To the Limit of Endurance: A Battalion of Marines in the Great War


Scholars and historians offer several theories for the crippling losses suffered by the American Expeditionary Forces on the battlefields of World War I: inexperience, poor leadership, hasty expansion of duties, and others. But until now, most of these studies have focused at the division level or higher. Now, with To the Limit of Endurance, Peter F. Owen offers a tautly worded, historically rigorous, and intensely human survey of the agonizing burden shouldered by the Second Battalion of the Sixth Regiment of ...
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Scholars and historians offer several theories for the crippling losses suffered by the American Expeditionary Forces on the battlefields of World War I: inexperience, poor leadership, hasty expansion of duties, and others. But until now, most of these studies have focused at the division level or higher. Now, with To the Limit of Endurance, Peter F. Owen offers a tautly worded, historically rigorous, and intensely human survey of the agonizing burden shouldered by the Second Battalion of the Sixth Regiment of U.S. Marines from its formation in Quantico, Virginia, in 1917 until the cessation of hostilities in November of the following year. In places like Belleau Wood and Soissons, these young men, led by dedicated officers, died in staggering numbers—primarily because of the outmoded tactics they had learned. Owen shows how the battalion regrouped after these campaigns, however, and embarked on a period of intense retraining. By the time of the closing weeks of the war, the adjustments they had made allowed them to mold themselves into a coldly efficient military machine. Drawing on a treasure trove of surviving first-hand accounts, Owen expertly combines these individual observations with military records and archival sources to create a mosaic that provides not only a case study of how one organization grappled with transformation but also a tightly focused, ground-level view of the lives—and deaths—of these courageous American military men. The grueling, ultimately triumphant odyssey of the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines will appeal to military historians, professional soldiers, and interested general readers.
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Editorial Reviews

The Journal of Military History

"This is one of the most useful "soldier's eye" stories published during the last few years.--Journal of Military History

Mark E. Grotelueschen

“Owen makes superb use of an impressive array of personal accounts from officers and enlisted men and elucidates many interesting features about the experiences of American infantry units in the First World War.”--Mark E. Grotelueschen, USAF Academy
Journal of Military History

“This is one of the most useful 'soldier’s eye' stories published during the last few years. Although the general reader will gain from it, the more one knows, the better it becomes. Built on interviews, archival deposits, memoirs, printed documents and appropriate secondary sources, it catches in the words of the actual participants the grim realities of rain, mud, bad food, lost friends and a formidable adversary characteristic of Great War literature. It also has the positive impact of a Leavenworth Staff Study with proper maps, sections of critical leadership analysis, and the always useful 'lessons learned' included in the narrative. Lt. Col. Owen’s book is a serious addition to the study of the American military experience in the Great War.” --Journal of Military History
Marine Corp Gazette

“An important work of professional military education by a retired Marine infantry lieutenant colonel . . . . Research of the author rests on extensive work . . . . maps, figures, and photographs are excellent. . . is a timely, original, and important contribution to the record. I highly recommend it to the infantry professional operating at the tactical level of war or to any Marine who is interested in our rich and storied history.”--Marine Corp Gazette
George B. Clarke

“Perhaps in every 10 years one worth-while history of the American experience in World War I is published. To the Limit of Endurance, in my opinion, is one such history. . . Through the author’s skillful presentation of facts and figures, from predeployment training-such as it was then-the trip to France and more limited training (for trench warfare), then each of the battles during a relatively short 11 months, the battalion emerges as a first-class fighting outfit. . . By careful usage of personal memoirs and papers of participants and official records, Owen has recreated a superb rendering of life in the 4th brigade of Marines 90 years ago. His maps and diagrams are skillfully crafted, and the selection of photos is impressive. His appendixes, casualties of the battalion, and brief sketches of some of the notable, then and later, are extremely helpful, as are his notes. . . All in all, this is a fine book, which any Marine historian will be pleased to read and proud to own. I heartily recommend this as the ultimate study of one relatively small unit in its entirety-from preparation for war and finally to its war. It will definitely help junior officers and non-commissioned officers improve their skills and may even delight more senior Marines.”--Leatherback
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585445998
  • Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2007
  • Series: C. A. Brannen Series , #9
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

PETER F. OWEN retired from the U.S. Marine Corps as a lieutenant colonel. His first command was a weapons platoon in the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines. During his research for this book, he walked every battlefield on which 2/6 fought during the Great War. Owen previously annotated Carl Brannen’s World War I memoir, Over There.
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Table of Contents

Illustrations     vii
Preface     ix
The First to Fight     1
The American Expeditionary Forces     26
The Triangle Farm and Bouresches     63
Belleau Wood     92
Soissons     107
Saint-Mihiel     136
Blanc Mont     159
The Meuse-Argonne     181
Epilogue     202
Appendixes     211
Recapitulation of 2/6 Casualties     211
2/6 Marines after the Great War     213
Notes     215
Bibliography     239
Index     245
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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2008

    The best Corps unit history ever. Period.

    In sitting down to write this review, I am moved by many forces. First of all is the shear outstanding qualities of this book. But in stating that, I keep in mind the fact that the author is a Marine Corps officer (well, WAS - but once a Marine, Always a Marine) and that anything less could not be expected of his work. That fact aside, I am confident in making the statement that this is perhaps the finest analysis of a Marine Corps unit I have ever read, and certainly one of the finest on a mid-level military unit in general. Lt.Col. Owen has written objectively and honestly about the 2nd Battalion/6th Marines, with true candor and skill. He is unapologetic concerning the problems faced by the Corps and the 2/6 in particular (something rarely encountered when Marines write about other Marines), and presents the FACTS clearly and concisely. This is clearly an asset, especially in this case when one must consider the fact that Owen was Executive Officer of the 2/6 during Operation Desert Storm. His sketches of the characters involved present the reader with a clear picture of the individual - only that which is necessary to gain a clear understanding of the men and their motives is included, while superfluous clutter is cast aside. This can sometimes appear very workman-like in print, but is definitely not here due to Owens' clear and direct writing style. Simply put, the book reads well. Taking a step by step approach to the story, while not getting bogged down in far too much detail, also holds the reader's interest. This book could easily have been twice as long, as the sources Owen had to hand at the time were considerable. In delving into unpublished memoirs, the truth behind many of the myths and legends behind some of the Corps most famous moments is brought into clearer focus, without the flag waving and chesty pride usually associated with such endeavors. What the 2/6 went through at Belleau Wood was simply appalling, and Owen makes no bones about it. Nor the advance at Soissons, where a serious leadership blunder led to carnage. By the end, however, we see the learning curve that the AEF had to go through during its 19 months of serious existence beginning to take hold. There has been a spate of critical analysis of what the AEF high command did wrong in France written lately. Here, Owen does not hesitate to point out the flaws in AEF (and, by extension, the Corps') tactical doctrine as well, but is also quick to lay praise where it belongs and give due credit. This is a commendable initiative in a climate where the AEF is being hammered by many who seemingly refuse to accept that the AEF command structure did a remarkable job when one considers the time span and climate in which they had to work. Owen thus risks irritating 'serious' historians, but his effort is justified in the clear picture he paints of the 2/6's actions in France. The transition from tight knit, closely trained unit to tightly trained but more effusive 'organization' is particularly telling. It is also illustrative of exactly why so very few original members of a true combat unit actually see the end of any war... I have read this book three times now, in order to keep a clear picture of all that i have read in my mind as I write this. Further, i read it three times because it is just a damn good book and has called to me!. Poignant moments prevail throughout the book, that stand out in relief against the swirling backdrop of war scenes of men, thrown into a maelstrom, who learn the true meaning of death under fire. Among these that I will carry with me for many years to come are the first and the last the first, in the shelling of the unit at Belleau Wood in their first action, where the men of the 2/6 are slapped in the face by the full reality of their situation and the last, as the all but exhausted, spent and dirty officers of the battalion command staff stand in the cold, rainy darkness on a hillock overlooking the River Meuse on wha

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