Saturday, March 12, 2016

Camp Hale, the Training HQ of the 10th Mountain Division

View of barracks at Camp Hale, Colorado (USA), which was the training headquarters of the US Tenth Mountain Division from 1943-1944. 

In spring 1941, the US Army began to consider establishing a mountain division trained to fight in winter conditions and rugged terrain. After the United States entered World War II, the US Army’s Eighty-seventh Mountain Infantry Regiment began to train near Mt. Rainier in Washington State. Soon it became clear that a larger training site would be needed. The army briefly considered a location near West Yellowstone, Montana, but it was rejected for environmental reasons (the camp would have disturbed the local trumpeter swan population).

In March 1942 the army decided to build its mountain training camp in the Pando Valley north of Leadville. The Pando Valley was originally homesteaded in the 1890s and had been used for ranching until the army acquired it in 1942. The valley met all the requirements for the army’s training camp: it was large enough to support 15,000 troops; it sat at a high elevation of about 9,200 feet, with easy access to 12,000-foot mountains; the Eagle River provided a reliable water source; and Highway 24 and the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad facilitated transportation to and from the camp.

The army began construction of the camp in April 1942. Named Camp Hale, in honor of former Brigadier General Irving Hale, a Denver native, the camp occupied 1,456.8 acres of the Pando Valley floor. The army had to rechannel the meandering Eagle River and several tributaries through the valley to drain the site so that the camp could be built. Highway 24 was also rerouted around the camp. The army completed construction in November 1942 at a cost of $31 million.

The US Army’s first and only Mountain Infantry Division took shape at Camp Hale over the winter of 1942–43. New Eighty-fifth and Eighty-sixth Mountain Infantry Regiments were added to the existing Eighty-seventh Regiment to form the Tenth Mountain Division. All the troops arrived at Camp Hale by January 1943, and the valley buzzed with the activity of thousands of soldiers training for war. At its height the camp had more than 1,000 buildings and housed about 15,000 troops.

The vast Camp Hale site included barracks, administration buildings, a hospital, stables, a veterinary center, a field house, and areas used as parade grounds, recreation areas, and gunnery and combat ranges. Enlisted men learned how to survive in winter conditions and fight in the mountains. They practiced skiing, snowshoeing, and technical mountain climbing. Some of the first nylon climbing ropes were tested at Camp Hale.

The ski troops of the Tenth Mountain Division seemed glamorous to the public, but at Camp Hale they were often miserable. Soldiers nicknamed the camp “Camp Hell.” Training was hard, requiring marches and maneuvers with heavy packs at high altitude. Soldiers often suffered from altitude sickness, frostbite, and low morale worsened by a lack of nearby entertainment options. (Leadville was often off-limits to the troops, and in any case it had increased efforts against gambling and prostitution.) Coal smoke from all the trains, stoves, and furnaces in the valley contributed to a persistent cough that the troops called the “Pando Hack.”

In addition to the famed Tenth Mountain Division, Camp Hale also housed other troops, such as the 620th Engineer General Service Company, which arrived at the camp on December 5, 1943. The 200 soldiers who made up this unit were not actually engineers. Like several other army units, the 620th was made up of suspected Nazi sympathizers (mostly Germans) and other opponents of the war. The army lumped them together and dumped them at remote Camp Hale, where they were assigned various menial tasks.

The army also placed several hundred German prisoners of war at Camp Hale. Though communication between prisoners and soldiers was officially forbidden, the German prisoners and the German sympathizers in the 620th understandably got along quite well, exchanging greetings and illegal gifts. Dale Maple, a pro-Nazi Harvard graduate in the 620th, helped a small group of German prisoners to escape. With assistance from a few other men in the 620th, Maple and two Germans slipped away from the lightly guarded camp on February 15, 1944. They made their way to the Mexican border before being arrested by a Mexican customs official on February 18. The two Germans were shipped to another prisoner-of-war camp in Wyoming. Maple was convicted of desertion and aiding the enemy. Originally sentenced to death, he was released in 1951 and lived quietly in San Diego for another fifty years.

Source :

No comments:

Post a Comment