Invasion of Narvik

"Lars" by Bruce Carter

Ineke’s Mitten begins in Narvik, Norway, a place I was introduced to through the work of woodcut print artists Rockwell Kent and Bruce Carter.

Many years before I began work on Ineke’s Mitten, I collected books illustrated by Kent after being introduced to his work by my grandmother, the local historian.  They lived near each other in the Adirondacks.

In 1972, I met woodcut print artist Bruce Carter who, in 1967 was an artist-in-residence in Narvik. He added to his substantial body of work during this time including several murals which hang in the Narvik City Hall and in the Kiruna City Hall in Sweden.

He gave me “Lars” and “Arctic Couple” which I have on my wall today.

I began reading about the Tenth Mountain Division while I was publisher of Vail Magazine and interestingly enough many of the soldiers in the division were from Norway.

So, my story naturally begins in Narvik.  Lars became Nels and a sense of life in Narvik, after the invasion, came from a book I collected, illustrated by Kent, entitled The Mountains Wait by Theodor Broch.  Broch’s account of the occupation, after April 1940, revealed the stoic Norwegian resistance which they called the Ice Front.

The attack on Narvik began in February 1941 as the Allies massed to come to the aid of Finland and Norway against the Germans. Narvik was the strategic seaport from which valuable Swedish iron ore was shipped.

A month later, British destroyer HMS Glowworm intercepted a portion of the German invasion fleet headed to Norway. She rammed one of the vessels and sank. The next day, April 9, the German invasion force struck Norway, during which five British destroyers sank nine German cargo ships and two destroyers.

By June 10, however, the Allies evacuated Norway shifting forces to the Battle of France. The Germans were now in control of the ice-free harbor and the iron ore transported by the Ofoten Railway from Kiruna in Sweden to Narvik.

"Arctic Couple" by Bruce Cater

YouTube documentaries

The Battle of Narvik

The origin of Ineke’s Mitten

Black Rapids

Rope tow at Black Rapids ski area, Alaska

The story of Ineke’s Mitten probably took root in me on a bleak, frigid, winter afternoon at the Army’s Black Rapids ski area in Alaska. It was 1959. As I stood in line waiting my turn to grab the frightening, whining rope tow, I felt I had grown up beyond my eleven years. I was holding my own skiing with the soldiers. I have always remembered that day whenever I think about skiing. It was the beginning.

My father was stationed at nearby Fort Greely, Alaska, home of the Army’s Cold Weather and Mountain School. The training center was originally established in 1942 at Camp Hale, Colorado, home of the new Tenth Mountain Division.  Winter warfare training moved from Colorado to Alaska in 1956.  We arrived in 1958 and stayed until 1960.

During my research, I discovered our next door neighbor at Fort Greely was Colonel Dured Townsend, commanding officer of the 86th Mountain Infantry Regiment, Tenth Mountain Division. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for heroism in action against the Germans in Italy in April 1945.  He never shared his exploits with us.

So when I took over Vail Magazine in 1988, I met many veterans of the division, one of whom founded Vail in the early 1960s. I began to research the full story of these mountain fighters,  aided by the gift of a new book — Soldiers On Skis: A Pictorial Memoir Of The 10th Mountain Division by Flint Whitlock and Bob Bishop. I found a photograph of Townsend in the book.

The arctic, skiing and winter warfare are the backdrop for this story of love and friendship.

The Music of Ineke’s Mitten


Giacomo Pucinni

In  Ineke’s Mitten, Nels Torkle’s close friend, Alberto Bisio, grew up in Italy. He moves from Chicago to Lucca, Italy, and starts fifth grade at the cathedral of Saint Michael’s. The cathedral often hosts opera concerts in the surrounding piazza. One day Alberto hears an opera company rehearsing for a performance of the aria Che gelida manina (What a frozen little hand). 

Alberto has never heard opera and it becomes a part of his artistic passion.  The aria is from Puccini’s La Boheme.  Alberto learns that Puccini grew up in Lucca and attended the same school at Saint Michael’s.  He loves how the singer woos his companion.

Who am I? I am a poet.
What do I do? I write.
And how do I live? I live.
In my carefree poverty.

I squander rhymes
and love songs like a lord.
When it comes to dreams and visions
and castles in the air,
I’ve the soul of a millionaire.