Skip to comments.Two unknown soldiers (discovered in the Presena Glacier in the Italian Alps)
Posted on 10/19/2013 6:48:56 AM PDT by NYer
THE BLACK stain on the ice was instantly recognisable. The technician checking a tarpaulin stretched over a section of the Presena Glacier in the Italian Alpsan experimental attempt to slow the melting quickly called in a rescue party. The block of ice was airlifted to the nearby city of Vicenza. Inside were two soldiers who had fallen at the Battle of Presena in May 1918 and were buried in a crevasse.
Their uniforms and their location indicated that they could well have been Kaiserschützen, specialised mountain troops who fought on behalf of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to defend these mountains from their Italian equivalent, the Alpini, in the White War, a spectacular but little-known episode of the 1914-1918 war. At the time (they were surpassed by fighting in the Himalayas in the 1990s) the battles were the highest in the world. The two armies were not each others most fearsome enemy. Temperatures could fall as low as -30° C, and the cold, storms and avalanches killed as many if not more than died in the fighting.
Instead of trenches, the alpinists cut galleries in the ice, tunnelling outwards from natural crevasses. Both sides used cable cars to transport artillery up to the peaks (the Austrians also had a plentiful supply of Russian prisoners brought from the eastern front, whom they used as pack mules), and the pounding they gave each others positions profoundly altered the landscape. In an attempt to dislodge the Italians from the highest peak of allSan Matteo, at 3,678mthe Austrians succeeded in lowering its summit by six metres.
The retreating ice reveals those scars, along with the men who died thereand from other ages too. Ötzi, the 5000-year-old ice man who died, or was murdered, was found not far away in 1991. The mountains are also giving up diaries, a poeman ode to a louse, friend of my long daysand even an unsent love letter, addressed to Maria. The lice themselves have been preserved, as have the soldiers straw overshoes, made for them by Russian prisoners and, touchingly, not much more sophisticated than Ötzis.
Ötzi was in rather better shape than some of his later counterparts. He died at the edge of a glacier, so his body was frozen, but not crushed. The pair plucked last year from the Presena Glacier had been fused by the glaciers power. Forensic scientists worked long to separate them and garner clues. They were probably around 17 or 18 years old. One had a bullet hole in his cranium and a single piece of shrapnel inside. The other had a spoon tucked into his puttees, or leg wrappingsa common practice among soldiers who travelled from trench to trench, and who wanted to preserve at least a little sense of a personal world.
Few of the soldiers can be identified: Extracting DNA is not the problem, but without contextual information in the form of metal name tags sewn, in the Austrians case, onto their tunics, or some precise historical record of events, it is not enough.
The two soldiers were buried in unmarked graves, at a funeral in the village of Peio, in the beautiful, pine-fringed cemetery of the 15th century San Rocco church. Peio is now in the autonomous province of Trentino which, along with neighbouring South Tyrol, where Ötzi died, became Italian in 1919. But it was once the highest village in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and as such, deeply symbolic. The Emperor decreed that it should not be evacuated, as many other mountain villages close to the front line were, so the people of Peio stayed and witnessed the remodelling of their ancestral landscape.
Italian-speaking Trentino and German-speaking South Tyrol have different histories, but they share a frontier mentality, belonging to both and neither of the countries that flank them. One of the oddities of the White War was that men who fought on opposite sides had often climbed together in friendship before the war. The acts of friendship continued after the declaration of hostilities, toogifts were exchanged in an icebound No Mans Land on Christmas Day, for instance.
Franco Nicolis, the archaeologist leading the excavations in Trentino, often wonders how those young soldiers made sense of the war. They spoke the same language as their enemy, and fought for the mountains they shared.
Today, in a restaurant in Peio called Il Cantuccio, the Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Sissi gaze down from their portraits on the wall. But nationalism gains no foothold here. Annemarie Wieser, the local representative of the Black Crossthe Austrian organisation charged with preserving the memory of those who fell in the Great Waroccasionally visits the San Rocco cemetery unannounced, to check that the soldiers graves are properly tended. They are always are, she reports.
The couple responsible for replacing the flowers and pulling out the weeds are Maurizio Vicenzi and his wife Antonella. Mr Vicenzi, a mountain guide who has directed the rescue of many a soldiers remains, and who runs Peios bijou war museum, is only too well aware that they could have been his relatives. He also knows there are more to come. The glaciers havent given up all their secrets yet.
Fascinating. Thanks for posting.
Kinda makes you wonder what else is up there.
Pic can be enlarged at link site.
It is an interesting region. I used to go skiing there every year for a few years. From the village you look up at the mountain that got pounded and wonder how the men endured. I stayed at a family run inn that was in continuous business for a few hundred years. Lots of war relics lined the walls of the inn.
If I’m not mistaken,Erwin Rommel won the Iron Cross there?
Thank you for posting the picture. What stunned me in the article was learning that the footwear worm by the soldiers had straw overshoes made by Russian prisoners, that were not much more sophisticated than those worn by Ötzi, the 5000-year-old ice man who was found not far away in 1991. So often, we view ourselves as an advanced society, only to discover that our ancestors were quite adept at adjusting to their surroundings.
The White War (reviews) — at the first link below, a snowmelt in 2003 is mentioned, the upshot (ahem) is that abandoned WWI cannon were revealed.
Bodies of WWI soldiers found in glacier
Last French WWI veteran dies (110, outlived 8.4 million Frenchmen who fought in “la Grande Guerre”)
Last Doughboys Burial Marks End of Era
Bad news for global warmists? The ice wasn't there when they fell, and the retreating ice revealed them
Skoda cannon search:
If you go climbing or walking in the Dolomites, as I frequently have, you still come across many visible relics of the fighting. Barbed wire emplacements, dugouts, tunnels, artillery positions are still there virtually unchanged apart from the gradual depradations of weather. Most of the familiar history of the First World War centres on the trench warfare on the Western Front: but the fighting in the Italian Alps was every bit as terrible. Enduring shellfire in the mud and soft ground of Flanders was one thing: enduring shellfire in the bare rock terrain of the Alps quite another. Entire battalions were also lost in the snow.
My grandfather was a British Army vet of the Great War. He was, however, fighting over in the last days of the Ottoman Empire (not that fighting there was much more pleasant, mind you). I’ve yet to make it over to Europe.
Rest in peace. If the iceman they discovered from 5000 years ago has living relatives in the area, then these two are even more likely to.
“Entire battalions were also lost in the snow.”
The armies would trigger avalanches on each other; must have been terrifying. While the mountain fighting was pretty static, the Austrians generally performed well against the Italians.