When it comes to the American role in the First World War, there tends to be two diametrically opposed views: the first, is the Euro-centric view that the American contribution was not decisive because the war was decided before U.S. forces arrived on the battlefield in strength. The second, more American-centric view, is that the U.S. intervention was critical in determining the outcome of the war and even if few U.S. troops fought until the final months of the war, the psychological impact of fresh troops raised Allied morale and crushed the German will to resist. Osprey's Campaign #177, Chateau Thierry and Belleau Wood 1918 by David Bonk, falls in the second category. While the author has written a very detailed tactical account of the initial American combat actions in the First World War, the author's narrative is weakened by poor organization and a tendency to be condescending toward the British and French. In many respects, this is a good volume, but it can also be difficult to follow and misleading at times.
Throughout this volume, the author attempts to denigrate the role of the French Army. In the origins of the campaign section on page 7, the author claims that following the 1917 mutinies, the French commander Petain "promised that the French Army would not engage in offensive actions until the Americans arrived." In fact, Petain's Directive No. 1 issued on May 19, 1917 indicated that France would continue to mount limited offensives when conditions were favorable but would avoid costly and futile `breakthrough' offensives. French armies attacked in Flanders in July, Verdun in August and recaptured the Chemin des Dames heights in October 1917. On page 16, the author claims that "by 1917, both the French and British had largely adopted a tactical defensive tactical doctrine." In fact, the British offensives at Arras, Flanders, Ypres and Cambrai in 1917 clearly indicated that the Allies were not sitting on their hands after the U.S. declaration of war. Indeed, it was Petain who emphasized the production of tanks, heavy artillery, aircraft and chemical weapons - all offensive tools. On page 23, the author writes that following the German breakthrough on the Aisne River, "French units were melting away in the face of the German attacks and Paris was at risk." While it is true that the French 6th Army was falling back under pressure, 4 French reserve divisions were rushed up with the 2 U.S. divisions to stop the German attempt to cross the Marne River. On page 24, the author claims that the French Army in 1917 "was a spent force, unable to mount offensive actions." As noted, the French Army continued to mount limited offensives throughout 1917 and it played a major role in the counteroffensive of July-August 1918.
The main narrative starts off rather jumpy, with the initial U.S. dispatch of forces to Europe in 1917 and the first action at Cantigny, then a brief nod to the U.S.-French defense of Chateau-Thierry and then the bulk of the volume focuses on Belleau Wood. Actually, Cantigny gets more coverage than Chateau-Thierry (and a battle scene) and readers may be puzzled by the relationship of these three actions by three different U.S. divisions. It is clear that the author placed his main effort in the forty or so pages on the fighting in Belleau Wood, which is divided into sections covering each day in considerable detail. This section is quite good and the two BEV maps supporting it are beautifully done. However, this volume suffers from two few maps - only 6 instead of the typical 8 in an Osprey campaign title - and they come far too late to be effective in helping the reader understand the flow of the battles. It is not until page 72 that the reader sees a map that actually depicts where Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood were located in relationship to each other and the lack of the standard strategic overview map at the beginning is confusing. There are also serious map glitches; one map shows only US units with no German units while another map shows both Allied and German units in the same blue color. The volume has four 2-D maps (assault on Cantigny; defense of Chateau-Thierry; Chemin des Dames Offensive; final attacks at Belleau Wood) and two 3-D BEV maps (June 6, 1918 attacks at Belleau Wood; June 10-11, 1918 attacks. The BEV maps are very good. The two battle scenes (defense of Cantigny; clash of patrols in Belleau Wood, June 14, 1918) by artist Peter Dennis are also quite good.
There are also awkward aspects of military vernacular in the author's prose, such as a tendency to use abbreviations for ranks, or omit ranks for some individuals and to refer to individuals "winning" the Medal of Honor or Distinguished Service Cross, instead of being awarded the medal. In sum, this volume presents the parochial viewpoint that a couple of U.S. divisions turned the tide on the Western Front and played THE critical role in stopping the German drive on Paris. While the author's description of the tactical fighting in Belleau Wood is well done, the operational and strategic context in which this account resides is misleading and flawed. The defeat of Imperial Germany in 1918 was due to a complex series of events occurring over four years of bitter warfare, and the idea that six battalions of U.S. marines saved the Allies from defeat is little more than a chauvinistic conceit.