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The First World War in the Alps


Michael Wachtler

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.
Euro 19,90

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 unforgotten forever.


Michael Wachtler
Vat ID IT01188800211

Tel. +39 0474 913462
Fax +39 0474 913092

VAT ID IT02608410219

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Michael Wachtler
Via P.-P.-Rainer 11, I-39038 San Candido (BZ)
Tel. +39 0474 913462 - Fax +39 0474 913092 - michael@wachtler.com - www.michaelwachtler.com
Vat ID IT01188800211