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To the Limit of Endurance

A Battalion of Marines in the Great War

By Peter F. Owen

Publication Year: 2007

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.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface

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pp. ix-xvi

In August 1917 Maj. Thomas Holcomb assembled a new battalion of marines at Quantico, Virginia. Ten months later he would lead his men into combat. As Holcomb assessed the problem of preparing his command for the Western Front, he may well have believed he had everything he required...

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1. The First to Fight

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pp. 1-25

When Congress declared war on Germany in April 1917, the Marine Corps was better prepared to fight than the rest of the country, but nonetheless was not ready to take the field immediately. With a strength of 17,400, the commandant, Maj. Gen. George Barnett, could boast a nucleus of disciplined...

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2. The AmericanExpeditionary Forces

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pp. 26-52

On February 8, 1918, Major Holcomb and his marines filed down the gangway of the USS Henderson at the port of Saint- Nazaire and into a war far different from the one America had entered ten months previously. Germany had gambled that the same unrestricted submarine campaign that brought...

Images

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pp. 53-62

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3. The Triangle Farmand Bouresches

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pp. 63-91

Still seeking a decisive blow to finish off the British, General Ludendorff launched Plan Blücher on May 27. The purpose of his third great offensive of 1918 was to pull French reserves away from Flanders in preparation for another bid there to finish off the British Expeditionary Force...

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4. Belleau Wood

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pp. 92-106

Major Holcomb assembled his weary companies on the morning of June 12 in a wooded area five miles west of Lucy, where the marines enjoyed regular hot chow and bathed in a local stream. Some helped themselves to fresh clothing and boots that the newly arrived replacements...

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5.Soissons

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pp. 107-130

The marines of 2 / 6 had departed Belleau Wood on July 5 mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. For the next eleven days, the battalion enjoyed a true respite, first in a reserve position well behind the lines, then from July 13 to 16 in the riverside town of Nanteuil- sur- Marne...

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pp. 131-135

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6.Saint- Mihiel

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pp. 136-158

The two- month period after Soissons constituted the single major reshaping period for 2 / 6. The battalion would not see major fi ghting again until the Saint- Mihiel offensive in mid- September 1918...

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7. Blanc Mont

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pp. 159-180

With only two weeks after Saint- Mihiel before its next battle, 2 / 6 had time for a mere six days of training. This brief period could not replicate the extensive training the battalion had conducted in August and early September. Nonetheless, it provided an opportunity for the veterans to familiarize...

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8. The Meuse- Argonne

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pp. 181-201

Capt. Kirt Green had his work cut out for him. His predecessor, Captain Powers, had let down the tired young men of the 80th Company assembled around him. The rank and file disdained two key leaders, Lieutenant Skoda and First Sergeant Dean, as cronies of the battalion...

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Epilogue

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pp. 202-210

The battalion that huddled about its bonfires on November 11 along the Meuse scarcely resembled the one that had climbed off the French trucks behind the Triangle Farm five and a half months earlier. Owing to the flood tides of attrition and replacement, few of the faces...

APPENDIX

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pp. 211-214

Notes

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pp. 215-238

Bibliography

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pp. 239-244

Index

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pp. 245-248


E-ISBN-13: 9781603444651
E-ISBN-10: 1603444653
Print-ISBN-13: 9781585445998
Print-ISBN-10: 1585445991

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 36 b&w photos. 12 maps. 4 figs.
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: C. A. Brannen Series

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Subject Headings

  • World War, 1914-1918 -- Campaigns -- Belgium.
  • World War, 1914-1918 -- Regimental histories -- United States.
  • World War, 1914-1918 -- Campaigns -- France.
  • United States. Marine Corps. Marines, 6th. Battalion, 2nd.
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