Jump to content

Battle of San Matteo


Recommended Posts

Probably one of the smallest "battles" of World War 1, but for some reason strikes me as pretty interesting - the Battle of San Matteo, fought in the Ortler Alps of Northern Italy. There's not much written about it, there was a combined total (Austrian and Italian) of 27 men killed in the battle - but it was literally fought on the top of a mountain.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_San_Matteo

In 2004 3 bodies were found at 3400m, it was assumed they died in a grenade attack - absolutely unbelievable.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3592268.stm

Luc

Link to post
Share on other sites

Have done a good deal of climbing in the various Alps years ago, and the conditions in August are usually not bad (been up to 4545 meters), but the Alpine fighting went on all year, and in winter, or when doing something crazy like trying to pull a field-piece up a mountain, the conditions were impossible. And of course they had to be up there all night for days and days, not being able to retreat to an Alpine hut or to your chalet in the valley. And building any sort of trench on solid rock was a night-mare.

There is an amazing road going over the Vrsic Pass (bit over 6000' altitude) in western Slovenija, built during WW I mostly by Russian POWs to supply the Alpine front near Caparetto, and there is a wooden Russian-style chapel at the low northern foot of the road, built to remember 300 Russian POWs swept away by an avalanche while working on the road during the war. My Slovene guide has a Russian name (Sazonov), as his father was a Russian POW who had the sense to never leave Slovenija after the war was over; he died in Slovenija at age 95.

I have a particular interest in flame-throwers, and they were used in mountain-top fighting in the Italian Alps, and on much lower mountain tops in the Vosges in Alsace, during winter, including Christmas. Speaking of combining a number of unpleasant circumstances!

Bob Lembke

PS But a lot of tough people over there. The first person I climbed with was a Slovene woman, a PT teacher, and we climbed Triglav, highest mountain in Jugoslavija and Slovenija, about 10,000 feet. Sometime later she climbed it with her new husband, in winter, with the huts closed, and she said in a phone call that she climbed it with a load of fire-wood on her back to stock the fuel supply (for strangers) in the emergency hut next to the closed regular hut. This mountain has seven glaciers on it in summer. Shortly after that I spoke to her sister and was a bit surprised that when she told me that her sister had climbed the mountain in winter with a load of fire-wood when she was 8 months pregnant with her first child, while 40 years old. While Triglav is not that high, you start climbing from about 1000', not 6000' or 10,000' like in Switzerland. My Slovene guide was once asked to guide the then Communist President of Slovenija on a climb of the 6000' rock face, on the west flank of Triglav, one of the highest rock faces in the Alps anywhere in Europe. Not what you would expect a "Communist President" to be doing, thinking of those wonderful athletic Russian Communist Presidents.

Link to post
Share on other sites

No question these are/were tough people in these mountains. I lived in Slovenia for three years and hiked/climbed a lot of the mountains on the Slovenia/Italy border in the Julian Alps where a lot of the fighting took place in WWI. Using Kobarid, Slovenia (Capparetto - also scene of Hemingway's book "A Farewell to Arms") as a base, you can trace a lot of the Isonza (Soča) Front; including the area where Rommel writes about in "Infantry Attacks".

The Trentino and the Tyrol were even worse conditions - the fighting at San Matteo had to be insane.

Every 11 Nov for a Veteran's Day ceremony we'd climb Mt. Krn (2245m); last time I started my day with a short run in shorts along the Soča (this is the Slovene name for the Isonza River), but mid-day however, I was slogging through almost two meters of snow to get to near the top of Mt. Krn and the ceremony. Of course, many of those making the climb were old partisans from WWII - no shortage of tough souls and strong drinks. I could only imagine how it was to fight in these mountains during WWI. Many of the fortifications and tunnels still exist as they were at that time.

Driving the Vrsic Pass as described by Bob even today can be harrowing in the winter - assuming it's open. For the truly rugged, in June/July there is a marathon that runs up this road built by the Russians.

To remind: Mt, Krn was the area of the initial assaults along the Soča River after Italy's entry into the war in May 1915. Italian Alpini achieved the first major victory on the Soča Front with the capture of Mount Krn, when they wrested this 2245-meter peak from the hands of from its Hungarian defenders on June 16, 1915.

I have stood at the top drinking all sorts of fire water with Hungarians, Austrians, Germans, Slovenes, Italians, and a few crazy Americans!

Footnote: Great trout fishing in Kobarid and Tolmin along the Soča River. In Kobarid is one of the best restaurants - serving seafood of all things - in which I have had the pleasure to dine anywhere in the world.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Luke;

Sorry, this has struck the old nostalga bone, going to veer OT for only a bit. Have you ever gotten up in the mountins? Gives you a sense of those conditions. But in Alpine-style climbing at least you are continually climbing (In my crazyist climb, Dom in Switzerland, in 19 hours of climbing we stopped about 3 times for 2-3 minutes, and once on the summit for say 10-15 minutes, in 19 hours, so you are lightly dressed, it is about minus 20 degrees Centigrade (probably lower at the 4545 m summit, we had gone up the north ice wall, its first ascent that year, without our ice hammers), but you constantly moving. (My guide was always puzzled by me, I was always a bit slow, but what we did not know was that I had quite severe cornary artery disease, and had three heart attacks a couple of years later.) But being up there for day after day, moving little, maybe hugging cold rock most of the time, probably insufficient food, frozen drinking water (sit on your canteen for half an hour to take a sip?), bad clothing w/o modern miracle hi-tech materials, just an awful thought.

No question these are/were tough people in these mountains. I lived in Slovenia for three years and hiked/climbed a lot of the mountains on the Slovenia/Italy border in the Julian Alps where a lot of the fighting took place in WWI. Using Kobarid, Slovenia (Capparetto - also scene of Hemingway's book "A Farewell to Arms") as a base, you can trace a lot of the Isonza (Soča) Front; including the area where Rommel writes about in "Infantry Attacks".

I drove thru Kobarid say 10-15 times over many years before I realized that it was Caparetto of "A Farewell to Arms"; I just thought it was to the west in Italy. I was not a student of the war then. I thought that my father was at the battle, his Flammenwerfer unit was, he told me a few stories about the battle, but I know from his Militar=Pass that he was in hospital at that time, his worst wound from Verdun having flared up; he did not place himself in the stories, so he was repeating stories from his comrades, and I just assumed that he was there.

The WW I museum in Kobarid is quite good; new, and has won some European awards.

The Trentino and the Tyrol were even worse conditions - the fighting at San Matteo had to be insane.

Every 11 Nov for a Veteran's Day ceremony we'd climb Mt. Krn (2245m); last time I started my day with a short run in shorts along the Soča (this is the Slovene name for the Isonza River), but mid-day however, I was slogging through almost two meters of snow to get to near the top of Mt. Krn and the ceremony. Of course, many of those making the climb were old partisans from WWII - no shortage of tough souls and strong drinks. I could only imagine how it was to fight in these mountains during WWI. Many of the fortifications and tunnels still exist as they were at that time.

The second time I climbed Triglav, in Slovenija, I climbed with my Slovene (lady) friend and an American (buddy) lady friend, and there were young Slovene men climbing, fairly drunk, they gave my American friend two canteens to take a drink from, she gulped, twice, choked twice; they had given Suzanne 120 proof cherry moonshine and 140 proof (estimated) apple moonshine; I had the sense to take a tiny ceremonial sip, she gulped. I asked Marijeta, the Slovene teacher, what she thought of young people climbing drunk; she philosopically replied that it was better that they were up there somewhat drunk rather than rolling in a gutter completely drunk back in Ljubljana. (The climb on standard routes is not technical at all, only 30-40 feet of scrambling in perhaps a 8000 foot ascent. The 6000' foot vertical rock face would be inadvisable to climb drunk.

Driving the Vrsic Pass as described by Bob even today can be harrowing in the winter - assuming it's open. For the truly rugged, in June/July there is a marathon that runs up this road built by the Russians.

I have a Slovene male friend who was a competative Alpine runner. Really nutty!

To remind: Mt, Krn was the area of the initial assaults along the Soča River after Italy's entry into the war in May 1915. Italian Alpini achieved the first major victory on the Soča Front with the capture of Mount Krn, when they wrested this 2245-meter peak from the hands of from its Hungarian defenders on June 16, 1915.

I have stood at the top drinking all sorts of fire water with Hungarians, Austrians, Germans, Slovenes, Italians, and a few crazy Americans!

Footnote: Great trout fishing in Kobarid and Tolmin along the Soča River. In Kobarid is one of the best restaurants - serving seafood of all things - in which I have had the pleasure to dine anywhere in the world.

Never heard of the restaurant, perhaps it wasn't there when I was there. I learned not to eat seafood in the mountains by having mussels in a crazy Italian nightclub in Zermatt and getting food poisoning. But Kobarid is a lot closer to the sea than Zermatt is.

There was an inn on the lovely road that wound down from the Alpine Vrsic Pass through Kobarid to the Adriatic; it had a trout stream 50' behind the inn, which specialized in pan-fried trout from the stream. Last time I was there was with my friend Suzanne from the Triglav climb. Across the room I saw my friend Marijeta's father, sitting with a group of his Slovene Alpine friends, they were drinking and singing mountaineering songs, he looked really happy. I didn't even go over to him (I had known him say 15 years, knew his brother in New York, etc.), he hadn't seen me. I knew that he was dying of stomach cancer, he looked really happy. Later I visited his grave with Marijeta and we quite illegally planted protected Edelweiss plants on his grave.

Bob (suffering an acute attack of nostalga)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Blog Comments

    • Sounds great other than the Orange & Mango squash only because I prefer cran-pomegranate juice.
    • "(...) disgusting herbal concoction (...)" I took note of this description, to enrich my otherwise limited, English "Wortschatz"...
    • At work the standard indian tea such as PG tips is referred to as chimp tea. This goes back to the days when we had a Spanish girl working for us whose command of the English language was extremely limited. One lunch she said she was going to the shop could she get anything. I asked if she could get a pack of tea bags. She returned with some disgusting herbal concoction. I tried to explain what was required but without success. I then remembered PG tips had a picture of a chimpanzee on the packe
    • When I read Lapsang Souchong i decided to post something about these Tea . Many years ago I dont  know about Lapsang until I read James Michener book Centennial and the description of the savour of the Lapasang as a mix of tar and salt & smoked made me proof . It was exact ! and i liked it since then .
    • I have been known to drink Lapsang Souchong and Tea, Earl Grey, Hot... both "without pollutants". I normally have one mug of coffee in the morning, then spend the rest of the day drinking Orange & Mango squash (by the pint). Then evening comes and it's a pint, followed by red wine with dinner and sometimes a drop of Laphroaig afterwards.
×
×
  • Create New...