To the Limit of Endurance
A Battalion of Marines in the Great War
Military History - World War I
6 x 9, 264 pp.
36 b&w photos., 12 maps., 4 figs.
Pub Date: 08/15/2007
C. A. Brannen Series
  cloth
Price:        $32.50

978-1-58544-599-8
  paper
Price:        $22.95

978-1-62349-156-7

Published by Texas A&M University Press
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2008 General Wallace M. Greene Jr. Award, presented by the Marine Corp Heritage Foundation

To the Limit of Endurance

A Battalion of Marines in the Great War

By Peter F. Owen

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.

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.

What Readers Are Saying:

“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

“Pete Owen has written the ultimate book about a small unit war. He gets right to the heart of the serious matter, usually forgotten (purposely) in most other tomes. The United States went into the ‘Great War’ with (among other things) little military leadership ability, then blundered during the first stages after its entry into combat, and with the help of junior officers and old-time non-coms, managed to pull together a successful force that out-lasted and defeated the then greatest array of soldier on the planet. He doesn’t miss a beat. Pete tells it like it really was. I’m jealous; I wish I had written this book.” --George B. Clark, author

“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

“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

“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

“Peter F. Owen’s book, To the Limit of Endurance, fills an important niche in this rich historical scholarship. The author, an active duty Marine Corps officer, combines two essential aspects of military history, the individual and the unit, into a deeply compelling story of the Marines and officers of the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment (or 2/6) during service in France with the legendary 4th marine Brigade, 2nd Division, AEF. . . Owen’s study of a single battalion is exceptional. It provides a unique prism through which a close evaluation of the difficult training and harsh combat of small-unit infantry is possible. . . A welcome and fitting addition to the scholarship on the Great War, To the Limit of Endurance, deserves a well-earned place in any military book collection.”--Brian A. Ross, Major USNI,

“It provides an intimate look at the transformation of the Marine Corps from a constabulary to a modern army in six months of almost continual combat and severe losses. Well-written with excellent analysis of the units’ strengths and weaknesses, it is must-reading for anyone interested in the Marine Corps in World War I.”--Daily News

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