Posts filed under ‘Traditions’

SHAKO/FRIDAY FOTO: Devil Dogs

The Devil Dogs’ Dogs

Dog days aboard Wasp

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Corporal Bernadette Plouffe)

Marine Corps military working dogs rest at the feet of their handlers aboard the USS Wasp in the South China Sea on October 1, 2018.

O.K., this is kind of an unusual format for the 4GWAR blog, but since November 10 marks the U.S. Marine Corps’ 243rd birthday, we seized on the opportunity to combine the regular Friday Foto for November 9, with a SHAKO feature on a World War I battle that has taken its place with other iconic engagements like Iwo Jima and Tripoli in the history of the Corps.

The nearly month-long Battle of Belleau Wood (June 1-26, 1918) was the first major engagement of American troops on the Western Front in World War I. It also is one of the most significant battles fought by the U.S. Marines, earning them France’s highest military award and the nickname Devil Dogs from the Germans.

Belleau Wood painting

Marines in close combat as depicted in Franc-Earle Schoonover’s Belleau Wood. (National Museum of the Marine Corps collection)

The 4th Marine Brigade, some 9,500 men, was assigned to the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, one of the U.S. units rushed to France just a few months after the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917. The Marine Brigade consisted of two regiments — the 5th Marines and the 6th Marines — each with three 800-man rifle battalions and a machine gun company.

One June 1, a major German offensive moved south to the Marne River, where they were held at Chateau Thierry by French troops reinforced by the U.S. Army. One of the leading German assault regiments, the 461st Imperial German Infantry, occupied Belleau Wood, a former hunting preserve about 50 miles northwest of Paris. It was a nearly impenetrable forest of dense underbrush, trees, boulders and ravines.

In early June, the Marine Brigade was dug into a defensive line near Belleau Wood, facing a wheat field. More than 2,000 Germans with 30 machine guns were dug in amid the trees and rocks. There were 100 more Germans with at least six machine guns concentrated in the nearby village of Bouresches.

Retreating French troops advised the Marines to withdraw. “Retreat? Hell we just got here,” snapped a company commander with the 5th Marines, Captain Lloyd Williams, whose remark that went down in Marine Corps lore.

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Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly. (Marine Corps Archives and Special Collections)

The Marines took and held Bouresches and drove the Germans out of the  But success came at a horrendous cost. Relying on their celebrated marksmanship (“Every Marine a Rifleman”) the Marines advanced about 400 yards across the wheat field without concentrated artillery support. Heavy German machine gun and artillery fire cut the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Marines to shreds.  The 6th Marines’ 3rd Battalion managed to make it to the edge of the woods before enemy fire stalled the advance. In the confusion of battle, another iconic Marine Corps legend was born when Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly — who had earned the Medal of Honor twice , in Peking in 1900 and Haiti in 1915 — turned to his men and growled “Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?”

By nightfall on the first day of battle, both Marine battalions suffered  debilitating casualties. Six officers and 222 enlisted men of the 4th Marine Brigade were killed in action. Another 25 officers and 834 men were wounded. This amounted to more casualties than the Marines had suffered in their entire history up until that day, Norwich University professor David Ulbrich observed in an anniversary piece for War on the Rocks.

As the Marines moved into Belleau Wood itself, the fighting seemed especially grim, with hand-to-hand fighting, fixed bayonets and poison gas attacks, noted Michael Ruane in a Washington Post column last May.  The headline on his piece noted: “The Battle of Belleau Wood was brutal, deadly and forgotten. But it forged a new Marine Corps.”

Exploding shells splintered the trees, raining down a deadly shower of wood splinters and metal shrapnel. The Americans and Germans grappled in hand-to-hand combat with knives, rifle butts, bayonets and entrenching shovels.

Belleau Wood shattered trees 1918

Tree Damage, Belleau Wood, circa 1918. An inscription on the photograph reads “Every tree in Belleau Wood bears the scars of battle.” (From the collection of Adolph B. Miller (COLL/1068), United States Marine Corps Archives & Special Collections.)

After three weeks of heavy combat, the Germans were driven out of Belleau Wood. The Marines reached the northern edge of the woods on June 26, sending out the report; “Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely.

The victory at Belleau Wood had saved Paris and the French were delirious with joy.  The French government renamed Belleau Wood, the “Bois de la Brigade de Marine” and both the 5th and 6th Marine regiments were awarded the Croix de Guerre.

The Germans, too were impressed with the Marines. An official German report described the Marines as “vigorous, self-confident and remarkable marksmen.” Captured German soldiers and their letters described the Marines as Teufelhunde, or Devil Dogs.”

Marines in gas masks

Marines train with gas masks in France. (Photo: Marine Corps History Division)

 

 

 

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November 11, 2018 at 12:47 am 1 comment

SHAKO: Why Elections Matter in 1 Picture and 4 Maps.

Make Sure You Vote … They Did.

soldiers-voting

PENNSYLVANIA SOLDIERS VOTING 1864 .-SKETCHED BY WILLIAM WAUD. (From Harper’s Weekly, October 29, 1864 via  Son of the South website)

The Civil War was the first time the United States had large numbers of soldiers deployed during a presidential election. Politicians of both parties were convinced that the army would vote for the commander-in-chief, Abraham Lincoln, a Republican. As a result, most states with Republican governors and legislatures passed laws enabling soldiers to vote, while most states led by Democrats did not.

 

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A political map of the United States (circa 1856) showing free states in red, slave states in gray and territories in green. (From the Library of Congress)

The Dred Scott decision of 1857, in which the U.S. Supreme Court voided the Missouri Compromise (1820) and made slavery legal in all U.S. territories, exacerbated sectional differences between thos e who wanted to abolish slavery and those who sought to protect the institution. That volatile political climate set the stage for the presidential election of 1860.

 

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Presidential Election 1860. Red shows states won by Lincoln/Hamlin, green by Breckinridge/Lane, orange by Bell/Everett, and blue by Douglas/Johnson
Numbers are Electoral College votes in each state by the 1850 Census. (via Wikipedia)

In the election of 1860, Southern and Northern Democrats split their support among Vice President John Breckinridge of Kentucky and Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas, while others, seeking to ignore the slavery issue, backed former Tennessee Senator John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party. Those divisions put the Republican, Abraham Lincoln, in the White House with less than 40 percent of the popular vote, and put the slave-holding states of the South on the road to disunion and civil war.

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While eleven states voted for secession between December 1860 and June 1861, support for leaving the Union was not unanimous in many Souther counties as the above map shows. (Map via Vox)

Likewise, the Union army’s support for President Lincoln may not have been as widespread as historians have assumed, argues one academic. Lincoln was re-elected as president in 1864. He ran under the National Union banner against his former top Civil War general, the Democratic candidate, George B. McClellan — who had been very popular with the troops of the Army of the Potomac.

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(Map created by History Central)

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

 

November 6, 2018 at 3:35 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (October 12, 2018)

Remembering “A Bridge Too Far”

All American Engineers Honor Valor, Sacrifice of WWII Waal River Crossing

(U.S. Army photo by Major Thomas Cieslak)

Paratroopers paddle rubber boats across a pond at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on October 3, 2018, to commemorate the 74th anniversary of the crossing of the Waal River under heavy German fire by 82nd Airborne Division troops during World War II.

The near suicidal mission — the boats were canvas and wood, there weren’t enough paddles to go around so soldiers used their rifle stocks, they launched the attack in broad daylight and the Germans knew they were coming — was part of the failed British plan to leapfrog across the Netherlands and into Germany, known as Operation Market Garden.

Led by Major Julian Cook’s 3rd Battalion of the 82nd’s 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the attack crossed the 250-foot wide Waal under blistering mortar, machine gun and rifle fire and took the north end of the bridge. That allowed Allied tanks to cross on their way to Arnhem to relieve British paratroopers holding another bridge. However, heavy German resistance along the exposed, narrow roads thwarted the advance, proving Arnhem was just “a bridge too far.”

Here’s a brief video of 82nd Airborne veteran, James “Maggie” Megellas, describing the attack. Operation Market Garden inspired a book, and later a feature film — both called “A Bridge Too Far.”

In the movie, Robert Redford portrays Cook leading a crossing he knows is insanely dangerous, with a non-stop “Hail Mary,” prayer. Here’s a film clip, that puts the action in perspective. It starts with Allied tank and artillery fire trying to dislodge the entrenched Germans across the river, and German officers planning to blow the bridge in the unlikely event the Americans make it across the river.

October 12, 2018 at 12:00 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (October 5, 2018)

Cutting edge.

Recruit Training Command Graduation

(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer Spencer Fling)

New sailors march inside Midway Ceremonial Drill Hall during a graduation ceremony on September 28 at Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Illinois.

And yes, that weapon held by the parade leader is an honest-to-god cutlass. The Navy jealously guards its traditions and this time-honored sword is one of them.  The cutlass was an official Navy personal weapon until 1949. However, a cutlass is still carried by the recruit designated as the Recruit Chief Petty Officer for each training company  while at Great Lakes, the Navy’s only boot camp.

On March 31, 2010, the Navy said it would permit optional wear of a ceremonial cutlass as part of the Chief Petty Officer dress uniform, pending final design approval. That approval came in January 2011.

For another view of the cutlass in the Great Lakes graduation ceremony, click here.

October 5, 2018 at 11:27 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (September 28, 2018)

Dress Rehearsal.

Papa Company Receives New Female Blue Dress Coat

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Corporal Vivien Alstad)

Marine Corps recruits try on their blue dress coats for the first time at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina on August 21, 2018.
This photo presents 4GWAR with the opportunity to note that 2018 marks the centennial of women serving in the United States Marine Corps.
Opha May Johnson was the first of more than 300 women who enlisted into the Marine Corps on August 13, 1918, the day after then-Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels allowed women to enlist for clerical duty in the Marine Corps Reserve.
FRIFO 9-28-2018 Add women Parines centennial
In 1918, American women had not yet been granted the right to vote, but Johnson, who was 39 years old at the time, joined the Marine Corps anyway. She served as a clerk at Marine Corps Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, according to ABC News.
Since 2001, more than 15,000 female Marines have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ten women have lost their lives in combat, ABC noted in an August 10 piece on the first female Marine officer to command an infantry combat platoon —  1st Lieutenant Marina A. Hierl.

September 28, 2018 at 11:31 pm 2 comments

FRIDAY FOTO (August 31, 2018)

Prepare to Repel Boarders.

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(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Casey Scoular)

OK, this is not your standard Navy drill — anymore. But in the Age of Sail, these long, spear-like poles with sharpened points on the end were a good way to discourage enemy sailors (or pirates) from trying to force their way aboard your ship.

Boarding in the Age of Sail was more difficult and dangerous than in previous eras of open-decked sailing vessels. Defenders could seek cover in “closed quarters” in the ship’s roundhouse or foredeck, shooting through small loopholes at the exposed boarders.  If not in closed quarters, defenders sometimes resorted to the boarding pike, trying to kill or wound boarders while keeping them at a distance, and of course might use any of the weapons that the boarders themselves used, according to a Wikipedia article on naval boarding.

These sailors, assigned to the historic USS Constitution, are conducting War of 1812-era boarding pike drills during weekly heritage training in Boston, near Old Ironsides’ berth at the Charlestown, Massachusetts Navy Yard. Launched in 1797, the Constitution is the oldest commissioned naval vessel in the world still afloat.

August 31, 2018 at 1:53 pm 1 comment

FRIDAY FOTO (July 6, 2018)

Boots and Saddles.

11th Armored Cavalry Regiment Change of Command

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sergeant David Edge)

Bet you didn’t expect to see this image on a blog devoted to 4th Generation Warfare.

Members of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment’s Horse Detachment conduct the ceremonial last charge during a change-of-command ceremony at Fort Irwin, California on June 28, 2018.

They are dressed in the cavalry uniform of 1901, the year the 11th Cavalry Regiment was created. It first saw service in the Philippine-American War (formerly known as the Philippine Insurrection. For more about the 11th Cavalry’s history, click here.

For the record, the last U.S. Army cavalry charge was in the Philippines in 1942, when a platoon of the 26th Cavalry charged Japanese troops, and routed them, on the Bataan Peninsula.

July 7, 2018 at 12:14 am Leave a comment

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