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Frank Harper - Military Ski Manual

This book was published in the winter or spring of 1943, the first year the U.S. mountain troops trained at Camp Hale. It includes many photographs by Lt. John Jay of ski troops training on Mt Rainier in 1941-42. It contains chapters on attack and defense tactics, organization, bivouacs on snow, rations and dietetics, equipment, skiing instruction, and mountain safety.

In the Acknowledgments, the author writes: "Although the bulk of the material has come directly from personal experience, I have drawn upon several valuable books for supplementary information. The bibliography includes the National Ski Association's Manual of Ski Mountaineering and the War Department's Basic Field Manual. (See jay-1944-p132 and fawcus-1947 .)

I flipped through the technical chapters in this book but haven't made notes on them. I focused my attention on the historical chapters instead. John Woodward (woodward-john) did not recall this book. He said that instructors at Camp Hale wrote drafts of their own manuals, but he didn't remember them being distributed beyond the MTC instructors. On the other hand, an e-mail from Alan Brunelle (6 Dec 2007) suggests that some enlisted men at Camp Hale may have had this book in their possession by December 1943. So its possible that this book was really used during 10th Mountain Division training, contrary to my initial skepticism.

Chapter 3 - Notes on Organization

p. 103: "The opinion that the ski troop represents only a subordinated part of the army must be discarded. Wherever mountains are concerned, the ski troop is the most important part of the army in winter time, and all other branches are subordinated." That's a pretty strong statement, but representative of the author's focus on ski fighting.

p. 109: "The foremost problem of military skiing, however, [is] simply this: are skis to be kept on or thrown off in combat? To answer it at once, we believe that the skis must be kept on wherever possible, especially in alpine skiing." Later the author writes (p. 333): "The Finns consider that actual fighting never takes place on skis, and therefore use the toe-binding so that they can throw off their skis easily. We have already seen that the Finns are not entirely correct in this point of view. By taking off their skis they restrict their freedom of movement to some extent." My guess is that the author's position is based on conjecture about alpine combat, while the Finn's position is based on experience in forest combat.

Chapter 9 - Russia-Finland 1939-1940

p. 321: Most of this chapter discusses the Finnish victory near Lake Kianta (Suomussalmi). The author writes: "It is still difficult, if not impossible, to get a true picture of the Russian-Finnish campaign of the winter of 1939-40. All 'authentic' newspaper reports of that time are obviously biased in favor of the Finns, and misinformation was allowed to be printed." This seems like a true statement, and information in this chapter should be taken with a grain of salt.

Chapter 10 - Russia-Germany 1941-42

p. 335: On December 7, 1941, the Russian army, in winter camouflage, equipped with skis and sledges, opened an offensive on a front from Leningrad to Moscow to Rostov, gaining in some sectors more than three hundred miles. "It was the first offensive in the history of the world, where skis went into action on such a scale," writes the author. "The enormous extent of these operations, the fact they happened so recently, and a lack of detailed, objective reports all make it impossible to reconstruct this drama. Today it is possible only to get a rough idea of the strategic and tactical problems that this ski army came up against." Nonetheless, the author writes that this offensive was "in all probability the turning point of the war."

p. 337: The author excerpts a number of newspaper reports that give a picture of the Russian offensive.

p. 341: "Many of these reports remind us of the Finnish winter campaign [...] only with the difference that they are performed on a scale never before considered possible." Pravda reported that more than one million pairs of skis had been distributed among the Russian army. Clearly the Russians learned much from the Finnish winter war, and used it effectively against the Germans.

Chapter 11 - Germany-France 1914-1915

p. 347: The battle between the French Alpine Chasseurs and Bavarian ski troops in the Vosges region in February 1915 was the first alpine ski battle. The combatants learned the fundamental law governing alpine troops: "He who holds the heights rules in the mountains, not he who holds the passes and valleys (p. 353)."

Chapter 12 - Austria-Italy 1915-1918

p. 359: The mountain war between Austria and Italy in World War I spanned a six hundred mile front. The Italians had twelve divisions in the high Alpine regions. They faced 35,000 Tyrolean Kaiserjaegers, later reinforced by Bavarian Jaegers. This war cost over a million dead, wounded or missing (p. 367).

p. 367: The author describes fighting in the Dolomites, which took place on high summits fortified with tunnels, ladders and cable-railways. "The practice of loosening snow-avalanches from their hollows and hurling them down upon the enemy cost not only hundreds but thousands of lives (p. 371)." A soldier describes one common practice:

"Nothing simpler. Paul and I had gone up; we waited seven hours for the Alpini. We had laid the rope around the snow-crest; each of us held a rope-end in his fist. When the enemy came, there was nothing left to do but saw the rope into the crest; we waited until the column was below us. There was nothing but smoking snow to be seen, and nothing but a terrible thundering to be heard. We followed the avalanche, on trouser-seats and boot-soles, and rescued seventy-five men from the snow."

Chapter 13 - German Ski Troops Today

p. 377: At the beginning of World War II, Germany had at least 18 alpine divisions. The strategic and tactical document for the alpine troops was written by Major Mack and Leni Riefenstahl, among others. Part of the plan called for elimination of all methods used in the Arlberg School of training. "Although Arlberg technique had been considered authoritative hitherto, it was now rejected as 'unGerman.'" The author briefly discusses the actions of German alpine troops in Norway, Yugoslavia and Macedonia (p. 381-386).

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Last Updated: Thu Dec 6 22:05:47 PST 2007