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

Monday, May 22, 2017

Mte Lagazuoi: Mine Warfare in the Dolomite Alps

Monte Lagazuoi, 16 September 1917

On 23 May 1915 when the Kingdom of Italy declared war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire, their opponents set up a line of defense from the Stelvio Pass along the Dolomites to the Carso and the Adriatic Sea. Cortina, which had belonged to Austria since 1511, was abandoned by the Austrian troops, who strengthened their positions at the Tre Sassi Fort in the Valparola Pass and on Mte Lagazuoi, in order to bar access to the Badia and Pusteria valleys, which were the Italian objectives in this sector. 

Location of the Mountain
In the early months of the war, the Italian assaults on the Austrian defense positions in the Valparola Pass were unsuccessful despite the Tre Sassi Fort being immediately knocked out of action by the Italian artillery firing from the Cinque Torri (Five Towers range) on the southwestern edge of the Cortina basin. Complete control of commanding Mte Lagazuoi became a priority for both armies. 

They then began to tunnel Mte Lagazuoi to seek shelter for troops and guns, transforming it into a new, 20th-century fortress. They soon found that the only way to conquer the enemy positions was by blowing them up. Five charges of dynamite exploded on the mountain, changing its appearance radically. The explosion captured in the photo at the top of the page is an Austrian mine detonated on 16 September 1917. 

Lift to the Peak Today

Fearing an Austrian counterattack, the Italians prepared a defense line at Cinque Torri, where the Italian artillery headquarters was based. The positions where Italians and Austro-Hungarians fought have been restored, thanks to international collaboration and funds from the European Union, and can be visited in a great open-air museum. On Lagazuoi, visitors can walk through the long galleries under the mountain and see the Italian and Austrian frontline positions; at Cinque Torri there are the Italian defense lines and positions and artillery headquarters while, at the Tre Sassi Fort, there is a museum with exhibits recalling events of the Great War in the Dolomites. 

View from Galleria on Lagazuoi

These three museums are about 15 kilometers west of Cortina on SS 48 delle Dolomiti and are located within a radius of five kilometers. They illustrate the different aspects of mountain warfare during the First World War: the defense of the Alpine valleys in the Austrian fort, the front line in the mountains and mine warfare on Lagazuoi, and the Italian defense line and artillery headquarters at CinqueTorri. 

Your Editor (Blue Shirt) Atop Mte Lagazuoi with His 2011 Battlefield Tour Group

Lagazuoi and Cinque Torri may be visited during the summer by walking up the mountain paths or using the cable car or chair lift. In the winter, cableways should be used to get to the museum area and then the entrenchments can be seen using skis or snow shoes, preferably with a mountain guide. The Tre Sassi Fort, on the road through the Valparola Pass, is accessible all year round. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I loved this place by just looking at the pictures. You people seems to have lot more fun out there, thank you for sharing so much details about the place with us