A True US Mountain Division
Last time I asked anyone in the know, the 10th Mountain division lacked any specialist equipment for its nominal mountain role. The title is in fact only honourary.
This is very unfortunate for the men of the 10th Division since it has been deployed in Afghanistan, the politicians not unreasonably expecting this to be a reasonable role for a Mountain division.
Recently we hear a story of a platoon that spent three nights on an afghan mountain side without sleeping bags. This despite the fact that the Mike Sparks' website has been publicising for years the fact that sleeping bags that can fit in a Soldier's butt pack are available
In the past the Germans, Italians and French all had mountain divisions - as far as I know they still have them. Is it unreasonable to expect the world's remaining Superpower to have a single real Mountain division?
This is a good moment to examine the organization and equipment of a true mountain division. The only data I have handy is for a World War Two German Mountain (Gebirgs) division, but this proves very interesting.
Not unsurprisingly the division does not have many motor vehicles. Only the engineer battalion and the divisional services are fully motorized. Interestingly the Recc Battalion is bicycle mounted. The division does have large numbers of mules and horses. (Many German infantry divisions of the time also relied heavily on horse transport).
The first thing that strikes you about the organization is the high level of organic fire power the Mountain Infantry companies have. Each has twelve machine guns, three 50mm platoon mortars and three 81mm medium mortars.
The battalion support companies include a pair of man-packable 75mm infantry guns.
The division's six infantry battalions are grouped into two regiments and each regiment includes a dozen anti-tank guns and two 150mm heavy infantry guns. The former are in addition to the weapons of the divisional anti-tank battalion.
The most specialized formation of the division is the artillery regiment which includes two batteries of 15cm howitzers, three of 10.5cm howitzers and four of 7.5cm pack howitzers. The latter should not be confused with the 7.5cm infantry guns.
The structure of the Gebirgs division does suggest many of the systems that the 10th needs.
In mountainous terrain a common defence is the rock sangar. Mountain troops do not usually have tank support so a battalion should also have long range direct fire systems in addition to mortars. Possible systems include 106mm recoilless rifles or carriage mounted gun-mortars. The Russians have the latter in both 120mm and 82mm versions, and at least one system seems to have been designed with mountain operation in mind.
Modern infantry have available several suitable weapons systems that the Gebirgs troopers did not. These include the Automatic Grenade launcher (Mk-19) and the RPO. With a range of 1000m the RPO is sometimes described in Russian articles as a viable alternative to field artillery.
Another system the Gebirgs lacked was the helicopter. While these are useful the capriciousness of mountain weather patterns will often prevent their use. When they can fly transport helicopters can also contribute to the firepower of the division by performing an Indirect ARA role.
In addition to its infantry guns and anti-tank guns the Gebirgs divisions had 36 artillery pieces of varying calibres, quite a respectable indirect fire capability. This may be because in the mountains enemy forces can often be observed beyond small arms range, making attack by artillery bombardment the most logical option.
The mainstay of a modern Mountain division's artillery will probably be the L118/M119 105mm gun. Though this is a fine weapon, the division should also have at least one battery of OTO-Melara Mod 56 105mm Pack Howitzers. Although these have inferior range to the M119 (11,000m vs. 15,070m) they offer the commander several other desirable capabilities:-
All of the systems that I have suggested so far are available "off the shelf". One that is not yet in service is a modern version of the Heavy Infantry Gun. Such a weapon would be idea for mountain warfare. It is lighter and more portable than a 105mm Pack howitzer but offers the options of potent direct and indirect fire at any target within 5kms.
- They are lighter than a M119 (1273kg vs. 1860kg) so are less of a burden on a helicopter flying at high altitudes. Alternately this means a greater weight of ammo can be inserted with a gun.
- The Mod 56 can be broken down into 12 pack loads, allowing it to be moved into position when helicopter or vehicle delivery is not possible or tactically desirable.
- The Mod 56 has a gun shield and a suspension system that lets it adopt a low configuration useful for direct fire applications such as covering a pass.
The Germans made their infantry guns an organic part of the infantry regiment under the direct control of the regimental commander. In a modern division they are more likely to be part of the artillery unit and allocated to the mountain infantry companies as needed. 120mm M120 heavy mortars may be managed in the same way.
Some other ideas
- Given the terrain they operate in, Mountain troops should be issued with grey-green woolen BDUs. Camouflage needs can be catered for by Camouflaged Smocks.
- Autogyros and other small aircraft might have applications to mountain warfare.
- In the interwar years the British army successfully used light tanks against rebel hill-tribes. These could "climb like goats" and their thin armour and machine guns were more than a match to rifle-armed tribesmen. Is it possible that the mountain use of such light armoured vehicles might still be viable today? Far heavier weapons can now be mounted on such vehicles (AGLs, Recoilless rifles or 30mm ASP cannon). Likely vehicles include the Bv 206, updated Universal carrier and Tracked "Slope". The STOAT and German Wiesel are other possible candidates.
Ground Combat at High Altitude by Lester Grau and Lieutenant Colonel Hernán Vázquez
MOUNTAIN WARFARE: THE RUSSIAN PERSPECTIVE by LTC John E. Sray
Double P clothing -Better Cold weather combat wear.
Artillery and Counterinsurgency another article by Lester Grau, and also relevent for Artillery operations in mountainous terrain.
Mike Sparks' page on the 10th in Afghanistan. Includes the Excellent Afghan/Mountain Warfare primer
FEEDBACK and Further Ideas
I've already suggested woollen BDUs for mountain troopers. A wool version of the M65 jacket would not be a bad idea either. While we are creating new garments, giving the unit distinctive headwear to promote unit pride is not such a bad idea.
A likely choice is a Gebirgsmütze (mountain cap). This should be a proper version with fold down earflaps. Consideration should also be given to using clothing systems such as Double P clothing.
Another item that would be very useful for the Mountain troopers would be a 60mm "Commando" mortar to arm the platoons. This would use the same rounds as the M224 company mortar. Given the rigors of moving over mountain terrain I'd use the 60mm mortar at company level rather than the 81mm.
Mules are another thing that I wonder about. Like soldiers, they need feeding, watering, acclimatization and medical attention. They have also been known to bray and give a unit's presence away and to "go on strike" at the worst moment.
Hand carts are an alternate possibility but may not be able to negotiate rocky ground. This makes me wonder if something like the Vietnamese Pack Bike ("Xe Tho") would be better. Could it carry a mule load, such as a twelfth of a Mod.56 Howitzer? The Chinese make use of a wheel barrow with a central wheel of at least four foot diameter and a basket on each side. Whether this will work in the mountains remains to be determined.
On the topic of acclimatization, the above articles made me wonder what altitude Fort Drum, NY was located at. This is the current home of the 10th Mountain Division. Obviously stationing the unit in a high altitude base would mean less acclimatization time when they are deployed.
The answers I got basically agreed. To quote Larry Altersitz:-
"Not very high up, maybe 300m average, with some hills. Basically a plain with woods, a small river, some streams, a lake/swamp. Spent a number of AT periods there while in National Guard units."
Sounds about the worse posting possible for a mountain unit. I'm sure the US has some nice mountians you could build a base in. Maybe near a ski-resort to keep the Soldier's families from feeling too isolated? There is also the possibility of an overseas Alpine base in Europe. Of course, this would mean that the division was stationed close to an area they could train in so could spend plenty of time perfecting their craft.
Emery Nelson comments:-
"Phil, the idea that we would ever allow our military to get in the way of good skiing is interesting but highly unlikely. Last week after a discussion with Mike I talked to an old friend who taught mountain climbing at Ft. Carson, Colorado. He told me that a very important cross country skiing trail is named the "10th mountain trail", or something like that. I don't know much about this but I'm told that the 7th Inf Div used it as a training area in the late 1970s but they were not warmly received by the locals for, errrr, ahhhh, social reasons. The rich people who come to this area from all over the world don't care for sharing facilities with soldiers I guess.
Next we travel to New York state, which in the early 1980s was still suffering from an economic slump, particularly in the rural areas. At the time NY state was the second most populous state in the country and had a large congressional delegation to go with it. Without going into all the details, lots of interesting deals were made and the once proud 10th Mt. became what it is today, gasping for air.
Many of the ski facilities in the US were created by veterans of the original 10th Mountain Division, I believe. Maybe them rich folks need a reminder how much they owe former and current servicemen. Obviously the Army wouldn't be using the choice downhill pistes. Such a large body of experianced Mountain troopers would be very useful for Search and Rescue duties and as an emergency service after avalanches. Gunship pilots could rocket or shoot up large drifts to pre-trigger potential avalanches, performing a public service while getting target practice .
One interesting bit in the Russian article is the opinion that SPHs were preferable to towed (at least for weapons too heavy to heli-lift). The Gebirgs Div. included a battalion of 150mm guns. I wonder if a unit of 8" M110s would be worth dusting off for such a Div?
Emery Nelson: The reason they preferred SP over towed is a lack of flat firing locations. Many times you just have to fire from the road but you must be able to move so as not to block said road. Towed howitzers are a pain in the ass in the mountains but SP howitzers come with their own problems. The 2S1 was great for this while the 2S3 and 2S5 weren't so good. Their size and weight caused problems. SP mortars are the best solution.
Larry Altersitz: Good points on indirect fire weapons in mountains. Big mortars (Carlton Meyer's155mm come to mind) on the back of an MLRS chassis (M1068? I think) would be very useful there. 120mm AMOS systems on M113s would have both a direct and indirect capability that would be much appreciated. Light rockets (70mm up to 127mm) on MLRS chassis a la Soviet MRLs would be excellent systems to cover large areas quickly with all sorts of munitions.
The smartest thing to have (IMHO) would be a sensor system on a balloon/aerostat to provide aerial coverage in fairly decent weather, again using the MLRS chassis and a CP box. Mast mounted systems on the 10m "Giraffe" masts on MLRS chassis with a CP box could be used in almost any weather.
PW: The Russians have the 160mm mortar, and I have seen accounts that state these are often held by mountain based units. Interestingly, despite having these the Russians are still interested in Heavy Infantry Guns.
The two systems are complimentary. A 155mm really needs to be vehicle mounted, while a 155mm Infantry gun can be mule or helicopter transported and can be used for direct fire.
Mike Sparks writes:-
"1. Move 10th MD to Ft Carson, Colorado where it belongs to be a real mountain warfare division. (Fort Carson is located near 14,000 ft peaks.)
2. Move 3 x MP Brigades to Fort Drum, make them into a "high-tech" MP Peacekeeping Division and give them the LAV-III/IAV armored cars we will be stuck with and have Senatory Hillary Clinton, NY Senator take PR rides in them. There's plenty of lawlessness in New York City and we'll have a trained force ready to respond to assist in future terror attacks since NYC seems to be in their sights.
Ed Sackett comments:-
"Funny thing, my father served a hitch in the 13th US Cavalry, an honest-to-pete horsed unit, between 1920 and 1923. They were based at Fort D. A. Russel in Cheyenne (it's now the airbase), elev. ~6000 ft, and did a lot of training in the Happy Jack area east of Laramie. The elevations in Happy Jack run from 7500 to 7800 feet above sea level -- plenty high enough for acclimating men and horses. I've found old 75 nosecaps and fragments up in Happy Jack, and brass from both Krags and Springfields, so you know it was a training area for quite a few years. It's perfect terrain for running all kinds of exercises -- so's a lot of Wyoming, come to that.
Happy Jack is just off the freeway (damnedst place: you camp out at night listening to coyotes yapping outside your tent and semis roaring a few miles way) and is almost as close to a rail line. Add in a flyboy base 60 mi away in Cheyenne, and you have all you could ask for.
You have to drive ~30 miles up into the Snowy Range to find genuine alpine conditions, but don't send unseasoned troops up there: too many frostbite and hypothermia casualties.
Another funny thing: The U of Wyoming Agriculture School used to run an exchange program with the University of Kabul. Afghan ag students came to Laramie to study wheat culture, because Wyoming and Afghanistan are so similar in altitude, rainfall, and winter climate.
Perhaps someone on the Staff would like to drop an email to the governor of Wyoming? Naah, too easy."
The Following Feedback was posted to G2mil following the publication of this article in the April 2002 issue
Mountain units are needed
Mike Sparks is right, 10th Mountain should have been based at Fort Carson, Colorado from the beginning. Its basing at Camp Drum, New York was a congressional decision to give a boost to the then sagging northern New York economy (can anybody say "jobs program"). I was an Infantry officer with 10th Mountain from '88 - '92, my Battalion Commander was "Buster" Hagenbeck, the current 10th Mountain Commander. We had some of the best NCOs to be found anywhere in the army at that time and while I thought we were a pretty decent infantry unit (unlike today, back then all we did was PT, foot march and live fire), we were by no means a mountain division.
We all knew that our mountain title was only a historical reference to the true 10th mountain division of WWII which was largely comprised of civilian volunteers who possessed a wide variety of mountain related skills. Mountain troops must be mentally and physically tough in dealing with an adverse environment. Fort Drum, New York is a miserable place with copious amounts of snow and cold and that does help make soldiers there more mentally and physically tough (at least if their commanders make them train in it). Beyond the snow and cold, there is nothing at Fort drum which will prepare soldiers for mountain combat. It is as you described, mostly flat, rocky, swampy land which while unsuitable for farming was found quite suitable conducting live fires back before WWII. We did do some training in cross country skiing and snow shoeing, but the closest thing we had for developing technical skills in mountain climbing etc was a small climbing school in Vermont.
One of the huge problems we had to overcome was the lack of housing for our soldiers. Prior to becoming Fort Drum, Camp Drum was just a place for non-resident units (reserve and national guard) to come do live fires. Soldiers were spread out in the civilian community, some over an hours drive away. Additionally we had no strategic deployment airfield, the nearest was Griffis Air Force Base over an hour and a half away with parts of the drive on two lane roads. Add a blizzard to all that and you have a rapid deployment force that can't even begin to be wheels up in 18 hours. That could quite possibly be a problem with a Fort Carson based mountain division as well, at least they would be acclimated to the altitude though. Perhaps the specialization required of being a true mountain division is incompatible with being part of the rapid deployment force.
I was shocked to read about soldiers from my old battalion (1-87) going out without any sleeping bags. I don't know what the circumstances were, but any idiot knows you don't send soldiers on overnight patrol with temps in the teens (and well below that with wind chill) without a sleeping bag per two men. Sounds like they were darn lucky not to have cold weather casualties.
Regarding the effectiveness of weapons, in that our guys had pop guns compared to Al Qaeda, there are a lot holes in that story. Where were the M240B machine guns? or the battalion snipers? Both of these systems would be an easy match for RPG and PK machine gun armed cave dwellers.
Regarding our people being out of shape for the conditions and not acclimated to the altitude, let me just say altitude will kick your ass, I don't care how fit you are. Ask any elk hunter, you work out for weeks looking forward to a hunt and when you get up in that high country you feel like an old man with emphysema. This obstacle can be overcome, but it generally takes about a month to adjust to the change in available oxygen. We had plenty of time to get our guys into a 10,000 foot environment and train up for a few weeks, perhaps in our own Rocky Mountains, the question is why we didn't do that?
Fort Hauchuca training
How about a composite Mountain training Brigade at Ft. Hauchuca. Most of the Garrison Area is over 5800FT in elevation. The Huachuca Mountains go up to 9000FT and are almost entirely on the Military reservation. Barracks, Motor pools, Helo ports, Ranges and support facilities for approx 4500 soldiers are empty. Scrub high desert to Alpine meadows to vertical crags above the tree line. Two or three battalions from each of the light Infantry Divisions; Army and Marines at all times. Given our areas of operations in the last two decades, the desert mountains are a smarter choice than the Colorado Rockies.
In the USAF fighters in the 60s we had Global Survival kits. In the kit was an arctic bag, vacuum packed in a fiberglass butt-contoured container that was the base for the foam seat cushion. In order to get more stuff in the kit we took the bag out of its hard-pack container and used it for the seat cushion, replacing the foam. It was about 2 x14x16 inches. Later we found a good shop vacuum could reshrink the things, like the stuff bags sold on TV nowadays. I still have 2 of those bags, and they work just fine here in Colorado.
Mules- I believe the US Army mules in WW2 were de-brayed by a simple vocal cord operation. They were used extensively in Italy and in Burma. Bill Mauldin even drew a cartoon about one- it is shown being led down a steep hill, a wounded soldier astride, and the medic leading the mule is saying "I call her Florence Nightingale".
Mountain Division - I can assure you the real citizens hereabouts would welcome the 10th or any mountain troops back up at Camp Hale (north a bit from Leadville). A columnist for the Denver Post, Ed Quillen, who lives in Salida not far from Camp Hale, agrees with me. So screw the pampered princes up at Vail, let them ski someplace else.