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Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division

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Apr 28, 2015 , , 0 Comments

The 10th Mountain Division here in Colorado have always been spoken about with high

reverence and respect due to their impact on not only mountain warfare, but also the impact of

the Mountain Division soldiers who returned home here to Colorado. The Gore Range around

Vail was home to Camp Hale, training grounds of the 10th Mountain Division and future site of

Vail Mountain Resort. Pete Seibert who was a member of the division would later come back to

Colorado after the war and become a ski patrol member at Aspen before making his way over

to the Vail area and starting the resort with rancher Earl Eaton who had helped build Camp Hale

with Seibert. The rest from then on his history; with Pete and Earl’s love for creating a world

class ski resort, Vail was directly born out of the 10th Mountain Division and it’s members.

The 10th Division was formed all the way back in 1918 during World War I, but it wasn’t until

World War II that the importance of mountain warfare took center stage. In 1939 the Russian

military became extremely frustrated during their invasion of Finland because unlike the Russian

army, the Finnish had soldiers on skis who could easily navigate both down and up the

mountainous terrain unlike their enemy. This event caught global attention and it was when the

former head of the National Ski Patrol in the United States, Charles Minot Dole, heard about this

tactic that he started to lobby the War Department to create a division of the Army which

specifically focuses on mountain and winter warfare. Dole took his thoughts to General George

C. Marshall who was the Army Chief of Staff at the time and he also agreed that the United

States Army did in fact need a mountain combat unit.

 

In December 1941 the first mountain unit, the 87th Mountain Infantry Battalion, was officially

activated at Fort Lewis, Washington. It is extremely interesting to note that the National Ski

Patrol were doing the recruiting for this unit; to this day it has been the only civilian recruiting

agency in US military history. Training conditions were tough as troops would quite often train at

the 14,411 foot summit of Mount Rainier; a new camp was also built at Camp Hale, Colorado at

an elevation of 9,200 feet. Eventually the Mountain Warfare School was also established at

Camp Carson (which later became Ft. Carson) further expanding mountain warfare training

capabilities and support.

 

The 10th Mountain Division was officially activated July 15, 1943 at Camp hale with a strength

8,500 soldiers and an initial planned total size of 16,000; this size meant that a few other

divisions from the Army would have to fill in the gaps. The division would consist of specialized

regiments that would not only have the training to take on the terrain, but also the proper

training with the vehicles and equipment that excel in mountainous environments. Vehicles like

the tracked M29 Weasel that could move through snow with ease or soldier’s equipment that

helped in both mobility and evasion in winter weather like white camouflage and skis that were

specifically designed for the division. Late in 1944, the 10th division was officially renamed the

10th Mountain Division and also the now famous blue and red Mountain Division tab was also

introduced.

 

In December 1944, the division set sail to Italy in two parts and was ready to join the battle once

they arrived. The division fought steadily through the mountains of Italy encountering enemy

troops and capturing towns and key strategic points for the Allies to continue their advance

through Europe. On May 2, 1945 after the German surrender the 10th Mountain Division would

remain in Europe to provide security and also receive the surrendering of German units.

Subsequently, the division would meet up with the British forces and starting on May 8, 1945

would aid in preventing further westward movement of forces from the Yugoslavian Republic.

During their campaign the division suffered a total of 992 soldiers killed in action, 4,154

wounded in action during a total of 114 days of combat. There was one Medal of Honor, three

Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished Service Medal, 449 Silver Star Medals, seven

Legion of Merit medals, 15 Soldier’s Medals, and 7,729 Bronze stars.


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