Teufel Hunden – “Devil Dogs” USMC Term
Many historians agree that June 6, 1918 – the beginning of the World War I Battle of Belleau Wood – was the single most horrific day in United States Marine Corps history. The casualties suffered that day, and throughout the 20-day campaign to retake Belleau Wood, stand second only by the retaking of Tarawa in November 1943. However, their actions and success in retaking the three-mile square wood sealed the embodiment of U.S. Marine Corps tenacity, determination and dedication forever.
German General Ludendorff set the stage during The Great War for the Battle of Belleau Wood when he launched the Chemin des Dames offensive against the Allied Northern Front on May 27, 1918. The Fourth Brigade, American Expeditionary Forces, along with other allied forces moved north on May 20. 2nd Division Marines dug in along a defensive line north of the village of Lucy-Le-Bocage.
When advised to withdraw by a senior French officer retreating with his units down Parris-Metz highway, Marine Captain Lloyd Williams replied, “Retreat, hell! We just got here!”
The front finally settled with the 5th Marines to the west and the 6th Marines to the east. Most units deployed without machine guns, but 2nd Bn, 5th Marines showed the Germans the effects of their superior long distance marksmanship.
On June 6, the Marines make two assaults. The 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment attacks west of Belleau Wood and captures the strategically important Hill 142. Later the same day battalions of the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments assault the woods from the south and west in an effort to capture the town of Bouresches.
The attack against the woods proper goes grimly. Crossing a wheat field where they are exposed to machine gun fire. Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly asks his men, “Come on ya sons-of-bitches, ya want to live forever?” The attack is only able to seize a small corner of the wood.
On June 11 after heave artillery bombardment, Marines succeed in securing two-thirds of Belleau Wood, again with heavy casualties.
Marines hammered their way through the woods until the Germans counterattacked with intense artillery fire and three divisions on June 13, almost retaking Bouresches. The Marines held, and on June 14, the German counterattack culminated in failure.
The lines did not change until June 24 when the French command committed sufficient artillery to reduce the woods, allowing the Marines to prepare for a renewed assault. On June 25, after a 14-hour bombardment, the Marines overran the remaining machine gun outposts. After fending off several early morning counterattacks on June 26, Major Maurice Shearer sends the signal, “Woods now entirely U.S. Marine Corps.”
The Marines gained more than small battered woodland. They stopped the last major German offensive of The Great War. In doing so, the Marine Corps earned the respect and admiration of our country and our allies. The 4th Brigade was awarded the French Citation, A L’Orde de L’Armee, and the wood was officially renamed, “Bois de la Brigade Marie,” in honor of the Marines.
German soldiers later referred to the U.S. Marines, respectfully, as “Teufelhunden,” or Devil Dogs, because of their fierceness in battle.