American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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Post War Mountain Training

  • Feature Article
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  • Publication Year: 1955

Post War Mountain Training

LT. COLONEL ERWIN G. NILSSON

At the close of World War II the United States Army had a large number of soldiers highly skilled and experienced in mountain warfare. These people were largely grouped in the 10th Mountain Division, although the skill was widely scattered throughout the Army, both as a result of specialized mountain training received by certain units and practical experience gained by others during the course of World War II. A number of our divisions during the War received brief but intensive periods of mountain warfare training in the West Virginia training area, prior to shipment overseas. Units committed to action in North Africa, Italy, New Guinea, and many other places, learned their skills in the school of hard knocks, although as the War progressed, training centers were set up in the different theaters. With demobilization in 1945, trained soldiers carried a large portion of this knowledge and skill back with them to civilian life; however, a trained cadre was retained at Camp Carson, Colorado.

To some extent, military mountain training has followed the financial fortunes of the Army, which naturally dictate the troop structure and its training requirements. From 1945 to 1949 there was active mountain training and a considerable amount of work was done. During the economy period of 1949–1950, until Korea, specialized training went into a decline and only a small organization composed of a few military and civilian personnel was retained at Camp Carson.

With the organization of the Mountain and Cold Weather Training Command in the summer of 1951, renewed emphasis has been given to mountain and cold-weather warfare training. This was a natural result of an enlarged Army and the violent experiences of the first nine months of the Korean War. The commanding officer of the Mountain and Cold Weather Training Command, for three years following its organization, was Colonel Warren S. Shelor; at present Lt. Col. Donald J. Woolley is in command. Both of these officers became interested in mountain warfare operations and mountaineering in general as a result of service with the 10th Mountain Division during World War II.

The Command employs a number of civilian instructors, picked from the best available talent in the mountain and cold- weather fields. All but two of the civilian instructors had World War II military experience and several have been employed continuously since 1946 at this type of work. These people constitute a continuing skill retained by the Command which would otherwise be lost by the continual rotation of military personnel.

The Command is organized to conduct three different but related activities. Its primary mission is training. Other responsibilities concern review and development of mountain-warfare literature, including tactics, techniques, doctrine and procedures; study and development of appropriate organizational structure and equipment for mountain operation.

During the past several years the Command has assisted in the training and preparation of troops for the annual winter maneuvers in the Camp Drum, New York, area. An intensive training program was carried on during the spring and summer of 1952 to provide a limited number of mountain-trained infantry replacements for overseas commands, the bulk of whom were assigned to our units in Austria and a limited number to the Far East Command.

During the past year mountain and cold-weather training centers have been established in both Japan and the U.S. Zone of Austria, to provide training facilities for our combat units stationed in those areas. Lt. Colonel Edward H. Link, a club member, organized and has been in command of the Far East Center. Lt. Colonel John H. Hay, a veteran of the 10th Mountain Division, organized the U.S. Forces, Austria, Center at Saalfelden.

With the establishment of these overseas centers, the Mountain and Cold Weather Training Command was called upon to provide a limited number of professionally qualified mountain operations instructors. This responsibility is fulfilled in part by the normal military rotation of soldiers and officers from the Command as they complete their Continental U.S. tour and are assigned overseas. A limited number of Austrian Nationals are employed by the USFA Center. In January 1953, a seven-week mountain and cold-weather operations instructor course was established at Camp Carson, for a limited number of specially selected overseas replacements. The purpose of this course is to supply to certain overseas commanders a continuing stream of specially trained officers and enlisted personnel to fill the instructor spaces at the various overseas training centers.

During the summer season, the course includes various aspects of summer mountaineering, survival, orientation, and cross-country movement, together with training in different means of supply and evacuation, including animal, helicopter, fixed-wing aircraft, and human pack. The first four weeks of the course are conducted in the Camp Carson area and the final three weeks in the Wind River Range, Wyoming. The latter training provides practical experience in operations in glaciated mountainous areas and an indoctrination into life in a primitive area. The Wind River area has proven an ideal training area for this type of activity.

During the winter months, training includes survival, oversnow movement, supply and evacuation, and use of specialized winter equipment. This training is conducted in the Camp Hale area of central Colorado. The winter training stresses extended periods of bivouac living and cross-country movement to develop hardness and an ability for sustained cold-weather field operations. To provide a completely trained mountain warfare expert, aside from the natural ability required, attendance at both the summer and winter training courses is necessary. Throughout both sessions, emphasis is placed on small- unit infantry tactics, the development of instructor capabilities, austere field living, and physical and mental toughness—the latter so necessary for successful combat against a fanatical and ruthless enemy. Trainees selected for this course are carefully screened and limited to infantry, artillery, and engineer overseas replacements. This program will eventually provide the professional Army with a substantial cadre of skilled mountain warfare experts and promises to increase materially our capability in mountain operations by providing an increasing pool of qualified instructors.

The Arctic Indoctrination School, organized in the winter of 1948–1949 by Commanding General, U.S. Army Alaska, located at Big Delta, Alaska, provides mountain and arctic indoctrination for selected personnel from U.S. Army, Alaska, and various commands within the United States. There is a continual interchange of personnel between the Command at Camp Carson and Arctic Indoctrination School. This salutary arrangement provides personnel for the Continental Command who possess wide and varied backgrounds and supplies the Army Arctic Indoctrination School with technically and professionally qualified mountaineering instructors.

From January to March 1954 the major project of the Mountain and Cold Weather Training Command was Exercise SKI JUMP, an RCT-scale winter training maneuver conducted in the Camp Hale, Colorado, area. Major units were a Regimental Combat Team from the 11th Airborne Division, the Mountain and Cold Weather Training Command, the 4th FA Battalion (Pack) and the 35th QM Pack Company, together with supporting logistical troops. This exercise consisted of some nine weeks of individual and small-unit training, followed by a short exercise of five days duration, stressing offensive and defensive operations under terrain and weather conditions found in the Camp Hale area at that season. The training period was divided into a four-week cadre training phase for specially selected personnel and a five-week period of small-unit training. The exercise stressed cross-country movement, extended field bivouacs, the use of special tentage and equipment, and survival and physical hardening. During May-June 1954 six members of the Arctic

Indoctrination School played a vital role in the rescue of George Argus from Mt. McKinley.

A large-scale Airborne Arctic Exercise was conducted in Alaska, January through February 1955. This exercise involved the 503d Abn Infantry Regiment from Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, and various Alaskan units including elements of the 4th Infantry and the 53d Infantry Regiments. Also, this past winter, January through March 1955, elements of the 8th Infantry Division and the Mountain & Cold Weather Training Command engaged in winter maneuvers in the Camp Hale area.

Mountain training in the U. S. Army is in an excellent state; it is on a thorough, progressive, and practical basis. It stresses those things necessary for successful operations in mountainous areas and fits with the U. S. concept of the employment of an infantry division. With proper training and minor modifications of equipment and organization, our infantry divisions are capable of fighting anywhere, at any time, against any enemy.

Mention should be made of the excellent and effective work done by the “Committee on Liaison with the Armed Forces” and particularly the consideration given to the recommendations and suggestions of Mr. John C. Case and Dr. Robert H. Bates. The work and effort of this Committee has received recognition at all levels in the Army and has contributed immeasurably to an understanding of the problems of establishing and maintaining an efficient and worthwhile mountain-training program.

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