„lassù c’era solo una galleria nel ghiaccio…“

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Stimmen aus den Schützengräben #10 deals with alpine warfare. The Alps are a natural barrier between the north of Europe and Italy. Their narrow passes and valleys have a great strategic relevance, and they have been crossed through the ages by a plethora of invading armies. Between the 19th and 20th centuries many forts and defensive works were built in northern Italy to defend those precious access points. The Austrian Empire erected about 50 forts in the Italian Tirol („Welschtirol“), which were designed to work together as a defence line but also to resist for a long time if the supplies were to be cut off. The Kingdom of Italy also build several forts to protect the border with Austria (the so-called Sbarramento Agno-Assa) and Switzerland (the so-called Linea Cadorna).



Italian Alpini lifting a cannon


When Italy declared war to Austria in May 1915, the original plan was to take advantage of the surprise and cross the mountains quickly. The lack of competence and organisation of the Italian headquarters brought the operation to failure, and gave way to attrition warfare. Military commands on both sides were obsessed by the control of  high ground, and troops were deployed on passes and summits. Sometimes the fighting took place at incredible heights, e.g. the Battle of San Matteo (3678m).

The war in the Alps took many different forms. Where possible, roads (like the Road of the 52 tunnels) were built to carry artillery and supplies with the aid of mules. In several occasions tunnels were dug under enemy positions, to put mines under them: e.g. on the 13th March 1918 an astonishing 50.000 Kg of TNT blew under the Italian lines on mount Pasubio. However, the battlefield was often too unaccessible to allow the huge deployments of men and means that were typical of WWI.  On some summits and observation points the garrisons consisted of only a few dozen men, and skirmishes between patrols took the place of massive assaults. In such conditions, the men accomplished real alpinistic exploits, and Nature was often more dangerous than the enemy: on one single night, between the 12th and 13th of December 1916, about 10.000 soldiers’s lives were taken by avalanches on the Alpine front.


Austrian Soldiers ready for a gas attack in the mountains (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)

Austrian Soldiers ready for a gas attack in the mountains (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)


The first „guest“ of this week is the Austrian Kaiserjäger Ludwig Pullirsch (the Kaiserjäger were a light infantry corp recruited mostly in the alpine regions of southern Austria). In a short extract from his memories he relates of an exhausting march, where he had to carry a 30 Kg backpack and climb a height difference of 1600 meters. These events took place in May 1916, on the Adamello-Presanella mountain range. Pullirsch survived the war and wrote several diaries, some extracts have been collected by his son at: http://www.menschenschreibengeschichte.at/index.php?pid=30&ihidg=13948&kid=1181. The full memories have been published under the title „Hineingeboren“, ISBN 978-3-940582-07-2.

The second „guest“ of the week is Giacomo Pesenti, an Italian Alpino (the Alpini are the oldest elite corp of mountain troops in the world. During WWI those soldiers were mostly recruited in the alpine regions of northern Italy) . Pesenti volunteered for the army in May 1915, as soon as the war broke out between Italy and Austria, and was awarded the silver medal of honour for his courage. Many years after the war he wrote his memories to pass down the legacy of those terrible events. In the selected passage he relates of a 3-days watch in a ice hole on the Thurwieser pass (3480m), together with 30 other soldiers; the cold was extreme and the enemy was hiding 50 meters below. The short extract comes from the book „La Grande Guerra in Lombardia“, by Giuseppe Magrin, and it is set between 1916 and 1917.


Austrian cabin on the verge of a cliff (Österreichische Nationalbibliotek)

Austrian cabin on the verge of a cliff (Österreichische Nationalbibliotek)


The third guest is Austrian soldier Thomas Bergner. He Fought the war on the Italian front and died in 1926, aged 38,  as a result of the wounds and illnesses contracted during the war. In 1915 he was sent to the Isonzo valley, in present-day Slovenia, and in an entry dated 20th of July he gives an account of his first day in the new positions. The artilleries were shooting and the mountain was quite hostile: falling rocks were a constant threat.

The last passage is taken from the book „Un anno sull’altipiano“, by Emilio Lussu (see episode #8). In spring 1916, while coming back from a scouting mission on the Asiago plateau (ep. #2), Lussu met an Italian colonel. The conversation between them quickly became surreal: the colonel criticised harshly the strategical decisions of Italian high commands: what was the point of defending the top of a mountain, if no artillery was there to protect the valley? The enemy could have ignored it, and advance quickly towards the south. But the high commands are the same everywhere: eventually the Austrian army lost time and men trying to get the „key position„, and lost its precious chance.



Editing: Laura Leitner, Matteo Coletta.
Commentary: Laura Leitner.

Voices in this episode: Alex Huemer as Ludwig Pullirsch,  Matteo Coletta as Giacomo Pesenti and Emilio Lussu, Roman Reischl as Thomas Bergner.


Music: Gregoire Lourme, “Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hannes Hochwasser, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.



„In der Nacht hat man uns noch 30 gefangene Serben gebracht…“

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Stimmen aus den Schutzengräben #9 is dedicated to prisoners of war. More than 7 million soldiers were held prisoners during WWI. Many civilians were imprisoned as well, to be kept as hostages. The treatment of captive soldiers was disciplined by the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 (see episode #5). Here follows a selection of interesting articles:

„Prisoners of war are in the power of the hostile Government, but not in that of the individuals or corps who captured them. They must be humanely treated. All their personal belongings, except arms, horses, and military papers remain their property.“ (Art. 4)

„The Government into whose hands prisoners of war have fallen is bound to maintain them. Failing a special agreement between the belligerents, prisoners of war shall be treated as regards food, quarters, and clothing, on the same footing as the troops of the Government which has captured them.“ (Art. 7)

„Work done for the State shall be paid for according to the tariffs in force for soldiers of the national army employed on similar tasks. “ (Art. 6)

„Officers taken prisoners may receive, if necessary, the full pay allowed them in this position by their country’s regulations, the amount to be repaid by their Government.“ (Art. 17)

Austro-hungarian prisoners in Russia, 1915. Rare colour picture taken by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (Wikipedia)

Austro-hungarian prisoners in Russia, 1915. Rare colour picture taken by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (Wikipedia)

The turn of events, however, prevented often from applying the Convention, especially in the Central Empires where the food was scarce and mostly sent to the frontline. The death rate among prisoners could vary a lot. The hardest conditions were suffered from the prisoners held in Russia, of which 25% died of sickness, starving, cold and fatigue. In Germany, despite the food shortage, the fatalities amounted to 5%.

The first „guest“ of the week is Carl Schmidt (see episode #8). His letter, written on the 28 October 1915, is not always clear. It is sure that, in the night between the 27th and the 28th, 30 Serbian prisoners were brought to him while he was sleeping in a pigsty. He affirms that he massed all the Serbians „one on top of each other“ in a pigsty where normally 4 German soldiers would barely fit. He then adds that he „would have ordered the pigs to be shoot down, if they hadn’t been already registered by the battalion“. Does he mean the animals, or the prisoners? Unsettling question…A transcription of Carl Schimdt’s letters is available at: http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/de/contributions/436.

inglesi prigionieri

British soldiers captured by the Germans,1918 (http://www.vlib.us/)

The second „guest“ Is Carlo Pokrajac, soldier of the Austro-Hungarian army. He was born in Istria, a region that was under Austrian control at the time, and today belongs to Croatia. In the beginning of the 20th century both Slavic and Italian families inhabited the region, that is why his diary is written in Italian. Pokrajac was taken prisoner in July 1915 while fighting the Russians on the eastern front. He had been drafted only 90 days before, and spent the rest of the war in captivity. In the selected passage of his diary he writes about his capture and his first impressions of the Russians. The enemies, he says, were not so terrible as they were depicted by the propaganda, and they took care of all the wounded regardless of their nationality. Longer extracts of his diary are available at: http://www.grandeguerra.ccm.it/scheda_archivio.php?goto_id=1219.

The third „guest“ is Charles Guilbert, a French cavalryman. On the 15th of October 1915 he was wounded and captured in a German ambush. The Germans took care of his wounds and gave him something to eat and drink, then they brought him in a stable. Suddenly French artillery shells and mashinegun bullets started falling all around, and the Germans left. The next day, Guilbert found out that he was left alone, and eventually a British patrol rescued him. His memories are available at: http://ppognant.online.fr/G141802.html.



Editing: Laura Leitner, Matteo Coletta.
Commentary: David Leberbauer.

Voices in this episode: David Leberbauer as Carl Schmidt,  Matteo Coletta as Carlo Pokrajac und Charles Guilbert.


Music: Gregoire Lourme, “Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hannes Hochwasser, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.



„…unsere eigene Artillerie in unseren Graben gefunkt.“

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Stimmen aus den Schützengräben #8 is dedicated to artillery. Attrition and trench warfare required a massive use of artillery fire to prepare an attac, neutralise enemy batteries or even keeping the enemy morale low. An impressive amount of shells were fired during WWI, of witch 25-30% didn’t explode.  It is said that the number of shells fired reached 1.45 billion. Even nowadays, farmers keep finding unexploded war material under their fields (it’s the so-called iron harvest). Great economical and technological efforts were made to improve power and accuracy of the guns; the production process was made more effective as well. New tactics (like the creeping barrage) were developed to support infantry movements, and gas shells (see episode #5) were introduced in 1915. Despite the improvements, artillery needed huge logistic efforts and an excellent communication between batteries, command posts and front lines: when orders were misunderstood or the telephonic lines were interrupted, consequences were terrible. Unfortunately, such accidents were frequent on all fronts.



The German „Dicke Bertha“. The shells could weigh up to 1 ton.


The first „guest“ of the week is Carl Schmidt, a German soldier (or officer, according to some hints in his letters). He was affected first in France then in Serbia, and managed to survive the war. He committed suicide in 1931 during (and because of) the Great Depression. In a letter dated 24 April 1915 he greatly admires French artillery, stating that it is far better than the German. He then mentions an episode of friendly fire from the German artillery, who shoot on a company deployed on the right side of his sector.
A transcription of his letters is available at: http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/de/contributions/436.


The second „guest“ is French soldier Vincent Constant (1892-1979). In December 1917 he wrote a journal relating the most relevant episodes in which he and his regiment were involved. In February 1916 his unit was deployed near the Bois des Caures, at Verdun.

Vincent Constant in 1914

Vincent Constant in 1914

The battle of Verdun (21 February –  18 December 1916) was one of the longest and most costly battles of WWI, and an impressive clash of artilleries.
The aim of the German plan („Operation Gericht„) was not to conquer territory but to lure the French army into defending the position and anihilate it with heavy artillery . As a result, France would understand that the war was lost, and its capitulation would lead to a quick withdrowal of English troops on the Somme. At Verdun, artillery played a major role. The German secretly massed 1220 medium and heavy guns on only 14 Km of front – an astonishing average of one artillery piece every 12 meters.
The fortified city of Verdun became quickly a symbol: the honour of France was at stake, and the position had to be kept at all costs. A slogan quickly spread: „on ne passe pas!“ (they shall not pass). „Operation Gericht“ was a failure, and the price was extreamely heavy. The casualties on both sides (dead, wounded, missing) are estimated between 700.000 and 900.000.

On the 22th of February 1916, one day after the beginning of „Operation Gericht“, Vincent Constant is only a few hundred meters away from the Bois des Caures, a wood destroyed on the 21st by a massive artillery barrage. Constant is an eye witness of the chaos reigning in the french lines: units are retreating, the roads are full of corpses and abandoned gear, the French batteries are neutralised (either destroyed or out of ammunition). Without artillery support a counter-attack on the Bois des Caures is impossible and postponed to the next day. Selected parts of the war journal have been transcripted and are available (together with an english translation) at: http://vincent.juillet.free.fr/cahier-constant-vincent-1914-1.htm.


British Schrapnel shell (Wikipedia)

British Schrapnel shell (Wikipedia)


The third „guest“ of the week is sergeant Leonard J. Ounsworth (see episodes #1, #3 und #7). In a passage extracted from a longer interview he explains what a Schrapnel shell is and how it works. A Shrapnel is an anti-personal shell filled with metal bullets and provided with a time fuse on its top. To be effective the Schrapnel has to burst before hitting the ground, when it is right in front or above the target.
The complete interview can be downloaded at: http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/gwa/document/9404?REC=1


The fourth and last „guest“ is Italian Officer Emilio Lussu. In a passage from his war memories „Un anno sull’altipiano“ he relates a terrible case of friendly fire. Italian batteries shoot for hours on the first lines, the shelters are built against Austrian artillery and are uneffective against the shells coming from behind. All attempts to communicate with the batteries fail, and panic seizes the infantry. Lussu is an eye witness of terrible episodes. He can hardly prevent a mashinegun section from assaulting the batteries, he meets an artillery colonel, completely crushed by the events, walking and screaming: „Kill us, kill us!„. When he meets the commanding officer of the artillery, Lussu exclaims: „What an awful lot of nonsense we’re doing today!“. „That’s our job„, replies the officer, sadly. His attempts at stopping the barrage have been failing for hours.


Editing: Eva Schmidhuber, Matteo Coletta

Voices in this episode: David Leberbauer as Car Schmidt, L.J. Ounsworth as himself, Matteo Coletta as Vincent Constant and Emilio Lussu.


Music: Gregoire Lourme, “Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hannes Hochwasser, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.



“ So hatte er seine Dummheit mit dem Leben bezahlen müssen“

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In Stimmen aus den Schütengräben #7 we deal again with aerial warfare (see episode #3). The first „guest“ is Manfred von Richthofen, the legendary Red Baron. In 1917 (a few months before his death) he published an Autobiography, from which we selected a passage describing an aerial dogfight between him and an English Pilot – his 32th victory. Richthofen was a very well known figure during WWI: Germans regarded him as a hero, French and English hated him with a passion. With 80 confirmed victories, the Red Baron is the highest ranked flying ace of the whole conflict, and his deeds inspired many books, documentaries and even movies (the latest one, „Der rote Baron“, was released in 2008). His nickname comes from the colour of his planes, painted in a bright-red colour. The title of the Autobiography – „Der rote Kampfflieger“ – has the same origin.


Manfred von Richthofen (Wikipedia)

Manfred von Richthofen is a controversial figure: regarded by many (non only in the German speaking countries) as an extraordinary man, celebrated in movies and literature. But also a young soldier who deeply enjoyed war and showed neither mercy nor compassion for the fallen enemies. His Autobiography is available at: https://archive.org/details/DerRoteKampfflieger

The second „guest“ of the episode is sergeant Leonard J. Ounsworth (see episodes #1 and #3).  In an original interview he relates of a very peculiar episode he witnessed while serving in France. He remembers that once a french plane was diving on the corner of a corn field for no apparent reason. Then, all of a sudden, a detachement of Indian cavalry (according to Ounsworth, the 9th Royal Deccan Horse) surrounded German machineguns and captured at least 34 prisoners and their weapons. The french plane was unarmed and only served as a distraction to cover the movements of the cavalry until the very last moment. The full interview is available at: http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/gwa/document/9404?REC=1

The last account is by French soldier Maurice Leclerc (see episode #5), who wrote about the tragic epilogue of a dogfight in a letter dated 22/09/1916. Leclecrc witnessed the crash of a french plane and the death of the crew. The observer jumped from the plane but the parachute (see episode #3) didn’t work. The pilot tried to land the burning plane, but the impact with the ground caused the gas tank to explode. The letter can be downloaded at: http://europeana1914-1918.eu/de/contributions/9841

leclerc letter

Maurice Leclerc’s letter (Europeana)



Editing: Laura Leitner, Matteo Coletta

Voices in this episode: David Leberbauer as Manfred von Richthofen, L.J. Ounsworth as himself, Matteo Coletta as Maurice Leclerc.


Music: Gregoire Lourme, „Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hannes Hochwasser, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.


„Di che reggimento siete fratelli? Parola tremante nella notte…“

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WWI War Poetry is a very wide topic, much too vaste to be exhausted in a short radio show: hundreds of texts, many authors and complex cultural backgrounds should be taken into account.

The task could be easier if we limited our task to a single country or even a single author, but this would go against the purpose of this project. Stimmen aus den Schützengräben is, and must remain, a multilingual show where the lost voices of all Europe merge together in unison. We want to broaden horizons, not to narrow them down.

The verses we selected are not only written in different languages but also with different mastery. The first poem comes from the war journal of German soldier Philipp Schopp (see episode #4) and was composed after a night shift.

Digital StillCamera

Philipp Schopp’s identification tag


Auf einsamer Wacht
(Nachts 9-12 Uhr, geschrieben am Morgen von 6-8 Uhr, 9. 10. 15)

Draußen im Felde auf einsamen Wegen,
Sitzen 8 Männer im rieselnden Regen.
Dunkel ist die Nacht;
Schwarze Wolken ziehen mit großer Macht.
Scheinwerfer blitzen hüben und drüben,
Leuchtraketen schießen deutsche und finnische Schützen.
Rechts über der Strypa, da brennt ein Panjehaus.
Das Stroh verbrennt mit Frucht, Maus und Laus.
Vor und links davon sitzt der Feind,
mit Raketen er unsere Front bescheint.
Deutsche Patrouillen gehen und kommen,
Das neueste vom Posten wird mitgenommen.
Und unter den 8ten, da sitzt ein Rekrut
Tapfer und treu mit frischem Mut.
Hatte vor kurzem noch auf der Schulbank gesessen,
Dann vom 7. 9. Galizien durchmessen.
Hatte geträumt von Alpen, Rhein und Mo(se)l,
Mußte hinaus bis vor Tarnopol
Hatte gerungen und errungen seinen Stand.
Lehrer war er geworden im hessischen Land.
Fern liegt er nun von Mutter und Bruder,
um zu kämpfen gegen das russische Luder.
Er denkt an die Heimat, an seine Lieben,
an sein späteres Leben, an den ersehnten Frieden.
Der Herrgott wird geben ihm seinen Segen,
Und ihn beschenken auf all seinen Wegen.


The second poem belongs to the collection „L’allegria“ (1931) by Giuseppe Ungaretti, perhaps the most influential Italian poet of the 20th century. „Fratelli“ was composed on the 15 July 1916, after one year of war against Austria. The verses are broken like the man who wrote them.

Giuseppe Ungaretti during the war

Giuseppe Ungaretti during the war

Di che reggimento siete


Parola tremante
nella notte

Foglia appena nata

Nell’aria spasimante
involontaria rivolta
dell’uomo presente alla sua



Like Ungaretti, many felt the urge to abandon traditional poetry and experiment with new ways of expression. Others, on the other hand, kept using conventional meters and forms. The following sonnets were written by Hans Ehrenbaum (1889-1915), German soldier who died on the Eastern front.

The sonnets were kindly made available by the Brenner-Archiv (Universität Innsbruck). Their publishing history is listed in: “Eberhard Sauermann (Hg.): Schützengrabengedichte. Online-Anthologie. http://www.uibk.ac.at/brenner-archiv/editionen/ged_wk1/schuetz_ged.html.”

Sonette aus dem Schützengraben

Wir haben die Gewehre in den Händen
Und stolpern langsam durch die schwere Nacht.
Wir hören flüstern, wenn das Astwerk kracht,
Und keiner weiß, wo unsere Reihen enden.

Da kommt vom Feind, der sern verborgen steht,
Ein Stoß von Licht ins Dunkel. Und wie Glas
Sind plötzlich dünner Wald und hohes Gras
Von einem triefend weißen Glanz durchweht.

Und wir, vereinsamt unter seuchtem Laub,
Weglos hintastend und in starrem Lauschen
Auf jeden Schuß, der in die Täler hallt.

Sel/n die Kolonnen, schattenhast geballt,
Augenblickskurz über die Stoppeln rauschen….
Da wirst uns ein Befehl jäh in den Staub.

Hungrig und schlaflos seit drei langen Tagen
Liegen wir immer noch im Waldgefecht;
Durch unsere Pulse, die ermüdet schlagen,
Schleppt sich der Blutftrom traurig und geschwächt.

Hart Platscht der Regen in die Schützengräben
Und läßt uns frieren wie ein kleines Kind,
Daß wir bald steif wie Gliederpuppen sind
Und starr im aufgeweichten Boden kleben.

Und von den Schüssen, die sich langsam lösen,
Wissen die krummen Hände nicht mehr viel.
Wir denken nur noch „Schlafen“ oder „Brot“.

Da tacken leicht und rhythmisch wie im Spiel
Vom ausgebrannten Dorf die Mitrailleusen
Und reißen uns elektrisch hin zum Tod.


The last verses are a selection from the long poem „Les Martyrs„, by Henry-Jacques (pseudonym of Henri Edmond Jacques). The poem belongs to the collection „La Symphonie Heroïque“ (1921), written in the form of a symphony. The full text is available at: https://archive.org/stream/lasymphoniehro00jacquoft#page/98/mode/2up. „Les Martyrs“ is at pages 98-103.


Editing: Eva Schmidhuber, Matteo Coletta

Voices in this episode: Norbert K. Hund as Philipp Schopp, Matteo Coletta as Giuseppe Ungaretti und Henry-Jacques,  Hans Peter Reuber as Hans Ehrenbaum.


Music: Gregoire Lourme, “Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hans-Peter Reuber, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.

„J’ai traversé le nuage et aussitôt j’ai eu des picotements dans la gorge, le nez, les yeux…“

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The countries who took part in the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 accepted to refrain from using „projectiles the sole object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases“. These Conventions, however, have been widely ignored and the use of gases in WWI has been recorded as early as 1914.

Chemical warfare was started by France in August 1914, when tear gas grenades (xylyl bromide) were used to slow down the German army advancing through Belgium. Poisonous gas however didn’t appear on the battlefield before April 1915, during the second battle of Ypres, when the German army sent a chlorine cloud against French lines.

Overall, about 124.000 tons of chemical agents have been used during WWI., both lethal and non-lethal. The casualties amount to over 1 million injured and 90.000 dead. Whereas the huge gap between the number of soldiers exposed to gases and the actual amount of fatalities allows to question the effectivenes of such weapon, its brutality is undeniable.


Vickers machine gun crew wearing gas mask (Wikipedia)

British soldiers wearing gas masks (Wikipedia)


The first „guest“ of this episode is Johann Görtemaker, German soldier. In a letter from 26th August 1917 he relates a special tactic used by the enemy in Flanders. The British combined poisonous gas clouds with harmless smoke screens in order to cover their movements and disorient the German army. Listen:

More information on Johannes  Görtemaker is available at http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/de/contributions/462, togehter with a transcription of his letters.

The second „guest“ is Maurice Leclerc, a French soldier who was exposed to  irritating gas in June 1916. On the next day he wrote on the accident in a letter to his family. The gas shell fell 20 meters in front of him, and Leclerc couldn’t avoid the cloud. His eyes and lungs were affected for a few hours but he was able to recover quickly. Listen:

A scan of his letter is available at:  http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/de/contributions/7384/attachments/78089?layout=0



First page of Maurice Leclerc’s letter. Source: Europeana


The third account on chemical warfare comes from a British veteran, Arthur „Slim“ Simpson. In an interview recorded in 1981 he recalls being exposed to irritating gas and suffering a few days from the effects. Listen:

The full interview is available at: http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/en/contributions/5648.

The last document is a letter from Guido Sampaolo (see episodes #1 and #4), dated 8h July 1915. He denounces a broad usage of poisonous gas from the Austrian army, as well as the lack of gas masks among Italian troops (he claims that in his sector only 2 masks every 15 men were available). Sampaolo also writes that the gas masks were not always effective, and could not ensure full protection for the soldiers. Moreover, they also had to suffer the awful smell of corpses: the enemy was occupying a ventilated high ground and didn’t allow the dead to be buried. Listen:


Editing: Eva Schmidhuber, Matteo Coletta

Voices in this episode: Hannes Hochwasser als Johannes Görtemaker, Matteo Coletta as Maurice Leclerc and Guido Sampaolo,  Arthur Simpson as himself.


Music: Gregoire Lourme, “Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hannes Hochwasser, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.

„Wenn ich in Stellung bin, schickt bitte noch etwas. Zucker, Lichter, Tabletten…“

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During WWI, 10 billions letters were exchanged between the soldiers and their families. Several millions a day. For comparison, the amount of shells shot in 51 months of war is estimated in about 1 billion. However, the military mail didn’t only deliver letters and postcards: supplies were very scarce on the frontline, and soldiers had to ask their families for help. Therefore, millions of parcels were sent every week, each one containing food and/or warm clothes, underwear, cigarettes, etc.

The episode of this week is entirely dedicated to military mail and relief packages. Despite being written on three different fronts (Eastern, North-Italian, Western), the texts we have selected are all depicting a very similar situation.

Digital StillCamera

Philipp Schopp

Fritz Niebergall

Fritz Niebergall









Our first „guest“ is the German soldier Philipp Schopp.  Deployed on the eastern front, he fought in Galicia for about one year. When he died in June 1916 he wasn’t yet 21.

The second letter was written in summer 1915 by Guido Sampaolo, an Italian soldier who managed to survive the war and later raised a prosperous family.

The last letter was written on the Western front by Fritz Niebergall, a German soldier who died in France in 1918, aged 24. (see also episode #1)



Editing: David Leberbauer, Matteo Coletta

Voices in this episode: Norbert K. Hund as Philipp Schopp, Matteo Coletta as Guido Sampaolo,  Hannes Hochwasser as Fritz Niebergall.

Photos: Europeana


Music: Gregoire Lourme, “Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hannes Hochwasser, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.

„C’était le fameux Richthofen, un as de l’aviation allemande…“

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During WWI many new weapons and techniques were developed: not only better rifles and bigger cannons, but also technological breakthroughs that would change the modern warfare forever, like tanks and aircrafts.

It must be said, for sake of completeness, that the use of flying devices for scouting and bombing was not unknown at the time: France started using balloons for observation as early as in the 18th century. Moreover, the first attempt of an aerial attack took place on July 2, 1849, when Austrian balloons loaded with incendiary bombs tried to set Venice on fire. The endeavour didn’t succeed because of strong winds, but it is commonly mentioned as a milestone.

The first self-powered and manned plane was successfully tested by the Wright brothers on December 17, 1903.  The flight only lasted 12 seconds (36 meters), but eight years later the Italian army could already pioneer the military use of aircrafts during the Italo-Turkish war. By the end of WWI, all of the main countries involved had developed their own air force.


Lt. Émile Dupond (source: Europeana)

The first „guest“ of this episode is the French veteran Émile Dupond, former lieutenant of the 45th company of tethered balloons, who shares some war memories in a tape from 1971. In the selected passage he recalls three interesting episodes:

First: a Navy officer (probably Constant Duclos) goes to every company to demonstrate the use of a parachute. To do so, he would jump out of the balloon from a height of 1500 meters (4900 ft). Parachutes were still experimental at the time and soldiers didn’t put any trust in it.

Second: a German aircraft once split the balloon in half with the fire of its machinegun. The crew managed to escape thanks to the parachute and landed behind the French lines unharmed .

Third: the German ace Manfred von Richthofen once set the balloon on fire.

The recording has been cut, cleaned and edited to improve the sound. The full tape in its original quality is available at: http://www.europeana.eu/portal/record/2020601/attachments_120906_10243_120906_original_120906_mp3.html?


George Michael Lill (source: Europeana)

George Michael Lill (source: Europeana)

The second „guest“ is Michael George Lill, a German soldier who fought on the Western front near the border between France and Belgium from 1914 to 1916. He survived the war but three members of his family were killed in action. The journal entry we chose is from 14th March 1916. At the time, Lill’s unit was deployed at Carvin-Épinoy, where it was hit by an aerial bombing.

A transcription of Lill’s journal is available at: https://europeana1914-1918.s3.amazonaws.com/attachments/19662/624.19662.original.pdf?1310402732


the third contribution is also dated March 1916. In a journal entry, the Italian officer Attilio Frescura relates the comical attempt of a colonel to camuflage Italian batteries under sheaves of straw. But as Frescura sarcastically points out, straw doesn’t grow on the mountains, and the solution gives away the position of Italian guns instead of concealing them.

Frescura’s journal has been published and is available at: teca.bncf.firenze.sbn.it/ImageViewer/servlet/ImageViewer?idr=BNCF00004006672#page/75/mode/1up

The last testimony comes from British veteran Leonard J. Ounsworth. In a passage of a longer interview (available at: ) he recalls how dogfights used to take place in the evening, just above the trenches. He has a clear memory of a German plane loosing both wings, catching fire and crashing like a blazing torch behind English lines.

The full interview is available at: http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/gwa/document/9404?REC=4.



Editing: Eva Schmidhuber, Matteo Coletta

Voices in this episode: Émile Dupond as himself, Norbert K. Hund as George M. Lill, Matteo Coletta as Attilio Frescura,  L.J. Ounsworth as himself.


Music: Gregoire Lourme, “Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hans-Peter Reuber, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.


„You could just see the top of the tower sticking out of the ground…“

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Asiago is a small alpine town (1001 m elevation) with a population of less than 7.000 inhabitants. It is the main settlement on the Sette Comuni upland, also called Asiago upland. In 1916 it had more or less the same size of today. On the 15th of May the city was stroken by heavy artillery fire: on that very day the Austro-Hungarians started what would later be known as „Trentino offensive„. The italian officer Attilio Frescura was an eye witness of the destruction of Asiago. He reports that an enemy airplane started scouting and signaling from 5:00 a.m., and at 7:00 the first shot hit the city. Frescura also saw women and children among the casualties.

The Trentino offensive, known in Italy as „Strafexpedition“, was ordered by general Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf. He thus hoped to reach Venice and outflank the Italian divisions fighting on the Isonzo, forcing Italy to surrender. On the 4th of June a violent Russian offensive on the eastern front forced the Austro-Hungarian high command to withdraw troops from Italy in order to send reinforcements in Galicia. The offensive could no longer be sustained.

The war journal of Attilio Frescura has been published under the ironical title: „Diario di un imboscato“ (journal of a draft dodger). It is available in PDF format at http://teca.bncf.firenze.sbn.it/ImageViewer/servlet/ImageViewer?idr=BNCF00004006672#page/14/mode/1up



Ypres in 1919 (source: Wikipedia)








British captain Howard B. Ward served in northern France and Belgium. In 1982 he was recorded while sharing war memories in a classroom. In the selected fragment (set in 1917) he recalls the devastation of Ypres, a Belgian town stuck between the Brtitish and the German lines. According to him the ruins grew layer after layer, almost reaching the level of the bell tower: „You could just see the top of the tower sticking out of the ground“. The statements of Howard Ward might be exagerated (see the picture), but the Ypres salient stood in a key position and was the center of bitter fightings from the beginning to the end of the war. The full tape is available at: http://www.europeana.eu/portal/record/2020601/attachments_66347_4980_66347_original_66347_mp3.html?


Walter Flex was a German soldier on the Western front, his unit was deployed in north-eastern France. While fighting in the village of Seuzey he withnessed a fire that destroyed the village church. In a letter to his parents dated 4. Februar 1915 he makes a dreadful account of the events, and lingers more than once on the image of the holy ruin. His letter, together with many others, is available at: https://www.thueringen.de/imperia/md/content/lzt/quellen_feldpost_32.pdf




Editing: Eva Schmidhuber, Matteo Coletta

Voices in this episode: Matteo Coletta as Attilio Frescura, Howard B. Ward as himself, Norbert K. Hund as Walter Flex. A special thank you goes to Norbert, who found the letter of Walter Flex.


Music: Gregoire Lourme, “Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hannes Hochwasser, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.

1914-1918 Kriegsberichte aus erster Hand.

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After many months of planning and research, the project „Stimmen aus den Schützengräben“ has finally started. In the first episode of this short radio show we deal with two main themes: trenches and attrition warfare. Our „guests“ are:


First page of Friz Niebergall’s letter

Fritz Niebergall, German soldier. On the 4th Februar 1915 he wrote a letter to his parents from an underground shelter near Fricourt, in which he relates bits of his life on the Western front. Niebergall was assigned in the north of France, where he died in 1918 aged 24. transcripts of his letters are free to download at: http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/en/contributions/415.

Guido Sampaolo, Italian soldier. In his letter to his parents from the 27th of June 1915 he describes the hopeless efforts made by Italian artillery to break Austro-Hungarian defences in northern Italy. He survived the war, married and raised a family. Some of his letters, collected and transcripted by one of his sons, are available at: http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/en/contributions/5521.

Leonard .J. Ounsworth, British soldier. In an extract from a longer interview he remembers the life conditions in his unit, an artillery battery on the Western front. The interview is available at: http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/gwa/document/9404?REC=4.

Johannes Burau (pseudonym: Egle), German soldier. In his poem „Im Schützengraben“ (in the trench) he gives a dreadful account of life on the Western front. The first lines of the poem claim: „I will be seventy, and even more, but I will never forget this“. Burau, however, never had the chance to get old: he fell in 1916 during the battle of the Somme, aged 30.
This source was kindly made available by the Brenner-Archiv (Universität Innsbruck). It is featured in: „Eberhard Sauermann (Hg.): Schützengrabengedichte. Online-Anthologie. http://www.uibk.ac.at/brenner-archiv/editionen/ged_wk1/schuetz_ged.html.“




Editing: Eva Schmidhuber, Matteo Coletta

Voices in this episode: Hannes Hochwasser as Fritz Niebergall and Johannes Burau, Matteo Coletta as Guido Sanpaolo, L.J. Ounsworth as himself.


Music: Gregoire Lourme, „Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hannes Hochwasser, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.