The Winter Army: The World War II Odyssey of the 10th Mountain Division, America's Elite Alpine Warriors

The Winter Army: The World War II Odyssey of the 10th Mountain Division, America's Elite Alpine Warriors

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“Compelling and readable . . . I had serious trouble putting this book down.”—John C. McManus, author of Fire and Fortitude and The Dead and Those About to Die

The epic story of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, whose elite soldiers broke the last line of German defenses in Italy’s mountains in 1945, spearheading the Allied advance to the Alps and final victory.

At the start of World War II, the US Army had two cavalry divisions—and no mountain troops. The German Wehrmacht, in contrast, had many well-trained and battle-hardened mountain divisions, some of whom by 1943 blocked the Allied advance in the Italian campaign. Starting from scratch, the US Army developed a unique military fighting force, the 10th Mountain Division, drawn from the ranks of civilian skiers, mountaineers, and others with outdoor experience. The resulting mix of Ivy League students, park rangers, Olympic skiers, and European refugees formed the first specialized alpine fighting force in US history. By the time it deployed to Italy at the beginning of 1945, this ragtag group had coalesced into a tight-knit unit. In the months that followed, at a terrible cost, they spearheaded the Allied drive in Italy to final victory.

Ranging from the ski slopes of Colorado to the towering cliffs of the Italian Alps, The Winter Army is a saga of an unlikely band of soldiers forged in the heat of combat into a brotherhood whose legacy lives on in US mountain fighters to this day.

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  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328871190

  • ISBN-10: 1328871193

  • Pages: 336

  • Price: $14.99

  • Publication Date: 11/05/2019

  • Carton Quantity: 1

Maurice Isserman
Author

Maurice Isserman

MAURICE ISSERMAN, PhD, is the Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of American History at Hamilton College, where he teaches US history, including the history of mountaineering. A former Fulbright grant winner, his prize-winning books include Fallen Giants (co-authored with Stewart Weaver), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the winner of the Banff Mountain Book Festival prize for best mountaineering history, the National Outdoor Book Award for best history, and the Andrew Eiseman Writers Award; The Other America, recipient of a Choice magazine Outstanding Academic Book Award; and Cronkite's War (co-authored with Walter Cronkite IV). He has written for the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor,Newsday, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the American Historical Review,as well as for numerous academic journals and contributed volumes. He lives in Clinton, New York.
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  • reviews

    “From the frozen spine of the Colorado Rockies to the icy steeps of Riva Ridge in Italy, Maurice Isserman skillfully tracks the birth of the 10th Mountain Division and its harrowing World War II battles. The Winter Army is a fitting tribute to the high-altitude soldiers who fought with more courage than oxygen.” 

    —Mark Obmascik, author of The Storm on Our Shores 

     

    “Compelling and readable, this is how a unit history should be written. Isserman has shed long overdue light on the remarkable 10th Mountain Division, an elite unit full of fascinating personalities, many of whom almost seem like characters from a fast-paced adventure novel. I had serious trouble putting this book down.” 

    —John C. McManus, author of Fire and Fortitude and The Dead and Those About to Die 

      

    “You won’t find any U.S. Army division history better than this one. Maurice Isserman’s superbly crafted account of this wild and completely unique military organization is gripping, masterful, and moving. A must-read for anyone with even the slightest interest in military history.”  

    —Flint Whitlock, co-auther of Soldiers on Skis 

     

     “As the son of a 10th Mountain trooper, I consider The Winter Army essential reading for anyone interested in this fascinating history. With great attention to detail and depth of research, Maurice Isserman brings a new, more personal perspective to the story of the division during World War II, allowing me to get to know, as young men, the veterans I’ve known for many years.” 

    —Stephen Coffey, Immediate Past President, 10th Mountain Division Descendants, Inc.  

     

    "Captivating . . . It is good to have the stories of these men between hard covers, for their heroics occurred three-quarters of a century ago and are in danger of disappearing.”   

    Wall Street Journal 

     

    “A solid military history focused on an elite division that made its mark in the final stages of World War II.” 

    Kirkus Reviews 

     

    “Drawing from letters sent by 10th Mountain Division soldiers to family and friends back home, Isserman provides frontline views of such famous battles as Riva Ridge and Mt. Belvedere, and relates how the unit’s veterans took part in the postwar rise of the American ski industry. The result is an entertaining, well-sourced blend of military and sports history.” 

    Publishers Weekly 

     

    “Isserman has created a fascinating study of this branch of specialized American soldiers during WWII, a bit of military history that will be of interest to WII buffs and readers who have been on the slopes or gazed in wonder at mountains' majesty.” 

    Booklist 

     

    “A masterwork… the work of a master craftsman.” 

    Vail Daily 

     

    “Maurice Isserman masterfully lets us listen in as the original mountain soldiers tell their stories of acting as America’s elite alpine troops. His well-researched reliance on firsthand accounts adds a much-needed new chapter to the rich history of the famed 10th Mountain Division . . . The combat-tested veteran, the military historian or the interested casual reader can enjoy this book . . . The Winter Army also serves as reminder to our nation and our Army that we must constantly prepare for war, and in doing so, seek and welcome the perspectives of those outside the military and security community  . . . These are stories that must continue to be told and men that America should never forget.” 

    —Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, former commander of the US Army 10th Mountain Division, Army Magazine 

     

     

  • excerpts
    “Soldiers Out of Skiers” 

     

    It is more reasonable to make soldiers out of skiers than skiers out of soldiers. 

    — Charles Minot Dole to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, July 18, 1940 

      

     

    On a blustery evening in February 1940, four skiers took refuge inside the Orvis Inn in Manchester, Vermont. Like many other weekend visitors to nearby Bromley Mountain, they had enjoyed a crisp day on the slopes. But their leisure had been cut short by a gathering storm and the descending darkness, which settled over the town shortly after 5 p.m. 

      

    The inn did good business, and the four friends were lucky to find seats before the roaring fire. There, in line with New England tradition, they sipped hot rum, tired but satisfied after a good day’s skiing, talking casually. 

      

    The men were royalty among the American skiing community: Roger Langley, athletic director of a Massachusetts prep school and president of the National Ski Association of America, was there, along with Robert Livermore, a member of the US Olympic ski team in 1936, and Alex Bright, another veteran of the 1936 team and founder of the exclusive Ski Club Hochgebirge of Boston. The fourth member of the group, destined to become the most important civilian figure in the history of the 10th Mountain Division, was Charles Minot “Minnie” Dole, the forty-year-old founder and director of the National Ski Patrol System. 

      

    The conversation that evening eventually turned from the storm outside to the storm in Europe, that is, the war that had begun six months earlier with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, and a separate conflict in Finland, invaded by the Soviet Union’s Red Army on November 30, 1939. 

      

    With a tense quiet prevailing for the time being on the western front separating the German Wehrmacht from its French and British opponents, the only active European battlefront that winter was in Finland. The Finns, despite being vastly outnumbered by their Soviet foes, put up a doughty defense of the Karelian Isthmus in what was dubbed the “Winter War,” winning international admiration—although, ultimately, not the war. In March 1940 Finland was finally forced to capitulate, making territorial concessions to the Soviet Union. 

      

    In February, however, the Finns were still resisting the invaders. “Finns Beat Back a Quarter of Million Russians in Biggest Offensive of War” was the lead story on the front page of the Burlington FreePress, Vermont’s best-known newspaper, on February 9, 1940. Dole and his companions, possibly the very next evening, were particularly impressed by the performance of white-camouflage-clad Finnish ski troops, who, in a signature tactic, launched devastating hit-and-run attacks on lumbering columns of Soviet soldiers and vehicles before swiftly and silently disappearing into the snowy vastness of the surrounding forests. In Dole’s recollection, the four skiers agreed that this was “a perfect example of men fighting in an environment with which they were entirely at home and for which they were trained.” 

      

    The Finns, the four skiers agreed, were obviously well prepared to fight a winter war. They wondered, however, what might happen if the United States were engaged in a similar conflict—if, hypothetically, Germany, having defeated Great Britain, then invaded Canada, followed up that conquest by sweeping down from the north into New England or other regions of the United States that were under snow a good portion of the year. How well would American soldiers fare if they had to face a determined enemy in conditions similar to the storm blowing outside that night in the snow-clad Vermont hills? From the Italian Corpo Alpini to the French Chasseurs Alpins and the Austro-Hungarian Gebirgsbrigaden, European armies had long maintained specially trained alpine units for mountain and cold weather fighting. Such soldiers had proved their valor and their worth in the World War of 1914–1918, when fighting between Italians and Austrians in the Alps cost tens of thousands of lives. Geography dictated that Europeans needed to take alpine fighting seriously, since so many borders ran along the crests of mountains. In continental European armies, accordingly, service in mountain units could be a springboard to distinguished military careers. Erwin Rommel, the “Desert Fox” of the North African campaign in the Second World War, commanded a battalion of German mountain troops in the First World War, taking part in the 1917 offensive that broke through the Italian front at Caporetto—an epic defeat immortalized, for American readers, in Ernest Hemingway’s 1929 novel A Farewell to Arms

      

    Bob Livermore and Alex Bright had gotten a close-up view of German prowess in winter sports at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Bavaria. The Germans took home three gold medals, while the United States claimed one.

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328871190

  • ISBN-10: 1328871193

  • Pages: 336

  • Price: $14.99

  • Publication Date: 11/05/2019

  • Carton Quantity: 1

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