George B. Clark. The Fourth Marine Brigade in World War I: Battalion Histories Based on Official Documents. Jefferson: McFarland, 2015. 296 pp. $39.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7864-9699-0.
Reviewed by Heather P. Venable (Air Command and Staff College)
Published on H-War (February, 2017)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College)
It is hard to be a hero, especially when one has marched for miles in a desperate rush to stop a German offensive. The US Marines fighting their first major battle at Belleau Wood during World War I resigned themselves to waiting for hot food, but they desperately wanted hot coffee in those early days. It is these kinds of specifics that help illuminate the Fourth Brigade’s experience in a way that makes George B. Clark’s The Fourth Marine Brigade in World War I: Battalion Histories Based on Official Documents so useful.
Clark has written or edited more than fifteen works of military history, most of them focused on the early twentieth-century Marine Corps. This includes Devil Dogs: Fighting Marines of World War I (1999), an operational history of the corps. What makes this work different is its focus on battalions, which reveals more insight into the tactical level of war. The work briefly introduces the corps’ major World War I battles to provide some context for subsequent chapters. Each battalion receives its own chapter, with the length dependent on the individual officers’ writing style. Clark weaves small segments of commentary between actual reports, which marine officers wrote during and immediately after battle. The published length of these reports ranges from brief excerpts to entire documents. He supplements these with the occasional reference to other primary sources, typically personal journals. In other words, Clark appears more as an orchestra conductor. We see him at work, but we hear primarily from the officers themselves.
As would be expected from most former marines, Clark clearly loves the corps, and he tends to assume the best of the marines’ motives and actions in a way that seems unrealistic. Surely it is impossible that all who served in the Fourth Brigade were heroes. Still, this work is clearly a labor of love, and it is one of the best options for understanding the daily experiences of World War I marines. Clark’s familiarity with these documents is so extensive that he can even question some aspects of them, which helps to highlight the fog of war. Unfortunately, there is no final analysis that seeks to examine the battalions’ experiences in order to make broader conclusions.
Given this work’s level of detail, it is perhaps best suited for those already familiar with World War I, particularly the American Expeditionary Force. Those interested in the experience of combat will also gain realistic insights not filtered by the passage of time or distance from the battlefield, as occurs in some memoirs.
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Heather P. Venable. Review of Clark, George B., The Fourth Marine Brigade in World War I: Battalion Histories Based on Official Documents.
H-War, H-Net Reviews.
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