Recently we received a re-supply of these WWII-era Foster Grant Goggles, and I thought it time to investigate some of the unique history behind them.
Small numbers of these Goggles are still occasionally found in the wild, which is a rarity for something made over 70 years ago.
Certainly one of the reasons many pairs of these Goggles still exist is the very late introduction of the 10th Mountain Division into the conflict in Europe. The unit arrived on the shores of Italy in the winter of 1944, less than 6 months before victory in Europe would be declared.
While many pairs of these Goggles were issued for training purposes, very few probably made it to Italy.
Military Mountain Training Gets a Slow Start
The United States has long been home to civilian enthusiasts involved in skiing and other mountain sports. Unfortunately the adaptation of those skills to war took much longer to develop.
Many countries in Europe had traditional mountain units. But for the U.S. Military, the idea of specialized mountain-fighting troops wasn’t taken seriously until a contemporary event proved their value.
On November 30, 1939, the Soviet Union undertook a massive invasion of the newly-independent nation of Finland. Despite being severely outnumbered in raw troops, aircraft and tanks, Finland mounted a determined defense causing severe Soviet losses.
Using the snowy and mountainous terrain to their advantage Finnish guerillas out-maneuvered Soviet troops, forcing them to split into smaller disorganized pockets which they then attacked from all sides.
The Finns easily managed the steep mountain slopes and used skiis to quickly move between engagements to get the most value out of every fighter.
Eventually the Soviets prevailed by sheer numbers. But not before the world had taken notice of how the Finns had used their naturally formidable homeland to resist their invaders.
One of those who took notice was Charles Minot Dole, the founder of the first national network of ski rescue organizations across the U.S.
By 1940, Dole was petitioning U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall to create a specialized mountain warfare division of the U.S. Army.
The 87th Mountain Regiment
This new mountain-fighting force was finally made reality on December 8, 1941, only a single day after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Imperial Japanese forces. With America now in the war this new unit, officially the 87th Mountain Regiment, finally had a name but no soldiers.
Working closely with the civilian experts of the National Ski Patrol, the U.S. Army chose to fast-track the process by recruiting experienced skiers from many clubs, schools, and isolated communities across the U.S., and then train them further in military tactics and survival.
What started as a single battalion eventually grew into a larger force. Reorganized as the 10th Mountain Division, this elite group of alpine fighters came complete with their own camouflage, specialized skis, gear for surviving in harsh winter weather, and even specialized snow vehicles such as the M29 Weasel.
Driving the Germans out of the Mountains
By the winter of 1944 when the 10th Mountain Division finally landed on Italian shores, much of the country was already in Allied hands.
The remaining German resistance lay in the Apennines Mountains of Northern Italy. With heavy artillery and experienced crews covering every significant point of advance, they had slowed Allied movement to a crawl.
On February 18, 1945, a regiment of the 10th Mountain Division climbed the cliffs of Riva Ridge and took the long-untouchable German defenders completely by surprise.
Shortly afterward, additional regiments of the 10th continued onward to strike the German units holding Mount Belvedere, overrunning the defenders in a surprise bayonet charge.
Over the next 3 days, the 10th held off repeated German counter attacks as Allied forces strengthened their positions.
By April, soldiers were able to move into the Po Valley to cut off German forces from resupply and prevent any escape.
All told, the 10th Mountain Division had suffered 1,000 deaths and over 4,000 wounded. But without a doubt, they were able to prove the effectiveness of specially-trained ski troops in mountain conditions and carve their own distinctive chapter into the history of World War II.