The Ice Fortresses of World War I,

 The Italian front of World War I was one of the most unique battlegrounds in history.  When it comes to World War I, most people envision muddy trenches, the Italian Front of WWI was mostly fought in the Alps.  Thus, entire armies were fighting on steep cliffs and frozen glaciers, often thousands of feet above sea level.  It was not uncommon for both the Italians and Austro-Hungarians/Germans to carve large and intricate ice fortresses within Alpine glaciers, complete with machine guns, artillery ports, miles and miles of tunnels and rooms.

One of the largest ice fortresses was a complex created by the Austrian Army and designed by Austrian engineer Leo Handl.  Called “The City of Ice”, the fortress consisted of a complex of buildings and fortifications which were carved directly out of the ice of Marmolada glacier on Mount Marmolada in the northwestern corner of Italy.  The complex featured 5 miles of tunnels, enough barracks to house 1,500 troops, a number of artillery and machine gun ports, trenches, a cafeteria, a chapel, an armory and a saloon.  The Italians had a similar size ice fortress called cittá del ghiaccio.

The Italian Front of World War I was an especially brutal war, where just as many men died due to storms, exposure, and avalanches as did bullets and bombs. In one fateful night in 1917, massive storm caused several avalanches, killing up to ten thousand men.  Today, melting Alpine glaciers are revealing the detritus and frozen corpses of World War I.

February 22, 1917 - Sergeant Benito Mussolini Wounded in Accidental Explosion

Pictured - Benito Mussolini, a Bersaglieri soldier.

A minor event by any standard, the accidental explosion of a mortar bomb wounded a young Italian soldier in his trench on February 22 on the Isonzo sector of the front. Four men were killed, but Sergeant Mussolini survived and was brought to hospital, where he stayed for six months, during which time forty-four shell fragments were removed from his body. Once a socialist, Mussolini war service had driven him politically rightwards toward being an ardent nationalist. He welcomed the King, whose monarchy he had once opposed, who visited the patriotic editor in the hospital. When he was discharged, he returned to journalism, beginning his five year road to Fascism and rule. It was too bad the bomb had missed.


Because some things are worth fighting for — The War of the Bucket

During the 11th and 12th centuries the Italian states and the German kingdoms were often at war due to a series of conflicts called the Investiture Controversy.  The Investiture Controversy was a politically motivated war fought over who would be the supreme power of Europe, the theocratic government of the Roman Catholic Church, or the secular government of the Holy Roman Empire. The Controversy officially came to an end in 1176 when the forces of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa were defeated at the Battle of Legnano. 

While the Investiture Controversy ended in 1176, conflict over the issue still remained in Italy between the many kingdoms and city states, which were divided into two factions, the Ghibellines who supported the Holy Roman Emperor, and the Guelfs who supported the Pope. The town of Modena was an ardent Ghibelline city, while Bologna was a staunch Guelf city. Thus for many centuries the two cities were fierce rivals.

One night in 1325 a small group of Modenese commandos snuck into the city and stole the ceremonial civic bucket from the town well.  Before they left, they filled it with is much looted treasure as could fit.  Enraged by the theft of their sacred bucket, the Bolognese mustered an army of 30,000 men to crush Modena. The two armies met at the twon of Zappolino. The Modenese only had an army of 7,000, however the Bolognese were disorganized and poorly armed while the Modenese were well equipped, well trained, and disciplined.  As a result, the Battle of Zappolino lasted on 2 hours before the Modenese broke Bolognese ranks, killing 2,000 in the process.  The Modenese chased the defeated army all the way to Bologna itself, however they did not have the numbers to lay siege to the city.  Rather, they paraded around the city walls, displaying the captured bucket for all to see while shouting insults, wisecracks about Bolognese mothers, and made obscene gestures.  Today, the bucket is still in the possession of Modena.