Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Today's History Twiddle and Answer

What common natural disaster took an estimated 60,000 lives along the Austrian and Italian front during WWI?

…it was the avalanche alone…that would account for a third of the total combatants killed in the higher, western half of the Alpine front…


Twittle Side Note:
I originally began researching this Twittle because of an entry on Thinkquest claiming that avalanches were deliberately used as weapons during WWI.

"The World War 1 Tyrolean Avalanches

Avalanches were used as highly effective weapons during World War 1. This disastrous weapon started when lot's of snow fell in the Alp's during the December of 1916. People could tell that the avalanche risk was high. A big avalanche killed 250 soldiers while tumbling down on the barracks. Some unknown person got the idea that avalanches could make a highly effective weapon. The avalanche war had begun. Avalanches could be started and even directed by just bombing a mountain. History has not yet calculated the exact number of deaths. Deaths have been estimated as high as 40,000 on each fighting side. Humans are responsible for these death causing, disastrous avalanche killer."


However, historian Richard Galli has this to say on the subject:

"It has been said that opposing forces deliberately set off bombs, or fired artillery over columns of troops and transport to cause avalanches during WWI. This author finds these accounts unbelievable fiction or modern exaggerations for several reasons. The Alpini I knew said they had never heard these tales. "This sounds like Hollywood….perhaps in some other war, but we could never do such a thing," I was told. All "reports" of these deliberate avalanches seem to come from post-World Wat II studies about avalanches, not accounts of alpine warfare in the Great War. Not that I have read every tale of the Italian front, but nothing I have yet come across mentions this peculiar utilization of nature.

In truth there was little combat or movement in the Alpine front in winter; just surviving nature was enough of a struggle. Deep snow severely limits movement of ski patrols, let alone regiments or batteries. Monelli's personal accounts of mountain warfare states "during the winter months the engagements were few, almost as if only to stretch oneself out a bit, to surprise an outpost or mock an opponent." Perhaps a patrol was caught too close to a front line gun and suffered a fate worse than shellfire, but in 1915 a mountain offensive in winter was logistically impossible. [5] Hence, planned avalanche ambushes seem improbable.

A final reason to discount the idea of deliberately set avalanches is found in the live-and-let-live attitudes of the soldiers of the Great War towards their adversaries, especially on the front line. This factor would seem likely to be greater on the Alpine front. For generations these Austrians and Italians had been meeting frequently on summit and pass, at markets and weddings. Would the men of the Alps knowingly have tried to bury their neighbors alive? There are, however, stories passed down of cease-fires called after avalanches, with both sides assisting in rescue efforts, that seem more revealing of the soldiers true feelings on the matter. [6]"


So what's the lesson?

Don't believe everything you read, always search for primary sources, and happy historybusting...


Anonymous said...

Is Thinkquest not sourcing their submissions? Shame on a respected educational institution.

Basic history lesson. Check primary sources.

Anonymous said...

Basic history lesson. Check primary sources. To many so called historians pickup a story that is BS and propagate it.

For instance, it is commonly believed missionaries overthrew the Hawaiian Government. Actually, it was a group of American businessmen that carried out the coupe.