2662 Mountain Warfare Detachment
The American Special Mountain Training Detachment(Links to content:)
- Pop Sorenens history of the 2662 Detachment from the 1945-1946 American Ski Annual
- History of the 2662 Detachment courtesy of Jack Kappler. Author currently unknown
- Also see Wendall Broomhall's information on the 2662 Detachment
Members of the 2662 Detachment at St. Peters Rome, Italy.
Move mouse over individuals in photo for names, or see list below.
L to R Back row: Italien Guard, Harold G. Sorensen, Freddy Pieren, Carl Blanchard, John Lawson, Wendall Broomhall, Dave Conger, Unknown, Italian Guard.
L to R Front row: Jack Kappler, Paul Duke, Gordon Wren, Alfred Corbett, Robert Galaher.
"One of the guards was a friend of Freddy's and he actually came up to Mt. Terminillo and skied with us a couple of times."
Jack Kappler Feb 2003
Herb Rasor was present, but was filming the scene in the photo on his movie camera.
The following history is courtesy of Jack Kappler. The author is curretly unknown, but is obviously writen by one of the men in the detachment.
2662 Mountain Warfare Detachment
AMERICAN SKI ANNUAL
NATIONAL SKI ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA
Roger Langley Editor-in-Chief
THE AMERICAN SPECIAL MOUNTAIN TRAINING DETACHMENT
by T/Sgt. Harold G. Sorensen
At Camp Hale, Colorado, rumors were flying high and wide in December of 1943. A detachment was being picked - going across the big pond to work as rock climbing instructors attached to the British Army. Everybody was hoping and wishing to go along. Finally twenty men were picked. Some instructors came from the big rock climbing school in West Virginia, some came from the Winter Warfare School at Pine Camp, New York. and some from the detachment just back from Kiska in the Aleutians. We who were picked just had a silver spoon put in our mouths, as teh American Army had hundreds of instructors who were available for the assignment.
The detachment was made up of men who had many years experience in mountaineering and skiing, and civilian as well as Army experience in teaching. Major Edward Link was our commanding officer, a well-known mountaineer and skier from the northwest. Captain Hal Burton, best known for his outdoor sports articles in the New York News, was our second in command. Then came Lt. Patterson and Lt. Welden, well known Rangers from Mt. Rainier National park, and Lt. Clement, a fine mountaineer who has done lots of climbing as well as skiing in America and Europe. Then came T/Sgt. Gordon Wren from Steamboat Springs, known to be one of our outstanding downhill and slalom racers as well as a top-notch ski jumper; T/Sgt. Peter Pringsheim, well-known German skier; Sgt. Fred Pieren, not so well known in America, as he came from Switzerland in 1941. He represented Switzerland many times in European competitions - a stylist, downhill and slalom racer as well as a good jumper and professional mountain guide in the Swiss Alps for many yeas.
Then came Wendy Broomhall, one of our best American cross-country racers. M/Sgt. Herbert Rasor, T/Sgt. Eldon Metzger and Alfred Corbett from Portland, Oregon, experienced mountaineers from civilian and Army life- "Metz" with six first ascents in the States. Then came Sgt. Jack Kappler and Sgt. Clifford Schmidtke from Seattle, both fine skiers and mountaineers; Sgt. David Conger, Sun Valley national archery champion for 40 yards, also an excellent all-round skier and mountaineer; Sgt Carlton Blanchard, whom you would find before the War in the hut at Pinkham Notch, with his broad knowledge of skiing and mountains, was our star cook when a celebration came around; T/Sgt. Robert Galaher from Massachusetts, all-round skier and mountaineer and well-known competitor in Eastern downhill meets; Sgt. John Lawson, a guide and skier from Maine, always full of good stories and jokes; Smiling (Sonnie) Duke from Vermont, a good all-round ski teacher and mountaineer who was always ready for a discussion on any subject; and old Pop Sorensen, who is still trying to keep up with the youngsters.
We started out from Camp Hale in a snowstorm, both arms arching from all the different shots we had received. We had an interesting trip by rail to Miami and, of course, on the various stop-overs the whole detachment went out sightseeing and it was most interesting for some of us who had not traveled much down south. It was an unforgettable trip, flying the Army route to Natal and we were glad to be up in the cool air when we flew over the South American jungles. It was a beautiful and wild sight and the Amazon River tremendous. In Natal we found the real hot tropics. Christmas afternoon we went swimming for some relief but even the water was too warm.
We made the jump over the big pond in eight hours and landed in Dakar. Here we had quite a wait before going north, but enjoyed a wonderful beach with playing and swimming and getting a suntan every day. The flight over the Sahara Desert was impressive. In Algiers we had quite a wait as the British Mountain School in Lebanon, which we were to join, had closed when the desert drive was over. Captain Burton arranged a ski meet, sponsored by the Stars and Strips. We took off in a six by six and finally arrived at a French winter resort above Bilda in the Atlas mountains. The snow conditions and the equipment were poor and we had quite a time skiing with G.I. shoes, ash skis with leather bindings, trying to dodge flags, rocks and grass and keep the skis going in the right direction. It was a sight for sore eyes to see Gordy Wren racing down in his customary flashy way to win the race. Finally orders came and we hopped over to Naples to join the newly formed British Mountain School at Sepino. In Naples we first really found what a war means - people starving, buildings smashed to the ground, people begging for food and air raid sirens blaring for people to take cover.
We had quite an exciting drive from Naples to Sepino in a six by six driven by a colored boy. We took detours, as all the bridges were blown out. A usual two and a half hour drive took something like seventeen hours, and it was a hungry and frozen bunch of americans who finally drove into Sepino.
We got the British Colonel Scott up from bed, and what a swell person he was, a real skier and mountaineer. He got out his Scotch, gin and beer and it did not take long before the whole gang was singing the old 87th songs.
At Sepino we trained all kinds of nationalities in the Allied forces mountaineering skill, rock climbing, living in the snow, taking advantage of nature, and also mule training. While stationed here at Sepino we made three first ascents on three mountain peaks with skis. High up we found some wonderful skiing and real powder snow. Our equipment was mixed British and American. We had very good American skis but here at Sepino we could not get any steel edges, and it really was a great handicap, as we found much windblown crust and icy conditions.
The winter training was over and our three months were up. Then Col. Scott, when the summer schedule was to start, asked for the American detachment to work with the school for three more months. It was mostly rock-climbing, mules and rough terrain training. It was an all-round course which covered most of the principles of taking care of oneself in the high mountains. Of course, two weeks was not enough, but it is surprising how glad the troops were to get some of the good points. Even those who had been in the field four or five years fighting always thanked us, wishing they could have some more training. We worked with Americans, English, Scots, Indians, Gurkas, Poles, New Zealanders, South Africans, Canadians and were also sent out several times on "circuses" and worked with the troops in the field.
Italy was a problem for using waxes, as we found all kinds of snow from ice to powder and slushy snow the same day, starting form 1000 to 7000 feet.
During our time here some of the men worked almost up on the front lines, some of the men went up to Anzio when it was damned hot around there. Some of us went on reconnaissance patrols when the terrain was too rough for the gang we had trained. It was very interesting work and we gained much knowledge and made good friends with men from all over the world. And then our three months were up and we were sailing for home. The British School really held a wonderful goodbye party for us and we left Sepino and our new good friends.
We sweated out our departure for one month at the Seventh Repl. Depot near Naples and some of the boys were to be P.W. guards. Three hours before going up the gangplank new orders arrived. The American detachment was to stay in Italy to continue working with the British school. It was a disappointment in some ways, but we all took it with a smile. As the school was moving up to Terminello, we got a vacation of two weeks. and we all took off for Grand Sasso, the highest peak in the Apennines. It was here that the Germans had made their daring raid and recaptured Mussolini. We found some of their wrecked gliders still there.
At the Grand Sasso we found everything that a mountaineer and a skier could wish for. There was a tramway to take up to the hotel, as we had managed to get hold of some gasoline for the motors. We had some wonderful climbing there and the most beautiful autumn weather, cold and crisp, and the fall coloring was superb. It did not take long before we were again back in the best of physical condition, after the long sweat at the Seventh Repl. Depot. There was talk that we were to train the students for the last two weeks of their course at Grand Sasso. We had the downhill, slalom and jumping hills picked out.
We moved over to Terminello, a resort town rear Rome, which was built by Mussolini. Here the British Mountain School was to work the winter of 1944-1945. Terminello lies at almost 7000 feet and was a wonderful spot for the type of training we were to teach. There was a six weeks course taking in skiing, mules, ice, snow and rock climbing, snowshoes, living in the snow in all types of snow holes and lean-tos, route finding, rock work - in a word, real mountaineering. The students were replacements for the British mountain troops, paratroopers and commandos, all very picked men of the British Army.
During the autumn we built a ski hill. We had a lot of fun figuring out how to build a scaffolding, as fifteen men had fifteen different opinions. We cut our own trees and spiked them together and it turned out to be a masterpiece, 27 feet high. With Capt. White's help we blasted out the underhill and when finished we had a wonderful training hill, good for 85 feet. The snow came in the middle of November, and we skied almost every day from then on to the middle of April. The British Mountain troops called for good skiers, so we had the students on skis almost every day of their six week schedule. It should be emphasized that the loose binding kept our accidents at a minimum. The first week we used cross-country hitches and even later when using heavy packs downhill we used the cables under the toe irons. All of the troops took to skiing in fine spirit, and the atmosphere was such as one finds in civilian life. It was amazing how well they handled skis after four weeks of training, and most of the men had never used a pair of skis before. When they heard the first time they were going out to sleep in snow holes they did not like the idea. They said they were going to freeze to death in that cold snow. The morning after everybody always admitted they'd rather sleep in a snow hole than in a tent. Many of the night were spent out, so the students would know how to take care of themselves in any situation.
Under the six weeks training schedule, with mules and all round mountaineering, the boys were not experts but were a fair gang of men to join any unit. At this school the war-weary men got good hotels to live in and the food was excellent too, so everybody training there told us it was like a rest camp, even though they worked very hard. It was due to Col Scott that this atmosphere was created - a grand man. Thanksgiving of 1944 we all admitted was as near to a home celebration as it is possible to make a feast. We had some American students, right from the front lines. So we thought a real celebration was due. Thanks to Major Link's getting everything from soup to nuts and lots of turkey and Blanchard's wonderful cooking, the party was tops.
Our waxing problems here were quite simple, as we had only the three Army waxes to work with. The students, after three days,3 were experimenting with them by themselves and some became quite fair at the art. We also were fortunate to have a T-bar ski lift running the whole winter. After two and three weeks of cross-country and downhill teaching we taught as far as the lifted stem. The ski lift was then used by the students for a quicker way of getting in the most downhill training and getting used to speed and turns. We were most grateful for our American skis, and this year we had edges, which made our work so much easier, as we had the same snow conditions here as at Sepino.
Whenever we had a few hours to ourselves we used to play around on skis, either over at the ski lift doing some good schussing or a new slalom course which everyone had to set out every day. Thanks to our wonderful skiers and teachers it did not take long before everyone looked very flashy on the boards, for everyone would criticize everyone's run and give him a helping hand. It would be hard, even in civilian life, to find such a training camp where the atmosphere and sportsmanship were better. Our officers were always with us, playing and racing, and very good competitors they were, with Major Link up with the first four in every race. Every evening there was a discussion of methods of teaching, climbing, skiing and racing, amid the pleasant smell of G.I. and civilian wax.
To make the racin more interesting we drew up five teams from our detachment.
The British instructors also made up their own teams, and we also had an Italian competing all winter. Sorry to say we did not keep our score cards from all these races but the competition was always very keen, with Americans leading teh field in individual and team competition. Gordy was always the first man, except one or two times on short races when a local bay named Dino came in first. This Italian youngster was very good, and with our coaching, made much improvement during the winter. Added to our own detachment Capt. Newton of Canada, Capts, Aitcheson and Eden of England made for keen competition and lots of color. After most every race a little banquet and a dance was held, upholding the skiers' reputation for work and play.
The American enlisted men lived in the Italian Aeronautica Club house with our own kitchen. We had a wonderful Italian cook and drew American rations. We had a big dining hall, a wonderful bar and music from a radio and gramophone. This hall was the scene of many fine parties, speeches and dancing with the beautiful senoritas. Our officers were always invited and we think that they enjoyed themselves as much as we did.
The feature race of the season was in March, when an Italian team from the University of Rome challenged an American and English team. We won the race with Gordy first and Fred Pieren in second place, but the Italian team was a very close second.
Our little ski hill was also used a great deal during the winter. Everybody in the detachment came over and big take-off before the winter was over. We all started from the small take-off and trained up to the big one. Gordy again, with coaching and hard training, showed what a great all-round skier he is. He will be hard man to beat on any hill as he has a wonderful flight arc and landing style. Pieren too showed his all-round skiing ability by excellent jumping. Old Sorensen showed that he could still get out there too, and Wendy, with his good jumping, showed he was still a top-notch combined skier - cross-country and jumping. Gordy has the hill record of eighty-seven feet. It was amazing the kick we got out of this little hill. It has the height, flight and landing feel of a 180 foot hill. Here again coaching, criticizing and judging the individual was a great help to everyone. We had a hard time to find any jumping skis, but we were finally able to buy two pairs of ten year old jumping planks, which we planed down and straightened with a blowtorch so that they could be used. The two pairs were a sight when the winter was over - all covered with nails, screws and tape from the breaking, splintering and abuse they had taken during the winter.
Our 1944 Christmas party was a great success. We had a fine tree which reached to the ceiling of the hall and all the gifts from home were put under it. It was fine to watch everybody's face, smiling and thankful for all the kind thoughts and greetings form home. Again for this holiday Blanchard cooked a wonderful turkey dinner. We had a slalom race in the morning and everybody was hungry and full of Christmas spirit for the dinner.
Then the winter and the training were over and our help was no longer needed by the British Army; we were to join the 10th Mt. Division for the last push in Italy. Again the British Mountain School held a wonderful fare well party for us. It was really sad to leave so many good friends. We are all hoping to meet them again when back in civilian life. It was the last party too, as the British Mountain School broke up two weeks after we left.
We never joined the Tenth as a detachment. The Division needed replacements very badly, there being no pool of trained mountaineers to replace all the casualties they had spearheading two pushes. So we went down to the 244th Repl. Depot to start a training school for replacements. It really started in a hurry. We came down Saturday night and the School was in full swing Monday morning with 300 students. Thanks to Major Link's and Lt. Patterson's ground work and the instructor's long experience everything went over very smoothly. The boys had one week of mule training and then were sent up to Piedmonte for one week of mountaineering. It was a short time but we are sure that it helped them greatly when they got up to the Division. We met many boys who had volunteered back in the States with the National Ski Association's recommendation. We trained them and got to know them well, and were proud to send them up to help our good old friends in the Division, which was spearheading the final Italian drive and having lots of casualties.
While teaching here we did not have any time for playing around. When the day was done we were glad to get into our bunks for a well earned rest. During our sixth week at the 23th Depot the long awaited V-E Day came. At first we thought it was a false rumor and finally we found it was the truth. We had two days off but did not do any celebrating, thinking of our friends still dying and fighting the Japs. We know that one part of the war was done but that much fighting was still o be done before we could go back to a peaceful and normal civilian life again. The school and the Detachment's work finished that week, and we again were to rejoin the 10th Division.
During the Detachment's one and a half years of work we had very few accidents among those trained and among the teachers also. Here one man cut his leg rock-climbing, one a broken collar-bone jumping, one sprained ankle skiing and two hurt in a car wreck.
And so the sad day came when finally the Special Mountain Detachment broke up. We stayed a few days at the Rome rest center and then began to scatter. Some of the men transferred to the Special Service force in Italy. The boys with enough points for discharge went up to the Tenth and were going back to the States hoping to get back into civilian life and take up where they left when joining the Armed Forces. It is funny how a group of skiers can grow so close together. The fifteen enlisted men were just like a big family of brothers. What a celebration it will call for when we meet back in civilian life again!
HISTORY OF 2662 MOUNTAIN WARFARE DETACHMENT
This is the story of 2662 Mountain Warfare Detachment, as motley a crew of individualists as can be found in the American Army, who despite their violent and sometimes vitriolic arguments have always been proud of their ability to get together when the going was tough and turn out the best possible work in the shortest possible time. It certainly is not a diffident group of men, whatever the rank, and must on occasion have been trying company. But in this outspoken individuality lies the strength of the detachment and the reason for its success in teaching the fundamentals of mountain warfare to units of all nationalities in the 5th and 8th Armies.
For the convenience of the reader, lists of Personnel, Movement Orders, Training programs and other charts have been placed in the Appendix*. Other matters, hastily summarized in the following Introduction are treated at more length under individual headings such as Travel and Personnel, Training*, Equipment* and Morale*.
*Not published on this web site.
No one was sure of the overseas destination of the Special Mountain Warfare Training Detachment, but everyone was convinced that whatever it was, the assignment was a prize one. It was a boisterous group of 5 Officers and 15 EM (Enlisted Men) who left Camp Hale, Colorado on December 15, 1943 by train enroute for Miami, Florida and points east. Part of them, all with previous experience in teaching mountain and winter warfare technique, had just returned from the "dry run" invasion of Kiska, sure that anywhere else on the globe was preferable to that land of wind, mist and mud, while the rest of the men and Officers had been on duty in the West Virginia Maneuver Area teaching rock climbing to four divisions and later, in Pine Camp, N.Y. giving winter training to the 5th. armored Division.
The detachment flew out of Miami in three separate planes just before Christmas, flying the southern route, and had a reunion in Dakar, French West Africa, where they had their first whift of the east in Rufisque and where, in lieu of reveille, black boys paraded through the barracks spraying insect repellent in the faces of protesting sleepers. There, despite a 2A priority, the group stayed for a week, while USO personnel and others on lesser priorities passed through. Anxious to reach the assignment, the personnel began to hitch rides on passing bombers to Marrekech and Port Leauty. After another delay, in Algiers where it was learned that the destination had been changed from the Middle East Mountain School (Br.) at Lebanon to the Snow Warfare School CMF at Sepino, Italy, Lt.-Col J.M. Scott, R.A. commanding, the detachment flew to Naples. Blown up bridges and bombed roads made the trip to Sepino a 12 hour affair and the detachment reported for duty at 0100 January 19th, and arrival that by reason of song and whiskey will not easily be forgotten by either British or Americans. Training duty began the next day, with the members of the detachment at first acting as observers, then exercising a positive influence on the program and teaching methods of the school.
Since then, the Detachment has trained men from virtually every unit in the 5th. and 8th. Armies, sometimes in rear areas, at other times just behind the front lines. Officers and men have lead mountain patrols and conducted reconnaissances into enemy held territory. Officers have lead mule trains of American supplies by mule to the front.
Training has covered every phase of mountain movement. After the snow left Sepino in March, 1944, troops were taught rock climbing, mountain walking and route-finding, mule packing and the movement of heavy equipment by means of rope traverses and bridges, fixed ropes and pulleys. Small "circuses" consisting of officers and men were sent to 28 separate units before mid-August giving demonstrations of mountain equipment and mountain warfare techniques to large units, and training special mountain teams in the fundamentals of rock climbing, mountain movement and rope techniques. Thereafter, individuals were sent to five more units, British and American.
The detachment had been sent overseas on a 3 month TD basis at the request of a British mission to the War Department headed by Brigadier Barclay. This TD status was twice renewed at the request of Lt.-Col. Scott until August, 1944 when the detachment was sent to the 7th. Replacement Depot for shipment to the United States. The movement order was countermanded by AP(?)HQ and the detachment rejoined the British School, now known as the Mountain School, at Terminillo, 65 miles out of Rome.
At Terminillo, with ski lift and abundant snow from November to March, troops from American Divisions as well as from the Lovat Scouts, Highland Light Infantry, Special Service Troops, Long Range Desert Group, Popsky's Private Army (British) and OSS (American) were taught route-finding, map reading in the mountains, rock, snow, and ice climbing, winter bivouacking and skiing. The normal training period of one month for specialized troops produced skilled Army skiers able to negotiate mountain terrain with winter equipment.
The detachment has had a number of commendations. Major Link, Lt. Clement, and Sgt. Duke were commended by the 5th. Army Quartermaster for teaching the proper use of mountain and winter equipment to more than 20,000 troops in II and IV Corps. Lts. Burton and Clement, along with TSgts. Metzger and Sorensen, and Sgt. Schmidtke were commended for leading mountain patrols on Monte della Maiella, near Pescara, for the Household Cavalry Regiment (British).
Written documents issued by the Detachment include a report by Major Link and Lt. Clement on French Corps mountain tactics; reports on Mountain patrolling and the polish Corps snow tactics by Lt. Burton; the rock climbing section of a handbook on Mountain Mobility issued by The Mountain School; and a textbook for Instructors on Rock Climbing by Sgt. Corbett.
Travel and the Personal
It was no well-knit group that boarded the train at Camp Hale, Colorado although many of the men had known one another before. Rather it was a bunch of individuals gathered from the northern half of America and from parts of Europe, but all were tied together by a common love of mountains and outdoor life. All of the men had been climbing and skiing enthusiasts before the war, and many of them made their living teaching mountaineering or skiing. They had been picked from Camp Hale by Lt. Col. Cook, Spec. Projects, Sec. G-3, A.G.F. for their instructional ability and experience.
There never was an army trip quite like this one. Instead of being herded into an ancient pullman or decaying coach just behind the engine where soot and dirt came swirling through the cracks of the window frames, the group was given an observation pullman car which took it all the way to Miami. Having a car almost to itself was good for the morale of the group and helped the men come to know each other. They needed time to get together, because they started on the trip not only as separate individuals but as clashing groups from Kiska and West Virginia.
The Officer in charge, Lt. Hazel E. Link set the tone of individual responsibility right from the start. At the almost daily stop-overs he would give the time for return and let every man take off for himself. He had come to the mountain troops from tank corps and never forgot his tank training. Among some of the men his cross-country jeep trips over the hills of Colorado had become famous. He had much army experience in directing mountain training, for he had been in charge of Army rock climbing schools in Buena Vista, Va., training the 45th. Division, and in the West Virginia Maneuver Area where combat teams from the 28th, 29th, 32nd, and 78th. Divisions and other units were trained. He had also been OIC of the Cooper Hill School, 10,000 feet up in the Colorado Rockies where members of the 10th. Division had been given ski training, and served in the detachment giving winter training to the 5th. Armored Division at Pine Camp N.Y. He was promoted to Captain shortly after the unit came overseas, and to Major almost a year later.
Most of the boys could sing the old songs of the 87th. Mountain Infantry Regiment, and in the evenings the observation car would be full of sound and perhaps too little harmony, with the words of "OOLA SKI Jumper from Norway" and "Ninety Pounds of Rucksack" drowning out the rattle of the wheels. Singing was good for the men. Despite their differing experiences it gave them a common bond.
An ex-newspaperman and onetime enlisted man in the 87th., Lt. Burton was able to add a barber-shop chord and a few new verses, and he could always be counted on for a story about the places the train passed through. As an enlisted man he had served on the Columbia Ice Fields expedition in Canada, and as an officer he had been a supervisor at the West Virginia Maneuver Area School. He could sling a good line, and his ability to nose out the situation in any location was to come in handy later on when the detachment arrived in Italy unattached to any unit in the theater.
Pueblo, Colorado seemed to be full of bars. Bars, as any soldier can tell you, are as good places to find out about men as any, and the stop-over was used in casing the joints and listening to each others' stories.
Lt. Patterson was no drinking man, but he had a lot of interesting stories. He had been a Park Ranger at Mount Rainier National Park in civilian life and during the summers from 1936 to 1941 he was employed for mountain rescue work and had been the official who passed on all climbing parties before they were allowed to make an ascent of the mountain. In the Army he had been ski instructor, and as OIC of the 87th. Mountain Infantry School had taught rock and ice technique to the mountain troopers. At Kiska, he lead one of the first assault teams ashore.
Conveniently enough for the men, the train always made a four or five hour lay-over in the evening. This was just long enough in Kansas City to let the men order huge steaks and do a little Christmas shopping.
Lt. Weldon may not have looked like a trencherman, but his appetite was soon to become famous. He was District Park Ranger at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington from 1940-42 and had previous experience in the mountains of Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Idaho, Colorado, and Wyoming. His civilian experience in skiing qualified him as a ski instructor in the Army School at Cooper Hill, Colorado.
Perhaps a train trip does something to a soldier's point of view, but it seemed to the members of the detachment that the town of Atlanta, Georgia was full of beautiful women. Despite competition from OCS candidates and paratroopers, hunting was good, and the men came back to the train reluctantly.
Lt. Clement saw a lot of funny sights in town, or told about his evening in a way that made it sound funny. He had climbed and skied in New England, but most of his mountaineering was done in the Alps. He spent most of his summers in France and following his graduation from college lived in the Haute-Savoy area. During the first part of the war he joined the American Field Service in France, earning the Croix de Guerre from the French Government. After the fall of France he remained in the country working for American Field Service until after Pearl Harbor, then made his way through Portugal to America. He took part in the Kiska invasion, and upon his return was designated as the best platoon leader in the 87th. Mountain Infantry Regiment.
Miami Beach, jammed with soldiers and civilians might have been a good place for officers, but it certainly was not a soldiers town. Prices were high and girls were officer-conscious. In Miami there was a good deal of processing routine to go through and not much time to see the town or buy presents, for no one knew just when the detachment would fly south. The morning roll call at the Fleetwood Hotel was always good for a laugh, because the C.Q. never called anyone by his correct name. T/Sgt. Pringsheim took the worst beating.
Peter Pringsheim had come to America in 1936. Between college and university course he had time to ski and climb throughout Europe, entering major competitions from 1931-36. During the winter of 1932-33, before Hitler's rise to power, he had been a civilian instructor to German Mountain Troops. In the Army his ability to speak German, Swiss and Italian with his general education had qualified him for military Intelligence school. He served with the Intelligence (Hq. Co.) platoon of the 87th. Mountain Infantry Regiment in the Kiska invasion.
The detachment flew out of Miami in three separate planes, leaving December 23,24, and 25 and spent Christmas at various waypoints along the route between Miami and Natal, Brazil. It would have been a dreary Christmas had not the army provided a turkey dinner for everyone, reminding them that they had not been forgotten.
Herb Rasor had a field day taking pictures along the way. He was to become the most useful man in the detachment. His five years in the National Guard and Army had made him familiar with the army quirks, and he was an expert in any of the delicate repair details that stumped the rest of the men. In civilian life he had been a climbing guide, an instructor of First Aid for the Red Cross and a leader in the National Ski Patrol. He had climbed the Grand Teton in Wyoming, all the major peaks in the Pacific N.W. and had in three successive years made the first winter ascent of Mount Hood, Oregon. His service in the army included assignments as rock climbing instructor in Buena Vista, Va., and ski instructor at Cooper Hill, Colorado. He also took part in the Kiska invasion.
In Natal the members of the detachment stood in line with Air Corps men buying the boots that were to be the trademark of air crews in North Africa and Italy, and took a trip to the long crescent beach outside the airbase where they bathed under the hottest sun that ever blistered white winter skies. Several C-87 transport caught fire after the take-off. They returned to the base safely, however, and in another plane made the long trip over the South Atlantic to Dakar.
Eldon Metzger was another mountaineer from Oregon, who had climbed all major peaks in the west coast states. He was credited with five first ascents in Washington's Chelan Range and took part in the 7 day first ascent of St. Peters Dome, a rock spier in Ore. He taught skiing and rock climbing for the Army at Mount Rainier, in Colorado and Virginia and served on two experimental army expeditions, at Mt. Rainier and the Colombia Ice Fields in Canada. On this last expedition he was in charge of all experimental glacier work.
Dakar with it's gleaming white buildings and dark green foliage looked inviting from the air, but Lt. Clement was the only member of the detachment who managed to get into town. He had a friend in the consular service there. The men were to find later that he had friends wherever he went. The Dakar airbase wasn't a bad place to be set down.
The officer in charge of the base had earned the regard of his enlisted personnel by serving notice that until the needs of the men were taken care of, nothing would be done for the officers. Because of this rather novel approach, the staff was more willing to wait out the war at that remote outpost. Movies and USO shows were provided as well as a good PX, and transportation to the beach.
Paul Duke had already bought himself souvenirs at every place he had stopped, and in Dakar he added to his store by trading. Somehow he always seemed to come out on top. He had lived in almost every state in the Union at one time or another, had climbed and skied all over the United States, and had been a hunting and fishing guide. As one of the youngest professional Ski Instructors ever licensed, he taught skiing in New England for several winters. In the Army he was a climbing instructor in Lincoln, N. H., taught ski and winter warfare to the 2nd. Division in Wisconsin and instructed skiing and climbing at Camp Hale, Colorado, before going on the Kiska invasion.
Dakar was quite a place all right. There the men first ran into petty thievery and learned lessons that were to protect them later on in other parts of Africa and Italy. They first met the smell of the East in the incredibly filthy town of Rufisque on the way to the beach, and learned to take precautions against malaria. The beach was the most important place. The members of the detachment were never willing to remain inactive for long, and ever day they jammed into the trucks and spent their time at the beach playing wild games of touch football, having track meets and riding out the surf.
As a physical training coach, swimming instructor, boxer, horseman and Olympic skier in 1940, Gordy Wren had always led an active life. He won many big races including the famous Harriman Cup Slalom Championships at Sun Valley in 1942, and had, as an FIS Amateur Ski Instructor at the Dick Durrance School, taught skiing to the 503rd. Parachute Ski Regiment. In the army he taught climbing at the first army schools at Rainier and Fort Lewis, and later in West Virginia. He supervised army skiing at Cooper Hill and taught skiing and winter warfare at Pine Camp, N.Y.
The detachment had a hard time getting out of Dakar. Despite it's supposedly high 2A priority, mail, USA personnel, and others of lower priority somehow left ahead of the detachment. Anxious to begin work, the officers and men started hitching rides on bombers to Marrekech, Port Leauty--anywhere to get closer to Algiers. That seemed to break the jam, and the remainder of the men flew out on regular ATC planes.
Cross-country travel was Wendy Broomhall's meat. He had been one of America's top cross-country skiers before the war, winning the North American Cross-Country Ski Championships at Lake Placid and coming in second in the eastern U.S. Championships of 1941. In his native Maine he had trapped and hunted in the mountains. As a soldier he served with the Columbia Ice Fields expedition and taught skiing and winter warfare in Wisconsin and at Cooper Hill, Colorado.
The flight over part of the Sahara desert and the Atlas Mountains was an interesting one, and looking at the lonely Foreign Legion posts, at the few green patches of civilization and at the old Arab forts made the men forget how cold it was in a well-ventilated bomber flying two miles above the ground. The town of Marrekech was bitterly cold at night; even with the three blankets supplied by ATC and an overcoat the men were shivering all night. The town was interesting to those who were fortunate enough to see it, especially the old market place of Medina. A machine-age youth from the Bronx led a few of the men through the old city, pointing out how backward the people were who had built the beautifully inlayed palaces: "Christ what a time it took to build this joint! And what do they have to show for it? Not even a decent chair! They just sat on the floor". The streets of the market place were full of hooded women, beggars, glib-tongued commission artists who flat and cajoled the prices down to four times their proper value; of children who crept up close and whispered "Dentine" in caressing voices, donkeys piled high with vegetables, fruits and spices, and carts that were driven at a furious rate through the crowds by drivers yelling "Guardez, guardez!" at the top of their voices. There were strange new smells there, of leather, wool, strange fruits and spices. Out in the square a story-teller was ham-acting his tale to a circle of pop-eyed children, and the worst old pirate of them all, a bearded snake charmer, was going through a 30-second performance that would have put a circus peep show to shame. Trying to buy souvenirs in the little stalls of the Medina market the men ran into the Air Corps again and discovered that whenever an aviator appears prices go ski high, out of reach of an infantryman's pocket book.
The commercial morals of the East were different from those Al Corbett had known in law practice before the war. During his summers he spent most of his time in the Cascade mountains in Oregon, hunting, fishing, climbing many major peaks, and leading pack horse trips into the mountains. During the winters he skied in New England and on Mt. Hood in Oregon. His army experience included teaching rock climbing at the West Virginia school, where with Wren and Schmidtke he also conducted a course to train students in the technique of instructing rock climbing, and instructing skiing and winter warfare to the 5th. Armored Division at Pine Camp, N.Y.
The detachment met again at Algiers after passing through Oran. There they stayed for almost a week while Lt. Link. tried to get definite information about the destination of the unit. It took three days to find that the destination had been changed from the British Middle East Mountain School at Lebanon to the Snow Warfare School CMF. Then no one knew where the school was located, and more time was wasted before it was learned that the school had moved from Kartoum to Sepino, Italy.
Freddy Pieren was a good man to know in Algiers, for being a Swiss by birth, he could speak French, German and some Italian. In civilian life he had been a Swiss Government Certified Mountain guide and Ski Instructor 1 He had skied, climbed, instructed and guided for 13 years in Switzerland and other parts of Europe. During that period he had served in the Swiss Army and had instructed their mountain troops. In 1941 he came to America and made his living as a ski instructor and guide. His experience in climbing and skiing had made him an expert on winter equipment, and he was recognized by all men to be the outstanding mountaineer in the detachment. After taking an Intelligence course for Interpreter and interrogator of Prisoners of War, he served as a Supervisor in the West Virginia Manoeuver Area rock climbing school and as a Ski and Winter Warfare Instructor at Pine Camp, N.Y. 2
Algiers was a difficult place to describe. In January, 1944 it was full of soldiers and sailers, veiled women from the Casbah, Arabs and friendly whores. The officers seemed to have taken over the town, out of bounds signs were everywhere posted against enlisted men. There was movement in the city, but the overall impression was of a place convalescing from a long illness. Again the members of the detachment ran into the Air Corps and ATC. Not that anybody was particularly hurt, but the women hanging around the Aletti Hotel charged fantastic prices. This constant upping of prices beyond the reach of an infantryman made such an impression on the members of the detachment that later, in Italy, the men consulted British Tommies before making an offer for souvenirs, eggs and vino. The detachment was not satisfied to hang around town; so it somehow managed a trip to a mountain resort above Bilda, a mock North African Ski meet was held. It was a beautiful resort, set high on a hill overlooking fertile plains and the Mediterranean. There the men had a wonderful meal, cooked in french style.
1. While there may have been many Swiss mountain guides beforehand, Jack Kappler told Matthew Galaher that Freddy Pieren's father was the first Swiss mountain guide to be certified. He also said that he remembers that Freddy was certified at a very early age. i.e. his teens.
2. Matthew Galaher notes that due to their language skills Freddy Pieren and Bob Galaher both served in Europe immediately after the war as part of the de-militarization process.
Carl Blanchard had spent most of his life outdoors, skiing and climbing, fishing and hunting all over New England. In peacetime he had worked in the Appalachian Mountain Club Hut System. Starting as a "packer" he worked up to caretaker of the eight Huts of the System. One summer he guided parties on a Dude Ranch in the Mt. Shasta, California area; another summer was spent as counselor at a boys camp. In army life he instructed Ski and winter warfare with the 2nd Division in Wisconsin and rock climbing at Camp Hale, Colorado before going on the Kiska invasion.
After it had been established that the destination of the detachment was Sepino, Italy, a little town near the base of a 6000 foot mountain, the group flew to Naples, passing over the ruins of Bizerte, skirting the shore-line of Sicily, and cutting down close to Mt. Vesuvius before landing, Having arrived in town after dark, the men did not find a place to stay until after twelve O'clock. That was the first indication of the same sad story. The unit was attached to no organization in the theater. Generally the Americans said they could, officially, do nothing for the men since the detachment was attached to the British, while the British disclaimed all responsibility toward an American Unit. During the difficult period before the American Army straightened out the administrative tangle--some five months--the detachment found many friends. American units generally managed to do unofficially what they were not allowed to do officially, one British organization lent the detachment 20 blankets when no American unit would do this, and the Commandant of the Snow Warfare School was generous with British equipment. But this lack of a parent body was a serious problem. It was even difficult to get proper medical treatment and supplies for the men.
Jack Kappler came close to being a medic. By common consent he was the arbiter on First Aid and medical training. He had been a First Aid instructor for the American Red Cross, and at the Boeing Aircraft plant he organized First Aid teams and kept the organization running smoothly. On week-ends as a member of the National Ski Patrol he put his training to practice, patching up injuries of other skiers. In the summer he climbed through the Cascade mountains. He instructed skiing at the Army school at Cooper Hill, Colorado, taught rock climbing at West Virginia and skiing and winter warfare at Pine Camp, N.Y.
Naples, teaming with refugees from the war-torn districts in the North, was a discouraging city of filth and the most abject poverty the men had ever seen. No one was sorry to leave, although it had been quite an experience to see flames shooting from the top of the now-active Vesuvius. The roads leading out of Naples were badly cut up, signs were inadequate and diversions were often unmarked--once the truck came to a totering stop on the edge of a blown-out bridge. The trip started in the afternoon and continued into the night, the big six-by-six truck roaring through bombed and battered towns, past children yelling "Hi Joe, caramelli" and on up into the hills. One lost track of the number of times the trailer had to be taken off and moved by hand while the truck backed around a tight corner. It was after midnight when the truck turned up the side road loading to Sepino, and the detachment's arrival was a surprise to the British who had not been informed of the gift of the U.S. Army that was being bestowed on them. They recovered bravely, and the Commandant of the school, Lt. Col. John A. Scott broke out some scotch and Irish whisky to warm up the new arrivals. But the meeting was formal; everyone was a little embarrassed until Pop Sorensen insisted that the detachment, as old skiers, treat the gathering to a song or two. That broke the ice and everyone started talking.
Harold Sorensen had been one of the top ski jumpers in America as well as in his native Norway. He had represented Norway in international competitions from 1927-29, and after coming to America jumped in all the big meets and coached the U.S. Olympic Ski Jumping team for the 1936 Olympics. He was a member of the first Experimental Army Ski Patrol of the 44th Division at Old Forge, N.Y. in 1941 before transferring to the 87th Mt. Infantry Regiment. Thereafter he had been a ski instructor at Mt. Rainier, a ski and winter warfare instructor to the 2nd Division on its winter maneuvers in Wisconsin and a climbing instructor at Camp Hale, Colorado. He was a platoon sergeant during the Kiska Invasion.
The detachment was with the British Snow Warfare School, CMF from January 19 to September 7, 1944. From the base at Sepino, its members walked and climbed over the surrounding country, taking students up the 6000 foot Mt Miletto and its smaller sister mountain Mutria, taught rock climbing and rope work in the cliffs above the mountain streams, led mule trains over the rocky hill trails into remote villages untouched by war and man-packed heavy loads through mountainous terrain. The group did not spend all its time in the vicinity, however, for the men went out on "flying circuses", as they were called--small units of instructors who travelled to whatever spots units were located and there gave demonstrations of mountain equipment and movement and trained picked teams in the technique of Mountain Warfare. Members of the detachment covered most of occupied Italy during that period. They were as far south as Salerno and Taranto, and further north, members of the detachment taught British and American units on the Anzio beachhead, led reconnaissance patrols of the Household Calvary (Br) against the enemy on Mt. Maiella, instructed Polish units in the mountains directly behind Cassino and trained members of the of the Kings Dragoons Guards, in the center section under enemy observation and shellfire. Later some of the instructors accompanied forward units of the 4th Indian Division on its drive past Arezzo. The members of the detachment also gave training to the 34th Division in the Leghorn1 area. Every nationality except the French was encountered in that period, and Major Link and Lt Clement made a trip to obtain information on French mountain warfare tactics.
Dave Conger, the National Archery Champion in 1940 and 1941, may have moved around a lot, but he never seemed to be in a hurry. While instructing Archery at Sun Valley, Idaho, he continued his climbing and skiing. His College work in Forestry and two years graduate work in Wild Life Management had taken him into the woods for long periods. Before the Kiska invasion, he instructed skiing and winter warfare on the 2nd Division's Wisconsin maneuvers.
At the request of Colonel Scott the three months TD status of the detachment was renewed twice, so that the detachment did not leave Sepino until September 7, 1944. They departed after a jovial farewell party to the 7th Replacement Depot near Bagnoli, supposedly for shipment to America. After everyone had turned in all his surplus gear and souverniers, accumulated during eight months, (and two men had been called for shipment) word was received that the detachment would stay in the theater. Then followed two weeks of waiting in the sometimes damp, sometimes dusty bowl where the depot was located. The men got to know the Repple Depple well. It was filled with quiet, reserved infantrymen returning after Two years combat duty, over-age men being shipped home for a discharge, determined drinkers bucking for a Section 8 and cocky Air Corps men returning home after completing their fifty missions. While the attitude of the personnel of the Repple Depple was good, the little bowl outside of Bagnoli was a sorry place to stay. When the place was not choked with dust it was knee deep in mud, often the men stood forty minutes in a chow line to find the food practically gone when they reached the kitchen, and there was seldom enough water. The relationship between the Air Corps and the Infantrymen was not helped when the men were sent out to work on a detail to clean up tents left by departing Air Corps officers. Infantrymen generally took pride in keeping their tents neat, and as they worked in the swirling dust, folding up cots that should have been folded, picking up blankets and discarded equipment that should have been turned in and cleaning up the litter of papers and junk that should have been cleaned up, they became more disgusted than they had ever been on KP or latrine details. There was not a great deal to do in camp to releave the tedium of waiting except to write letters and sweat out the movies, and the men were glad to get passes and go off to a distant beach, where they swam and sailed in the native fishing boats.
As a man from the coast of Maine, John Lawson was happy to be near the sea again. In the winters when he was not sailing, he spent his time at a ski club he had helped organize and coached the University of Maine Ski team. He made the first ski ascent of Mt. Katadhin, Maine and had climbed and skied on major peaks in New England. In the army he gave climbing instruction to the 36th Division in New Hampshire and taught climbing and skiing at Camp Hale, Colorado before the Kiska invasion.
After the orders were straightened out and it was found that the detachment was to return to the British School (now known as The Mountain School) in a new location at Terminillo, ten men from the detachment were sent to Gran Sasso until the school should be ready for their arrival, while the others remained to draw equipment. At Sasso the men stayed 7000 feet up, at the top station of the Funivia1; where Mussolini had spent an unhappy week before the Germans dropped down from the air to carry him off. After sitting around in bad weather for a couple of days, the men couldn't stand the inactivity and went out regardless of weather. One party climbed Corno Piccolo on a day that ended in a snowstorm and once all the men took an 18 mile trip around the peaks, climbing and descending more than 5000 feet in their seven and a half hours of walking. In the evenings, gluewein and spaghetti feeds set the mood for singing.
Cliff Schmidtke should have been along, for he had earlier in the year made some difficult climbs at Sasso while training U.S. Special troops. He had been an airplane locator and fire lookout in the Columbia National Forest, had operated a ski lift, and had climbed and skied throughout the Northwest. He taught climbing at the West Virginia Maneuver Area school and skiing and winter warfare at Pine Camp, N.Y.
Terminillo is a fabulous place. Built as a winter showplace by Mussolini, it is full of fascist symbols, big hotels and expensive villas. The School took over most of the larger buildings, for the Commandant expected to teach men who came directly from combat, and was determined that the students should receive the best quarters possible. The billet allotted to the detachment was something to dream about, but definitely nothing like it had ever been seen in Army life. The country around Terminillo was as rugged as any the troops would encounter short of the Alps. With terrain running from rugged cliffs and snow-covered peaks to a rock gorge below the snow level, it was a good area for instruction. The detachment soon was looking the country over, and in a few days the men covered all the ground that any course might be expected to use, reporting on possible dangers from avalanches and recommending training areas.
Bob Galaher was a good man in the mountains, for he had climbed and skied in the New Hampshire mountains for six years before coming into the army, and had raced for two seasons through-out the east. In the Army he had been a rock climbing instructor in one of the first schools--at Fort Lewis-- had given troops training in skiing at Mt Rainier, rock climbing in Colorado and West Virginia and skiing and winter warfare at Pine Camp.
The members of the detachment did not move out of Terminillo very often, for the schedule did not give the men much time off, but after the snows came they did not mind. They used their evenings arguing a ski jump to completion-it was finally called the Tower of Babel, for reasons obvious to anyone within a three mile radius--and held informal jumping and slalom meets amongst themselves on free days. A few members of the detachment travelled north to give advice on winter warfare to units of the 85th, 88th and 91st Divisions, two officers, Major Link and Lt Clement expedited the movement of supplies to front line units and helped with mule pack outfits, and later those officers with Sgt Duke gave demonstrations and lectures to 20,000 troops in II and IV Corps on the proper use, fit and care of the new winter warfare equipment.
Lt Burton left the detachment in February to take a position in the PRO section of Headquarters, 15th Army Group, and Lt Wikner was sent by the 10th Division to take his place. He had skied in Sweden until 1926 and continued to follow the sport in America. With the 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment he served at Kiska and later taught skiing and winter warfare to the 76th Division during the winter of 1943-44.
The assignment to the Mountain School was terminated late in March, 1945 when the detachment was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division and sent to train replacements for the division at the 24th Replacement Depot. At that assignment former members of the detachment trained over 2100 replacements in the fundamentals of mule packing and mountain mobility.
1funicular \fyoo-NIH-kyuh-ler\ (noun) : a cable railway ascending a mountain; especially : one in which an ascending car counterbalances a descending car.