On May 4th, 1918 the Germans launched Operation Blücher (also called Blücher-Yorck), the third of their five planned offensives on the Western Front called the Kaiserschlacht. The previous attacks, called Michael and Georgette, had been successful in the sense that the British were reeling, their line bent but not quite broken. Blücher was directed at the French, British and Italian forces in the vicinity of the Aisne River, occupying a line that was established in the Nivelle Offensive a year before.
Blücher had two specific objectives, first to expand the salient created by Michael and second to secure bridgeheads across the Marne River which would enable a strike in a southwesterly direction down the Seine River valley that would likely force the evacuation of Paris. As with Michael and Georgette, the assault tactics worked well and the advance was swift. It was September 1914 déjà vu. A desperate Gen. Ferdinand Foch pleaded with U.S. Gen. John Pershing for help.
Recognizing the severity of the situation, Pershing sent the 2nd and 3rd Divisions to block the advance, the 1st Division having already been sent to backstop the British.
The 2nd Division, which included the 5th and 6th Marine regiments, was ordered to counter attack and drive the Germans from very strong positions in the Bois de Belleau. In a battle that lasted from June 6th to June 26th, the positions were captured by the Marines in bloody close combat – 1,811 of them were killed.
Elements of the 3rd Division were placed at Chateau Thierry to block the Germans, and on July 15th the 38th Infantry stopped the Germans cold, earning the honorific ‘Rock of the Marne’, and the offensive was over. Pershing rushed up six more divisions and on July 18th the counter-offensive began.
The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) Aisne-Marne Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing is located near the village of Belleau, France, adjacent to the site of the Battle of Belleau Wood.
The cemetery itself is laid out in the form of the capital letter T, with the Romanesque-style Memorial Chapel crowning the T-shape on a small hill to south, the cross-bars making up the two burial plots and the pathway leading into the cemetery making up the stem of the letter-shape.
Each of the two burial plots contain 13 rows of headstones, which consist of either Stars of David or Latin crosses. There are 2,288 burials in the cemetery, 251 of which contain unknown remains. There are 37 soldiers and marines from Kansas buried here. Click here to see a listing.
As with all ABMC cemeteries, within the chapel there are inscribed names of the 1,060 missing, headed by the following:
THE NAMES RECORDED ON THESE WALLS ARE THOSE OF AMERICAN SOLDIERS WHO FOUGHT IN THIS REGION AND WHO SLEEP IN UNKNOWN GRAVES.
In the heart of Belleau Wood there is a famous monument called The Marine Memorial but commonly known as ‘Iron Mike.
The seven foot tall Marine with fixed bayonet was sculpted by Austrian-born Felix Weihs de Weldon (1907-2003), who had previously created the large Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington, D.C. The monument was erected in the heart of the forest to honor the 5th and 6th Marines.
Dedicated on November 18th, 1955, the monument is a bronze relief mounted on a four ton block of black Swedish granite, the same stone used by the designer in the D.C. memorial. Below the statue is a commemorative plaque with a large Eagle, Globe and Anchor and an account of the battle, in both English and French. Described at its dedication as “very powerful and forceful … fully embodying the spirit of the Marines”, the monument weighs over 2 ½ tons.
The site is not under the jurisdiction of the ABMC.
Also nearby is the ABMC’s Hill 204 monument to all of the American units that fought in the immediate vicinity in 1918. The Germans had established an outpost on the hill, which was assaulted beginning on June 6th by French Colonial infantry assisted by a battalion of the 30th U.S. Infantry. The French secured the hill five weeks later, after the Germans had lost their position at Belleau Wood about 4.5 miles to the northwest.
The monument is a long double colonnade rising above a terrace, designed by French born architect and industrial designer Paul Philippe Cret (1876 – 1945). On the west façade there are sculptured figures representing the United States and France, the work of the French-American artist Alfred Bottiau (1889 – 1951). The English inscription reads:
“This monument has been erected by the United States of America to commemorate the services of her troops and those of France who fought in this region during the World War. It stands as a lasting symbol of the friendship and cooperation between the French and American Armies.”