Sunday, March 27, 2011

Forte Verena (Asiago) and a Late Winter Hike

Forte Verena is located on the highest peak of the Asiago Plateau, roughly 2,000 meters above sea level. It is part of the series of fortifications built by the Italians along their northern borders before WWI as a protection against any attacks by the Austro-Hungarians (despite being "allies"), as a retaliation for Italy's claim to Trentino, Alto-Adige, and Friuli-Venezia. During its construction, Forte Verena was top-of-the-line, made to withstand any known forms of bombardments during the time. However, WWI was significant in human history as the first modern war, and the construction technologies introduced in Fort Verena were some of the many techniques that were laid to waste by this new way of waging war.

On May 24, 1915, the first fires shot by the Italians during the war were from Fort Verena, directed at Fort Luserna, a corresponding fortification by the Austrians across the valley. The higher elevation afforded the Italians commanding views of their targets, but poor weapons caused more civilian casualty in nearby Lusern than military gain. For months, the Italians bombarded the surrounding Austrian forts from this commanding position, while being met with a sizeable but not as effective artillery response from the Austrians. Ground troops were also involved during the battle, but the mountainous terrain made any significant advances for both sides impossible. In addition, the Italians had to contend with scrappy yet determined volunteers on the Austrian side aided by snipers from the Meraner Standschutzen battalion who were able to exploit the terrain for their advantage.

The situation didn't break for the Austrians until the following summer, with the introduction of the M11 and some really big Howitzers, which were able to produce greater damages at further distances. Within three months, the Austrians have destroyed and captured all Italian fortifications that were keeping the Austro-Hungarian advance to Asiago. Ground forces pushed the Italians all the way back to Asiago, stopping only due to lack of logistical support, partly due to the severe supply depletion caused by the Austrians' obsessive need to capture every mountaintop...a worthy tactic but one made irrelevant by bigger, more destructive guns and a tendency to destroy everything for the sake of winning. (The ultimate challenge to this tactic was in Pasubio, when the Austrians simply completely blew-up an entire mountaintop instead of trying to capture it.) From there, the Italians were on the defensive for most of the war as they try to stop the Austrians from advancing down towards Vicenza and across the Po Delta. The Italians were only able to completely push the Austrians back and recapture their forts with the Armistice of 1918.


It felt silly to go hiking through the snow in the mountains when the sun is shining and it's 70 degrees Fahrenheit in the plains below, but I would say this is actually the best time to do it. First off, it's not so cold, so short sleeves are completely acceptable. Second, the weather is less wont to turn violent and dump many inches of snow while one is outside. Third, the silence.

Finally, it's nice to be reminded that spring has arrived even if one doesn't really need to be reminded. I don't know what these little flowers are, but they, along with daffodils, were common sights whenever there is a clear patch of ground.

We actually hiked along and through the Verena ski trails, which were empty enough to be traversed on foot (not recommended during high season, when doing so can result in heavy fines). The trails gave me an idea: skiing! I know it is very late in the season, but I wouldn't mind enjoying some slopes in short summer clothes!

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