The History Of The 10th Mountain Division And Camp Hale Starts Right Here In Colorado [PICTURES]
A good friend mine, Kenny Oldson and his wife Nancy, invited me on a Father’s Day ride to go pay our respects to his Grandfather who is buried in Minturn and also trained and served with the 10th Mountain Division between Red Cliff and Leadville. What a storied past it must have been for Voyde Oldson.
It was in 1939, the Soviet Union was humiliated when they invaded Finland and Finnish soldiers on skis annihilated two tank divisions. The president of the National Ski Patrol at the time, Charles Minot (Minnie) Dole, used this as a perfect example of why the U.S. Army needed mountain troops. In September 1940, Dole finally persuaded General George C. Marshall to take action and create ski units.
On December 8, 1941, the Army activated its first mountain unit, the 87th Mountain Infantry Battalion (which later became an entire Regiment) at Fort Lewis, Washington. 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.
This extremely new and unique group formalized on July 13, 1943, at Camp Hale, Colorado as the 10th Light Division (Alpine). It was here that 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 because it was the closest thing to the terrain of Italy that these soldiers would face. It’s been documented as well that Camp Hale held around 400 of the roughest and toughest members of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s ‘Afrika Corps.’
Camp Hale, off Hwy 24 (Tenth Mountain Division Memorial Highway) between Leadville and Red Cliff, was a feat all in itself while it housed around 15,000 soldiers in over a 1000 buildings. They cared for about 3200 horses and mules over as much as 250,000 acres at one point. Many new weapons were tested here and even the CIA used the site for training purposes as well. Today, you can tour the site and even camp there but be warned there are still munitions being found today that are still intact and un-exploded. The land originally purchased from local landowners was given to the Forest Service in 1966 and maintains the historic site today.
In 1945, after two years of rigorous training, the Tenth Mountain Division was ordered to Italy to spearhead an advance of the U.S. Army. In a series of actions that included Riva Ridge and Mt. Belvedere, the Tenth Mountain Division breached the supposedly impregnable Gothic Line in the Apennines and secured the Po River Valley to play a vital role in the liberation of northern Italy. By the time the Germans surrendered in May 1945, 992 ski troopers had lost their lives and 4,000 were wounded. This was the highest casualty rate of any U.S. division in the Mediterranean.