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 Château-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 stories and 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.