First to Fight

The U.S. Marines in World War I

Oscar E. Gilbert, Romain Cansiere

Marine units were accepted into the American Expeditionary Force in 1917 only grudgingly, and on arrival in France they were used primarily as labor troops. Eventually, untested Marine divisions were launched into battle against advancing German divisions on the pleading of the French. Their dogged determination to hold Belleau Wood ensured them in
Date Published :
November 2017
Publisher :
Illustration :
16 pages of illustrations
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781612005089
Pages : 360
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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“Retreat, hell! We just got here!” The words of Captain Lloyd Williams at Belleau Wood in June 1918 entered United States Marine Corps legend, and the Marine Brigade’s actions there—along with the censor’s failure to take out the name of the Brigade in the battle reports—made the Corps famous.

The Marines went to war as part of the American Expeditionary Force, bitterly resented by the Army and General Pershing. The Army tried to use them solely as labor troops and replacements, but the German spring offensive of 1918 forced the issue. The French begged Pershing to commit his partially trained men, and two untested American divisions, supported by British and French units, were thrown into the path of five German divisions. Three horrific weeks later, the Marines held the entirety of Belleau Wood. The Marines then fought in the almost forgotten Blanc Mont Ridge Offensive in October, as well as in every well-known AEF action until the end of the war.

This book looks at all the operations of the Marine Corps in World War I, covers the activities of both ground and air units, and considers the units that supported the Marine Brigade. It examines how, during the war years, the Marine Corps changed from a small organization of naval security detachments to an elite land combat force.

About The Author

Oscar E. “Ed” Gilbert Jr. served as an artilleryman and NCO instructor in the Marine Corps Reserve before earning a Ph.D., working for the Geological Survey in Alabama, and teaching at Auburn University. He enjoyed a three-decade career in worldwide oil exploration. Ed was the author of many books, including Marine Corps Tank Battles in Korea (2006), and Marine Corps Tank Battles in Vietnam (2008). He was awarded the 2016 General Wallace M. Greene Jr. Award for Tanks in Hell: A Marine Corps Tank Company on Tarawa (2015). Ed passed away in February 2019.

Romain V. Cansière is a native of southern France, interested in the U. S. Marine Corps since his teenage years. His current historical research is on the Marine Corps in World War I.

Oscar and Romain co-authored Tanks In Hell: A Marine Corps Tank Company On Tarawa, winner of the 2016 General Wallace M. Greene Jr. Award for distinguished non-fiction.


List of Plates
Authors’ Preface

1 Background to War
2 Making Marines
3 Over There
4 Into the Lines—Les Eparges
5 Belleau Wood
6 Replacements
7 The Sick, the Wounded, and the Dead
8 Soissons
9 The Women Marines
10 St. Mihiel
11 Always on the Job: The Atlantic Fleet and Foreign Interventions
12 Blanc Mont Ridge
13 Marine Aviation
14 Meuse-Argonne
15 Victory and Occupation
16 Aftermath

Appendix: Equipment and Weapons


“First to Fight covers the evolution of the Marine Corps from security and landing party support to an independent acting force that would be the first to fight in many of America’s declared and undeclared conflicts. That special pride that Marines have always had in the Corps is seen in the pages of this book… A well-written and informative (even for Marine veterans) account of the Marines in the First World War.”

- Evilcyclist's Blog

“Gilbert and Cansiere provide a readable, full history of the U. S. Marine Corp during World War I… The book is recommended for those readers who already have a grasp of the war and want to delve into the details of individual units.”

- Read in WV Reviews

"We simply don't know enough about the US Marine Corps's contribution to the First World War. Authors Gilbert and Cansiere set the records straight with an amazingly detailed account of the American Expeditionary Force at Belleau Wood in 1918.”

- Books Monthly

“If you have an interest in the activities of the USMC then this would be a welcome addition to your library, even if your interest is only passing there is more than enough to keep you dipping in and out.”

- Army Rumour Service

“There is much here to tempt both the wargamer and the military historian.”

- Miniature Wargames

“The stories of the young and often naïve recruits adapting to military life are generally humorous, at least as presented after the passage of many years. They demonstrate the challenges faced by the recruits, and just as daunting, the challenges faced by those trying to meld them into an effective and well prepared fighting force… The goal of revealing the thoughts and actions of individual soldiers in battle is achieved admirably here, from humorous memories to the daily grind of poor food, wet feet, and lice infestations, to the horrific realities of battle.”

- The Journal of America's Military Past

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