With the groundwork set, in November 1941, the government created the Mountain Winter Warfare Board to design and test winter equipment and transportation and the War Department established the 1st Battalion of 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment as a mountain battalion, Fort Lewis, Washington became the first home for the regiment and simultaneous with the US entry in WWII, recruits arrived for training at Mount Rainier. The National Ski Patrol continued its unique relationship with the military by recruiting experts in skiing and mountaineering for the US Army.
The Army created the Mountain Training Center (MTC) at Camp Carson, Colorado, but a national search for a suitable location for winter/mountain training led to the development a site in the Colorado Rocky Mountains close to Leadville, Colorado, that became Camp Hale. During May and June of 1942, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 87th Regiment were activated and during November 1942 Camp Hale become the home post of the MTC. The 10th Mountain Division became the alpine combat arm of the US military. The units that comprised the 10th Mountain Division were:
The 10th Mountain Division trained at Camp Hale, Colorado, where volunteers learned rock climbing, endurance through long distance marches and cross country ski trips, down hill skiing, winter/mountain survival techniques, and combat throughout the winter of 1943-1944. In June 1944, the Division transferred to Camp Swift, Texas, for additional training until the division was deployed to Italy in January 1945.
United States and Brazilian soldiers had been unsuccessful in breaking German lines established in the northern Italian Alps, and the defenses appeared impenetrable. From Naples, Italy, the 10th Mountain set sights on routing the Germans from Mount Belvedere. Mount Belvedere provided the key to advancement into the Po Valley and securing Mount Belvedere depended on routing German artillery entrenched on Riva Ridge, a three and a half mile ridge connecting a series of mountains. Warm weather rendered the specially designed winter camouflage clothing and equipment useless and the planned assault on Riva Ridge required climbing rather than skiing. On the night of February 18, 1945, companies of the 86th Regiment scaled Riva Ridge surprising the Germans.
The capture of Riva Ridge enabled the 85th and 87th Regiments to move on Mount Belvedere and the adjacent peaks Mounts Gorgolesco and della Torraccia. In capturing these peaks, the 10th Mountain suffered over 900 casualties. The next major assaults were in March on Mount della Spe and in April at Tole. Victories paved the way to advance on the PO Valley. By April 20th the 10th Mountain Division entered the valley, and after heavy fighting the German Army in Italy surrendered on May 2, 1945. In the campaign in Italy, the 10th took heavy losses with 4,888 casualties including 978 killed in action.
In September the 10th reported to Camp Carson (Camp Hale had been deactivated) and on November 30, 1945 the 10th Mountain was deactivated. The Korean conflict and the escalating Cold War led to reactivation of the 10th as a training division on July 1, 1948, which became the 10th Infantry Division in June 1954 when it was sent to Germany. In June 1958, the Army again deactivated the 10th. It would not be until 1985 that the 10th was again reactivated as the 10th Mountain Division and stationed at Fort Drum, New York.
For an excellent chronology of the 10th Mountain Division's creation, battles, and current history see the web site of the 10th Mountain Division Association, Inc. at www.10thmtndivassoc.org.
The 10th Mtn. Division was one of many units that served this country in WWII, for images of all the Shoulder Insignia used by the United States Military in the conflict, click here.