When World War II broke out in Europe, the American army had no specialized division of mountain soldiers. But in the winter of 1939–40, after a tiny band of Finnish mountain troops brought the invading Soviet army to its knees, an amateur skier named Charles Minot “Minnie” Dole convinced the United States Army to let him recruit an extraordinary assortment of European expatriates, wealthy ski bums, mountaineers, and thrill-seekers and form them into a unique band of Alpine soldiers. These men endured nearly three years of grueling training in the Colorado Rockies and in the process set new standards for both soldiering and mountaineering. The newly forged 10th Mountain Division finally faced combat in the winter of 1945, in Italy’s Apennine Mountains, against the seemingly unbreakable German fortifications north of the Gothic Line. There, they planned and executed what is still regarded as the most daring series of nighttime mountain attacks in U.S. military history, taking Mount Belvedere and the sheer, treacherous face of Riva Ridge to smash the linchpin of the German army’s lines.
Drawing on unique cooperation from veterans of the 10th Mountain Division and a vast archive of unpublished letters and documents, The Last Ridge is written with enormous warmth, energy, and honesty. This is one of the most captivating stories of World War II, a blend of Band of Brothers and Into Thin Air. It is a story of young men asked to do the impossible, and succeeding.
Researched thoroughly, written clearly and dramatized with aplomb, this presentation of the U.S. 10th Mountain Division's WWII exploits increases our knowledge of the war's Italian theater and of the postwar American outdoor recreation industry. Jenkins, an English professor and historian of the conservation movement, is the author of The White Death, a similarly well-written book on avalanche rescue. He shows that the division spent most of the war in the United States, in Washington State, Colorado and Texas, recruiting an astonishing variety of people, from IBM executives and cowboys to European outdoorsmen exiled from several Nazi-occupied countries. Their early days of ski training resembled a gigantic Keystone Kops routine in the snow, but left them exceptionally fit and with high morale. In fact, the division was fully trained by 1943 and could have been invaluable at Cassino, but saw combat only at the end of 1944, clearing the Germans off a key position in the Apennine Mountains, and doing so without its mountain gear, all left in warehouses in New Jersey. Between then and the end of the war, the division suffered nearly 5,000 casualties (including Bob Dole, who became the Kansas senator) and did a full share and more of driving the Germans out of Italy. Afterward, its veterans founded the Aspen and Vail resorts, among other cornerstones of the new West, and worked extensively in conservation.