It is not often that I can combine two passions, Mountaineering and Military History. However I have just returned from a climbing trip to the Italian Dolomites where I as able to do just that.We found ourselves in a high mountain basin surrounded by mountains.The Battlefield is known by the name Col de Lana.
The site of a bitterly fought action between the Austro-Hungarian and Italian armies which commenced in May 1915 and continued until October 1917 nearly two and a half years later. Since the beginning of hostilities with Italy on the 23rd May 1915, the Austrians had held the 2462m high peak of the Col di Lana just to the Southwest of Cortina in the Dolomite Mountains. Initially held by assorted Standschützen and Landsturm formations and then by the famous German Alpenkorps during the Summer of 1915, the peak was to be lost after the explosion of a massive mine on the 17th of April 1916 while being held by the 6th company of the 2nd Tyrolean Kaiserjäger regiment. Subsequent to the loss of the peak itself, the Austrians were able to again stabilise their line about half a kilometre to the rear of the lost position on Monte Sief which was held until October 1917 when the Italians were compelled to withdraw to the line of the Piave River after the battle of Caporetto. The mountain was well named by the troops of both sides: "Blood Mountain" or "Calvary Mountain". About 18000 died on Col de Lana only a third from enemy action the remainder died from the rigors of fighting in such an inhospitable arena, avalanches killed 278 Italians alone whilst others succumbed to land slides,lightning strikes, exposure or falls.
Today the area is virtually untouched, There is a small fort nearby which houses a good private museum, The trench systems are well preserved being built in and through rock. Galleries and tunnels opening onto vast mountain faces give positions for observation, machine guns and artillery and are readily accessible.You do not have to travel far to find material artifacts, wire, shrapnel, rusty metal and sadly human remains are often found.
The small battle scarred fort containing the museum
Detritus of war on the summit of Col de Lana. Sadly the white items are part of a human cranium and finger bones.
Looking towards Seif col the main strategic objective in the area
Covered trenches on the sharp crest between the crater and the summit of Col De Lana (Seif)
Descending into the crater
Part of the Col de Lana battlefield.Trenches and galleries form the entire ridge leading from lower right of the picture to the summit.