Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Front Among Rocks and Ice - The Great War in the Dolomites, part two.

The Front Among Rocks and Ice - The Great War in the Dolomites, part two.
This is the continuation of the previous posts related to the Italian Front of the Great War. This time there are some additional facts here.

The number of casualties on the Italian Front, especially the Dolomites, is not known. The international committees spent years on trying to find it out, but no agreement was reached so far.  The number of the soldiers who died in the Dolomites vary between 150.000 and 180.000. Most probably the higher number is the right one.

Austro-Hungarian troops on the way through the glaciers of Marmolada.

Those numbers include the deaths caused by all possible reasons, not only the battle casualties. After the war the commanding officers from the Italian front, both Italian and Austro-Hungarian ones,  were reporting that the losses in the combat were only 1/3 of the total number of casualties. The extreme conditions of the Dolomites - weather, frost, snow, avalanches, hunger, diseases, exhaustion - have caused 2/3 of the total losses.  

Italian Strada delle 52 Gallerie (The Road of Tunnels)

An avalanche was one of the most feared dangers. They were frequentative, dangerous and really deadly – 60.000 deaths are reported as the victims of the avalanches. Those reports are shocking: only during one night, 12/13 December 1916, more than 6.000 Austro-Hungarians were dead because of the avalanches. In the following three days the total losses on both sides – caused by the avalanche – were as high as 10.000.
One day a chaplain was conducting a drumhead service for more than 150 Austro-Hungarian soldiers. The avalanche came without the warning and all of them were buried under the snow. Other soldiers were trying to rescue the victims – despite the fact that this area was under the Italian fire. But no single shot was fired at the Austro-Hungarians during this hopeless rescue mission.

Avalanche! - a painting from the WW1 era.

There were several days when the temperature reached -40 C. The hand grenades were the only weapon still working in such low temperatures. A skirmish where both sides were using only the hand grenades was just the mere routine. 

 An everyday logistics and transport of the wounded was another challenge.

On the other side the Italian front was one of the few places the soldiers really loved to be. This may seems ridiculous, but the mountain landscape was so beautiful, than even with all this harsh conditions, death, cold, dangers, they wanted to be there. One of the soldiers wrote:
"We were informed that the very next day we would be released from our positions, and almost no one was pleased. (...) When we were going up to the snowy pass of Fanes, it was a dark, silent night. This silence was a strange, not common feeling and seemed to wrap around the long line of the marching men, all with the heavy rucksacks on their backs, tiredly climbing up the rock. This was the feeling I never felt again in my life, even if being released from the first line again."

On the roof of the world...

There are many evidences like this one, telling us that the mountain landscape of the Dolomites, even during the merciless war, was extremely beautiful.  And many of the soldiers were showing their love for the mountains - despite the extreme harsh conditions and the death that was everywhere.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Eastern Front - places worth visiting.

The Eastern Front - places worth visiting.

This post is different from the others. First of all, it was written because some of "WW1 Buffs" fans were asking for it. Secondly, I plan this post to be edited in the future and some additional information would be added here.

As already mentioned above, I was asked to write about some places from the Eastern Front that are worth visiting. Certainly, I cannot write about all of them - the Eastern Front contains hundreds of places worth visiting: in Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Latvia, Romania, Hungary... 
That's why my idea is not to write about them all, that's impossible. But instead I'll try to write about some interesting places I've visited and about some forgotten ones. If you're planning a trip there, I hope you find this information helpful.

1. Fortress Krakow - an Austro-Hungarian fortress build around Krakow in 19th century. Today, the majority of the fortification works have been preserved, some of them in almost perfect conditions, some in ruins. Almost all kinds of fortification works could be found there: artillery forts, fortified positions, field artillery posts, barracks, roads... 

 One of the artillery forts around Krakow.

"The Krakow Fortress touristic route" allows you to see most of the fortifications of the outer fortification ring. There is a small information board at every interesting point along the route, unfortunately the information is only in Polish.

Another fort, this one was damaged after the WW2.

Many of the fortress buildings could be found in the city - it is recommended to see both Kosciuszko and Krakus mounds (the first one with partially preserved fort, the second one with the remains of another one, but with well preserved road), St. Benedict fort (one of few preserved round artillery forts, not open to the public), the buildings of "Politechnika Krakowska" (technical university) that are the former barracks and many others. 

Kosciuszko mound with the Austro-Hungarian fort around it.

Here is one recommended link to the page about the fortress. The page is in Polish, but there are many photos there:

·   2. Aviation Museum in Krakow - this museum has an interesting collection of the WW1 aircrafts, including Sopwith Camel, Albatros B.II, Albatros C.I, DFW C.V (the only one that survived), Grigorovitsch M-15 (the only one that survived) and many, many others...

Aviation Museum in Krakow, Sopwith Camel

Aviation Museum in Krakow, Halberstadt Cl. II
·  3. Kaim hill near Krakow (50.0014, 20.035463) - on the top of that hill you may found a  monument erected there on 6th December 1915. In December 1914 it was the place that advance of the Russian troops was halted, just a few kilometers from Krakow.

4. Michalowice - Komora (50.139239,19.969389) - a former border between Austro-Hungary and Russia. The place where the customs building was standing. In 1914 the soldiers of Polish Legions knocked down the border post, as a symbol of fighting for freedom against the partitioning states. There is a small monument there and information boards (also in English and German) with the photos of the border post and customs building.

 Important! The monument is close to the main road connecting Krakow and Warsaw and there is no place to park a car there. The nearest parking is at the shop/office across the road or down at the crossroads.

5. Krzywoploty-Bydlin (50.387621, 19.645378) - well preserved trenches from the Great War: 17/18 November 1914, position of Polish Legions.

If you go there, park at the small parking near the cemetery (the coordinates mentioned above). The trenches are around the small hill with the ruined castle and easy to find. Please visit the cemetery as well - the soldiers' graves from that battle are there. 

·    6. Fortress Przemysl - in 1914 it was the third biggest fortress in Europe. During the Great War it was under the siege three times. There were more than 40 forts in the fortress and many other fortification works.
Please find below the links to a blog about the fortress worth to be recommended and the web page (both in Polish, but there are many photos there):

There is also a touristic route around the fortress.

·     7. Battle of Gorlice, military cemeteries.

There were 400 military cemeteries bulit in Galicia, with more than 43.000 soldiers buried there. In 1915 Austro-Hungarian authorities established a special committee to take care about the dead soldiers, doesn't matter the nationality. The committee asked some of the famous architects to work on the project - depending on the architect's idea, the cemeteries were placed in the centre of the villages, near the main crossroads or on the remote hills or forests.

This project is so interesting that it needs a special note, as a part of our "War graves" series - and it will be here soon. In the meantime I can recommend you a page about those graves (the page is in Polish, but if you click on the map, you would be redirected to the region with the list of cemeteries there):

And there are some photos I've taken a few years ago:

This post is intended just as the very first one. I'll try to add here more interesting places related to the Great War.
If you go to visit any of them please feel free to share your photos on our "WW1 Buffs" Facebook fanpage.
(Please exsuse the lower quality of some photos but they were taken with the mobile phone/old digital camera).