10th Mountain Division of the US Army :Part 1


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An introduction to the 10th Mountain Division, US Army, WW2 and their equipment, training and deployment
This is a presentation delivered to a monthly meeting of the Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association (HBSA) in London, UK.

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10th Mountain Division of the US Army :Part 1

  1. 1. HISTORICAL BREECHLOADING SMALLARMS ASSOCIATIONTHE 10TH MOUNTAIN DIVISIONPART 1AN INTRODUCTION TO THE 10TH MOUNTAIN DIVISIONBrian KealyLecture at the Imperial War Museum, LondonAugust 2009Images reproduced with kind permission of 10th mountain Association and Denver PublicLibrary, Historical Archive Section.
  2. 2. Welcome to an Introduction to the 10th mountain Division. America’s WW2 MountainTroops. This presentation should be read in conjunction with my following talk, whichconcerns the 10th Mountain Division in Italy, 1944-1945.
  3. 3. The 10th Mountain Division was the only military unit in World War II to have a civilianagency -- the National Ski Patrol System -- as its official recruiter. It was a divisionoriginally made up of outdoorsmen of all types -- forest rangers, mountain climbers,lumberjacks, trappers, cowboys, mule skinners, blacksmiths, and some of the greatestskiers in the world. The 10th had a higher percentage of college-educated men than anyother division n the U.S. Army, and 80% were intelligent enough to be eligible for OfficerCandidate School.
  4. 4. The 10th had over 5,000 pack mules and horses at a time when the Army had all butphased out animals.
  5. 5. It was a division that trained for three years and almost missed the war. It was one of thefirst units formed at the outbreak of the war and was one of the last American divisions togo into combat. It was not a cavalry unit, yet part of the 10th staged the Armys last horse-mounted cavalry charge in battle. It was a unit no theatre commander wanted and, after itwas finally deployed, never lost a fight or gave up an inch of ground. After the war, itsveterans had more of an impact on civilian life than any other US Army division throughtheir influence on the US Ski industry, Wildlife Conservation and Ski Trail Networks.Aspen, Breckenridge, Ski Cooper. Copper Mountain, all started by 10th vets.
  6. 6. At the beginning of the war, the Germans had three mountain divisions, or Gebirgsjaegers,and by the end of the war, they would have 14 mountain divisions...each one highlymotivated and superbly trained to survive and fight in the harsh conditions presented by thealpine regions. The Gebirgsjaegers compiled an outstanding combat record in such far-flung mountainous regions as Norway, Crete, the Caucasus mountains, Greece,Yugoslavia...as well as on the plains of both the eastern and western fronts.
  7. 7. Americas Isolationist policy at the led to a deficit in training. The American Army preferredto train in the warm southern states and was ill-prepared for anything else. One manclearly saw this deficiency and set out to correct it.
  8. 8. He was Charles Minot Dole -- a New York insurance man and Executive Director of theNational Ski Patrol System. Dole was unceasing in his efforts to get the War Departmentto form a mountain division, and it took him over a year of hard work to finally convince theWar Department to form a mountain unit. On December 4, 1941, 13 men at Fort Lewis,Washington, became the seed of Americas first and only mountain division.
  9. 9. Three days later came the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. On December 8, 1941, thefledgling ski troops became known as the 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment. While theregiment slowly began adding new recruits, it trained on the slopes of Mt. Rainier.
  10. 10. Besides ski training, the men who would form the core of the new mountain divisionlearned the ropes of rock and ice climbing. An interesting way to earn $21 a month.
  11. 11. In addition to skiing and mountain climbing, the 87th also learned how to pack and handlehorses and mules. In mountainous terrain, sure-footed animals are far superior to vehiclesfor hauling supplies, ammunition, and small artillery pieces. Here we see a mule beingloaded with a pack Mortar.
  12. 12. At first, the 87th Regiment was an all-volunteer outfit, requiring among other things, threeletters of recommendation from ministers, teachers, scout leaders, and others, attesting tothe character of the applicant. Evidently, a lot of young men wanted to join the ski troops.Of 15,000 initial applicants, about 8,000 were chosen.
  13. 13. Most importantly, many outstanding European-born skiers from Austria, Switzerland,Norway, and other countries enlisted. Swiss-born Peter Gabriel ,Friedel Pfeifer from Austria and another Swiss, Walter Prager, the Dartmouth ski teamcoach along with hundreds more who lent an international flair to the unit. Shown below isWalter Pragel
  14. 14. Perhaps the best known skier at the time was Torger Tokle. A Norwegian and holder of theworlds record in the ski jump
  15. 15. While the 87th was still training at Fort Lewis, a new camp was being built in Colorado.The new camp was called Camp Hale, 100 miles west of Denver, and 9,000 feet abovesea level. Creating this camp was quite a feat of engineering and wartime construction.Beginning in April of 1942, an army of workmen completed the camp by December of thatyear...all for a price tag of $30 million. There were accommodations for over 16,000 troopsand 4,000 mules and horses. The 87th moved into the new camp in January, 1943, whileanother regiment, the 86th, was being formed.
  16. 16. The 87th Regiment wasnt at Camp Hale for very long, for in the summer of 1943, theregiment was ordered to California to board ships and become part of the largestamphibious task force to date -- an assault of nearly 40,000 American and Canadian troopsagainst the Japanese garrison that had invaded and captured the Aleutian islands of Kiskaand Attu the previous summer. Extremely heavy fighting had been necessary to recaptureAttu, and the Japanese were known to have an even larger, more well-entrenched force onKiska, about 1,000 miles west of the mainland of Alaska. The War Department wasanticipating a very bloody affair.
  17. 17. Arriving off the coast of Kiska, the 87th Regiment loaded into assault craft...landed on thebeach, and literally ran up the mountain on the rainy, windswept, barren island to engagethe enemy. But, unknown to the Army and Navy, the Japanese had been secretlyevacuated from the island just a few days before. Nervous GIs accidentally and tragicallyfought one another on the fog-shrouded peaks before it was learned there were noJapanese there.
  18. 18. The departed enemy left behind tons of military equipment and hardware, including gunpositions, underground barracks, aircraft, and even these submarines. Many of the itemswere booby-trapped. The friendly fire on the first day of the landing, plus the booby traps,resulted in the deaths of 23 men of the 87th Regiment, and the wounding of 55 others.
  19. 19. Despite the conditions shown in this photo, the weather on Kiska was usually miserable inthe extreme, with torrential rain and a 70-mile-per-hour wind constantly howling. No matterwhat a man wore, he got soaked to the skin.
  20. 20. Men examine a Japanese Mortar on Kiska. Note Force 9 Patch
  21. 21. Kiska Task force Patch hastily printed on Canvas and attached unusually to both uppersleeves of combat jackets
  22. 22. Finally, in January of 1944, the 87th returned to Camp Hale In addition to the 87th and86th Regiments, there was another regiment at Hale...the newly formed 85th. Also atCamp Hale was a battalion of Norwegian soldiers, who were training in hopes of somedayreturning to free their homeland from the Nazi invaders. The 99th Regiment
  23. 23. 99th Patch
  24. 24. Now the division-strength unit, designated the 10th Light Division, Alpine, Pack, got downto training in earnest... mountain climbing in the summer ...
  25. 25. ... and skiing in the winter. But anyone who expected the ski troops to be the Armysversion of a weekend in Sun Valley was quickly set straight. There was skiing by thenumbers from morning till night.
  26. 26. Many of the troops were draftees who had never been on skis before. They learned howto glide across the snow on seven-foot boards, with rifles and 90-pound rucksacksstrapped to their backs. Not everyone was overjoyed to be in the ski troops, however. Aformer ski instructor at Hale told me that some of the recruits hated skiing so much thatthey would do anything to get out of the division, including running their skis under logs inhopes of breaking their legs. This was the sort of film that was put out at the time to attractrecruits.
  27. 27. In March and April of 44, the entire division moved out of Camp Hale and into themountains for its toughest test to date -- the infamous D-Series. The Army was lookingclosely at the 10th to see if Minnie Doles experiment was capable of carrying out a combatmission. The entire division marched or rode off into the mountains to prove that it couldnot only survive the elements, but also perform a series of tactical exercises designed totest its combat readiness.
  28. 28. For a solid month, the men and mules lived in the wild... fighting blizzards and sub-zerotemperatures. In one night, over 100 cases of frostbite had to be evacuated.
  29. 29. The troops still had to carry out their missions while radio batteries froze, equipmentbecame brittle and broke, animals became stranded in snowdrifts, and rations failed toarrive that their distribution points. It was, as one trooper put it, the most miserableexperience of his life, and far worse from a physical standpoint than anything the divisionwould face in combat.
  30. 30. Finally, mercifully, the D-Series ended, and the weary troops marched down from themountains. Thinking they had proved themselves worthy, they expected to be going intocombat any day now. The men had performed well under incredibly adverse conditions,but the Army was not at all pleased with the organization and equipment of the lightdivision.
  31. 31. There were too many animals, not enough motor transport, and the divisions firepowerwas woefully inadequate. A recommendation was made to either turn the 10th into justanother regular infantry division or to disband the unit entirely and reassign the members toother divisions. Minnie Dole went to see. General Marshall in an attempt to get the 10th acombat assignment, but was told no overseas requirement existed for the division.Overseas commanders, including Eisenhower, had taken one look at the divisionscomplicated personnel, supply, and equipment structure -- and all those mules -- and saidno thanks. The 10th was in grave danger of becoming an expensive, failed experiment.
  32. 32. Meanwhile, the war raged in Europe and the Pacific. On the eastern front, the Russianswere pushing the Nazis back...the Allies were slowly crawling up the Italian boot, and thelong-awaited cross-Channel invasion of France was imminent It seemed to the proud menof the 10th, who had been training for two and a half years in hopes of getting into combatand proving their worth, that they had been abandoned by the Army and were condemnedto spend the duration playing war games in a remote Colorado valley.
  33. 33. Shortly after D Day in June 44 the 10th were moved to Camp Swift in Texas. Hot dusty andflat. A nightmare for the 10ths mountain men. They started to lose heart. Reports of AWOLand bad behaviour went up.
  34. 34. Their fortune was about to change. General Marshall became Ill and was replaced byGeneral Hays, 2nd in command of 2nd Infantry Div, and fresh from Normandy. He sensedMorale was poor and gave the division an elite status by adding the mountain tab to theirdivisional patch, similar to Airborne, ranger etc.
  35. 35. Late in 1944, orders came down...orders for which the 10th had hungered since 1942...overseas movement, destination secret. After the men had boarded the troopship inVirginia and headed east across the Atlantic, their destination was revealed: the 10th wasgoing to Italy.
  36. 36. I would now like to talk about some of the specialist equipment and techniques that werespecifically developed for the mountain troops and then when to benefit the rest of theArmy. A lot of the equipment was directly lifted from the infant US Civilian Ski industry andthe German and Italian Ski Troops. Shown here is a restricted document that went intogreat detail about the German Mountain Troops. Although dated December 44, this manualhad been around since 41.
  37. 37. Over the course of two years the U.S. Army ski and mountain boot evolved from a clonedcivilian ski boot unsuitable for military use to a multipurpose boot that could be used forskiing, climbing, and hiking. The Army created four basic patterns during the war. TheArmy didnt identify the different patterns by type. They just changed the name to reflect thechanging role. This is Boot Ski. Type 1The Armys first ski boot adopted in May 1941 The boot was patterned after the typical pre-war civilian ski boot.
  38. 38. Type 2, Boot, Mountain and SkiTentative Specification BQD 31A, May 12 1942, introduced the high box toe typical of WWII Army ski boots. It was based on an army last to accommodate a felt insole and heavywool socks, but still had a flat leather sole with no toe spring.
  39. 39. Type 3Boot, Ski-MountainSpecification BQD 31A boots were not tested before adoption and their many flaws quicklybecame apparent. An improved design was created and production began in October1942. This design formed the basis of Tentative Specification BQD 31B published inJanuary 1943. The toe box wings carried back to the heel counters and eliminated theforward facing seam and six lines of stitching of the BQD 31A boots. BQD 31B boots hadsmooth leather soles with toe spring and a leather heel with rubber insert.
  40. 40. Type 3ABoot, Ski-Mountain, with NailsTentative Specification BQD 31B boots were produced in two version for different missions.Half of the boots had a smooth sole (shown above) for skiing and half were mountain bootswith steel Tricouni nails added for climbing and marching.
  41. 41. Type 4Boot, Ski-Mountain with Rubber Cleated Sole. BQD 31B boots were an improvement,but the need for two versions was impractical. Work began in November 1942 on adaptingrubber Bramani soles to the BQD 31B boot and in June 1943 contracts for rubber-soledmountain and ski boots were issued. Attaching the one-piece, moulded rubber sole to theski boot created a technological challenge that took until mid-summer of 1943 to overcome,but the sole proved to be one of the Quartermaster Corps major innovations during WorldWar II. The rubber sole gave better over-all traction, was quieter on rocks, and worked wellfor both marching and skiing.
  42. 42. Here we see the rubber sole of Type 4.If you are still awake, you can see how necessityhelped to evolve a solution that was beneficial many many years after. I will not be studyingvariations in that depth again.
  43. 43. U.S. Army developed and adopted its first rucksack during the summer of 1941. Thecanvas duck sack was mounted on a steel wire or rattan frame that supported the load andheld it off the soldiers back. Three pockets on the outside of the bag carried extra gear.Heavy felt pads on both the back support and the shoulder straps eased the burden. thisfirst army rucksack was poorly suited for military use
  44. 44. . The National Ski Associations Winter Equipment Committee reviewed the rucksack atthe War Departments request and suggested improvements. This led to the 88 rucksackwith many refinements, the process again benefiting beyond it’s immediate use.
  45. 45. This photo demonstrates the amount of equipment a trooper may have to carry.
  46. 46. Thanks.