The Controversy At Chateau-Thierry In World War I
In 1918, because of a lapse in censorship, the 8,000 United States Marines in the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) and fighting in France were given credit for the accomplishments of 250,000 American infantry and a million French infantry around Château-Thierry, holding the Marne River line in May and June and later counterattacking Censored Media after the last German offensive in July in the action known as the Second Battle of the Marne. The word “Marines” was used in the early dispatches and so much was made of it at home as to give the impression that the United States Marine Corps was fighting this entire series of battles alone.
The Marines who formed a part of the U.S. 2nd Division, did fight a very gallant, local action in nearby Belleau Wood, but it seems in the news reports of the day that they were given credit for most of what was accomplished during those 72 days around Château-Thierry and in the Second Battle of the Marne. The big mistake occurred whrn the Yanks first joined the battle.
Censors carefully deleted the designation of any unit that fought in this sector at the time. Early in the fighting, though, the censors permitted the word “Marine” to be used in connection with the engagement in Belleau Wood. It was quite natural that the United States Marine Corps would subsequently use this engagement for recruiting and publicity, but the general impression was created that the Marines were rushed to fill a gap in the line at Château-Thierry and alone saved Paris. But the Marine Brigade did not fight in Château-Thierry. On June 6 they attacked the Germans who were entrenched in Belleau Wood west of the town. This was a brigade-level affair in which the Marines fought superbly, clearing the wood of Germans in 20 days of savage and continuous fighting. But it was neither the key fight at Château-Thierry nor the first.
Wilbur Forrest, an accredited correspondent with the AEF in 1918, wrote a book in 1924 entitled, Behind the Front Page. In his book, Forrest presents an explanation of how the Marines garnered the larger share of the credit for having fought at or in Château-Thierry:
“Paul Scott Mower of the Chicago Daily News and I were newspaper
Observers [at the Marne]. Our minds were not on Americans at all…
Late in the afternoon of May 31st, [we] two correspondents were sitting
in a camouflaged position with French artillery men on the south bank
of the Marne near Dormans watching the Germans maneuver down this
historic stream towards Château-Thierry. Advance German elements had
already filtered through the town from the north and held the houses on
that side of the stream. Two bridges over the Marne linked Château-Thierry,
north and south, and it was imperative to prevent the Germans from crossing.
When Mowrer and I had gathered sufficient material for a cover story, we
started back to headquarters itching to get our fingers on a typewriter. Our
Renault had carried us only a short distance when we met the wholly unexpected.
It was a dusty flivver containing four men who had either much reason or none at
all to be in that locality. They wore the brimmed felt hat of the United States
Army…They were the vanguard of the Seventh Machine Gun Battalion of the
Third Division–General Dickman’s force, which had arrived in France q few
Eventually we picked up the Seventh Battalion, a motorized unit which had been
on the road more than eighteen hours, dusty and tired but fired with the desire to
“mix it” with the enemy. Mowrer and I chaperoned this battalion into Château-
Thierry on the evening of May 31, 1918. Shortly after we left the battalion that
night, it had planted its guns in the houses along the south bank of the river to
command the two big bridges. Here it fought with great bravery for many days.
Naturally, my companions and I lost little time in returning to French headquarters.
We had a story that would thrill America. It had a kick in it for every American
heart, that tale of these superbly green youngsters and their baptism of fire on that
famous river, the Marne. It was a picture story as well, the trickling of Feldgrauen
towards Château-Thierry on one side, the olive green of America and the coal
giants [from France’s colonies] on the other. How would it all end? It was a brand-
new kind of war, the campaign of maneuver.
We arrived at French headquarters and went beyond to the château in which the
Anglo-American correspondents lived. This story was under our hats. There had
not been another American or even British correspondent within twenty miles of
the Marne. The story was ours exclusively. We settled down to our typewriters and
wrote throughout the night.