The 4th Marine Brigade at Belleau Wood and Soissons
History and Battlefield Guide
J. Michael Miller
Foreword by Lt. Gen. Richard P. Mills, USMC (Ret.)
The battles of Belleau Wood and Soissons in June and July of 1918 marked a turning point in World War I and in the stature of the US Marine Corps, whose fighting proved so critical in repelling the Germans that the French would later rename Belleau “Bois de la Brigade de Marine.” In this book J. Michael Miller, a historian of the Marine Corps and veteran chronicler of battle, takes us to the battlefields of Belleau Wood and Soissons, immersing us in the experience of a single brigade of marines at the forefront of the fighting. Through a close-up look at the doughboys singular impact on Allied victory in 1918, his work illuminates Americas bloody sacrifice during World War I.
The 4th Marine Brigade at Belleau Wood and Soissons for the first time treats these two battles as one campaign and demonstrates why it is impossible to fully understand one without the other. Miller outlines the company and platoon levels of combat throughout the campaign, establishing a basic tactical understanding of the fighting; he also draws on letters, diaries, memoirs, and interviews to create a vivid and personal reconstruction of the battles. His use of French and German sources, also a first, adds unprecedented insights to this boots-on-the-ground account. The book includes detailed mapping of both battlefields, with a thirty-six-stop guide linking the text with the actual terrain. For each of these stops Miller gives GPS coordinates to provide a virtual tour of the sites he discusses.
“Relying on extensive reminiscences from marines who fought at Belleau Wood and Soissons in the summer of 1918, Mike Miller’s book vividly re-creates what it was like to ‘be there’ on the battlefields. It especially underscores the personal experiences of the intense fighting that would mark the emergence of the US Marine Corps as a major fighting force for the AEF. The book’s tour guides are a valuable bonus that will allow battlefield visitors to consider up close what the brave marines actually faced during that fateful summer.”
—David J. Bettez, author of Kentucky Marine: Major General Logan Feland and the Making of the Modern USMC
For three weeks in June 1918, an inexperienced 4th Marine Brigade clawed a bloody way through Belleau Wood in a triumph of bravery. But only a month later the same marines complemented valor with skill in the allied victory at Soissons. The learning curve’s price was steep, comprehensive, and enduring. The Marine Corps’ list of defining battles is long—Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh. But this comprehensively researched work demonstrates that none overshadow Belleau Wood and its aftermath.—
With its strategic overview and ground-level perspective, Miller’s work suggests a new interpretation and offers a new experience of an iconic moment in American military history—and in the story of the Marine Corps.