Miracle at Belleau Wood: The Birth of the Modern U.S. Marine Corps

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Miracle at Belleau Wood begins in June 1918 at Les Mare Farm in France with just two hundred U.S. marines, who spilled their blood to prevail against impossible odds, resisting an overwhelming German force of thousands, and turned the battle back against the enemy, saved Paris, saved France, and saved the Allied hope of victory. Called "the Gettysburg of the Great War" by many at the time, it rescued America and its allies from almost certain defeat. This book tells the riveting story of the modern marines as ...

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Miracle at Belleau Wood begins in June 1918 at Les Mare Farm in France with just two hundred U.S. marines, who spilled their blood to prevail against impossible odds, resisting an overwhelming German force of thousands, and turned the battle back against the enemy, saved Paris, saved France, and saved the Allied hope of victory. Called "the Gettysburg of the Great War" by many at the time, it rescued America and its allies from almost certain defeat. This book tells the riveting story of the modern marines as America's fiercest and most effective warriors, the world's preeminent fighting elite. Miracle at Belleau Wood is the story of an epoch-making battle-a battle that elevated the Corps to legendary status and forever burned them into the American imagination.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Axelrod is one America’s great military historians. He’s done it this time with riveting non-stop action that reads like the best of Hemingway’s frontline reports plus the Marine Corps novels of W.E.B. Griffin. Axelrod pushes you right into the action, onto the battlefield, and never lets up. You become a firsthand witness to one of the world’s great battles, proud and heart-pounding as the elite force, the Devil Dogs, are born in a small forest outside Paris. This is one book I wish I’d written!"—Paul B. Farrell, J.D., Ph.D., syndicated columnist for Dow Jones’ MarketWatch. He is the author of The Lazy Person’s Guide to Investing, a former investment banker with Morgan Stanley, and a former Staff Sergeant in the US Marine Corps. “Alan Axelrod has perfectly captured the embodiment of U.S. Marines and their unparalleled Esprit de Corps in his new book, 'Miracle at Belleau Wood.' As a former Marine, I find Axelrod's descriptions of the combat in that bloody battle for which the Corps became legendary — and which is the foundation of its mythic lore — compelling and gut-wrenching. Axelrod's re-telling of the tales — some from the letters, diaries and personal accounting of those who fought there — more than does justice to Marines at Bois de la Brigade de Marine, as Belleau Wood became known to honor the Devil Dogs who fought and died there. More heroes and legends grew from Belleau Wood than from any other battle in the Corps's history. The names ring out in Axelrod's book — Daly, Blanchfield, Lee. Legends one and all. Axelrod brings it all to life for the reader. Though a historical accounting of the battle, 'Miracle at Belleau Wood' puts the reader in the front row — 'inches of real estate were purchased with gallons of blood' — as you witness the heroism and ups and downs endured by the Marines as they defeated the Germans at overwhelming odds. As Axelrod writes, '...created...in 1775, the United States Marine Corps was born in that French forest...in 1918.' A must read!”—Jay Kopelman, author of the best-selling From Baghdad with Love, and a former Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps "Axelrod brings us back vividly to the shocking casualties of 'the war to end all wars,' opening up fresh insights into the nature of the fighting and the decisions that shaped a generation."—Bing West is a correspondent for The Atlantic and the award-winning author of two books on the Iraq war. He is a former Marine in Vietnam and assistant secretary of defense.
Publishers Weekly

Prolific bestseller Axelrod (Patton: A Biography, etc.) examines the evolution of the Marine Corps in this sprightly popular history of the pivotal WWI Battle of Belleau Wood in France. The Marine Corps, founded in the American Revolution, entered the 20th century on the verge of extinction. Saved by a congressional intervention that repealed Theodore Roosevelt's 1908 executive order withdrawing Marines from warships, the Marine brass looked to WWI as a chance to build up their ranks. The War Department sent two Marine brigades to France, but the U.S. commander, Gen. John Pershing, was reluctant to use them—relenting only when a German offensive threatened Paris. Belleau Wood, formerly "an idyllic patch of forest" used as a hunting preserve for the wealthy, was occupied by the Germans and transformed into "a natural fortress" bristling with machine-gun emplacements. In a savage, month-long fight, the 4th Marine Brigade pushed the entrenched Germans out of Belleau Wood, earning a new nickname from the enemy (Devil Dogs), forging a reputation as "America's fiercest warriors" and securing the future of the corps. Based exclusively on published material, Axelrod's brisk if conventional narrative provides a solid introduction to a crucial battle for fans of military history. (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Despite the book's claim, the Marines' bloody 1918 victory did not turn the tide of World War I, but it remains an impressive achievement. Axelrod (Patton, 2006, etc.) offers a worshipful but lively account. He reminds readers that America entered WWI in 1917 with a tiny army but a far tinier and more obscure Marine Corps whose only advantage was its astute commander, General George Barnett. Pulling strings, he persuaded the Wilson administration to add the Fifth Marine Regiment to the initial army division sent to France in mid-1917. As contemptuous of Marines as his army colleagues, American Expeditionary Force commander Pershing set them to work unloading boats, but Barnett persisted, sending another regiment. By the time AEF troops began fighting in significant numbers in mid-1918, the Marine brigade had won acceptance as a dependable front-line unit. Two immense German offensives in spring 1918 had run their course with little help from the AEF. When the third threatened Paris, several American divisions and the Marines received their baptism of fire at Chateau-Thierry and performed bravely. No sooner had Americans helped blunt the German attack than their commander ordered the Marines onto the offensive to recapture nearby Belleau Wood. Lacking good maps, communication or reliable intelligence, senior officers issued a series of confusing orders that resulted in repeated, uncoordinated attacks by inadequate, unsupported forces resulting in a brutally expensive victory-1,800 dead from a single brigade. Military buffs will enjoy Axelrod's nuts-and-bolts account of the three-week battle, full of vivid descriptions of the miseries, ineptitude and heroism peppered with individual storiesand famous quotes ("Retreat, hell. We just got here."). He does not resolve the continuing debate over whether it was worth the cost, but Marine aficionados have no doubt. Readers depressed after four years of ambiguity in Iraq may cheer up at this chronicle of a battle in a war in which our allies appreciated us, and the enemy fought according to the rules.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780762761302
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/5/2010
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 681,605
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Axelrod is the author of many history and military history books, including Eisenhower on Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2006), Patton: A Biography, edited by General Wesley Clark (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), A Political History of America's Wars (CQ Press, 2006), Encyclopedia of the United States Armed Forces (Facts on File, 2005) America's Wars (John Wiley, 2002), Congressional Quarterly's American Treaties and Alliances (CQ Press, 2000), and Patton on Leadership: Strategic Lessons for Corporate Warfare (Prentice-Hall Press, 1999). He has served as consultant to Siemens AG (Munich, Germany), Earl Swensson and Associates Architects (Nashville), Richard E. Steele, Jr. and Associates (Atlanta), and Saint Joseph's Hospital (Atlanta, Georgia), as well as numerous museums and cultural institutions, including The Henry Ford (Dearborn, Michigan), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City), the Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum (Rochester, New York), the Airman Memorial Museum (Suitland, Maryland), and the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum (Winterthur, Delaware). A sought-after speaker, he has been featured at the Conference on Excellence in Government (Washington, D.C.), the Leadership Institute of Columbia College (Columbia, South Carolina), the Annual Conference of the Goizueta School of Business, Emory University (Atlanta), and elsewhere. Axelrod has been a creative consultant (and on-camera personality) for The Wild West television documentary series (Warner Bros., 1993), Civil War Journal (A&E Network, 1994), and The Discovery Channel, and has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, CNNfn, CNBC, and the major broadcast networks as well as many radio news and talk programs, including National Public Radio. He and his work have been featured in such magazines as BusinessWeek, Fortune,TV Guide, Men's Health, Cosmopolitan, Inc., and Atlanta Business Chronicle. After receiving his Ph.D. in English (specializing in early American literature and culture) from the University of Iowa in 1979, Axelrod taught early American literature and culture at Lake Forest College (Lake Forest, Illinois) and at Furman University (Greenville, South Carolina). He then entered scholarly publishing in 1982 as associate editor and scholar with the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum (Winterthur, Delaware), an institution specializing in the history and material culture of America prior to 1832. He was a publishing executive in New York City from 1984 to 1991 and a partner in creative services firm until 1994, when he become director of development for Turner Publishing, Inc. (Atlanta), a subsidiary of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. In 1997, he founded The Ian Samuel Group, Inc., a creative services and book-packaging firm. He lives in Atlanta with his wife, Anita, and son, Ian.

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Table of Contents

Miracle at Belleau WoodTable of ContentsChapter 1The Woods and the WarChapter 2Bellhops and StevedoresChapter 3“A Quiet Sector”Chapter 455th Company, 2d Battalion, 5th BrigadeChapter 5Huns Chapter 6Teufelhunden Chapter 7“Retreat, Hell!”Chapter 8A Dark Sullen MysteryChapter 9“Follow Me!”Chapter 10“Do You Want to Live Forever?”Chapter 11Victory—or Death? Chapter 12The Outsider’s View Chapter 13Bois de la Brigade de MarineChapter 14“There Aren’t Any More Marines”Chapter 15Spartans for a New Thermopylae

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“Come on, you sons of bitches!
Do you want to live forever?”
—First Sergeant Dan Daly, USMC,leading an assault against German machine guns in Belleau Wood
Even before it was over at the end of June 1918, Americans were hailing the Battle of Belleau Wood as “the Gettysburg of the Great War”—World War I. U.S. Army general Robert L. Bullard put it this way: “The marines didn't ‘win the war’ here, but they saved the Allies from defeat. Had they arrived a few hours later, I think that would have been the beginning of the end.”
Gettysburg? It was more like Thermopylae, 480 BC, when three hundred Spartans held back some say as many as a half million Persians. In 1918, throughout the nearly month-long struggle for a twisted patch of French woodland half the size of New York City’s Central Park, the U.S. Marines were always outnumbered by the Germans, but, at the very start of the battle, overwhelmingly so. Just two hundred of them held off the leading edge of Crown Prince Rupprecht's entire army.
 Stunned by the casualties this tiny band inflicted on them, the German soldiers branded the marines Teufelhunden, and the men of the Marine Corps have proudly called themselves Devil Dogs ever since.
 Belleau Wood, the former hunting preserve of a Parisian aristocrat, lay little more than thirty miles northeast of Paris. Had the Germans broken through it in June 1918, they would almost surely have captured the French capital, and, with its fall, have knocked France out of the war, leaving the British and the newly arrived Americans little alternative but to surrender on the best termsthey could get.
 In this, their maiden battle of World War I, the United States Marines made sure that the German army was stopped in Belleau Wood—before it could get to Paris.
 The victory was won at the terrible cost of about 40 percent marine casualties overall, with some companies being virtually wiped out. But the Battle of Belleau Wood burned the marines into the American imagination, instantly elevating the Corps to legendary status and forever transforming American military doctrine itself by demonstrating how the bold and efficient use of small, highly trained, utterly committed units could make the difference even in wars fought on the most massive of scales, bringing the battle to the enemy no matter how overwhelming the odds. This is the story of the epoch-making battle, the battle that made the modern Marine Corps, the battle that would form the heritage behind so many marine victories in later wars, at Tarawa and Iwo Jima, Pork Chop Hill, Khe Sanh, and at Fallujah.
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    Posted November 18, 2011


    Marines seem to be the direct and most fierce fighting force around since they were born 236 years ago

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