10th Mountain Division at Camp Hale Review

By Flint Whitlock and Eric Miller
Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2023
ISBN 978-1-4671-0917-8
Acknowledgments. Illustrations. Bibliography. Pp. 127. $23.99

The development of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division is often associated with Camp Hale, Colorado. The camp was specifically established for mountain soldiers during World War II. In 1941, the War Department approved an initial battalion of mountain troops located at Fort Lewis, Washington. By 1942, the War Department finally approved the construction of Camp Hale, Colorado to serve as the new location for mountain training. The site chosen was in the Pando Valley just north of present-day Leadville, Colorado. The approval of the divisional strength army unit would be designated as the 10th Mountain Division. In the 10th Mountain Division at Camp Hale, historians Flint Whitlock and Eric Miller provide a photographic history of the 10th Mountain Division and Camp Hale. 

Camp Hale was unique in that was dedicated solely for the Army to train and develop winter and mountain warfare capabilities in the 1940s. The Leadville weekly newspaper, Carbonate Chronicle, reported: “Climatic conditions are superb…for winter comes early to this area, and leaves late. Indications are that the army will train thousands of soldiers at Pando, giving them the skill and seasoning necessary for wartime service in the coldest fighting zones” (p. 9). The new location was a valley in the Colorado Rockies spanning about three miles long. The valley was chosen over other locations in the United States due to the area’s high evaluations, proximity to the mountains for remote climbing and skiing, water sources, extreme winter weather, and established gravel roads with supporting railroad lines. 

The book is a rather easy read, with background information beginning each chapter. The authors then provide a historical perspective through photographs of the camp’s construction, summer and winter military training, and the surrounding mountainous areas of Colorado. The imagery reflects the enormous tasks placed on construction crews working in austere environments under short timelines. Images show construction workers often working with snow and other elements at high mountainous elevations. Additionally, horses, mules, and light equipment photographs depict the summer and winter training events of mountain soldiers assigned to Camp Hale. Lastly, pictures of the surrounding Rocky Mountains and Leadville’s main street convey the local area. The completion of Camp Hale was an incredible accomplishment of wartime engineering. Impressively, Camp Hale’s final cost to build was thirty million dollars.

Although the newly formed 10th Mountain Division contained some of the smartest and best-conditioned soldiers in the Army, several controversial issues remained with the mountain unit. The use of specialized soldiers challenged military planners and delayed their deployment into the war. The authors state, “The division was so specialized that it was unsuited to regular flatland combat” (p. 113).  The Army even considered disbanding the division and using its personnel for infantry replacements. Other issues stemmed from the “D-Series” collective training problem that “…caused over 30 percent of the participants to be hospitalized for frostbite, snow-blindness, exhaustion, broken bones, and other cold-weather related injuries” (p. 113). Finally, in late 1944, the Army decided to retain the 10th Mountain Division for deployment to Italy in the Apennine Mountains. 

Camp Hale’s use only lasted for a couple of years before it was deactivated at the end of World War II. However, the Army would later revisit the camp’s area during the Korean War and used Camp Hale a second time for cold weather and high-altitude training in the 1950s. In 1958, the Central Intelligence Agency would also use the area for training Tibetan guerillas who would later fight the communist Chinese.    

This book is recommended for anyone interested in the 10th Mountain Division and the Army’s development of mountain warfare. Additionally, the development of America’s ski industry can also be directly attributed to the soldiers and construction workers at Camp Hale during the 1940s. After the war, many of these soldiers and workers followed their love for the mountains, returning to Colorado and developing the ski and outdoor industries.           

                                   Andrew Young
Tampa, Florida