Birth of the Division
In November 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland. Finnish soldiers
on skis annihilated two tank divisions, humiliating the Russians. Charles Minot (Minnie) Dole, the president of the National
Ski Patrol, saw this as a perfect example of why the U.S. Army needed mountain troops. Dole spent months lobbying the War
Department to train troops in mountain and winter warfare. In September 1940, Dole was able to present his case to General
George C. Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff, who caused the Army take action on Dole’s proposals to create ski units.
On December 8, 1941, the Army activated its first mountain unit,
the 87th Mountain Infantry Battalion (Later became an entire Regiment) at Fort Lewis, Washington. The unit was dubbed "Minnie’s
Ski Troops" in honor of Dole. The 87th trained on Mount Ranier’s 14,408 foot peak. The National Ski Patrol took on the
unique role of recruiting for the 87th Infantry Regiment and later the Division. After returning from the Kiska Campaign in
the Aleutian Islands near Alaska the 87th formed the core of the new Division.
10th Mountain Division - World War II
This unique organization came into being on July 13, 1943, at Camp
Hale, Colorado as the 10th Light Division (Alpine). The combat power of the Division was contained in the 85th, 86th, and
87th Infantry Regiments. The Division’s year training at the 9,200 foot high Camp Hale honed the skills of its soldiers
to fight and survive under the most brutal mountain conditions.
On June 22, 1944, the Division was shipped to Camp Swift, Texas to
prepare for the Louisiana maneuvers of 1944, which were later canceled. A period of acclimation to a low altitude and hot
climate was necessary to prepare for this training.
On November 6, 1944, the 10th Division was redesignated the 10th
Mountain Division. That same month the blue and white "Mountain" tab was authorized.
Combat - 1945
The division entered combat on January 28, 1945 in the North Apennine
Mountains of Italy. The division faced German positions arrayed along the 5 mile long Monte Belvedere-Monte della Torraccia
ridge. Other divisions had attempted to assault Mount Belvedere three times, even holding it temporarily, but none had succeeded.
To get to Mount Belvedere the division first had to take a ridge line to the west known to the Americans as the Riva Ridge.
The Germans on Riva Ridge protected the approaches to Mount Belvedere. The assault on Riva Ridge was the task of the 1st Battalion
and F Company, 2d Battalion, 86th Mountain Infantry. After much scouting, it was decided the assault would be at night, a
1,500-vertical-assent. The Germans considered the ridge to be impossible to scale and manned it with only one battalion of
mountain troops. The attack by the 86th on February 18, 1945, was a complete success and an unwelcome surprise to the Germans.
Mount Belvedere was assaulted next. Belvedere was heavily manned
and protected with minefields. Shortly after the 86th assault on the Riva Ridge, the 85th and 87th Regiments made a bayonet
attack without covering artillery fire on Belvedere beginning on February 19th. Again the surprise of the assault was successful
and after a hard fight, the peak was captured. Realizing the importance of the peak, the Germans made seven counterattacks
over two days. After the first three days of intense combat, the division lost 850 casualties to include 195 dead. The 10th
had captured over 1,000 prisoners. The 10th was now in a position to breach the German's Apennine Mountain line, take Highway
65 and open the way to the Po Valley.
On April 14, 1945, the final phase of the war in Italy began. With
the 85th and 87th leading, the 10th Mountain Division attacked toward the Po Valley spearheading the Fifth Army drive. The
fighting was fierce with the loss of 553 mountain infantryman killed, wounded, or missing in the first day.
Medal of Honor - Private First Class John D. Magrath - April 14,
On April 14th, Private First Class John D. Magrath, from East Norwalk,
Connecticut, assigned to Company G, 2d Battalion 85th Infantry, became the division's only Medal of Honor recipient. His company
was pinned down by heavy artillery, mortar and small-arms fire near Castel d’ Aiano, Italy. Shortly after the company
had crossed the line of departure, it came under intense enemy fire and the company commander, Captain Halvorson was killed.
Volunteering to accompany the acting commander with a small reconnaissance party moving on Hill 909, radioman Magrath set
out with the group. After going only a few yards, the party was pinned down. But instead of flopping to the ground as the
others had done, Magrath, armed only with his M-1 Garand, charged ahead and disappeared around the corner of a house. Coming
face to face with two Germans manning a machine gun, Magrath killed one and forced the other to surrender. Five more of the
enemy emerged from their foxholes, firing at Magrath and retreating toward their own lines. Discarding his rifle in favor
of the deadlier German MG-34 machine gun, Magrath mowed down the fleeing enemy, killing one and wounding three. He then saw
another German position, moved forward, and exchanged fire until he had killed two and wounded three and captured their weapon.
The rest of Company G followed his lead with amazed admiration. Later that day, Magrath volunteered to run through heavy shelling
to gather a casualty report. As he was crossing an open field, two mortar rounds landed at his feet, killing him instantly.
John Magrath, age nineteen, was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously. In June 1995, Fort Drum, New York renamed its
Soldiers Sports Complex as the John D. Magrath Gymnasium. A plaque and portrait at Magrath Gym honor his memory.
Crossing the Po, Lake Garda, War’s End
Early on April 20th, the seventh day of the attack, the first units
of the 85th Infantry Regiment broke out into Po Valley. Five days of attack had cost 1,283 casualties. With the German’s
mountain line broken, the next objective was to cross the Po River.
On the morning of April 23rd, the 10th was the first division to
reach the Po River. The first battalion of the 87th Mountain Infantry, the original mountain infantry unit, made the crossing
under fire in 50 light canvas assault boats.
The final combat for the 10th Division took place in the vicinity
of Lake Garda, a canyon lake at the foothills of the Alps. On April 27, 1945, the first troops reached the south end of the
lake, cutting off the German Army’s main escape route to the Brenner Pass. The drive was delayed by destroyed tunnels
and road blocks. Using amphibious DUKWs, these obstacles were bypassed and the towns of Riva and Tarbole at the head of the
lake were captured. Organized resistance in Italy ended on May 2, 1945.
The 10th completely destroyed five elite German divisions. In 114
days of combat, the 10th Division suffered casualties of 992 killed in action and 4,154 wounded.
Since the 10th Mountain Division was one of the last to enter combat,
it was to be used in the projected invasion of Japan. These plans ended with the surrender of Japan in August 1945. After
a brief tour of duty in the Army of Occupation in Italy, the 10th was sent to Camp Carson, Colorado. There on 30 November
1945, the 10th Mountain Division was disbanded.
Postwar Growth of Skiing
Veterans of the 10th Mountain Division were in a large part responsible
for the development of skiing into a big name sport and popular vacation industry after World War II. Ex-soldiers from the
10th laid out ski hills, built ski lodges, designed ski lifts and improved ski equipment. They started ski magazines and opened
ski schools. Vail, Aspen, Sugarbush, Crystal Mountain, and Whiteface Mountain are but a few of the ski resorts built by 10th
SPECIAL THANKS TO
The United States Army
Installation Management Agency
FOR THE NARRATIVE & PHOTOS
READ ON FOR THE 10TH
HISTORY PAST WWII