10 US Marine Corps Battles That Shaped History
It’s fair to say that the United States wouldn’t be as great without the heroism and sacrifice of the US Marine Corps. Since 1775, the Marines’ “ready to fight, ready to win” determination helped forge this country into excellence.
During its nearly 250-year history, the USMC has been at the forefront of some iconic battles. This article explores ten of the most famous.
Battle of Belleau Wood – World War I
The Battle of Belleau Wood, fought from June 1 to June 26, 1918, holds a hallowed place in the annals of Marine Corps lore. As the flames of World War I engulfed Europe, Marines found themselves embroiled in a fierce struggle in the woodlands of Belleau in France.
While French and British forces had supporting roles, it was the Marines that bore the brunt of the fighting. Belleau Wood’s dense vegetation created a treacherous battleground, forcing both sides into brutal close-range combat. The Marines faced routine German assaults but held their ground.
The Germans were impressed and coined the enduring USMC moniker “Teufel Hunden” – Devil Dogs.
“Come on, you sons of bitches-do you want to live forever?”Gunnery Sergeant Daniel Daly, USMC
After the battle, the French renamed Belleau Wood “Bois de la Brigade de Marine” (Wood of the Marine Brigade) in their honor.
This battle marked a turning point in the war, halting the German advance toward Paris and shifting the momentum in favor of the Allies. The Marines’ bravery and resilience at Belleau Wood helped establish their reputation as fierce fighters.
Battle of Guadalcanal – World War II
Few Marine Corps battles hold more historical significance than Guadalcanal. The battle raged from August 1942 to February 1943.
The campaign, codenamed Operation Watchtower, aimed to establish bases on Guadalcanal and Tulagi. It would set the stage for the capture or neutralization of the Japanese stronghold at Rabaul.
US Marines formed the majority of boots on the ground and faced a ferocious Japanese opponent. The construction of Henderson Field, a vital airfield on Guadalcanal, became a focal point in the struggle for control. Marines were tasked with defending it from Japanese attacks.
“Goddamn it, you’ll never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!”Captain Henry P. “Jim” Crowe, USMC, 13 January 1943
Battles on Edson’s Ridge, along the Matanikau River, at the airfield, Koi Point, and elsewhere saw the Marines emerge victorious. The campaign culminated in the decisive Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942.
Despite heavy casualties, the Allies emerged triumphant. The victory shifted the strategic initiative in the Pacific theater, leading to subsequent Allied offensives and the surrender of Japan in August 1945.
The Battle of Guadalcanal stands as a testament to the unwavering determination of the US Marine Corps and its instrumental role in securing victory and shaping the course of World War II in the Pacific.
Battle of Iwo Jima – World War II
The Battle of Iwo Jima stands as a defining moment in the legacy of the United States Marine Corps. This Pacific battle was fought during February and March 1945 on Iwo Jima, a small volcanic island only 660 miles south of Tokyo. The proximity to the capitol gave it immense strategic significance for the Allied forces.
The Marines encountered a fierce adversary in the heavily fortified Japanese defenders, who employed a complex network of tunnels and well-fortified positions. In the face of relentless resistance, the Marines pressed forward, engaging in ferocious close-quarters combat to secure victory.
“Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, 16 March 1945
However, the battle exacted a heavy toll. Thousands of Marines were killed and many more wounded. Despite the high cost, the Marine Corps triumph at Iwo Jima played a crucial role in the Allies’ march to V-J Day.
The iconic image of the American flag raised atop Mount Suribachi symbolizes the Marine Corps’ enduring legacy of honor, sacrifice, and valor. The Battle of Iwo Jima remains etched in the annals of Marine Corps history, forever embodying their steadfast commitment to defending freedom and upholding the values of the United States.
Battle of Chosin Reservoir – Korean War
The Battle of Chosin Reservoir holds immense significance for the US Marine Corps. Fought during the bitter winter of 1950 in the Korean War, this pivotal engagement showcased the Marines’ resilience despite overwhelming adversity.
Surrounded by the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (PVA), the Marines fought their way from Yudam-ni to Hagaru-ri, enduring heavy losses but securing their retreat.
“Retreat Hell! We’re just attacking in another direction.”Major General Oliver P. Smith, USMC, Korea, December 1950
Notably, Colonel Lewis “Chesty” Puller, a legendary figure in the US Marine Corps, played a pivotal role during the campaign. He won his fifth Navy Cross for heroism during the battle. Surrounded by the enemy, Puller famously said, “We’ve been looking for the enemy for several days now, we’ve finally found them. We’re surrounded. That simplifies our problem of getting to these people and killing them.”
The Chosin Reservoir campaign marked a crucial turning point in the Korean War. And it remains a testament to the courage and sacrifice of the US Marine Corps.
Battle of Hue City – Vietnam War
The Battle of Hue City, aka the siege of Hue, is a defining moment in US Marine Corps history. It was waged from January 31st to March 2nd, 1968, during the Vietnam War Tet Offensive.
Marines engaged in urban warfare against North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces. Amidst fortified positions, fierce resistance, and booby traps, US Marines fought block by block, supported by Army and South Vietnamese units.
“Being ready is not what matters. What matters is winning after you get there.”Lieutenant General Victor H. Krulak, USMC, April 1965.
The Marines showcased their adaptability as they transitioned from conventional to urban combat. They faced a determined enemy and fought house to house. The USMC successfully cleared and recaptured Hue City, though with heavy losses.
The bravery and military prowess of US Marines was on full display in Hue City. The battle remains a vivid reminder of their enduring legacy and the sacrifices made by Marines and their comrades during the Vietnam War.
Operation Desert Storm – Gulf War
Operation Desert Storm marked a defining moment for the US Marine Corps during the Gulf War. Leathernecks played a crucial role in the liberation of Kuwait and the overall success of the coalition forces.
One notable engagement was the Battle of Khafji, where the Marines displayed their combat prowess in repelling a surprise attack by Iraqi forces.
“I can’t say enough about the two Marine divisions. If I use words like brilliant, it would really be an under-description of the absolutely superb job they did in breaching the so-called impenetrable barrier. . .Absolutely superb operation, a textbook, and I think it’ll be studied for many, many years to come as the way to do it.”General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, USA, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 27 February 1991
Another significant contribution came from the 1st Marine Division’s assault on the heavily fortified positions of the Iraqi Army in the Battle of Kuwait International Airport.
The Marines’ amphibious capabilities and combined arms tactics proved instrumental in achieving victory and again demonstrated their ability to wage modern warfare. Improvise, adapt and overcome.
Second Battle of Fallujah – Iraq War
The Iraq War was a brutal sandbox dogfight, and the two-part battle of Fallujah was a defining moment. Once again, the Marines showed off their dogged resolve and combat proficiency.
In November 2004, the USMC launched the Second Battle of Fallujah, dubbed Operation Phantom Fury. Engaging in intense urban warfare, Marines fought alongside Army units and Iraqi security forces, displaying exceptional skill in clearing enemy-held buildings and fortified positions.
“We had people shooting at us from up [on] the rooftops, from the houses, from the sewers or wherever they could take a shot at us from”Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Torain Kelley
Notable fights occurred in Shuhada and the infamous Jolan district. Marines faced relentless ambushes, booby traps, and improvised explosive devices. It was truly “kill or be killed.” Their combined arms tactics, close air support, and precision firepower shattered enemy defenses.
Regaining control of Fallujah reverberated throughout the Iraq War. The Marines dealt a significant blow to the insurgency, weakening their influence and disrupting operations. Their success demonstrated the effectiveness of coalition operations with Iraqi forces, highlighting the importance of partnership in counterinsurgency campaigns.
The Marines’ contributions in Fallujah set the stage for improved security in Iraq and back home.
Battle of Ramadi – Iraq War
During the spring of 2004, the US Marine Corps engaged in the Battle of Ramadi, at the same time as the first Battle of Fallujah. Their mission: to secure the capital of Al Anbar Governorate in western Iraq.
The 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines confronted a determined insurgent force, resulting in fierce combat throughout the city. Many brave Marines made the ultimate sacrifice, but their heroism lives on.
Roughly two years later, the USMC had a pivotal role in the second Battle of Ramadi, which lasted from March to November 2006. Marines engaged insurgents in a fierce struggle to gain control of the city.
“I was on post the morning of the attack. I heard the go off at a cyclic rate and then the detonation along with a flash. It blew me at least three meters from where I was standing onto the ground”Marine Lance Cpl. Benjamin Tupaj
Their objective was to cut off enemy resupply and reinforcements by securing key entry points and establishing combat outposts. The Marines faced significant challenges, including heavy casualties and the use of chlorine bombs by insurgents. However, their determination and courage led to crucial victories, such as the establishment of the 17th Street Security Station and the elimination of al-Qaeda’s presence in Ramadi.
The Marines’ commitment to securing the city contributed to the overall success of the Iraq War and provided a sense of security for US citizens.
Battle of Marjah – Afghanistan War
The Battle of Marjah was a significant operation in the War in Afghanistan. It took place from February to December 2010 and was led by the USMC alongside Afghan National forces and NATO allies. The mission was to eradicate the Taliban presence and establish stability in the Helmand Province.
Marjah, a Taliban stronghold, presented formidable challenges for the Marines. Facing a determined enemy, they engaged in intense urban combat, clearing the area house by house.
“The plan that we’ve rock-drilled over and over: as soon as you get out of the bird, it’s not worth anything. Every single one of you will have to make a hundred decisions that there are no right answers to. But guess what—you have to act.”Captain Ryan Sparks Bravo Company, 1st Marine Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment
The Marines demonstrated exceptional bravery and resilience as they bore the brunt of the fighting, sustaining significant casualties. But the sacrifices of fallen brothers and sisters bolstered security for the local population and American civilians.
Battle of Sangin – Afghanistan War
The Battle of Sangin, a crucial episode in the War in Afghanistan, showcased the United States Marine Corps’ valor. Sangin is also considered the bloodiest battleground of Afghanistan by both the US and British militaries.
From 2010 to 2011, Marines deployed to the Sangin District in Helmand Province faced a tenacious insurgency by the Taliban. Engagements in areas like the Green Zone, Sangin Bazaar, and The Peninsula witnessed intense combat as Marines battled fanatical jihadist fighters. Clearing operations like the Sangin Sunrise were routine yet ferocious.
“Sangin was different from anywhere else we’d fought. It was hell”Marine Sgt. Daniel Robert
The enemy utilized IEDs, ambushes, and sniper fire. But the Marines responded with typical determination, conducting counterinsurgency operations, patrolling, and clearing operations.
Marine units secured Sangin, but the battle took a toll, with many Marines paying the ultimate sacrifice. Their bravery ensured the security of both the oppressed Afghan people and Americans back home.
Throughout the history of this great country, the United States Marines have shown the ability to endure and triumph even under the most grim and challenging circumstances. From Belleau Wood to Sangin, the Marines helped secure our freedom. The courage and brotherhood of the USMC should inspire us all.