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10th Mountain Division History

History of the 10th Mountain Division

Snow Soldier with German Shepard on top of the mountain.

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

Historical Pictures - Soldiers on Pontoon Bridge.

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

Historical Pictures - Ski Patrol.

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, 1945Private First Class John D. Magrath.

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 EndHistorical Pictures - Group of Soldiers.

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 Mountain veterans.

10th Infantry Division 1948-1958Historical Pictures - Soldiers firing in Snow.

To meet the Army’s requirements to train large numbers of replacements the 10th was reactivated as a training division on July 1, 1948, at Fort Riley, Kansas. It didn’t retain its wartime designation as a Mountain Division and as result lost its "Mountain" tab. The Division had the mission of processing and training new soldiers for service with other Army units. The outbreak of the Korean Conflict in June 1950, enlarged this mission. A total of 123,000 men completed basic training with the 10th during the period 1948-1953.

In January 1954, the Department of Army announced that the 10th Division would become a combat infantry division, and be sent to Europe under a new rotation policy. The 10th Training Division was reduced to zero strength in May 1954. The personnel and equipment of the 37th Infantry Division were brought to Fort Riley, and on June 15, 1954, became the new 10th Infantry Division. In what became known as Operation Gyroscope, the 10th replaced the 1st Infantry Division in Germany. The headquarters of the 10th Division was located in Wurzburg, with all units stationed within a 75 miles radius. Stretched in an arc, from Frankfurt to Nurenburg, the 10th occupied a strategic center position in the NATO defense forces. With 9 Infantry Battalions, 4 Artillery Battalions, and one Tank Battalion, the 10th Infantry Division was a powerful military force. The 10th Division was in turn replaced in Germany by the 3rd Infantry Division in 1958. The 10th was then sent to Fort Benning, Georgia and inactivated on June 14, 1958.

10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) - 1985 to PresentAirlift.

The Division was officially reactivated on February 13, 1985, at Fort Drum, New York as the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry). The division commander after reactivation was Brigadier General William S. Carpenter. The 10th was the first division of any kind formed by the Army since 1975 and the first based in the Northeast US since World War II. The 10th Mountain Division (LI) was designed to meet a wide range of worldwide infantry-intensive contingency missions. Equipment design was oriented toward reduced size and weight for reasons of both strategic and tactical mobility.

Desert Shield/Storm 1990-1991

Although the 10th didn’t deploy to Southwest Asia as a unit, about 1,200 10th Mountain Division soldiers did go. The largest unit to deploy was the 548th Supply and Services Battalion with almost 1,000 soldiers, which supported the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division in Iraq. Following a cease-fire in March, the first Division soldiers began redeploying to Fort Drum. The last soldiers were welcomed home in June 1991.

Hurricane Andrew Relief - Florida 1992

Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida on August 24, 1992, killing 13 people, rendering an estimated 250,000 people homeless and causing damages in excess of 20 billion dollars. On September 27, 1992, the 10th Mountain Division assumed responsibility for Hurricane Andrew disaster relief as Task Force Mountain. Division soldiers set up relief camps, distributed food, clothing, medical necessities and building supplies as well as helping to rebuild homes and clear debris. The last of the 6,000 Division soldiers to deployed to Florida returned home in October 1992.

Somalia 1992-94

Operation Restore Hope - December 1992 to May 1993. On December 3, 1993, the Division headquarters was designated as the headquarters for all Army Forces (ARFOR) of the Unified Task Force (UNITAF) for Operation Restore Hope. Major General Steven L. Arnold, the Division Commander, was named Army Forces commander. The Division’s mission was to secure major cities and roads to provide safe passage of relief supplies to the starving Somali population. Due to 10th Mountain Division efforts, humanitarian agencies declared an end to the food emergency and factional fighting decreased. A Company, 41st Engineer Battalion built a 160 foot Bailey bridge north of Kismayo. It was the largest Bailey bridge built outside the U.S. since the Vietnam War. Beginning in mid February 1993, the Division began the gradual reduction of forces in Somalia.

Operation Continue Hope - May 1993 - March 1994. On 4 May, the UN assumed the task of securing the flow of relief supplies in Somalia. All remaining Division units in Somalia came under the control of a new headquarters, United Nations Operations in Somalia (UNOSOM II).

2-14th Infantry Battalion Aids Rangers - 3-4 October 1993

On 3 October, Special Operations Task Force Ranger (TFR) conducted a daylight raid on an enemy stronghold, deep in militia-held Mogadishu. The Rangers had successfully captured some of warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid’s key aides but went to the aid of an aircraft shot down by enemy fire. They were quickly surrounded by Somali gunmen. The 2-14th Infantry quick reaction force (QRF) was dispatched to secure the ground evacuation route. As darkness fell, the 2-14th Infantry was reinforced with coalition armor and for three hours they fought a moving gun battle from the gates of the Port to the Olympic Hotel and the Ranger perimeter. The 2-14th was successful in linking up with the Rangers and began withdrawal under fire along a route secured by Pakistani forces. As dawn broke over the city the exhausted soldiers marched, rode, and stumbled into the protective Pakistani enclave at city stadium. For 2-14th soldiers, the ordeal had lasted over twelve hours. The 2-14th had a total of twenty-nine soldiers wounded and one killed. One 41st Engineer Battalion soldier, attached to 2-14, was injured in the firefight and later died of his wounds in a hospital in Lanstuhl, Germany. Task Force Ranger suffered nineteen killed, fifty-seven wounded, and one missing (captured, later returned alive). Estimates of Somali militia losses were three hundred killed and over seven hundred wounded. With six and a half hours of continuous fighting, this was the longest sustained firefight by regular US forces since the Vietnam War.

The last divisional combat unit stationed in Somalia, 2d Battalion, 22d Infantry returned home March 12, 1994. In all, some 7,300 soldiers from the 10th served in Somalia.

Operation Uphold Democracy - Haiti 1994-95Desert Training.

The Division formed the nucleus of the Multinational Force Haiti (MNF Haiti) and Joint Task Force 190 (JTF 190) in Haiti during Operation Uphold Democracy. The MNF-Haiti was the US led coalition force in Haiti which included soldiers from 20 nations. More than 8,600 of the almost 21,000 troops in Haiti wore the 10th Mountain Division patch.

At 0930 hours, on 19 September 1994, the Division’s 1st Brigade conducted the Army’s first air assault from an aircraft carrier. This force consisted of 54 helicopters and almost 2,000 soldiers. They occupied the Port-au-Prince International Airport. This was the largest Army air operation conducted from a carrier since the Doolittle Raid in World War II, where Army Air Force bombers were launched off of a carrier to attack Tokyo.

The Division’s mission was to create a secure and stable environment under which the legitimate government of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide could be reestablished and democratic elections held. The final step in preparing for Aristide’s return from exile occurred early on October 13th, when General Cedras, his family and members his de-facto government left the country for Panama. When President Aristide returned to the Port-au-Prince International Airport on October 15, 1994, his security was provide courtesy of the 10th Mountain Division.

The 10th Mountain Division handed over control of the MNF-Haiti to the 25th Infantry Division on January 15, 1995. The Division redeployed the last of more than 8,600 Division soldiers who served in Haiti by January 31, 1995.

Operation Joint Guard - Bosnia 1997

The 642d Engineer Company deployed for Bosnia on March 18, 1997 for a 6 month tour constructing and maintaining roads and base camps. Two companies of the 2d Battalion, 14th Infantry deployed for Bosnia a day later. B Company’s mission is to defend a critical bridge site, C Company’s mission is to act as the theater reserve.

Task Force Eagle - 1998-2000

In the fall of 1998, the division received notice that it would be serving as senior headquarters of Task Force Eagle, providing a peacekeeping force to support the ongoing operation within the Multi-National Division-North area of responsibility in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Preparations began immediately for Stabilization Force 6. While division staff began planning, soldiers began training. The division split into two operations: Task Force Drum-for those remaining in the North Country-and Task Force Eagle, set to deploy to Bosnia. Warfighting skills remained the focus of the division's training.

In preparation for the Bosnia assignment, four major events were staged in 1999, including an SFOR6 conference in Tuzla, Bosnia; a deployment exercise at Fort Drum as a rehearsal; a conference at Fort Drum and Fort Hood, and an inter-theater rehearsal by some staff members, with other units in Bosnia.

Selected division units began deploying in late summer, to link up with their commander, Maj. Gen. James L. Campbell, who had preceded his soldiers to Bosnia. Approximately 3,000 division soldiers deployed. Meanwhile at Fort Drum, every effort was made to ensure the safety and care of soldiers and families remaining at home.

After successfully performing their mission in Bosnia, the division units conducted a Transfer of Authority, relinquishing their assignments to soldiers of the 49th Armored Division, Texas National Guard. By early summer 2000, all 10th Mountain Division soldiers had returned safely to Fort Drum.

After adding humanitarian, training and operational deployments together, the 10th Mountain Division (LI) had earned the distinction of being the most deployed Army division during the 1990s, a period which had seen the greatest number of missions for United States military forces-reserve and active-since the end of World War II.

Working Towards the Future-JCF-AWE 2000

The Joint Contingency Force-Advanced Warfighting Experiment (JCF-AWE) wrapped up in September 2000 when soldiers from the division's 1st Brigade successfully completed the nearly month-long exercise at Fort Polk's Joint Readiness Training Center.

The JCF-AWE was designed to improve, demonstrate and validate the enhanced lethality, agility and effectiveness of combat systems on future battlefields by focusing on three major goals:

  • Expand the commanders' situational awareness through digitized command and control, enhanced communications, and improved interoperability between systems, processes and procedures;
  • Enhance military operations in urban and complex environments; and,
  • Improve the ability of military forces to plan and conduct forced and early-entry operations.

These goals were met by integrating dozens of new technological initiatives such as digitized communication systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, and thermal-sighted weapons.

In less than a year's time the brigade soldiers received basic technical instruction on the new technology, and they then learned how to put these systems to use in tactical, combat situations. Again division soldiers had a unique experience: Helping to mold the future of the infantry.

Division Shoulder Patch10th Mountain Division Patch.

The shoulder patch for the 10th was approved on January 7, 1944. The blue background of the patch and the crossed bayonets suggest the infantry, the bayonets also form a Roman number "X" (10) representing the unit’s number. The overall shape of the patch is of a powder-keg suggesting the Division’s explosive power. Red, white, and blue suggest the national colors. The word "MOUNTAIN" is white on a blue tab affixed directly above the patch.