A MAESTRO IN GUN MUSIC
Few foreign eyes have seen these desolate uplands, and few are those to whom the names of their mountains and profound valleys are familiar. The glory of dead regiments and of brigades. willing sacrificed to meet a moment's emergency, renders sacred forever many a stone-strewn slope, many a river-haunted valley, deep between abrupt and overweening mountains, whose name ..... has been no more than a strange word on the map. but whose name henceforth Is hallowed by supreme sacrifice, By the ultimate union of the God of Right and of many thousands of humble patriots. It was upon the uplands of Sette Comuni that the great hope of "Germany' In Italy of the anti-Christ in the Holy Land of civilization, has been frustrated by something more than heroism. A wind drove into the faces or the Italians, the iron Bersaglieri, the glorious Infantry, the red hot Alpini, all the men who have glared unawed into the Jaws of Death and bitten back at him, and they saw beyond the slope in the moving mists that inhabit these unchanging lands the mass of their foe a preponderant force of Austrians-the Austrian ancient tyrant and enslaver or Italians, enemy of Italy and of mankind. Nothing but that vision and that memory or Italy's subjection and humiliation could have done it, could have furnished and nourished that feverish fire of battle, which has raged over the plateau of the seven communes during four days General Conrad von Hotzendorf in sight of the goal of his life's ambition. The core of his career, the purpose of his existence, a final crushing, triumphant descent from the desert of mountains, from the agony and excessive labour and lavish death of a nightmare campaign among the peaks, an ultimate descent to the cities of the Venetian and Lombardian plains where civilization and the arts of life nest perpetually like returning swallows. Conrad von Hotzendorf has based his life on that tradition, which in Austria express itself to the public eye in gorgeous uniforms. which used to brighten the Ringplatz at Vienna upon soldier-ship, which wins wars with the crash of frontal attacks and the varied music of the gun orchestra.
He was shelved last year in favour of Grand Duke Eugene and the grand ducal plan
of cutting off the army of Friuli by breaking through from the Trentino and
shortening the line by the tacking of Venice. And he was shelved again this year
in favour of Gen. Mackensen, who is a German specialist at rushing attacks at
racing speed and stopping suddenly in Galicia. Now he has got his chance, and to
give him his due he his working hard to save what remains of credit and
reputation. So the last ugly struggle presents itself as almost something
personal a duel contest or characters and personalities between the war
hypnotized ex chief of staff and the strong exalted death-seeking heroism of a
man who began life as a life saver, a doctor, and accomplished his life's
purpose as a soldier General, commanding a division. It is he who has held up
and defeated the whole purpose of the Austrian command for twenty-four days. He
was sent to the Sette Comuni Plateau to begin with in the hope that he might
manage to hold it for five days. The detail of that fighting Which has now
terminated as it was meant to terminate in the sale of untenable ground at a
ghastly price and the Italian retirement to a line upon which lately they have
worked so feverishly to make formidable is difficult to convey unless the reader
has an idea of the ground covered by the fighting. Only the great war maps will
identify all the positions, but I stood lately on a height when i saw all the
line of the position bent like a strung bow toward the enemy with mountain peaks,
strung along it like beads on a string. It was a land drear as a Dorè landscape
an inferno of bare rock, leprous with patches of snow and pine woods crawling on
it like black scabs or plague. Men fought for life in an environment in which
death was a native, in which active life Was an intruder and a foreigner.
A three-day combat
The third phase or that battle, the first two phases of which I described in my
last dispatch. began on Dec. 3 and died to its futile finish on the 6th. It Was
VON HOTZENDORF first real effort to pour down into the plain, to its splendor,
its wealth, and its opportunities for enslavement, cruelty and wrong and he
organized his attack upon the grandest scale, setting in line the flower and
power of the Austrian Army against the Italians. The Austrians have played the
game of war with these men before, and they began with an attempt upon their
nerves. But for the fact that it cost good lives, one could laugh at the
simplicity of it. Upon Dec. 3 they gave them two hours of bombardment, and at
5,30 o'clock on the morning or the 4th there went to work their supreme
bandmaster of artillery music, an artist in the difficult "and few variations of
gunnery. The gun is an instrument w1th small and narrow gamut. It plays few. and
monotonous tunes, but somewhere upon the Austrian staff was a "maestro virtuoso"
who stretched the capacity of the instrument, even as a master might enlarge the
scope of a violin. Sitting in his office far behind the perils of the front he
composed upon the keys of battle a frightful sonata, a raring fortissimo of high
explosive, which he blended to the minor or whistling Shells and then ... to the
screaming banshee treble of machine guns. An hour of shelling, twenty minutes of
machine guns, then a downpour of invisible gas, then shells again. It began at
5:30, In the dark or the morning and continued through the mists of dawn till
stark daylight, or about 10 o'clock. By that time the gun artist judged that the
nerves of the old Bersaglieri ironsides, the Alpini and the Infantry had been
sufficiently strained and advanced his infantry to learn how wrong he Was.
Hotzendorf by all evidence made no real mistake about his adversary for he
organized the infantry attack as if he had a couple of army corps to break
through. It was gunnery and nothing else which carried the.
Badenecche on the south of the Pit of Vorlara and across its northern saddle
between its main height and that of Tonderecar upon the evening or the 5th.
After a day of grim fighting the Bersaglieri thus baptized with their blood,
stopped dead attack after attack and saw a barricade or Austrian corpses build
itself in front of their machine- gun positions. To realize what was then
happening you need a vision 0f death striding those misty valleys like a
proprietor walking in his own fields. The hill of the Bersaglieri was held by
front men who bad fought since the offensive in August on the Bainsizza Plateau.
They fought till fighting availed no longer and then fall back. Fighting still
and attacking at every opportunity with the bayonet. . .
Deeds of the Bersaglieri
Those who fight with the Bersaglieri must be in love with death and court it
like a lover, and upon the western slopes of their own hill there were to be
seen their still bodies, one out of two locked with an Austrian and some with a
quiet circle of Austrians around them for it costs something to kill the
Alpini died where they Stood
Ere yet they were fully enveloped and while there yet remained a last channel of communication with the living world there came through a message from their commander. "The enemy is pressing on the south" it said, "I am attacking him with two battalions" From that moment he was cut off. Those who listened could hear the stammer of his machine guns and the spatter of his rifle a salvo of salute to fate by those who wear green colour badges and eagle feathers. Prisoners spoke of them as they were. Twenty-four hours later. diminishing in numbers, hard pressed, refusing all overtures of surrender and still fighting and dying in the ancient Alpini manner. Attempts were made to steal trough to them by individual officers, who eagerly volunteered for service, but all those who went have disappeared. Then the final silence closed down on them. The Austrian fire opened from Monte Fior and we knew that the Alpini had left us by their own road a lofty and glorious road which has always been theirs. That night with the enemy moving in columns behind his first line of mountains barrier and his men exhausted and reduced by long days of intermittent fighting, the General gave the order for retirement to the line of Mont Spil, Monte Miela and Lazzaretti village near by. When urged upon the morning of the 5th to retire he replied that he would wait till bullets hit the building. Then I shall take my staff in my car, he added. By night the enemy had spread across the new front and was threatening Spil and Miela before dark. had cut a road between Foza and the headquarters and his machine gun bullets were beginning to patter on the roof of Boriani's house. A Major of Alpini gathered the stragglers and ascended a hill behind the headquarters and opened fire on the enemy at 500 yards. While General and his staff and luggage were placed in cars and departed along the fire-racked road to Val Frenzela. the enemy was pouring south. The Austrian army, under General Schouschenstuel, reached a barricade in the Brenta Valley at la Grotella and an Italian division there killed most of them. Another General improvised a command for himself out of 30o0 men and blocked Val Vecchia which is the main road down to Valstagna. There were no failures, no weaknesses- Italy is still herself.
AUSTRIANS ARE STOPPED
When next morning General Von Hotzendorf turned up before the final line, he was stopped dead. The great battle was over. It has been a strange business at ghastly cost which none but the Austrians who paid it can reckon fully. The sum is told In the mounds and litters of dead among the snow patches of the mountain desolations. General Von Hotzendorf hope of Austria has penetrated our front for 4 Km on a width of 12 Km and he is no nearer his dream than ever. What the fullness or his intention was it is difficult to divine. The captured bring a terrible story from the occupied regions. The division which occupied the beautiful town of Belluno. a jewel of ancient architecture, a living grace of gentle life set in a frame of superb scenery, have made of it a hell of last and robbery. They stole, they murdered. They worthily upheld the name or German's gluttony. A number of them even ate up the stock of a chemist and managed philanthropically to poison themselves. All metals are looted from the inhabitants, agricultural instruments, live stock, foodstuffs, fodder, woolen materials. all kinds, bedding, and clothing All the people capable of work are enslaved without pay. Belgium has her fellow-martyrs in the occupied districts or Italy and the German is, still German, man's enemy and God's failure. Perceval Gibbon