Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, September 10, 2016

War in the Altipiani: Part I – Where Hostilities Opened on the Italian Front

There was a geographical "wild card" to the 1915 border between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy. In the southeastern part of the Trentino, running roughly west to east from the city of Rovereto are a series of four plateaus (collectively "Altipiani Trentini") covering almost 600 square miles, about the size of Greater London. East to west they are the Folgaria, Lavarone, Luserna, and Asiago Plateaus.

Asiago Plateau with Italian War Memorial, Beyond Asiago Town

The Altipiani are simply enchanting — the image of the Asiago Plateau above is representative — they are all prime resort areas today. These four linked tablelands effectively form a series of steps downward into the Veneto, which would have been the rear of the main Italian deployments during most of the war, or, reversing the perspective, upward into the Trentino, the capture of which was a prime Italian war aim. Consequently, after the Isonzo basin, the Altipiani would be the next most critical battlefield on the Italian Front.

Two Key Mountain Positions on the Periphery of the Altipiani

Two significant mountains located on the north and south flanks would be important objectives of both sides. On the north, Mte Ortigara (6,900 ft) was the locale of a horrendous defeat for the elite Alpini troops of the Italian Army in 1917. Mte Pasubio (7,322 ft)  had been in Austrian territory but was quickly occupied by the Italians, who built 52 galleria (dugouts excavated from rock) to support their troops on the summit, where the front line held despite the blowing of a stupendous Austrian mine in March 1918.

Fort Verena: Fired the Opening Shots in 1915, Destroyed in the Strafexpediton of 1916

Since the Altipiani were strategically important both governments, each nation built a line of concrete and iron fortresses, set back five kilometers from the actual frontier. These 14 forts utilized the region's immense cliffs and mountaintop rock, as well as satellite batteries and garrisons for their defense. The facing walls of forts played a significant role in the first year of warfare on the Italian Front. On 24 May 1915 the four 150mm guns of Fort Verena (altitude 6,600 ft), shown on the top of page 12 fired the first shots on the front against the opposing Austrian line. Fort Luserna  and the nearby town of Luserna absorbed considerable punishment in that opening barrage.

Part II Tomorrow: The Strafexpedition

1 comment:

  1. At last, a serious examination of the Italian front, although, apparently from the Italian viewpoint! There are many users of this blog who would like to see things from the Austrian side.