Narrativa contemporanea nel segno del Bersagliere


'Those who fight with the Bersaglieri must be in love with death and court it like a lover ! Quelli che combattono coi Bersaglieri debbono amare la morte e corteggiarla come un amante



By Perceval Gibbon


(The New York Times – published December 14, 1917 - Altopiano di Asiago)

Bersaglieri and Alpini in the Mountains made futile von Hoetzendorf’s Plans.  

Gli Alpini e i Bersaglieri resero vano il piano Hoetzendorf


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. Gustav DorèThe 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.

A Contest of Personalities

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. Austrians round 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 Bersaglieri nowadays,
Eighteen of them, who wandered back along the valley, came up Monte Fior in the morning. By that time the Austrians had spread through the valleys in the rear of the first line barrier of great mountains and occupied this peak. The Bersaglieri knew nothing of what was happening. They only saw Austrians, and there was no officer to call them off. Therefore, true to their tradition they attacked. There was not even a corporal to lead them but then one is not of the Bersaglieri merely for the took or the thing, and by some miracle of their own valour and faith and Austrian terror of their prowess they actually captured the mountain before the enemy knew that. They had only a handful to deal with and they held it for twenty minutes, before the enemy found out his mistake and came back in his hundreds to kill them all. But one (he was wounded and overlooked among the rocks) has made his way back to the Italian lines and testifies as an eyewitness to that crazy heroic feat of arms. Italy's memory will conserve what Italy's allies should never forget. Battalions of the Alpini who held the linked mountains of Monte Castelgomberto and Monte Fior against attack crossed the saddle between Badenecche and Tonderecar in the rear of these heights. The Alpini did not retire. They counter-attacked Tonderecar and retook it. But the forward flow of the enemy forced them to fall back again on their own positions. Then the enemy surged up about them.

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. La guerra in Montagna H.G. WellsWhen 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.


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

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