The First World War in the Alps
With the moving diary “We are making peace” Pages 192, Over 300
photos, ISBN 88-6011-037-8, Publisher: Athesia Spectrum.
This war in the high mountains of the Alps was a conflict with a
difference. Never before had men been expected to hold out for
months, even years on end in the bitter cold and snow at altitudes
of almost 12,000 feet above sea level. This was the feature which
lent such historical significance to a relative sideshow of the
Great War. It was an anachronistic struggle, man against man, for no
armoured vehicles could ever reach these rock faces. Then impartial
nature joined the fray as a third, most terrible adversary.
Avalanches swept thousands to their deaths, the cold wore down and
demoralised men, while thunderbolts subjugated the warriors.
Of war in the mountains or the quest for peace
This war in the
mountains of the eastern Alps was a war with a difference. Never
before had men been expected to resist the elements at altitudes
reaching almost 4,000 metres for months on end in bitter cold and
snow. It is precisely for this reason that the war in this
battlefield has taken a special place in history. It was an
anachronistic struggle: the battles were still for the most part man
against man, for no tank or other armoured vehicle could penetrate
into these regions. Impartial nature entered the fray as a third,
perhaps most terrible adversary. Avalanches swept thousands to their
deaths, cold wore down men’s spirits, lightning and thunder storms
cowed the combatants.
Perhaps for this reason there were so many
examples of comradeship and peace initiatives on these mountains,
even if they only occurred between isolated groups and small numbers
of men. And did not nature induce men to fraternise once again when
a separate, secluded world came into being during the long winter
months? When for months on end no news arrived from below and
likewise no news reached the enemy? Very often individual soldiers,
whether Italian or Austrians, all of the same social class, had no
idea why they were fighting. So why should they not fraternise? In
this spirit this book also tells of small and isolated attempts at
making peace. There are many examples of a kind which today still
move us to tears. There are the diaries of the eighteen-year-old
Karl Mayr of the Standschützen (civil defence corps), or of the
young Giacomo Perico, soldier in the Italian Alpine (Alpini) corps.
All contributed to strengthening our faith in human goodness. The
horrors of war appear even more brutal and senseless when described
by men who took part. The racing heartbeat of a soldier who knows he
will only survive this day by an extreme fluke of fortune, the wide-open
eyes of a dying comrade, riddled by bullets, torn apart by shellfire.
This book attempts to tell the story of the First World War in the
Alps with the help of the most telling photos chosen from numerous
archives. The events here contributed little to the Great War’s
outcome, though in their own way they were highly significant.
Spectacular underground towns were created in the glacier ice with
kilometre-long connecting corridors, entire mountaintops were
blasted out of existence in attempts to dislodge just handfuls of
opponents. This war set the course for winter tourism. Aerial
cableways and lifts transported men and equipment into the high
regions and skis became important means of locomotion in battle.In
the meantime these mountains have become enveloped in myth and
legend. Still the struggle these men endured against the power of
nature and the blind sway of dictatorial systems will remain