“Hell Fighters” from Harlem by H. Charles McBarron
The segregated 369th Infantry Regiment, “Harlem Hellfighters”, go into action during the Meuse-Argonne offensive. The institutional racism of the US military saw the 369th put under French command, where, equipped with French arms and uniforms, they were treated with considerably more fairness than they had been by the US.
The year is 1918 and the Germans play a dangerous game on the western front. More than 50 divisions, around 500,000 germans march towards the western front but even with this huge boost in numbers, many more americans were sailing across the atlantic to support the allies, the german plan was simple. Beat the Allies before the americans arrive, success during the offensive would mean the end of the war, failure, and the counterattack would be fatal.
The German army had come dangerously close to breaking the french lines defending paris. However they had overextended their supply lines and the assualt had stalled. The germans had constructed heavily defended positions that threatened the major railway near amiens, they had to be retaken. One of these positions was belleau wood.
2 US divisions were assigned to the task of taking this fortified position defended by 5 divisions of germans. But these were no ordinary soldiers these were men of the marine corps.
The marines began their attack on the 1st of June. Wide open fields surrounding the woods made them prone to artillery and machine gun fire. Once they got into the woods, the tightly packed trees made it impossible for the marines to gain momentum. The task seemed impossible, French officers advised the americans to fall back
US Marine Captain Lloyd Williams said in response to this, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here.”
Snipers picked out machine gun positions and cleaned them out with what a german battle report described as “Superb marksmanship”. In response the Germans used mustard gas, even with their brothers in arms spewing up their own guts, choking on their own vomit, dying in agony. The Marines never stopped their advance.
In the German counter-attack, Gunnery Sergeant Ernest A. Janson, repelled an advance of 12 German soldiers, killing two with his bayonet before the others fled; for this action he became the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor in World War I.
as the marines advanced through the woods, being cut down by machine gun fire. sergeant Dan Daly called out to his men.
“Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?
On the morning of the 8th of June, the americans smashed through the german lines, slicing them down with bayonets and leaving some german companies with 70% casualty rates. Their exstensive use of hand to hand combat earned the marines the nickname “Devil dogs” among the german army.
The battle cost the lives of 1800 marines with 7966 wounded. The french renamed the wood the
”Bois de la Brigade de Marine“ or the "Wood of the Marine Brigade”.
The marines would forever be known as the very best.
If you have any ideas for what I should post for next military monday, it can be anything, a battle, a leader, an idea, a concept or tactic, a military unit or formation. Do not hesitate to send in your suggestions, either by message or comment.