The first book to examine Thomas Holcomb's crucial role as commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps during the Great Depression and World War II. It blends biographical, institutional, and operational history with leadership studies, organizational theory, and social and cultural history to explain how and why Holcomb succeeded in expanding the Marine Corps from 18,000 officers and men in 1936 to 385,000 by 1943. David Ulbrich contends that Holcomb's abilities and achievements match those of Chester W. Nimitz and George C. Marshall. Despite Holcomb's success, however, he has been given short shrift in histories of the Marine Corps.
To correct the oversight, this biography draws on a wide range of sources to tell the story of the Marine commandant who molded the Corps into a modern force-in-readiness that would not only lead the way to victory in the pacific, but also would eventually help fight the Cold War and the war on terror.
A Leatherneck Original, published with the Marine Corps Association.
David J. Ulbrich is a historian at the U.S. Army Engineer School at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.
Foreword by Lt. Col. Charles P. Neimeyer, USMC (Ret.), Director and Chief of Marine Corps History
A Leatherneck Magazine BOOK OF THE MONTH
Praise for Preparing for Victory
“Throughout [Preparing for Victory] Ulbrich places Holcomb firmly within a cultural context of the Marine Corps, giving the reader as much an institutional history of the innovative Marines officer corps as well as of the key organizational leader that prepared it for World War II and laid the institutional and policy foundations for its later successes. These successes were many and included publication of key doctrines for counterinsurgency (The Small Wars Manual) and Amphibious Warfare (Landing Operations Doctrine, FTP-167).”
"[Ulbrich] has conducted in-depth research among many seemingly unpromising sources and has presented his findings in clear, unadorned prose. Ulbrich has both a real analytical flair and an ability to make significant generalizations. His major conclusions are buttressed by an abundance of evidence. Moreover, he has rescued an important figure known only to a few specialists from undeserved obscurity. General Holcomb was a key figure in the development of one of the most important military institutions of the modern age. Students of the U.S. Marine Corps, World War II, and modern military history generally will want to read and reflect on this book."
“Ulbrich has written a compelling narrative, deftly capturing Holcomb's character and personality…Preparing for Victory fills a notable void in the existing literature on a pivotal figure in Marine Corps history…Over his extraordinary forty-three-year career, Thomas Holcomb personally transformed the Marine Corps into an essential, highly effective fighting force for the nation. This new biography ensures him his rightful place next to other prominent Marine Corps leaders.”
— Michigan War Studies Review
“Preparing for Victory is an excellent book for anyone interested in the history of the Marine Corps or military leadership.”
— The Northern Mariner, January 2012
“Makes a major contribution to the scholarship on the history of the Marine Corps during World War II and the immediate prewar era. Ulbrich’s study is a welcome addition to the historiography of the Marine Corps and amphibious warfare.”
— Marine Corps University Journal, Spring 2012
“For U.S. Marines of all stripes, this is essential reading about a Commandant who made a difference to his Corps and Country while remaining an ‘officer and a gentleman.’ His ability to learn from his experience and apply it broadly without fanfare proved of value when faced with obstacles that were without precedence. For other Armed Services members it will provide a look inside the Marine Corps family that is as insightful as the careers of other American wartime commanders that are more publically recognized. Holcomb’s career and Ulbrich’s research are a testament of service to the American people. This book is highly recommended for personal or professional reading.”
— Fortitudine, Volume 37, Number 2, 2012
“Preparing for Victory evolved from the author’s Temple University doctoral dissertation, so the book is meticulously researched. It is also well written, and readers who are interested in the history of the “soldiers of the sea” will definitely want to purchase this excellent work.”
— The Journal of America’s Military Past, Winter 2012
“Preparing for Victory is an excellent biography that accomplishes its mission of giving scholarly credibility to the assertion that Commandant Gen. Thomas Holcomb’s leadership was a major factor in the Marine Corps’ success during the Second World War. This is a must read for historians of World War II, the Marine Corps, and military professionalism.”
—The Journal of Military History, January 2012
“David Ulbrich’s offering is an excellent and worthwhile book for the casually interested reader, Marines interested in the organizational history of the Corps, and the ardent Marine Corps historian….Ulbrich’s research is deep, detailed, and archive based, which adds a rich texture without undue focus on minutiae.”
— Marine Corps Gazette, February 2012
“This book fills a large gap in the historical literature on World War Two and includes information about the Marines and the wider links to American military professionals in general.”
— Warfare, December 2011
"Preparing for Victory is a well-researched and detailed Naval Institute Press book in the Leatherneck Original series that tells of the challenges and successes during Gen Holcomb’s time. . . . The author has successfully portrayed Gen Holcomb as a visionary leader, shrewd publicist, progressive thinker, meticulous planner and a courageous combat leader. Due to his facility for “staying out of the limelight,” he often is overlooked as a transformative figure in the Marine Corps. This classically crafted biography will go far toward gaining Gen Holcomb his rightful place in the history of our Corps."
— Leatherneck , June 2011
“Ulbrich’s convincingly documented book provides a great deal of insight into this relatively unknown Marine officer and his leadership during this pivotal period of the Corps’ history. Ulbrich’s work is extremely well researched and documented. He has captured General Holcomb’s qualities and contribution.”
— Naval History, October 2011
“Not much has been written about the contributions that Marine Corps commandant Lt. Gen. Thomas Holcomb made during his tenure as the top Marine. The author does a good job in filling this void by outlining the Delaware native’s efforts to increase the size of the Corps during the 1930s, while the country was immersed in the Great Depression.”
— Military Heritage, October 2011
“Excellent narrative. . . .This book is strongly recommended to anyone interested in a fuller picture of the Marine Corps and its leaders than is normally understood during the first half of the 20th century. Thomas Holcomb is properly described in a manner that illustrates his seminal importance in the storied history of the Marine Corps.”
— Naval History Book Reviews, 29 Jul 2011
"Excellent contribution to American naval history shelves."
— The Midwest Book Review, April 2011
“David Ulbrich’s aptly named Preparing for Victory presents the only full biography of General Thomas Holcomb, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps from 1936 through 1943. By inspiration and hard training Holcomb transformed the marines from a police force aboard naval ships and in banana republic interventions into division-sized units of elite assault troops that executed War Plan Orange against Japan in World War II, never losing a battle. Holcomb’s legacy is a Marine Corps that remains the premier expeditionary arm of United States military power.”
—Edward S. Miller, author of War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945
"Combat veteran, progressive manager, military politician, strategic visionary, and habitual publicist,Thomas Holcomb turned out to be the right man to guide the U.S. Marine Corps through a rushed expansion. He succeeded in shaping it into the amphibious offensive force that proved its worth in a string of island invasions from Guadalcanal to Okinawa. David Ulbrich’s Preparing for Victory fills a major gap in the historical literature on World War II, the Marines, and the growth of the American military profession. Ulbrich’s thorough research, much of it based on previously untapped sources, paints a compelling portrait of this shrewd and energetic commandant as a transformative figure in the evolution of the Marine Corps.”
—Gregory J. W. Urwin, author ofVictory in Defeat: The Wake Island Defenders in Captivity, 1941–1945
"This comprehensively researched and convincingly presented volume places Holcomb at the vital center of Marine Corps effectiveness in World War II. His progressive management style, his mastery of logistics and administration, and his foresight in the technological and organizational aspects of amphibious assault were essential contributions to victory in the Pacific, and to the nature and character of the Corps as an institution.”
—Dennis Showalter, professor of history, Colorado College, author of Patton and Rommel: Men of War in the 20th Century
"Ulbrich’s research makes it clear that Thomas Holcomb’s impact on the Marine Corps was tremendous. . . . Holcomb was a man for all seasons—equally comfortable on a battlefield or in an executive board room. I anticipate this book will soon become required reading for all students of World War II Marine Corps history."
—Lt. Col. Charles P. Neimeyer, USMC (Ret.), Director and Chief of Marine Corps History
Click here  to watch David J. Ulbrich's NYMAS event taped for C-SPAN's "Book TV."
Click here  to watch David J. Ulbrich's lecture on Commandant Holcomb at Brookdale Community College on September 22, 2011.
Click here to listen to David Ulbrich's interview with "New Books in Military History."
We are all familiar with the United States Marine Corps successful role in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. What is not so well-known is the story of how the sea soldiers progressed form a shrunken group of naval police during the Great Depression, into a full-fledged fighting force of nearly a half a million men and women on VJ-Day. Preparing for Victory is the only full length biography of General Thomas Holcomb, seventeenth commandant of the Marine Corps, whose skills as a leader, manager, planner and publicist enabled him to guide the Corps through the lean pre-war period and the demanding, bloody war years to 1943. A career Marine, Holcomb was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1900 and briefly saw sea duty before being assigned to the Legation in China, where he spent the bulk of his time prior to World War I. Shipping to France as part of the Sixth Regiment in January, 1918, Holcomb’s initiation into combat came at Belleau Wood, where his leadership skills saw him become one of the most highly decorated Marines in the conflict. His hard work in training his Marines saw them as a tough, well-organized, esprit-filled team. After demobilization in mid-1919, Holcomb remained as one of only 962 Marine officers in 1920. His war record enabled him to serve in key staff and command posts and in 1928, he was promoted to colonel. As international tensions escalated across the globe, the Marine Corps found themselves completely undermanned with just over 17,000 men in uniform, serving a country unable and unwilling to fight another world war. At this low point, Holcomb became commandant in December, 1936. He would prove to be the right man in the right place. Holcomb’s accomplishments rank right up there with other, more well-known American commanders, such as Admiral Chester Nimitz and General George C. Marshall. But, as history is oftentimes fickle, his role has become obscure. Perhaps his greatest achievement is the Marine Corps that we have today. Thanks to author Ulbrich, Thomas Holcomb has been restored to his place in the pantheon of American Heroes.