The Mountaineer Soldiers of World War II

IMG_0206_smIMG_0207_smIf you ask anyone associated with the Outdoor Industry about the 10th Mountaineers, everyone knows who they are to some degree. They are Outdoorists to a level of “Legendary Greatness”.  We here at decided to collaborate with a well known Outdoorist, Duane Jones, owner of Cedar Creek Clothing Company in Elko, Nevada, whose Father was a member of The 10th Mountain Division.  Duane has researched extensively the journals and books written by and for the historical importance of the 10th Mountaineers, not only for their courageous service to this country during WW II, but also for their love of Skiing.  They laid the foundation for the growth and success of the Ski Industry by opening Ski Areas across America and Canada.  They took the existing equipment that they used during the War as well as the very successful European Ski Industries latest technology in ski equipment and apparel and introduced skiing to our outdoor culture.  When your next ski trip takes place, you may find yourself conversing with a fellow skier who, by chance, is a member of the 10th Mountaineers.  If so, take the time to hear a few stories of the “early days” of skiing in America.

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IMG_0202In 1939 the U.S. was watching the rest of the World escalate into a War.  An area of concern was the emergence of Mountain Warfare (a new phenomenon to traditional war strategies).  For instance, in Finland, their vastly outnumbered elite Ski Troops effectively opposed an invading Russian Army.  What became evident is that cold weather and mountainous terrain often created more casualties than traditional combat settings.  Hypothermia, Frostbite, Altitude Sickness, Snow Blindness, Dehydration, Fatigue, Immersion Foot and Upper Respiratory Illness took a serious toll on exposed troops.

In anticipation of a Japanese land invasion on the Western U.S. Coast line, the National Ski Association and American Alpine Club urged then President Franklin Roosevelt to form ski units to confront that eventuality.  Two elite mountain units were formed, the First Special Service Force, an American/Canadian commando brigade, in Helena Montana,  at Fort William Henry Harrison and the 10th Mountain Division in Leadville, Colorado at Camp Hale (elevation over 10,000′).  The 10th Mountain Division Moto became “We Climb to Conquer”.

IMG_0203The National Ski Association and American Alpine Club were tasked with finding and vetting prospects for these specialized units.  Their recruiting started with Olympic skiers, college ski teams, the National Ski Patrol and European skiers/mountaineers (who had fled to America from the Nazis).  Outdoorsmen like Lumberjacks, Trappers, Hunting Guides, Ranchers and Forest Rangers began volunteering to serve in the two units.

The best mountaineering equipment, at the time, was produced in Europe and therefore unavailable to U.S. Troops during the War.  American manufactures researched, developed and mass produced all the clothing, skis, ski boots, snowshoes, packs, tents and stoves used by the mountaineer soldiers.  This was the foundation and technology for the Outdoor Industry after the War and evolution to today’s mountain sports, exploration and outdoor activities.

IMG_0205_smThe Mountain Troops were conditioned, acclimatized and motivated, not only to survive extreme mountainous environments, but also to carry out military operations in the isolation of the mountain wilderness.  Both units, First Special Service Force and 10th Mountain Division, were first deployed in August of 1943 against Japanese Forces occupying Kiska, one of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.  The Japanese abandoned the island just prior to the assault, but Alaskan   weather and terrain tested the resilience of the U.S. Mountain Troops.  The First Special Service Forces were deployed to Italy, the “Gustav Line”, in December 1943, Anzio in February 1944 and Southern France in August 1944.  In January of 1945 the 10th Mountain Division was deployed to the “Gothic Line” in Northern Italy.  The specialized mountain warfare training these U.S. Forces underwent ultimately made them extremely effective against the German invasion forces.

An appraisal of the 10th Mountain Division from 5th Army, IV Corps Commander: “Seldom has a single division contributed more effectively to an offensive which has so decidedly thrown enemy forces completely off balance.”  No other division took every objective to which it was assigned and no other division suffered as many casualties in as short a period as did the 10th Mountain Division.  The Special Force Brigade, designated as the “Devil Brigade”, was devastating to the German Forces both in Italy and France.  The 1,800-man unit accounted for 12,000 German casualties, 7,000 prisoners and sustained an attrition rate of over 600%.  After World War II, these mountaineer soldiers returned home and shaped the current Ski and Outdoor Industry we enjoy today.

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Below is a great article about The 10th Mountaineers.


9 comments on The Mountaineer Soldiers of World War II

  1. Maybe he was there, but doesn’t want his photo appearing on the blog anymore? It’s got to be kind of embarrassing for him to have a bunch of strangers discussing his &##2a0;p2ckage&88221;!

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