Sideshow Toys is known for making quality figures. I have a few of their Civil War commanders series, and they are well done. They are the best Civil War figures available. They also did a series they called "Bayonets and Barbed Wire", which as you can guess was based on WWI, the Great War. Though Sideshow has gotten away from the military figure aspect and instead have begun producing figures based on the movie industry, many of the Sideshow military figures are out there.
I recently purchased one such figure, and he is the basis of this post. He's a Sideshow 5th Marine Regiment WWI figure. Going into the Great War, many politicians and army brass wanted to do away with the Marine Corps and blend it in to the army proper. Marines, both those currently serving and those who had served in the past, of course strongly resisted this idea. They were of the "First to Fight" mentality, and believed the USMC was both a viable and necessary fighting force that had repeatedly proven itself in past conflicts.
Marine Corps recruitment screening was the strictest in the US Armed Forces. In order to enlist, a recruit had to be at least 5'4", no less than 124 lbs, be able to read and write in English, be at least 18 yrs old, be of sound mind and body, have good hearing and eyesight, and have at least 20 teeth. Thus, prospective Marine candidates were some of the finest and fittest the country had to offer.
At the start of the war, the effort to preserve the Marine Corps was becoming a formidable obstacle. The forest green uniform that made Marines distinguishable at a glance from the soldiers of the Army was being done away with. It came to be that only new recruits fresh from the states wore the Marine green outfit. Much of the replacement gear was being supplied by the French and the British as well. In the wet and moldy environment of the stagnant trench warfare, uniforms and equipment wore out quickly, and oftentimes replacement gear was hard to come by. Marines were given the distinctive British "Brodie" helmet and small box respirator. The respirator, or gas mask as it was called, was the most important piece of gear issued to individual soldiers and Marines, as the threat of German gas attacks was constant, and to be without a respirator meant almost instant, and very painful death. The French "Adrian" helmet, French M-2 gas mask, canteen and boots were also being worn by US troops, and the leather Marine gaiters were quickly replaced by the British puttees.
They may not have been pretty or even uniform in appearance, but after brutal fighting that would have almost surely overwhelmed any other fighting force, the Marine legacy of being the hardest and most tenacious fighters was preserved during the fight in the Battle of Belleau Wood. Belleau Wood was a brutal, 20 day affair that saw some of the most viscous fighting of the entire war. Marines were pinned down, flanked, wandered into areas behind the German lines, and were thought to be in a fight they couldn't win. At the end, however, the Marines, though suffering massive casualties, indisputably held the entire field. They began being called "Teufel Hunden", or "Devil Dogs" by the German soldiers unfortunate enough to get in their way.
The 5th Marine Regiment, one of the participants in the fight in Belleau Wood, was a regiment that came to France in June of 1917. It was comprised of many veteran Marines, and its commander was a Medal of Honor recipient. The 5th and 6th Marine regiments were joined by the 6th Machine Gun battalion to form the 4th Marine Brigade, which became a part of the 2nd Allied Expeditionary Force (AEF) Division.
Even after the fighting in Belleau Wood, there remained the push to do away with the Marine Corps, but the Marines held out and remained separate. They would fight valiantly in such notable battles as St. Mihiel, Champagne, and the Argonne Offensive.
Review of the Sideshow figure to come soon in Part 2.