Battlefront Dolomites

With the Armistice of Compiègne, after the French location in which it was signed, the First World War ended November 11, 1918. World War I., fueled by technological innovations and the industrial revolution, was a conflict as never experienced before by humanity. Large armies equipped with the most advanced military technology, like high-energy explosives, devastated entire landscapes. In 1915 the great war reached the Austrian Dolomites, as the neutral Italy declared war on the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The Austrian Empire of course was afraid of high commands coming in through the Alps. and decided that the pass through the Alps to Vienna was a very important route. This pass is overlooked by the nearly vertical cliffs of the small Lagazuoi, a 2,300 feet high mountain.

There was no experience with combat in such an extreme and alpine environment. It was almost impossible to attack the enemy, taking shelter above the steep cliffs so characteristic of the Dolomites. The military tried to solve this problem with tactics first successfully adopted in the plains of France, the Netherlands or Russia. Tunnel Warfare involves the construction of long tunnels under the enemy's lines, large quantities of explosives are then detonated to form a breach in the front line of the enemy. At the time it was possible to misuse geology as sort of tactical weapon. In the years 1915 to 1917, when the war in the Dolomites ended, more than thirty-four such tunnel blasting were attempted, twenty by the Italian army and fourteen by the Austrian army. The hard dolostone is deformed and broken by tectonic forces. However, the rock was much harder to excavate than expected, only with great effort it was possible to advance the tunnels by almost thirty feet every day.

Shortly after midnight New Year’s Day of 1916, the Austrian army detonation 300kg of explosives in a tunnel inside the Lagazuoi. A large boulder was blasted off, but it causes only minor damage.

July 11, 1916, the Italian army detonated 35,000 kg of explosives hidden in a 1,300 feet long gallery behind the steep cliff of the Tofana di Roces, a mountain situated to the east of the Lagazuoi. Thirteen Austrian soldiers were killed by the avalanche of debris caused by the blast.In the end, the various attacks and sacrifices of the soldiers along the front lines in the Dolomites didn’t significantly influence the progress of the war. Only with the retreat of the armies along the western front in France, the war will end.Today, in the Dolomites, only the scars of the blasts remain, as silent reminders of the madness of war.


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