Friday, 30 January 2015
Military History Photo Friday: The Danger of Avalanches on the Alpine Front
This photo shows Austro-Hungarian troops positioned at the peak of Mt. Ortler in the Alps in 1917. The Alpine front was one of the worst places to be during World War One, and these guys don't look like they got a very good posting. Looks cold, doesn't it? In fact they were probably glad to be up there because being at the top of a mountain they didn't have to worry about one of the front's greatest killers--the avalanche.
Avalanches killed at least 60,000 men on the Alpine front as the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy fought for possession of mountain slopes and narrow valleys. Avalanches are common in the Alps, and what with all the noise from artillery fire they became a lot more common.
One story that's often repeated about the front is that the opposing sides targeted above enemy positions in order to create avalanches to bury them. I've even repeated that tale myself in an article or two. According to this interesting article on the website La Grande Guerra, it isn't true. The author could find no contemporary mention of that tactic, and veterans he interviewed said they never saw it during their service. That's the interesting thing about history, no matter how much you study it, you're always learning something new!
It makes me feel relieved to learn those guys didn't inflict that on one another. While trekking in the Annapurna range in Nepal in 1994, I saw a major avalanche that covered an entire mountainside. I was on a different mountain on the opposite side of a valley so I was safe, but it sent a tingle up my spine. Just a few days before a Japanese mountaineering team had been all but wiped out by an avalanche. It would be a terrible way to go.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.