29 April, 2009

"Knock It Off!"

"Ri-iiigh-ut FACE!" Shhhhush, thump!
Close Order Drill for Ski Troops at Camp Hale, Colorado,

As huge search lights illuminated the clouds
above the battle front, the elite men of the U.S. Army's Tenth Mountain Division climbed the escarpment known as Riva Ridge. An eerie glow prevailed, and the weather was anything but ideal. Ice and snow were present, and the German forces manning the Gothic Line defenses in north Italy were not willing to relinquish any strongpoint to the Americans. Could the
vaunted, but green, Mountaineers do what was evidently impossible, and take these high promontories away from hardened German mountain fighters (including Gebirgsjaeger Mountain Troops of the Wehrmacht)? The Mount Belvedere massif, adjacent to Riva Ridge, had repelled the best that the Allies had to offer in four previous attacks.

Battle for Riva Ridge, Tenth Mountain Division and Brazilian Expeditionary Force,
WW II. Source: U.S. Army

My father, Pfc. Kenneth K. Klahn, held a German officer at gunpoint. He was in an artillery observation post below the huge face of Riva Ridge. Our troops had been taking casualties, and prisoners were filtering in. Far from being the second rate troops that some Americans were up against at the end of the war, these Germans were defending the heights with tenacity. The enemy
Offiziere was secretly trying to crush a telephone wire with the heel of his boot. Klahn gave him the toughest "knock it off" look he could, and threatened him with his carbine to make the point. Perhaps he even sprinkled that with some well-chosen deutsch, since his parents spoke German at home.

As history records, and to the astonishment of the Germans, the Tenth's climbers completed the night climb, under winter conditions, and forced their way onto the summit ridge. Repelling repeated, fierce counter-attacks, they held Riva Ridge. The remarkable offensive energy that the Tenth displayed over the course of driving the enemy from the series of heights beginning at Riva Ridge, and proceeding from summit to summit along the Apennines range, caused the Germans to throw reinforcements into the breach. The Tenth took that in stride, and as a result their casualty rate was exceedingly high. In cemeteries from Florence, Italy, to Colorado, Washington State and other mountain communities throughout America, lie young men for whom sacrifice is much more than an abstract buzz word.

Now you know the story behind my climber drawing. Also see the post below about Riva Ridge and another drawing that I did of a tiny hut at Riva Ridge, Italy.

Riva Ridge
Veterans - Pictures of your author's trip to Italy
The National Association of the
10th Mountain Division


Clive said...

The skiing and climbing look like fun, but imagine having to worry about live ammunition more than falling rock. Great post, and I feel fortunate I've never had to don a uniform, follow orders, and risk my neck like these brave souls, or end up as civilian collateral damage. Probably not a lot of human beings have managed to miss out on the misery of war over the centuries. So far so good. Enjoying your posts.

Casey Klahn said...

Many, many guys wanted to get into the 10th MTN Div. during the war. The story goes that their times at Mt Rainier, WA and in Colorado were fun, too.

I always try to remember the Italians who bore a lot of the pain in the N.Italian front - they love these Tenth veterans and I got to witness their sincerity when I visited in '06.

Thanks, Clive!

Brian McGurgan said...

Yes, good post, Casey. It's hard to imagine where folks like your father and my brother get the courage from for all of this bravery. I enjoyed going back and looking at your drawings from Italy again, too.

Casey Klahn said...

Courage, yes, and then they asked for nothing.

Adam Cope said...

... Ken klahn...

You're right to remember him.
It's difficult for us generations of non-combatants ... to appreciate this.

My grandfather, Jack Cope, awarded the Military Cross, Tower Hamlets Brigade, Winchester Rifles, 1941 -1946, also commorated as a national greek hero.

North Africa, Cyprus, Greece

A little mention to him in Winchester Cahdral for the Winchester Rifles.

He survived...

Casey Klahn said...

Your grandfather was a good man, Adam. The Mediterranean Theater of War was a broad one. My father was assigned for a short time with the British Eighth Army, which he got a big kick out of.


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