Winter with more than 9 meters of snow and many victms of snowslides.
The war of mines continues.
The schematic and dry news concerning the operations cannot obviously give the idea of the steel weapons attacks, nor of the solitary winter nights on the look-out at almost 3.000 meters, at -30° in the snowstorm; of the anguish in the trenches in the rain of the grenade during a bombing, of the unbearable wait before the mine under one’s cave exploded.
We cannot imagine what the sufferings due to hunger, cold, snwslide, humidity, lice, dysentery, transports and the fatigue were like; not to speak about the wounded who were often very far from the places where they could be primitively medicated. Sometimes abandoned to their own destiny because of the impossibility to reach them or because they were not seen.. Many of
them died after unimmaginable sufferings, lasting also entire days, as it comes out of some gruesome stories. The horrors of mutilations the soldiers went through, the useless slaughter for the unsuccessful assault, the sense of guilt after decimation of mutineers, even if made obeying to higher orders, provoked numerous suicides especially among the more sensitive Italian officers.
Many soldiers, the weakest ones, became insane, after a fight man to man or an exhausting pounding of the artillery or due to the long isolation. Dramatic pages of ex-servicemen testify that. Also from the causes of death one can see that the majority did not die fighting; actually they died of the wounds, of congelation, because of snowslides, of diseases they caught in the trenches and in the tunnels, of straitened circumstances etc.
The war of mines
During 1917 no battles of great importance were fought with the exception of the mines; the airplanes did not seriously disturb with bombings the Dolomites front.
The stabilized fronts had led the Commands to develop special procedures in attacking the enemy’s positions indifferent to the surface offensives; they blasted mines which were placed in deep tunnels. The enemy on its part responded with the countermine which was blasted before its opposing one.
How the miners worked is shown by the several tunnels necessary for the artillery postings.
The shots were fired from openings along the tunnels and from other connection openings.
14 January: 2nd mine on the Lagazuòi (Austrian). 16 tons of explosive.
6 April: the United States of America come into the war
22 May: 3rd mine on Lagazuoi (Austrian). 30 tons of explosive; nearly 200.000 cubic meters of rocks fall, but without obtaining any results.
20 June: 4th mine on Lagazuoi (Italian) made of 33 tons of explosive; it blew up and made an ANTICIMA, west of the Lagazuoi blow up as well. A troublesome Austrian outpost was thus eliminated, but without obtaining a final victory.
16 September: 5th mine on Lagazuoi (Austrian). 4.000 kilograms of explosive; 5.000 cubic metres of rock were blasted and fell on the ledge used to go downhill.
24 October: The Caporetto retreat
28 October: The Italians are ordered to leave Cortina.
5 November: The last Italian detachment leaves Cortina and that same day the Austrian come into Cortina again and they are welcomed with enthusiasm because with them there were or were about to arrive also those sons, husbands, fathers and brothers who had been far from home so long. The joy of those who could meet again their dear ones was mixed with the sorrow of those who learned of a relative’s death or saw him mutilated or ill.
Together with the Austrians, also famine and hunger came into Ampezzo: all the foodstuffs were rationed. The incautious handling of hand grenades and other weapons left behind by the Italians caused the death of three boys and an old woman from Zuel.
The railway Peaio-Zuel was reopened and provisional tracks were laid on the road in order to prepare a makeshift side-track between Dobbiaco and Cortina.
Most of the Ladin and Tirolean defenders were invalid, old men and children as General Caputo used to tell his soldiers; however they were mountain people who were familiar with the places, used to the rocks, to the temperatures and the climate. Some of them were skilled shots and hunters, very close to each other and to their officers, chosen by themselves.
Actually defending oneself is easier than attacking, especially when one is on the top of the mountains in dominant positions. The Italians on the other hand had few Alpini; many units were made of soldiers from the lowlands and from Southern Italy; they were more sensitive to the cold, feeling lost in the high mountains environment and little motivated as they did not understand what was the meaning of conquering those bare rocks.
After repeated bloody assaults, many of them, aware of going to their death, did rebel at the order of proceeding but to no use. In each army there were mutinies and defeatism.
The Commands took advantage of the soldiers’ ignorance; actually 90% of them di not kow how to read nor write while on the Austrian side 90% of soldiers knew how to read and write.
According to Pieropan, World War I caused 8 million casualties as a whole; it cost about 186 billion dollars of old.
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