WWI in the Alps: An American Journalist on the Italian Front Lines


Edward Alexander Powell was born in 1879 in Syracuse, New York. After finding out at Syracuse College and Oberlin School, he started his journalism profession on the Syracuse Journal. In 1903 he moved to London to work as an promoting supervisor for the Smith Premier Typewriter Firm, which was primarily based in Syracuse, however inside a few years he returned to journalism as a correspondent for publications in Britain and the USA. In 1914, after a quick stint as a consular official in Lebanon and Egypt, he grew to become a roving struggle correspondent, masking World Battle I from either side of the battle strains for numerous newspapers and magazines. When the USA entered the struggle in 1917, Powell joined the U.S. Military and was commissioned as a captain in navy intelligence. An harm took him out of motion the next September, and after returning to the USA he left the military with the rank of main.

Powell then switched from journalism to a extremely profitable profession as an adventurer, lecturer, and creator. Touring extensively all over the world, he printed greater than two dozen books from 1920 to 1954, pausing briefly throughout World Battle II to work as a senior political analyst for the Workplace of Naval Intelligence. When Powell died in Connecticut in 1957 at age 78, the Boston Globe summed up his profession in a single sentence: “Held up by bandits, challenged to a duel, poking into revolt in Crete, witnessing the eruption of Vesuvius and hobnobbing with nationwide leaders, Mr. Powell progressed steadily all over the world, surviving all disasters and busily producing copy.”

The next narrative, which has been calmly edited, is excerpted from Italy at Battle, certainly one of Alexander’s half-dozen books about World Battle I, which was printed by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1917.


The solar had scarcely proven itself above the snowy rampart of the Julian Alps when the hoarse throbbing of the large grey employees automobile awoke the echoes of the slim avenue on which fronts the Resort Croce di Malta in Udine. Regardless of a leather-based coat, a fur-lined cap, and a terrific fleecy muffler which swathed me to the eyes, I shivered within the damp chill of the winter daybreak. We adjusted our goggles and settled down into the heavy rugs, the soldier-driver threw in his clutch, the sergeant sitting beside him set free a vicious snarl from the horn, the little group of curious onlookers scattered rapidly, and the highly effective automobile leaped ahead like a racehorse that feels the spur. With the horn sounding its hoarse warning, we thundered by means of the slim, tortuous, cobble-paved streets, between rows of outdated, outdated homes with light frescoes on their plastered partitions and with dim, echoing arcades.

And so into the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele—there isn’t any extra charming little sq. in Italy—with its fountain and its two stone giants and the pompous statue of an extremely ugly king astride a prancing horse and a monument to Peace arrange by Napoleon to commemorate a treaty which was the reason for many wars. In the back of the piazza, just like the backdrop on a stage, rises a towering sugarloaf mound, thrown up, so they are saying, by Attila, that from it he would possibly conveniently watch the siege and burning of Aquileia. Perched atop this mound, and searching for all of the world like certainly one of Maxfield Parrish’s painted castles, is the Castello, as soon as the residence of the Venetian and Austrian governors, and, rising above it, a white and slender tower. If you’ll take the difficulty to climb to the summit of this tower you can find that the earth you left behind is now laid out at your toes like a kind of putty maps you used to make in class. Beneath you, like an unlimited tessellated flooring, is the Friulian plain, dotted with red-roofed villages, checkerboarded with fields of inexperienced and brown, stretching away, away to the place, past the blue Isonzo, the Julian and Carnic Alps leap skyward in a mighty, curving, mile-high wall.

You could have the struggle earlier than you, for amid these distant mountains snakes the Austro-Italian battle line. Simply as Attila and his Hunnish warriors seemed down from the summit of this very mound, fourteen hundred years in the past, upon the destruction of the Italian plain-towns, so at this time, from the identical vantage level, the Italians can see their artillery methodically pounding to items the defenses of the trendy Huns. An odd reversal of historical past, is it not? 

Leaving on our proper the Palazzo Civico, constructed two rating years earlier than Columbus set foot on the seaside of San Salvador, we rolled by means of the gateway within the historical metropolis wall, acknowledging the salute of the steel-helmeted sentry simply because the mail-clad knights who rode by means of that very same gateway to the preventing on the plain, lengthy centuries in the past, likely acknowledged the salute of the steel-capped men-at-arms. Down the straight white street we sped, between rows of cropped and stunted willows, which line the freeway on both aspect like troopers with bowed heads.

Austrian mountain troops within the Isonzo district cling to a rock face, serving to each other together with ropes, as they climb over a mountain go within the Italian Alps to shock an Italian detachment on the opposite aspect. (Granger)

It’s a storied and romantic area, this Venetia, whose fertile farmlands, crisscrossed with watercourses, stretch away, flat and brown as an oaken flooring, to the snowy crescent of the Alps. Scenes of previous wars it nonetheless bears upon its face, in its farmhouses clustered collectively for frequent safety, within the stout partitions and loopholed watchtowers of its cities, file of its warlike and eventful previous. One have to be prosaic certainly whose creativeness stays unstirred by a journey throughout this historic plain, which has been invaded by Celts, Istrians, and Romans; Huns, Goths, and Lombards; Franks, Germans, and Austrians in flip. Over there, a dozen miles to the southward, lie the ruins of Aquileia, as soon as one of many nice cities of the western world, the chief outpost fortress of the Roman Empire, visited by King Herod of Judea, and the favourite residence of Augustus and Diocletian.

These fertile lowlands have been devastated by Alaric and his Visigoths and by Attila and his Huns—the unique Huns, I imply. Down this very high-road tramped the legions of Tiberius on their technique to give battle to the Illyrians and Pannonians. Right here have been waged the savage conflicts of the Guelphs, the Ghibellines, and the Scaligers. Right here fought the nice adventurer Bartolomeo Colleoni; within the whitewashed village inn of Campo Formio, a far better adventurer signed a treaty whereby he gave away the entire of this area as he would have given away a gold piece; half a century later Garibaldi and his ragged redshirts fought to win it again. 

The Italian military, Powell wrote, “is as businesslike as a blued-steel revolver.”

For mile after mile we sped by means of a countryside which bore no suggestion of the bloody enterprise which had introduced me. As far as struggle was involved, I’d as nicely have been motoring by means of New England. However, although an environment of tranquility and safety prevailed down right here amid the villages and farmsteads of the plain, I knew that up there amongst these snow-crowned peaks forward of us, musketry was crackling, cannons have been belching, males have been dying. However as we approached the entrance—although nonetheless miles and miles behind the preventing line—the indicators of struggle grew to become more and more obvious: base camps, remount depots, vehicle parks, aviation colleges, aerodromes, hospitals, machine outlets, ammunition dumps, railway sidings chock-a-block with freight automobiles and railway platforms piled excessive with provides of each description.

Transferring nearer, we stumbled on countless strains of motor vehicles transferring ammunition and provides to the entrance and different strains of motor vehicles and ambulances transferring injured equipment and injured males to the restore depots and hospitals on the rear. We handed Sicilian mule carts, tons of upon tons of of them, two wheeled, painted vivid yellow or vivid purple and coated with homosexual little work equivalent to one sees on ice cream distributors’ carts and hurdy-gurdies, the harness of the mules studded with brass and hung with scarlet tassels. Then lengthy strings of donkeys, so closely laden with wineskins, with bales of hay, with ammunition containers, that each one that could possibly be seen of the animals themselves have been their swinging tails and wagging ears.

We met convoys of Austrian prisoners, guarded by cavalry or territorials, on their technique to the rear. They seemed drained and soiled and depressed, however most prisoners look that. A person who has spent days and even weeks amid the mud and blood of a trench, with no alternative to wash and even to clean his fingers and face, with none an excessive amount of meals, with a lot of his comrades lifeless or wounded, with a shell storm shrieking and howling about him, and has then needed to give up, might hardly be anticipated to seem excessive spirited and optimistic. But it has lengthy been the customized of the Allied correspondents and observers to base their assertions that the morale of the enemy is weakening and that the standard of his troops is deteriorating on the demeanor of prisoners contemporary from the firing line.

Ambulances handed us, touring towards the hospitals on the base, and typically wounded males, limping alongside on foot. The heads of some have been swathed in blood-stained bandages, some carried their arms in slings, others hobbled by with the help of sticks, for the Italian military is none too nicely provided with ambulances, and those that are in a position to stroll should accomplish that so that the locations within the ambulances could also be taken by their extra severely wounded fellows. They have been canine drained, soiled, caked with mud and blood, however they grinned at us cheerfully—for have been they not beating the Austrians? Certainly, one can’t take a look at Italian troops with out seeing that the spirit of the lads is excessive and that they’re assured of victory. 

Now the roads grew to become crowded, however by no means blocked, with troops on the march: infantry of the road, quick, sturdily constructed fellows sporting quick capes of greenish grey and trench helmets of painted metal; Alpini, hardy and lively because the goats of their very own mountains, their tight-fitting breeches and their inexperienced felt hats with the slanting eagle’s feather making them seem like the refrain of Robin Hood; bersaglieri, the flower of the Italian military, who’ve preserved the traditions of their well-known corps by nonetheless clinging to the flat-brimmed, rakish hat with its enormous bunch of drooping feathers; engineers, laden like donkeys with entrenching, bridging, and mining instruments; bike dispatch riders, leather-based jacketed and dirt bespattered, the sunshine horsemen of contemporary struggle; and, very sometimes, for his or her hour for motion has not but come, detachments of cavalry, normally armed with lances, their helmets and busbies linen coated to match the businesslike simplicity of their uniform. In regards to the Italian military there’s not a lot of the pomp and circumstance of struggle. It’s as businesslike as a blued-steel revolver. In its whole absence of swagger and show it’s attribute of a nation whose instincts are primarily democratic.

All the things thought of, the Italian troops evaluate very favorably with any in Europe. The boys are for essentially the most half shortish, very thickset, and burned by the solar to the colour of a much-used saddle. I moderately anticipated to see bearded, unkempt fellows, however I discovered them clear shaven and terribly neat. The Italian navy authorities don’t approve of the poilu. Although the lads are laden like pack mules, they cowl the bottom at a surprisingly sensible tempo, whereas particular corps, such because the bersaglieri and the Alpini, are well-known for the style wherein they take even the steepest acclivities on the double. I used to be informed that, although the troops recruited within the north possess essentially the most stamina and endurance, the Neapolitans and Sicilians have essentially the most élan and make one of the best fighters, these sons of the south having many times superior to the assault by means of storms of fireplace which the colder-blooded Piedmontese refused to face. 

Clockwise from left: Austrian troops haul a 24cm Mörser M 98 howitzer by means of a trench dug within the snow; Austrian troopers hearth on the enemy from a mountaintop; a unit of Italy’s Alpini march up Mount Adamello. (Clockwise from left: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek; Bundesarchiv (2))

It’s claimed for the Italian uniform that it’s without delay the ugliest and the least seen of any worn in Europe. “Its wearer doesn’t even make a shadow,” a good friend of mine remarked. The Italian navy authorities have been among the many first to make a scientific research of colours for uniforms. They didn’t choose, for instance, the “horizon blue” adopted by the French as a result of, whereas that is much less seen on the roads and plains of a flat, open, sunlit area, it will show fatally distinct on the tree-clad mountain slopes the place the Italians are preventing. The colour is formally described as gray-green, however one of the best description of it’s that given by a British officer: “Take some mud from the Blue Nile, fastidiously rub into it two kilos of ship-rat’s hair, paint a roan horse with the composition, after which you’ll perceive why the Austrians can’t see the Italian troopers in broad daylight at 50 yards.” Its high quality of invisibility is, certainly, positively uncanny. Whereas motoring within the struggle zone I’ve repeatedly stumble upon our bodies of troops resting beside the street, but, so marvelously do their uniforms merge into the panorama that, had not my consideration been known as to them, I ought to have handed them by unnoticed.

The uniform of the Italian officer is of exactly the identical minimize and apparently of the identical materials as that of the lads, and because the former not sometimes dispenses with the badges of rank, it’s usually tough to tell apart an officer from a non-public. The Italian officers, notably these of the cavalry regiments, have all the time been among the many smartest in Europe, however the attractive uniforms which, within the comfortable, carefree days earlier than the struggle, added such good notes of colour to the scenes on the Corso and within the Cascine, have been changed by a costume which is so simple as it’s serviceable. 

The Italian authorities has a stern objection to wasteful or pointless expenditure, and all of the pricey and superfluous trimmings so pricey to the guts of the navy have been ruthlessly pruned. However financial system shouldn’t be insisted upon on the expense of effectivity. Nothing is refused or stinted that’s essential to hold the troopers in good well being or that can add to the effectivity of the nice fighting-machine. However the struggle is proving a heavy monetary pressure for Italy and he or she is decided to not waste on it a single soldo greater than she will probably assist. On the French and British fronts employees officers are continuously dashing backward and forward in motorcars on errands of kind of significance. However you see nothing of that kind within the Italian struggle zone.

The Comando Supremo can, after all, have all of the motorcars it desires, however it discourages their use besides in circumstances of necessity. The officers are instructed that, every time they’ll journey by railway with out detriment to the pursuits of the service, they’re anticipated to take action, for the trains are in operation to inside a number of miles of the entrance and with astonishing regularity, whereas tires and gasoline value cash. Returning at dusk from the entrance to Udine, we have been almost all the time stopped by officers—majors, colonels, and as soon as by a basic—who would ask us to present them a elevate into city. It has lengthy been the style amongst foreigners to consider Italians, notably these of the higher class, as late rising, easygoing, and never notably in love with work—a kind of dolce far niente individuals. However the struggle has proven how unsafe are such generalizations. There isn’t a more durable employee on any entrance than the Italian officer. Even the very best employees officers are at their desks by 8 and regularly by 7. Although it’s simpler to get from the Italian entrance to Milan or Florence than it’s to get from Verdun to Paris, or from the Somme to London, one sees little of the weekend touring so frequent on the British entrance. Officers within the struggle zone are entitled to fifteen days’ go away of absence a 12 months, and from this rule there aren’t any deviations. 

By means of the mud we got here to the Judrio, which marked the road of the outdated frontier. We crossed the river by a pontoon bridge, for the Austrians had destroyed the opposite of their retreat. 

Military History Quarterly magazines GIF

this text first appeared in navy historical past quarterly journal

Fb @MHQMag | Twitter @MHQMagazine

“We’re in Austria now, I suppose?” I remarked. “In Italia Redenta,” my companion corrected me. “This area has all the time been Italian in all the pieces however title, and now it’s Italian in title additionally.” The occupation by the Italian troops, on the very outset of the struggle, of this wedge of territory between the Judrio and the Isonzo, with Monfalcone, Cervignano, Cormons, Gradisca—outdated Italian cities all—did a lot to present the Italian individuals confidence within the effectivity of their armies and the flexibility of their generals. 

Now the roads have been crammed with the big tools of a military advancing. Each village swarmed with grey troopers. We handed interminable processions of motor lorries, mule carts, vehicles, and wagons piled excessive with hay, lumber, wine casks, flour, shells, barbed wire; containers of ammunition; pontoon trains, balloon outfits, searchlights mounted on motor vehicles, wheeled blacksmith outlets, wheeled publish places of work, discipline kitchens; beef and mutton on the hoof; mammoth howitzers and siege weapons hauled by panting tractors; creaking, clanking discipline batteries, and bright-eyed, brown-skinned, green-caped infantry, battalions, regiments, brigades of them plodding alongside underneath slanting strains of metal. All of the assets of Italy appeared crowding as much as make good the current positive aspects and to make prepared for the subsequent push. One has to see a terrific military on the march to understand how stupendous is the duty of supplying with meals the hungry males and the hungrier weapons, and the way it taxes to the utmost all the commercial assets of a nation. 

“By the help of ropes and levers and pulleys,” Alexander wrote, “monster items have been…hoisted up partitions of rock as sheer and excessive as these of the Flatiron Constructing.” (Archivi Alinari, Florence)

Underneath all this visitors the roads remained arduous and {smooth}, for gangs of males with scrapers and steamrollers have been at work in all places repairing the damage and tear. This work is completed by peasants who’re too outdated for the military, middle-aged, sturdily constructed fellows who carry out their prosaic process with the resignation and inexhaustible endurance of the lower-class Italian. They’re organized in corporations of 100 males every, known as centurias, and the corporate commanders are known as (shades of the Roman legions!) centurions. Italy owes a lot to those gray-haired troopers of the decide and shovel who, working in warmth and chilly, in snow and rain, and regularly underneath Austrian hearth, have made it attainable for the armies to advance and for meals to be despatched ahead for the lads and ammunition for the weapons. 

When this struggle is over, Italy will discover herself with higher roads, and extra of them, than she ever had earlier than. The tons of of miles of splendid highways which have been constructed by the military within the Trentino, within the Carnia, and in Cadore will open up districts of extraordinary magnificence which have hitherto been inaccessible to the touring motorist. The Italians have been lucky in having an inexhaustible provide of road-building materials shut at hand, for the mountains are stable street metallic and within the plains one has solely to scratch the soil to search out gravel. The work of the street builders on the Higher Isonzo resembles an unlimited suburban growth, for the sleek white highways which zigzag in lengthy, simple gradients up the mountain slopes are bordered on the within by stone-paved gutters and on the surface, the place the precipice falls sheer away, by cut-stone guard posts.

Climbing greater, the roads turn out to be steeper and narrower and, due to the heavy rains, very extremely topped, with frequent right-angle and hairpin turns. Right here a skid or a sideslip or the failure of your brakes is kind of prone to convey your profession to an abrupt and ugly termination. To motor alongside certainly one of these navy mountain highways when it’s slippery from rain is as nerve making an attempt as strolling on a shingled roof with smooth-soled sneakers. At one level on the Higher Isonzo there wasn’t sufficient room between our outer wheels and the sting of the precipice for a starved cat to go. 

Now we have been nicely inside the hazard zone. I knew it by the screens of woven reeds and grass matting which had been erected alongside one aspect of the street to be able to shield the troops and transport utilizing that street from being seen by the Austrian observers and shelled by the Austrian weapons. Virtually all the roads on the Italian aspect of the entrance are, bear in mind, underneath direct commentary by the Austrians. The truth is, they command all the pieces. In every single place they’re above the Italians. From the observatories which they’ve established on each peak, they’ll see by means of their highly effective telescopes what’s transpiring down on the plain as readily as if they have been circling above it in an airplane. Because of the extraordinary benefit which the Austrians take pleasure in on this respect, it has been discovered essential to display screen sure of the roads not solely on either side however above, in order that in locations the visitors passes for miles by means of literal tunnels of matting. This street masking is a straightforward type of the artwork of concealment to which the French have given the title camouflage which has been developed to a unprecedented diploma on the Western Entrance. That the Italians haven’t made a better use of it’s due, little doubt, to the wholly completely different situations underneath which they’re preventing. 

Now the crowded street that we have been following turned sharply right into a slim valley, down which a small river twisted and turned on its technique to the ocean. Although the Italian positions ran alongside the highest of the hill slope simply above us, and although lower than a thousand yards away have been the Austrian trenches, that valley, for a lot of miles, was actually crawling with males and horses and weapons. Certainly, it was tough to make myself consider that we have been inside simple vary of the enemy and that at any prompt a shell would possibly fall upon that teeming hillside and burst with the crash that scatters demise. 

Regardless of the champagne-cork popping of the rifles and the basso profundo of the weapons, it was a scene of ordered, sure, nearly peaceable trade which under no circumstances prompt struggle however jogged my memory, moderately, of the Panama Canal on the busiest interval of its building, of the digging of the New York subway, of the laying of a transcontinental railway, of the constructing of the dam at Assuan. Trenches which had just lately been captured from the Austrians have been being cleared and renovated, and new trenches have been being dug, roads have been being repaired, a battery of monster howitzers was being moved into ingeniously hid positions, an entire system of narrow-gauge railway was being laid down, monumental portions of shops have been being unloaded from wagons and lorries and neatly stacked, troopers have been constructing nice water tanks on stilts, like these at railway sidings, large shells have been being lowered from vehicles and flatcars via cranes; to the accompaniment of saws and hammers a metropolis of picket huts was bobbing up on the reverse slope of the hill as if on the wave of a magician’s wand. 

Alexander identified in his e book that the Italian entrance in World Battle I used to be longer than the French, British, and Belgian fronts mixed and that its trenches in a single line would have prolonged from New York to Salt Lake Metropolis. (College of Toronto)

As I watched with fascinated eyes this scene of exercise, as metropolis idlers watch the laborers at work in a cellar excavation, a shell burst on the crowded hillside, maybe 500 yards away. There was a crash just like the explosion of an enormous cannon-cracker; the bottom leaped into flame and mud. A couple of minutes afterward I noticed an ambulance go tearing up the street. 

“Simply an opportunity shot,” mentioned the employees officer who accompanied me. “This valley is without doubt one of the few locations on our entrance which is invisible to the Austrian observers. That’s why we have now so many troops in right here. The Austrian aviators might spot what’s going on right here, after all, however our fliers and our anti­plane batteries have been making issues so scorching for them currently that they’re not troubling us a lot. That’s the nice factor on this recreation—to maintain management of the air. If the Austrian airmen have been in a position to recover from this valley and direct the fireplace of their weapons, we wouldn’t be capable of keep right here an hour.” 

My companion had thought that it may be attainable to comply with the street down the valley to Monfalcone and the ocean, and so it will have been had the climate continued misty and wet. However the solar got here out brightly simply as we reached the start of an uncovered stretch of the street; an Austrian observer, peering by means of a telescope arrange in a monastery on prime of a mountain 10 miles away, caught sight of the hurrying grey insect which was our automobile; he rang up on the phone a sure battery and spoke a number of phrases to the battery commander; and an prompt in a while the street alongside which we have been touring, Austrian shells started to fall. Shells being costly, that little episode value the emperor-­king a number of hundred kronen, we figured. As for us, it merely interrupted a most attention-grabbing morning’s trip. 

Leaving the automobile within the shelter of a hill, we toiled up a steep and stony slope to some extent from which I used to be in a position to get an admirable concept of the overall lay of Italy’s Japanese Entrance. Coming towards me was the Isonzo—a vivid blue stream the width of the Thames at New London—which, comfortable at escaping from its gloomy mountain defile, went rioting over the plain in a terrific westward curve. Turning, I might catch a glimpse, by means of a notch within the hills of the white towers and pink roofs of Monfalcone towards the Adriatic’s changeless blue. To the east of Monfalcone rose the purple heights of the Carso, the barren limestone plateau which stretches from the Isonzo south into Istria. And past the Carso I might hint the entire curve of the mountains from in entrance of Trieste up previous Gorizia and away to the Carnia. The Italian entrance, I’d add, divides itself into 4 sectors: the Isonzo, the Carnia and Cadore, the Trentino, and the Alpine. 

“The Italians evidently grew uninterested in letting the Austrians have their means with the city.”

Instantly beneath us, no more than a kilometer away, was a village which the Austrians have been shelling. By means of our glasses we might see the results of the bombardment as plainly as if we had been watching a soccer recreation from the higher tier of seats within the Yale Bowl. They have been utilizing a substantial variety of weapons of assorted calibers and the crash of the bursting shells was nearly incessant. A shell struck a moderately pretentious constructing, which was evidently the city corridor; there was a burst of flame, and a torrent of bricks and beams and tiles shot skyward amid a geyser of green-brown smoke. One other projectile selected as its goal the tall white campanile, which out of the blue slumped into the road, a heap of brick and plaster. Once in a while we caught glimpses of tiny figures—Italian troopers, almost certainly—scuttling for shelter.

Sometimes the Austrians would differ their rain of heavy projectiles with a kind of shell that went bang and launched a fleecy cloud of smoke overhead after which dropped a parcel of excessive explosive that burst on the bottom. It was curious to assume that the weapons from which these shells got here have been cunningly hidden away in nooks and glens on the opposite aspect of that distant vary of hills, that the lads serving the weapons had little if any concept what they have been firing at, and that the bombardment was being directed and managed by an officer seated comfortably on the small finish of a telescope up there on a mountain prime among the many clouds. But such is trendy struggle. It was once one of many artillerist’s tenets that his weapons ought to be positioned ready with a “commanding” vary of view. However these days weapons “command” nothing. As a substitute they’re tucked away in gullies and leafy glens and excavated gun pits, and their muzzles, as an alternative of frowning down on the enemy from an eminence, stare blindly skyward from behind a wall of hills or mountains.

The Italians evidently grew uninterested in letting the Austrians have their means with the city, for presently some batteries of heavy weapons behind us got here into motion and their shells screamed over our heads. Quickly a brisk trade of compliments between the Italian and Austrian weapons was occurring over the shattered roofs of the city. We didn’t stay overlong on our hillside, and we have been warned by the artillery officer who was guiding us to maintain near the bottom and nicely aside, for, have been the Austrians to see us in a gaggle, utilizing maps and discipline glasses, they in all probability would take us for artillery observers and would ship over a violent protest cased in metal. 

On not one of the European battle fronts is there a extra stunning and spectacular journey than that from Udine as much as the Italian positions within the Carnia. The Carnia sector connects the Isonzo and Trentino fronts and varieties an important hyperlink within the Italian chain of protection, for, have been the Austrians to interrupt by means of, they might soak up flank and rear the nice Italian armies working on the 2 adjoining fronts. West of the Carnia, in Cadore, the Italians are campaigning in one of many world’s most well-known playgrounds, for, within the days earlier than the Nice Battle, pleasure seekers, from each nook of Europe and America swarmed by the tens of 1000’s within the nation spherical about Cortina and within the enchanted valleys of the Dolomites. However now nice grey weapons are emplaced within the shady glens the place the honeymooners used to walk; on the terraces of the vacationer hostelries, the place, on summer season afternoons, males in white flannels and girls in dainty frocks chattered over their tea, now lounge Italian officers in discipline uniforms of grey; the blare of dance music and the popping of champagne corks has been changed by the blare of bugles and the popping of rifles.

In case you have ever gone, in a single day, from the sunlit orange groves of Pasadena as much as the snow-crowned peaks of the Coast Vary, you should have pretty much as good an concept as I may give you of the journey from the Isonzo as much as the Carnia. Down on the Carso the struggle is being waged underneath a sky of molten brass, and in summer season the winds which sweep that arid plateau are like blasts from an open furnace door. The troopers preventing within the Carnia, then again, not sometimes put on coats of white fur to guard them from the chilly and to render them invisible towards the expanses of snow. After I was on the Italian entrance, they informed me an incident of this mountain warfare. There was determined preventing for the possession of some yards of mountain trenches and a half-battalion of Austrian jagers—almost 500 males—have been enfiladed by machine-gun hearth and worn out. That evening there was a heavy snowfall, and the Austrian corpses sprawled upon the mountainside have been quickly buried deep beneath the fleecy flakes. The lengthy winter wore alongside, the struggle pursued its dreary course, to 500 Austrian properties the Austrian Battle Workplace despatched a quick message that the husband or son or brother had been “reported lacking.” Then the spring got here, the snow melted from the mountainsides, and the horrified Italians seemed on the five hundred Austrians, frozen stiff, as meat is frozen in a fridge, in the identical attitudes wherein they’d died months earlier than. 

GET HISTORY’S GREATEST TALES—RIGHT IN YOUR INBOX

Subscribe to our Historynet Now! publication for one of the best of the previous, delivered each Wednesday.

With numerous hairpin, hair-raising turns, our street wound upward, bordered on one hand by the brinks of precipices, on the opposite by naked partitions of rock. It was a {smooth} street, splendidly constructed, however steep and terrifyingly slim—so slim in locations that it was nothing greater than a shelf blasted from the sheer face of the cliff. Twice, assembly motor lorries downward sure, we needed to again alongside that slim shelf, with our outer wheels getting ready to vacancy, till we got here to a spot the place there was room to go. It was a ticklish enterprise. 

At one level a mountain torrent leaped from the cliff into the depths beneath. However the water energy was not permitted to go to waste; it had been skillfully harnessed and was getting used to run a totally geared up machine store the place have been introduced for restore all the pieces from motor vehicles to machine weapons. That was one of many issues that impressed me most—the mechanical means of the Italians. The railways, cableways, machine outlets, bridges, roads, reservoirs, concrete works that they’ve constructed, most of the time within the face of what would seem like insurmountable difficulties, show them to be a nation of engineers. 

A four-man staff of troopers in an Austrian artillery unit prepared an 8cm Feldkanone M.5, the usual discipline gun of the Austro-Hungarian military in World Battle I, that’s been hidden within the entrance to a cave. (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)

As much as the heights towards which we have been climbing so comfortably and shortly in a motorcar, there was earlier than the struggle, so I used to be informed, nothing however a mule-path. Now there’s this high-quality navy street, so ingeniously graded and zigzagged that two-ton motor vehicles can now go along with ease the place earlier than a donkey had problem find a footing. When these small and helpful motor vehicles come to some extent the place it’s now not attainable for them to search out traction, their masses are transferred to the exceptional wire-rope railways, or telefericas, as they’re known as, which have made attainable this marketing campaign in cloudland. Related methods are in use, all around the world, for conveying items up the edges of mountains and throughout chasms. A wire rope operating over a drum at either side of the chasm which needs to be crossed varieties a double line of overhead railway. Suspended on grooved wheels from this overhead wire are “automobiles” consisting of shallow iron trays concerning the size and width of coffins, one automobile going up as the opposite comes down. The flooring of the automobiles are perforated in order to allow the draining off of water or blood—for males wounded within the mountain preventing are regularly introduced all the way down to the hospitals in them—and the edges are of latticework, and, I’d add, fairly unnecessarily low. Neither is the potential passenger reassured by being informed that there have been a number of circumstances the place troopers, out of the blue overcome by vertigo, have thrown themselves out whereas in midair.

If the automobiles are correctly loaded, and if there’s not a excessive wind blowing, the teleferica is about as protected as most different modes of conveyance, however ought to the automobiles have been carelessly loaded, or ought to a powerful wind be blowing, there’s appreciable hazard of their coming into collision as they go. In such an occasion there could be a very reasonable probability of the passenger spattering up the rocks 1,000 toes or so beneath. There may be nonetheless one other, although a moderately distant risk: that of being shelled whereas in midair, for sure of the telefericas run inside view of the Austrian positions. And typically the facility which winds the drum offers out and the automobile and its passengers are quickly marooned in area. Aviation, motor racing, mountaineering, big-game looking, all appear commonplace and tame in contrast with the feeling of swinging helplessly in a shallow bathtub over half a mile of vacancy whereas an Austrian battery endeavors to pot you with shrapnel, very a lot as a small boy throws stones at a scared cat clinging to a limb. 

But over these slender wires has been transported a military, with its huge portions of meals, shops, and ammunition, and by the identical methodology of transportation have been despatched again the wounded. With out this ingenious machine it’s uncertain if the marketing campaign within the Excessive Alps might ever have been fought. However the cables, sturdy although they’re, are but too weak to bear the burden of the heavy weapons, a few of them weighing 40 and 50 tons, which the Italians have put into motion on the very best peaks. So by the help of ropes and levers and pulleys and tons of of brawny backs and straining arms, these monster items have been hauled up slopes as steep as that of the Nice Pyramid, have been hoisted up partitions of rock as sheer and excessive as these of the Flatiron Constructing. You query this? Nicely, there they’re, nice eight- and nine-inch monsters, excessive above the very best of the wire roads, certainly one of them that I do know of at a peak of 10,000 toes above the ocean. There isn’t a doubting it, unbelievable as it could appear, for they converse for themselves—because the Austrians have discovered to their value. 

Essentially the most superior positions within the Carnia, as within the Trentino, are amid the everlasting snows. Right here the weapons are emplaced in ice caverns which will be reached solely by means of tunnels minimize by means of the drifts; right here the lads spend their days wrapped in shaggy furs, their faces smeared with grease as a safety from the stinging blasts, and their nights in holes burrowed within the snow, just like the igloos of Esquimaux. On no entrance, not on the sun-scorched plains of Mesopotamia, nor within the frozen Mazurian marshes, nor within the blood-soaked mud of Flanders, does the preventing man lead so arduous an existence as up right here on the roof of the world. I bear in mind standing with an Italian officer in an observatory within the decrease mountains. The highly effective telescope was educated on the snow-covered summit of one of many greater peaks. 

“Do you see that little black speck on the snow on the very prime?” the officer requested me. 

I informed him that I did. 

“That’s certainly one of our positions,” he continued. “It’s held by a lieutenant and 30 Alpini. I’ve simply acquired phrase that, as the results of yesterday’s snowstorm, our communications with them have been minimize off. We won’t be able to alleviate them, or get provides to them, a lot earlier than subsequent April.” 

And it was then solely the center of December! 

Within the Carnia and on the Higher Isonzo one finds the anomaly of first-line trenches that are completely protected from assault. I visited such a place. By means of a loophole I obtained a little bit framed image of the Austrian trenches not 500 yards away, and above them, minimize within the mountainside, the sq. black openings inside which lurked the Austrian weapons. But we have been as protected from something save artillery hearth as if we have been in Mars, for between the Italian trenches and the Austrian intervened a chasm half a thousand toes deep and with partitions as steep and {smooth} because the aspect of a home. The slim strip of valley on the backside of the chasm was a kind of no man’s land, the place forays, skirmishes, and all method of determined adventures befell nightly between patrols of jagers and Alpini. 

As with my discipline glasses I used to be sweeping the turmoil of trench-scarred mountains which lay unfold, beneath me, like a map in bas-relief, an Austrian battery fairly out of the blue arrange a deafening clamor, and on a hillside, miles away, I might see its shells bursting in clouds of smoke shot by means of with flame. They seemed like gigantic white peonies breaking out of the blue into bloom. The racket of the weapons awoke essentially the most extraordinary echoes within the mountains. It was tough to consider that it was not thunder. Vary after vary caught up the echoes of that bombardment and handed them on till it appeared as if they should have reached Vienna. For half an hour, maybe, the cannonade continued, after which, from an Italian place someplace above and behind us, got here a mighty bellow which drowned out all different sounds. It was the offended voice of Italy bidding the Austrians be nonetheless.



Share:

Leave a Reply

GIPHY App Key not set. Please check settings