Belleau Wood, France Military History (Magazine)