This conquest of
Belvedere by the 10th ultimately became the launching pad for the entire spring
offensive of Clark's Fifth Army. Through all of April the American forces swept
across the Apennines and into the Po River Valley. Indeed, with the impatient
General Hays driving them along, the 10th became the spearhead of the spring
offensive, crashing through the vaunted Genghis Khan Line in six days,
ultimately becoming the first U.S. troops to cross the Po, then thundering on
into the Alps to close the Brenner Pass.
On May 2 General
Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin sadly surrendered the German forces in Italy
to General Mark Clark. As his own special tribute to the ferocity and skills of
the "swank" 10th Mountain soldiers, von Senger asked that his American
escort to the surrender site near Verona be the 10th's own General Hays. Von
Senger said that though he had campaigned on all three of the European fronts
the toughest troops he had run into were the "elite men of the 10th
It had been a
remarkable display. In just four months of combat the 10th had effectively
crippled or destroyed nine German divisions and taken more than 20,000
prisoners. Yet it was at a bloody cost. Few divisions were as horribly
decimated in so few weeks. Although there were eight U.S. divisions involved in
the Fifth Army's campaign through Italy, the 10th took a full one-third of the
casualties. In all, 990 men were killed (including the champion jumper, Torger
Tokle). Another 3,000 were wounded.
Marshal Harold Alexander said later: "The only trouble with the 10th
Mountain Division was that the officers and men did not realize that they were
attempting something which couldn't be done, and after they got started they
had too much intestinal fortitude to quit. The result was that they
accomplished the impossible."
Perhaps the true
perceptions of those days have faded from the minds of the 10th Mountain boys,
now turned middle-aged. Perhaps the fact that much of what they did in Italy
could as well have been done by "flatland farm boys wearing rubbers"
really does not matter in their memories. They had their own tradition, their
own sense of history.
Men of steel and
sons of Mars,
We are ski men,
We are free men,
We're the Phantoms
Of the Snow.