Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Those "Other" U.S. Marines in the First World War

Almost all sources that discuss the contribution of the U.S. Marine Corps to the victory in World War I focus on the service of the Marine Brigade attached to the Army's 2nd Division. This is not without good reason — the 2nd Division might have seen more action that any other unit in France — but it is not the whole story.

Marine Honor Guard – AEF General Headquarters, Chaumont

The 5th Marine Brigade, organized at Quantico in September of 1918 and consisting of the 11th and 13th Regiments and the 5th Machine Gun Battalion, also served in France but did not engage in combat. The 13th Regiment arrived at Brest, France, on 25 September 1918; all units of the 11th Regiment were in France by 25 October, and the 5th Machine Gun Battalion arrived at Brest on 9 November.

Upon arrival in France, the 5th Marine Brigade was assigned to the Service of Supply, which was in need of dependable troops for guard duty. The 13th Regiment soon found itself scattered, and doing guard duty along with the western coast of France, while the 11th Regiment was stationed in the general area of Tours. There it performed similar duties, such as guarding the aviation training center at Issoudun, and furnishing some companies for military police duty. The brigade machine gun battalion was stationed at Camp Pontanezan, Brest. That base was commanded by double Medal of Honor recipient, General Smedley Butler. The units of the 5th Marine Brigade continued to perform these general duties until July 1919, when they assembled at Brest and returned to the United States early in August.

Although the battle record of the 4th Marine Brigade, as part of the 2nd Division, overshadowed all other activities of Marine Corps personnel in Europe during World War I, officers and men of the Marine Corps participated in the conflict in other ways. Marine detachments served on all battleships and cruisers operating in the European theater. In addition, from early August 1918 to the date of demobilization, the commanding general of the 2nd Division and several officers on his staff were Marines. At various times Marine officers were attached to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 26th, 32nd, 35th, 90th, and 92nd Divisions and in some cases engaged in operations with them.

Marine Aviators of the Northern Bombing Group

Marine aviation personnel also served in France as the Day Wing of the Northern Bombing Group of the Navy. The Day Wing carried out 14 independent raids far behind the enemy lines, and brought back valuable information. A few Marine officers and enlisted men engaged in Army aviation operations, and about 20 Marine officers were sent to France as observers and participated in operations with American, French, and British forces. While in Europe, the Marine fliers served with Squadrons 213 (pursuit squadron), 217, and 218 (bombing squadrons), the Royal Air Force, and with pursuit, observation, and bombing squadrons of the French Flying Corps. In World War I a total of 282 officers and 2,180 enlisted men served in Marine aviation. Of these, about one-half got overseas.

In addition, more than 40,000 Marines served during 1917—1919 without going to France. After their 1914 landing at Veracruz, Marines remained on duty protecting the U.S. border with Mexico and aboard 62 warships. The peak strength of the Corps worldwide was 75,000. By 1920 the total Marines on duty had been reduced to 17,000.

Source:  Marine Corps History Division,  Marine Corps University; U.S. Marine Museum, Quantico


  1. The Marines wanted their own division, but Pershing was not having it. Not being a big fan of the publicity seeking Marines, he made sure they operated under Army control.
    T. Morgan

  2. Pity. We could have won more battles. Lt. P. W. Coombe, USMC (ret)

  3. Great post on other Marine operations in the Great War. Only one third of the Marine Corps served in France. If only the 5th, 6th, 11th, and 13th Regiments deployed to France, what were the other regiments of the Marine Corps doing? Here's a summary:
    1st Marines: Vera Cruz (1914), Dominican Republic (1916), Haiti and Advanced Base Force, Philadelphia
    2nd Marines: Vera Cruz (1914), Haiti (1916), Haiti and Advanced Base Force, Philadelphia
    3rd Marines: Vera Cruz (1914), fighting "bandits" in the Dominican Republic (1917-22)
    4th Marines: fighting "bandits" in the Dominican Republic
    7th Marines: occupation and defense of Cuba
    8th Marines: deployed to Texas to protect against a Mexican invasion.
    9th Marines: deployed to Texas to protect against a Mexican invasion
    10th Marines: formed as an artillery regiment at Quantico, Virginia
    12th Marines: was not mustered

  4. Quick! Reactivate and deploy the 8th and 9th Marines! Hurry!

  5. In the photograph, Marine Honor Guard – AEF General Headquarters, Chaumont, my grandfather, Sgt. Basil Joseph McHenry, USMC, 6th Machine Gun Battalion, C/77th Company is the first individual to the left of the group at the foot of the stairs on the right. Can you tell me where or how to obtain a copy of this photograph?

    1. Hi Annie,

      Click on the image and you will get a large format version of the image. Save it to a thumb drive and take it to a shop with a high quality color printer. They should be able to give you a nice large version of the photo.