Archive for Battle of Vittorio Veneto

Nov
04

No longer enemies

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The Valcava is enclosed by mountains which mainly look like this. Not so bad in the summer, but I leave you to imagine the winter.

The Valcava is enclosed by mountains which mainly look like this. Not so bad in the summer, but I leave you to imagine the winter.

When I was a sprite, we observed November 11 as “Armistice Day.”  At some point which I am not going to pause to identify — perhaps it was when the last veteran of the First World War passed on — this occasion was recast as “Veterans’ Day.”

Something similar occurred in Italy, at some point I’m not going to identify; November 4, the date on which the Austrian surrender took effect, is now labeled “Armed Forces Day.”

Call it what you will, here the memory of the hideous calamity of “The First War” or “The War of  ’15-’18,” as they also name it here, has not faded.  On or near every parish church in Venice you will find a plaque listing the names of the local boys who never returned (names of the fallen of the Second War have also been added).

On the base of the flagpole in Campo Santa Margherita the names of two of Lino’s uncles are inscribed, last name first, the way they do it here:  GREGOR ANGELO GREGOR FRANCESCO.  When Lino and his twin brother arrived in 1938, his mother named them for her deceased brothers.  So I suppose I’m also linked in a way to the Great War.

For those whose interest tends more toward the logistical, many organizations have labored to reconstruct or recover whatever remains along the battle front of the Alpine crest — ruined barracks, partially collapsed trenches, snarls of rusty barbed wire, assorted unexploded bombs, and similar bellicose elements left by men who fought because they were ordered to do so and died because that’s what’s likely to happen in a war, not to mention during an entire winter near the screaming tops of naked mountains: Avalanches, frostbite, disease, not to mention falling chunks of mountain dislodged by the mutual detonation of mines.

Speaking of elements which were left behind, sometimes one of the men himself reappears, revealed by a melting glacier or shifting rockslide.  Just think, corpses of forgotten Austrian and Italian soldiers still strewn about those picturesque Alps.

Late summer is prime time for wild blueberries and raspberries along the trail.

Late summer is prime time for wild blueberries and raspberries along the trail.

Last August we spent a few days in the Valle dei Mocheni, our favorite valley not far from Trento. Before the War, this area belonged to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, so when the first shots rang out, Austrian troops were sent into the high valleys to repulse the Italians.

We went further up into a side valley called the Valcava, and passed a sparkling morning walking even further up to the “FeldKapelle,” a reconstructed field chapel at 6,049 feet (1,844 meters) in an area which had been an outpost of the Austrian Kaiserjager and Standschutzen, Austrian infantry corps reorganized as mountain troops to combat the Italian Alpini, the oldest active mountain infantry in the world.

What I love about this place — apart from the fact that it ever existed, which I hate — is that it was repaired by the Alpini of the nearby village of Fierozzo, with the collaboration of the neighboring villages of Palu’ del Fersina and Frassilongo.  They made it their project, with the help of archaeological advisers and historians, to restore the chapel and some small nearby structures. You might have thought it would have been the Austrians who’d want to remember their comrades, but here it appears that the Italians wanted to remember their enemies.

The water is dazzling; at least the soldiers had something good to drink, though they probably preferred coffee and grappa.

The water is dazzling; at least the soldiers had something good to drink, though they probably preferred coffee and grappa.

As for the denouement of four years of slaughter, here is the succinct report from Wikipedia:

By October 1918, Italy finally had enough soldiers to mount an offensive. The attack targeted Vittorio Veneto, across the Piave. The Italian Army broke through a gap near Sacile and poured in reinforcements that crushed the Austrian defensive line. On 3 November, 300,000 Austrian soldiers surrendered.

The Battle of Vittorio Veneto heralded the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Army as an effective fighting force, and also triggered the disintegration of Austria-Hungary.

On October 29, the imperial authorities asked Italy for an armistice, but the Italians continued to advance, reaching Trento, Udine, and Trieste.

On 3 November, Austria-Hungary sent a flag of truce to the Italian Commander to ask again for an armistice and terms of peace. The terms were arranged by telegraph with the Allied Authorities in Paris, communicated to the Austrian Commander, and were accepted.

The Armistice with Austria was signed in the Villa Giusti, near Padua, on 3 November, and took effect on 4 November, at three o’clock in the afternoon.

Peace at last.

Then they all got busy with the paperwork. It wasn’t pretty either. Field-Marshal Earl Wavell said of the Paris Peace Conference: “After the ‘war to end war’, they seem to have been in Paris making the ‘Peace to end Peace.'”

So let’s not look back, let’s face forward.  Take tomorrow, November 5: Some notable events that occurred on this day were:  The Gunpowder Plot (1605); Italy annexes Tripoli and Cyrenaica (1911); Bulgarian troops in Constantinople blockade drinking water (1912); Britain annexes Cyprus (1914);  Britain and France land forces in Egypt (1956).  There actually is no end to it all.

So I’m going to go back to thinking about the Mass of commemoration held each year at the FeldKapelle. This year the priests officiating were don Daniele Laghi and don Hans Norbert Slomp.  Why can’t it always be like this?  I mean, without millions of people having to die first.

The trail to the chapel is so lovely, even if I do think about all the hauling of ordnance that went over it.

The trail to the chapel is so lovely, I’m sorry to think of all the hauling of ordnance that went over it.

When horses or mules weren't available for some reason, men had to do the hauling. These horses are just waiting for tourists.

When horses or mules weren’t available for some reason, men had to do the hauling. These horses are just waiting for tourists.

Somewhat below the area of the chapel and barracks is what has been recovered of the bathtubs. That frigid mountain water? Suddenly it's not quite so appealing.  But in they went -- one tub for the soldiers, another for the officers.

Somewhat below the area of the chapel and barracks is what has been recovered of the bathtubs. One tub for the soldiers, another for the officers.

I'm guessing this was for the enlisted men; the other rectangle is bigger.

I’m guessing this was for the enlisted men; the other rectangle is bigger.

The only structures at the moment are the officers' barracks and the chapel.

The only structures at the moment are the officers’ barracks and the chapel.

IMG_4253 armistice USE

 

A sketch of the hypothetical arrangement of the structures.

A sketch of the hypothetical arrangement of the structures.

A view of the terrain; the chapel is where the big red dot is placed.

A view of the terrain; the chapel is where the big red dot is placed.  The place names are in Italian and the Mocheno dialect, which is a medieval relic of German.

A photograph of the troops at Mass on September

A photograph of the troops at Mass on September 12, 1915.

The barracks look fine now, but I have some concern about the caulkling, come winter.

The barracks look fine now, but I have some concern about the caulking, come winter.

The rack by the front door was designed to hold each officer's rifle.

The rack by the front door was designed to hold each officer’s rifle.

I like blinds that you can adjust slat by slat.

I like blinds that you can adjust slat by slat.

It's small, but it's huge.  They thought of everything.

It’s small, but it’s huge. They thought of everything.

In Italian and German, it says:

In Italian and German, it says: “Faithful to their duty, brave and tenacious, the Kaiserjager and the Standschutzen consummated their sacrifice on our mountains.”

The olive tree of peace growing out of a helmet. I don't see what's so hard about that.

The olive tree of peace growing out of a helmet. I don’t see what’s so hard about that.

This image is hung on the wall facing the altar, up under the eaves.

This image is hung on the wall facing the altar, up under the eaves.

IMG_4275 armistice

 

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I’m sorry for the maddening reflections, the negative side to a sunny day.  The text says: “Puzn – Passo della Portela – Turl (the stretch of valley in which the chapel is located): Everyone had the face of Christ in the livid halo of the helmet.  Everyone carried the mark of agony in the cross of the bayonet and in their pockets the bread of the Last Supper and in the throat the cry of the final farewell.”

What's left of a trench in the Paneveggio

What’s left of a trench in the Paneveggio Nature Park near Passo Rolle, San Martino di Castrozza, and other points along the line where mountain fighting was fierce.

 

This monument commemorates the "Ragazzi del 99," or "the boys of '99."  These were the boys born in 1899 who were 18 years old in 1917 and eligible -- destined -- for the draft.  If the war had not ended that year, the following year would have seen the conscription of the next lot of 18-year-olds.

This monument in Valeggio sul Mincio commemorates the “Ragazzi del 99,” or “the boys of ’99.” These were the young men born in 1899 who turned 18 years old in 1917 and were therefore eligible — destined — for the draft.  The laurel wreath is the traditional civic offering on major national holidays, such as November 4 and June 2.  Lino’s Uncle Rinaldo — another of his mother’s many brothers — was one of the boys of ’99.  He came back, got married, and lived to the age of 86.

The war memorial in Lazise, on the shores of Lake Garda, repeat the last ringing phrase from General Armando Diaz's famous report on the Austrian surrender: "

The war memorial in Lazise, on the shores of Lake Garda, repeats the last ringing phrase from General Armando Diaz’s famous report on the Austrian surrender: “The remains of what was one of the most powerful armies in the world return hopeless and in disorder back up the valleys which they had descended with proud security.”  The names listed here were not casualties of battle, but of disease.

Sunset in Valcava.

Sunset in Valcava, looking toward the Brenta range.

 

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