Fire on the Mountain: The Story of the 10th Mountain Division, First Run Features, New York, 50-minute VHS videotape, $29.95.
The Germans guarding Riva Ridge in northern Italy were confident that the 2,000-foot-high natural barrier was impassable to the enemy. American Lt. Gen. Lucian Truscott shared that opinion. But on the evening of February 18, 1945, the lead elements of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division scaled the ridge, blasted the Germans off and then fought successfully against German counterattacks before advancing up the Po Valley.
The story of the 10th Mountain Division, from its inception by pioneering skiers through its combat victories to the annual reunions in Colorado, is presented in this recently released video, First Run Features’ Fire on the Mountain: The Story of the 10th Mountain Division. What separates this video from most World War II documentaries is the amount of color footage used throughout the video. Footage of the division’s training in Colorado and Texas is shown in color, illustrating how the unit experimented with new winter equipment, including the first snowmobiles, motorized toboggans and snow cats. Period background music also helps create a 1940s feel.
The 10th comes off as one of the best-trained divisions of World War II. Most of its officers were excellent skiers, and the ranks were supplemented by professional European skiers as well as expert mountain climbers. Training was tough and realistic–they skied 20 to 24 miles a day with 100-pound packs on their backs. The training culminated in the “D-Series,” a climb in 30-degrees-below-zero weather. The D-Series was so tough, in fact, that during the assault on Riva Ridge one of the 10th Mountain soldiers admitted that, if things got any worse, it would be as difficult as the training had been.
The video also manages to show the lighter side of the 10th’s life Stateside. Whenever training ended, the soldiers would hit the slopes. In fact, despite their professionalism on the mountains, the men of the 10th cared little for military discipline. For them, skiing ability was more important than rank.
The video shows the division in action in northern Italy, where it was at home fighting in the mountainous terrain. After the assault on Riva Ridge and subsequent battles on a series of local hills–months of constant fighting–the 10th advanced to the Po Valley, crossing the Po River on April 23, 1945. The division moved so quickly it left 30 other Allied divisions behind. The 10th continued its rapid advance until May 2, when German forces in Italy surrendered. The end of the war found the 10th in the French Alps.
The video does not end there. Following the war, the 10th Mountain soldiers returned home to create ski resorts such as Aspen and Vale. Sixty-two ski resorts were managed or founded by 10th Mountain veterans, and more than 2,000 veterans became ski instructors. Other veterans founded the Sierra Club, the Disabled Veterans Clinic and Nike Corporation. The video closes with the veterans’ return to Riva Ridge to dedicate a plaque to their 992 comrades killed in action.
The only thing missing from this fine documentary is any mention of its most famous soldier, former Senator Bob Dole. It is odd that the story of his bravery and tragic wounding is passed over.
Fire on the Mountain is nicely put together, with great color images and period music that keep the story interesting. Anyone interested in World War II will gain an appreciation for this first-of-its-kind division.
Kevin M. Hymel