Shaping up, shipping out
They weren’t.Some 10th Mountain soldiers were with the division from the beginning, when they were an Army experiment. Others were replacements who began fighting at Mount Belvedere and continued throughout Italy’s northern Alps. It was one mountain to the next. They liked to say they had a worm’s-eye view of Italy.In Nov. 1944, the 10th Light Division was renamed the 10th Mountain Division, even as top military officials were making plans to move the division into combat in Italy.In Jan. 1945, units of the 10th Mountain Division made their way to Camp Patrick Henry in Virginia. The ship SS America found rough weather off the coast of Italy, stopping at Pazoli while seas calmed.No flowers, no flourishes as troops arrived in Naples. Finding many old walled villages and town left in rubble, tents were the home of choice.The Italians were friendly and opened their stone and mortar houses to the soldiers. The Partisans, as they were called, had been freedom fighters during the German occupation and guided patrols for the 10th Mountain soldiers.Plenty of German fire and night restricted movement kept the 10th soldiers separated into bunkers. The Germans had an 88 mm anti-aircraft gun and could also be used as a cannon. It had such a high velocity that it couldn’t be heard coming.In Feb. 1945, the 10th Mountain Division began the attack of Mt. Belvedere and its sister peak, Mt. Gorgolesco. They won the objective, but cost 203 lives and left 706 wounded.In 141 days of combat, the 10th Mountain Division saw 992 men killed and 4,100 wounded in some of the war’s toughest fighting.By April, the German army was in full retreat.Mt. Mangart was a moment of relaxation and celebration as the elite skiers practiced on the steep slopes.The historyThe 10th Mountain Division started as an experimental infantry division after civilian Charles Minot “Minnie” Dole, founder and chairman of National Ski Patrol System, persuaded President Franklin D. Roosevelt to incorporate a skiing division into the U.S. Army.At the beginning of World War II the Germans were equipped with several infantry divisions trained in winter warfare; the United States had none. Dole’s vision of an infantry division skilled at fighting in the harsh conditions of the mountains evolved into the 10th Mountain Division.On Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the first unit, based at Fort Lewis, Wash., began training on 14,408-foot Mount Rainier.The all-volunteer unit included European mountaineers and ski experts, such as Walter Prager, a 33-year-old Swiss citizen, and Paul Petzoldt, who had climbed higher in the Himalayas – 26,000 feet on K2 – than any other American.When the word was out the Army had created a mountain division, ski teams from some of the most elite schools and resorts emptied.Camp HaleThe division settled into the its permanent training grounds at Cape Hale, between Minturn and Leadville, by mid-1943.The 10th Mountain Division entered World War II in May 1943, heading first to the Aleutian islands of Kiska and Attu to fight the Japanese.In 1945 the 10th Mountain Division distinguished itself by defeating Axis forces while scrambling mountain peaks at night through the Italian Apennines.Editor’s Note: This is part of a series on the 10th Mountain Division, whose veterans founded much of Colorado’s ski industry.Vail’s Trudy Richardson is the proud daughter of 10th Mountain Division veteran Norman James Richardson, a skilled amateur photographer who captured both the brutality and the fun he and his comrades went through during World War II.Trudy has been tireless in compiling her father’s photographs into The Richardson Collection. Large parts of the collection are now on display in the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort & Spa and the Vail Public Library.
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