Alpenglow Ski Mountaineering History Project Home
Capt. John C. Jay - History of the Mountain Training Center
Completed in May 1944, this manuscript was "sanitized" for publication in 1946, according to Skiing Heritage, Fall 1995. This study is an important source on the formation and early organization of the 10th Mountain Division, since it was based on original letters, orders, and interviews with key officers. It's likely that later histories such as burton-1971 relied heavily on this study.
The Mountain Training Center is what the organization at Camp Hale, Colorado, was called before 15 July 1943. On that date the Mountain Training Center became the 10th Light Division. This study includes little information on the 10th Division after that date.
Chapter I - Background of the Mountain Training Center (p. 1)
p. 2: The author describes the role of the National Ski Patrol System, and particularly Charles Minot Dole and John E.P. Morgan, in lobbying the U.S. Army to create ski troops.
p. 5: On 5 December 1940, the Secretary of War issued a directive to six northern divisions to create ski patrols. "The mission was roughly as follows: Selected men were to be taught the use of skis, snowshoes, and the fundamentals of camping and travelling in the snow and high mountains. Each patrol was allotted a fund of approximately $1200 for the purchase of equipment, to be bought locally in the open market and tested for military use by the patrols." The author summarizes the activities and lessons of the six divisional ski patrols: the 1st at Ft Devens, MA, the 44th at Ft Dix, NJ, the 5th at Ft Custer, MI, the 6th at Fl. Leonard Wood, MO, and the 41st and 3rd at Ft Lewis, WA. Colonel Muir, commander of the 26th Infantry, 1st Division, stated, "I believe that ski training is an asset; like the Texan's six-shooter, you may not need it, but if you ever do, you will need it in a hurry, awful bad."
p. 12: In November 1940, the National Ski Association created an Equipment Committee to assist the Army in developing standards. In the early days, the Army proposed using toe-strap bindings for ski troops and Minot Dole objected vigorously, stressing the importance of a skier's foot being rigidly attached to the ski. The closest approximation to the standards the Army had set up for the military mountain trooper turned out to be the work done by the Sierra Club, led by Bestor Robinson (p. 16).
p. 17: In April 1941, the War Department ordered Lt. Cols. Hurdis and Walker, along with Robert Monahan of the USFS, to study sites in the West which might be adequate for a divisional camp housing 15,000 men, for year-round training in winter and mountain maneuvers. During the summer of 1941, arguments went back and forth within the War Department over the establishment of such a camp. Lt. Col. L.S. Gerow observed that the Italian army was defeated in the Balkan campaign by lack of well equipped mountain troops: "Such units cannot be improvised hurriedly from line divisions. They require long periods of hardening and experience, for which there is no substitute for time." The author notes (p. 24) that "it was finally the lessons learned from our allies and enemies abroad that at last persuaded the War Department to taking concrete action for the development of mountain troops." On 15 November 1941, the 1st Battalion (Reinforced), 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment was activated at Ft Lewis, WA.
p. 25: The National Ski Patrol System (NSPS) became the only civilian group in the U.S. authorized to recruit men for a special arm of the service. By February, 1944, the NSPS had placed over 8,000 men in the Mountain Troops. [But see jay-1944-p80.]
p. 27: On 13 February 1942, the 87th Regiment, commanded by Lt. Col. Onslow S. Rolfe, moved from Ft Lewis to Paradise on Mt Rainier, where they leased the Paradise and Tatoosh Lodges. Soldiers were trained in military skiing for eight weeks, six days a week, eight hours a day. On 28 April 1942, the battalion took a ski march, seven miles with a thirty pound rucksack, from Paradise Lodge (5500 ft) to Sugar Loaf (9500 ft), then down Paradise Glacier and over Mazama Ridge and back to the Lodge. This was the fifth day of a five-day test. There were no accidents and every man completed the march. The author provides other details of the training at Paradise, for example, the National Park regulation which forbade the use of firearms, even shooting blanks, in the park area, which relegated tactics to a minor role (p. 30). On two occasions, "it was only the guiding hand of Providence that kept a whole platoon from obliteration by avalanches."
p. 33: On 1 June 1942, activation of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 87th Mountain Infantry began. Mountaineering training foundered as the regiment expanded. In desperation, Capt. John Woodward ordered construction of three thirty-foot high wooden practice walls in a sand and gravel pit near the stables at Ft Lewis.
Chapter II - Establishment and Early Days of Mountain Training Center (p. 36)
p. 37: The author discusses the selection of Pando, Colorado, for the location of Camp Hale. On 7 August 1942, Col. Rolfe received orders to report to Camp Carson, Colorado, to activate and take command of the Mountain Training Center (p. 51). Construction of a camp at Pando was underway at this time. On 16 November 1942, the Mountain Training Center moved from Camp Carson to Camp Hale. The author describes problems at Hale that led to the nickname "Camp Hell" during the first weeks of occupation (p. 53).
p. 54: On 26 November 1942, the 1st Battalion of the 86th Infantry Regiment was activated under command of Lt. Col. Robert L. Cook. On 5 December 1942, Col. Rolfe was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. On 26 December 1942, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 87th began arriving in Camp Hale, after completion of maneuvers at the Hunter-Ligget military reservation. The author describes morale problems in the early days at Camp Hale.
Chapter III - Mission, Organization, and Administration of the Mountain Training Center (p. 59)
p. 59: The ultimate objective of the Mountain Training Center was never made clear. As Gen. Rolfe put it, "We don't know whether we'll be sent to Norway, Russia, Burma, or the Italian Alps--and each area presents different problems that demand ultra-specialized training... We'll have to go ahead on a compromise basis."
p. 62: Training problems came to the surface during a two-week maneuver by the 87th Regiment in the Homestake mountain area in February 1943. Due to inadequate training, 260 men, or about 30 percent of the command, became casualties of the elements, due to frostbite, dehydration and exhaustion.
p. 66: In June 1943, Gen. Rolfe was relieved of command of the Mountain Training Center and made Assistant Division Commander of the 71st Light Division. On 15 July 1943, the 10th Light Division was formed from the Mountain Training Center under Brig. Gen. Lloyd Jones (p. 69). The author describes the Table of Organization of the new division.
p. 71: The attack on Kiska began on 15 August 1943.
Chapter IV - Personnel Problems (p. 72)
p. 72: Men from hot, lowland Army divisions and "rugged outdoor men" often performed poorly in the Mountain Troops. The 86th Infantry Regiment grew almost entirely from National Ski Patrol System candidates. The author writes, "their excellent record in the Army speaks for itself." Sixty-four percent of the men in the 86th Regiment were potential officer material, based on the Army General Classification Test. This was over twice the percentage in eleven Army divisions surveyed in October 1942.
p. 79: In March 1943, the War Department sent to the NSPS a directive stating that "in the future you are to furnish the applicant to the Mountain Troops, after induction, with a letter what will be honored by all reception centers, and send men you approve direct to the Mountain Troops at Camp Hale for basic training." A retired Army general told Minot Dole that "in all his forty-five years he had never seen the like of it."
p. 80: The author describes recruiting efforts by the NSPS and other organizations starting in June 1943. Recruiting was hampered because no information about the Mountain Troops was permitted in the national press for several months after Pearl Harbor. Publicity became possible after the Mountain Training Center was activated in Colorado, away from the West Coast war zone. The author discusses the difference in performance of men who volunteered for the Mountain Troops (about 20% of the entire outfit) and those who were transferred in through regular Army channels (p. 84). [Note the inconsistency between this 20% figure and the reported figure of 8,000 men placed by the NSPS (jay-1944-p25).]
p. 88: A major personnel problem was the difficulty of getting ratings and promotions for the skiing and mountaineering instructors. Privates were teaching Colonels, and many begged to be relieved of the task of instructing in order to win line promotions in their companies. But they were needed too much out on the slopes and cliffs, and the inflexible Tables of Organization provided no way to recognize their importance.
Chapter V - General Training Policies (p. 92)This chapter discusses the training programs for skiing (p. 93), ice-climbing (p. 94), rock climbing (p. 96), preparation of rations, use of tents, mountain survival skills, and rock climbing (p. 96). An ice climbing school was held on Mt Rainier in September 1943 (p. 97).
Chapter VI - Special Training Missions (p. 101)
p. 101: In April 1942, a detail of five enlisted men and two officers, Capt. Paul Lafferty and Lt. John Woodward, left the 87th Regiment at Mt Rainier for Sun Valley to produce winter training films on ski safety, snow camping, ski first aid, ski mountaineering, and ski equipment.
p. 102: On 13 May 1942, an expedition of eight men, led by Capt. Albert Jackman, left Paradise Lodge for a two-week climb to the summit of Mt Rainier. Its purpose was to test winter equipment in conditions more severe than could be found at Paradise. While they were on the climb, their trail markers (wands) were blown away, "and the expedition could well have ended disastrously had it not been for [Cpl. Peter] Gabriel's superb guidance." The author discusses lessons learned by this expedition.
p. 104: Following the Mt Rainier climb, Capt. Jackman and Cpl. Gabriel were sent to Alaska for a joint test expedition of the Air Forces and Quartermaster Corps, including Lt. Col. Frank Marchman, Capt. Robert H. Bates, Walter A. Wood, Sterling Hendricks, Terris Moore, Bradford Washburn and others. On July 22 and 23, 1942, expedition members reached the summit of Mt McKinley, the first ascent of the peak since 1932.
p. 107: During the summer of 1942, about 50 men and 3 officers from the 87th Regiment built a road onto the Columbia Icefields in the Canadian Rockies for the testing of the T-15 Cargo Carrier (known as the Weasel) developed by Studebaker Corporation.
p. 109: Other special training missions included an experiment in the use of horses in mountainous terrain conducted in the Olympic Mountains during the summer of 1942. It proved that the animals were more a liability than an asset. In August 1942, men from the 87th Regiment were sent to Aspen, CO, to work with the Corps of Engineers on the construction of aerial tramways and suspension bridges for use in the mountains (p. 110). In October 1942, men were sent from Ft Lewis to Lincoln, NH, as mountaineering instructors and later to Camp McCoy, WI, to train the 2nd Division in winter warfare (p. 111). In February 1943, a team was sent to Buena Vista, VA, to train regular Army outfits in assault climbing. This proved so successful that in July 1943, 32 men and 3 officers from Camp Hale, under Lt. Hazel E. Link, set up a high-angle rock and assault climbing school at Seneca Rocks, WV (p. 114).
Chapter VII - Development of Mountain and Winter Tactics (p. 116)
p. 116: At the time of this study, the Mountain Troops had not yet reached a state of training that would qualify them for special mountain and winter operations. The author summarizes tactical fundamentals known by foreign mountain troops for years: "Seize and hold the ridges and you command the valleys in between. Strike with speed and deception at the enemy's lines of communication and supply. Prevent him from taking the passes." From this doctrine came the Mountain Troop motto, "We Climb to Conquer."
p. 117: During the February 1943 maneuvers at Camp Hale, an observer, Walter A. Wood, asked that men be recalled from retrieving parachute loads that had landed on a potentially dangerous snow slope. Two days later an avalanche on this slope was easily brought down by artillery fire.
Chapter VIII - Air-Ground Training and Tests (p. 120)This chapter describes the problems of air support and air-ground coordination in the Mountain Troops. According to the author, these problems are far from being solved.
Chapter IX - Schools (p. 124)This chapter describes the Mountain Training Center ski school, mountaineering school, a school for drivers of the T-15 Weasel, and several other schools set up at Camp Hale.
Chapter X - Training Literature, Films, and Training Aids (p. 131)
p. 131: Since almost no training literature on mountain fighting was available in the U.S., in 1941 the Quartermaster General's office in Washington enlisted the services of Adams Carter to write military translations of all the pertinent documents that were available from mountain troops in other countries. Little of the data thus obtained found its way to the Mountain Troops. The Army for the most part tackled the problem of mountain troops the hard way, by trail and error, from scratch.
p. 132: The Mountain and Winter Warfare Board began work on a mountain troop manual during the winter of 1942, when the 87th Infantry Regiment was training on Mt Rainier. Most of the data for this manual was based on two publications, Manual of Ski-Mountaineering, edited by David R. Brower for the National Ski Association, and Handbook of American Mountaineering, written by Kenneth A. Henderson for the American Alpine Club. Both publications came out early in 1942. From these two books, plus the experience of skiers and mountaineers already in the ranks, the Mountain Troop manual was gradually compiled. According to the author, at the time of this study (winter 1944), the Mountain Troops were still operating without an officially sanctioned field manual. [This calls into question the relevance of harper-1943.]
p. 140: In May 1941, Lt. John Woodward and a group of eight enlisted men from the 15th Infantry ski patrol at Ft Lewis worked with Otto Lang at Sun Valley to produce the film, "Basic Principles of Skiing." The author describes it as "one of the most valuable films that has ever been made for the Mountain Troops." Of the additional films shot by men of the 87th Regiment in the spring of 1942, the author says that most of these films were concerned with special equipment in the testing stage. By the time the films were released, most of the equipment was obsolete, and the films with it.
Chapter XI - Mountain and Winter Warfare Board and Development of Equipment (p. 143)
p. 143: The Equipment Committee of the National Ski Association was headed by Bestor Robinson. When the 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment was established at Ft Lewis on 15 November 1941, a Mountain and Winter Warfare Board was activated to test and develop mountain and winter equipment and doctrines. The Board was handicapped because it lacked authority to improvise in the field. All it could do was test items sent to it from the Office of the Quartermaster General. Many improvements suggested by the Board became lost in channels in Washington and were never officially adopted. The author describes tests performed on skis, tents, gaiters and other equipment (p. 148). On 1 May 1943, the Board was reorganized and put directly under Army Ground Forces, which enabled progress to improve (p. 151).
p. 153: The author discusses the development of mountain ski boots with rubber cleated soles, nylon climbing ropes, lightweight gas stoves, dehydrated rations, and other items.
Chapter XII - Liaison (p. 158)
p. 158: "In 1941 the highest ranking officer in the U.S. Army with a real mountaineering background was a Captain, and by far the majority of the world-famous experts in this field were either privates or civilians."
Chapter XIII - Mountain Training Group (p. 163)
p. 163: After the 10th Light Division was activated on 15 July 1943, all that was left of the Mountain Training Center were a hundred or so mountain and winter warfare instructors. On 23 October 1943, the Mountain Training Center was disbanded. In its place a Mountain Training Group was set up under Capt. John Woodward and most of the MTC personnel were shifted into it. The Mountain Training Group functioned as a pool of specialists in army skiing and mountaineering. MTG men were dispatched to various units to provide training. Capt. John Jay became commanding officer of the group on 16 December 1943.
Chapter XIV - The Medical Section, Mountain Training Center (p. 172)Nothing noteworthy.
Chapter XV - Conclusions and Lessons (p. 183)
p. 184: The author stresses the importance of a clear mission with high priority and discusses lessons regarding personnel, equipment, morale and training.
Return to the Alpenglow Ski Mountaineering History Project home page