Guest blogger Jan Hodges became interested in World War I combat art as a result of her involvement as a volunteer in a holdings maintenance project at the National Archives at College Park for Record Group 120, Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) Combat Forces 1918 – 1919. This is the eighth article in the series about World War I Art and Artists.
Local Identifier: 111-SC-153116: Captain Andre Smith
Among the many images drawn by Captain Andre Smith, several capture the American experience in Belleau Wood. Belleau Wood is famous for exemplifying the courage, grit and determination of the Marine Corps which made up the 5th and 6th regiments of the 2nd Division.
In early June 1918, the American 2nd Division joined with the French Army long the Marne River to drive the Germans out. The division was assigned to cover nine miles of the front, near the town of Chateau-Thierry.
Local Identifier 111-SC-20139. Regimental Headquarters near Belleau Woods, located in the farm house known as Maison Blanc. It was occupied at the time of my visit, June 28th, 1918, by Colonel Neville of the Marines. By Captain J. Andre Smith
On June 6, the men were ordered to attack to take Belleau Wood and the village of Bouresches, just beyond Belleau Wood. The marines set out at dawn on a day that was warm and sunny. A prime objective was Hill 142, the highest point in the area. 5th Marines had the daunting task of wresting the hill, which was slightly to the west of Belleau Woods, from the Germans. The enemy was well equipped and had the advantage of occupying the heights. The marines lined up in rows to begin the assault. German machine guns mowed them down. Through determination and great numbers, the marines were eventually victorious, but at a high price in terms of men and officers lost.
Local Identifier 111-SC-20144: The Trail to Belleau Woods. By Captain J. Andre Smith.
Meanwhile, at the southern edge, Belleau Wood loomed ahead, softly green and silent. The Commanding General, James G. Harbord, of the 2nd Division expected the marines to clear the woods of the enemy in less than a day; in part because the French had informed the Americans that the woods were largely unoccupied, but also because no substantial reconnaissance of the area had been conducted. The Americans were convinced they would meet little resistance.
Local Identifier 111-SC-20168: In Belleau Woods showing the thickness of the tree growth and the nature of the ground over which our men fought. By. Captain J. Andre Smith.
The 6th Infantry Regiment of Marines entered the wood, in rows of five men abreast, some shoulder-to-shoulder, others separated by a few feet. Once in the woods, deadly traps ensnared the soldiers. Thick undergrowth impeded the advance. Where the Americans found ways to move forward, they were met by unrelenting machine gun fire from hidden emplacements. The Germans killed or wounded large numbers of the surprised men. Unknown to them the marines faced the German 10th Division, a highly trained and experienced enemy.
Local Identifier 111-SC-25074: Fields of Belleau: The drawing was made on the edge of the village of Belleau and is looking across the Bouresches- Bussieres road to the north end of Belleau Wood. In the foreground are shell holes that were occupied by Germans. To the right are a row of American graves. The sketch was made on August 3, 1918, by Captain Andre Smith, Engineer Corps.
The first day of the battle was a disaster. Hill 142 was taken, but German counterattacks kept the marines from advancing into the western part of Belleau. At the southern end, the advance into the woods failed.
Local Identifier 111-SC-20171: A Red Cross dressing station under a culvert constantly under fire on the trail to Belleau Woods. By Captain J. Andre Smith.
Local Identifier 111-SC-20169: A roll call after the fight, a camp on the road to Belleau Woods, the first formation by squads. By Captain J. Andre Smith.
The battle for Belleau Wood continued until June 26, when the Germans were pushed out of the area for good. By battle’s end, the Americans had incurred almost 10,000 casualties; dead, wounded or captured by the Germans. To honor of the sacrifice made by the men, the French renamed the wood to Bois de la Brigade de Marine.
The final part of this series will be about Harry Townsend.
National Archives. Still Pictures. Record Group 111-SC Army Signal Corps, WWI, Combat Artists, by name.
National Archives. Textual Records. Record Group 120. Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), World War I, G-2 Censorship and Press Division, Correspondence Relating to the Eight Official Artists of the AEF
Eisenhower, John S. D. Yanks: The Epic Story of the American Army in World War I. Simon & Schuster. New York. 2001
Farwell, Byron: Over There; the United States in the Great War 1917 – 1918. W. W. Norton and Co. New York.1999.
Krass, Peter. Portrait of War: The U. S. Army’s Combat Artists and the Doughboys Experience in World War I. John Wiley and Sons. New York. 2006.