A pioneering military unit’s history, culminating in its breaking the German hold on Italy’s mountains during World War II.
Isserman (American History/Hamilton Coll.; Continental Divide: A History of American Mountaineering, 2017, etc.) traces the story of the 10th Mountain Division from its inception at a meeting of four skiers in 1940, when Finnish ski troops were resisting the invading Germans. One of them, Charles Minot Dole, decided to take the idea of training and equipping an American ski regiment. At first met with indifference, he managed to convince the War Department to take the idea seriously. The Army set up a training facility in mountain country and began to recruit trained skiers to man the new unit. Eventually, the training camp was located at Camp Hale in the Colorado Rockies, and the soldiers also took lessons in mountain climbing. At first, there was no obvious mission for the 10th Mountain. A mission to the Aleutian Island of Kiska turned out to be a fiasco when the Japanese occupiers evacuated before the U.S. troops arrived. Men were transferring to other units in order to find combat somewhere. It wasn’t until late in the war—December 1944—that the stalled front in the Italian mountains presented a perfect spot for their skills. While the Germans were already in retreat elsewhere in Europe, Hitler ordered them to hold the line in Italy. The 10th Mountain took the critical peaks and ridges to which they were sent; they also endured heavy casualties in the process. Isserman draws on the division’s extensive archives, including personal accounts by many of the surviving soldiers. He focuses on several individuals from their induction to the end of the war, giving the book the feel of an old war movie with a cast drawn from all parts of the country. The division’s long time in training makes the narrative a slow build, but once the 10th Mountain gets to Italy, there’s plenty of payoff.
A solid military history focused on an elite division that made its mark in the final stages of World War II.