The Forgotten War

Italian soldiers in the Dolemites. Photo: Historical War Museum Rovereto, Italy.

Most people memorize the First World War or The Great War (1914-1918) because of the trenches in France and Belgium, the Dardanelles in Turkey (1915), the first use of tanks, gas, airplanes and U-boats and the fall of European empires. Many citizens of the British Commonwealth fought and died throughout Europe, Japanese and American soldiers were involved in the Russian civil war afterwards (1918-1921) and Eastern Europe became the theatre of unstable and dictatorial regimes, with Czecho-Slovakia as democratic exception.

Little attention, however, is paid to the drama in the Austrian and Italian Alps. The Habsburgers possessed large parts of Northern Italy. Trieste was the only important sea harbour of the Austrians and the trade route went through Trent and the Brenner pass to the Austrian homeland. The First World War gave the Italian government the opportunity to conquer these territories.

In 1915, after it had become clear that Germany and Austria should not reach their goals, Italy declared war on Austria.
The main theatre of war was the mountainous region of South-Tirol. This region south of the Brenner was Austrian by people, language and history. The outcome is known. South Tirol (Süd Tirol) became Alto Adige in 1919. Bozen became Bolzano, Meran Merano and Brixen Bressanone, German family names became Italianised and many Italians moved (forcibly from 1922) to the region.

The Austro-Hungarian and Italian soldiers lived and fought on mountain peaks that had until then been untouched, challenging the climate and the altitude and achieving technical and organisational feats worthy of the first modern war. The line of battle run along peaks of 3 000 meters and in those mountains the armies faced each other in a technological and organisational challenge in  all seasons. The front line did not move for three long years. The Austrian Kaiserjäger and the Italian Alpini faced each other on the top of Europe. This war marked the end of an era and the birth of the Europe in which we live today. The ensuing cultural, historical and political schism was immense and still today, after ninety years, the German and Italian people live separate lives. Though Bolzano is the perfect mixture of Italian and German culture, the heritage legacy is omnipresent. Trieste and Trente became Italian as well, though these cities and surroundings were Italian by its people, language and location. Today one can still witness the only Austrian Lloyds of Austria and the cruise ship office in Trieste. (Source:  www.bellumaquilarum.it).