„Ho parlato a lungo col pilota austriaco, stringendogli la mano…“


In Stimmen aus den Schützengräben #13 we deal once more with aerial warfare. The first document is an interesting letter written by Major Francesco Baracca on the 8th April 1916. Baracca was Italy’s top flying ace of WWI, with 34 confirmed victory. He was extremely popular during his lifetime, and became a legend after he was killed in action: it is said that Enzo Ferrari, founder of the luxury car manufacturer, took the „prancing horse“ from Baracca’s own emblem.

In the letter, Baracca gives a very detailed account of his victory over an Austrian plane. The duel took place on the 7th April 1916 above the Isonzo front (see episodes #12, #11, #5, #4, #1), not far from Medea. Baracca managed to dodge the machine gun bursts fired by the Austrian observer and reach a blind spot under the enemy’s tail, from which he could critically hit his opponent. The Austrian plane dived towards the ground and landed on a field, where it was immediately surrounded by a huge crowd. It was customary for the pilots who landed behind enemy lines to set their plane on fire to avoid its capture, but that time it wasn’s possible because of the wounded observer. Baracca writes: „The „Aviatik“ landed almost undamaged. It is beautiful, with a 200 HP engine, a good Austrian mashinegun (…) it’s one of the latest aircrafts, improved, for scouting and fighting. It can reach 145 Km/h (…). Near the jump seat the plane was all covered in gore, it gave a sad impression of war“.


Francesco Baracca (Wikipedia)
Francesco Baracca (Wikipedia)


The letter is permeated by those contraddictory feelings towards war. On the one hand, the fascination for aircrafts, the excitement of flying, the thrill of victory („I followed him down, screaming of joy“). On the other hand, sadder feelings as well as respect and compassion for the defeated („I spoke for a long time with the pilot, shaking his hand and conforting him, because he was very dispirited“).

The Austrian pilot, a 24 year Viennese, was almost unharmed, but the observer was severely wounded. Baracca was shot down two years later, on the 19th of June 1918. The exact circumstances of his death are still to be clarified. Some passages of his letters are available at: http://www.museobaracca.it/Francesco-Baracca/Il-mito-di-Baracca


German plane destroying an enemy balloon (Wikipedia)
German plane destroying an enemy balloon (Wikipedia)


The second document is a letter from German soldier Johann Görtemaker (see episodes #5 and #12), in which he tells the destruction of a German tethered balloon. The observer could survive thanks to his parachute: a similar occurrence is related by French officer Emile Dupond in episode #3. The letters of Johann Görtemaker are available at: http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/de/contributions/462


Balloon crew ready to descend by parachute (Wikipedia)


The last document of the week is an original audio interview with French officer Emile Dupond (see episode #3), who was assigned to a tethered balloon company. He remembers some interesting events which took place in April 1917, at the Chemin des Dames. Despite the weather conditions, his company was ordered to follow the advancing French infantry and observe the field. After a few kilometes the infantry couldn’t advance anymore, and the officers ordered to bring the balloon down. It was then dragged for a few kilometers by 150 men, who were struggling against wind and rain. The officers were afraid that the men could loose the grip on the ropes and abandon the balloon, so they asked a non-commissioned officer to remain in the gondola. They told the soldiers: „if you let go the ropes, your fellow is lost!„. Eventually, everything worked out fine, but it was an ordeal.

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


Editing: Larissa Schütz , Matteo Coletta.
Commentary: Peter Welzesberger

Voices in this episode: Hannes Hochwasser als Johann Görtemaker, Matteo Coletta as Francesco Baracca, Emile Dupond as himself.


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




„Je vous dirai que malgré mon masque j’en avais trop respiré…“


In Stimmen aus den Schützengräben #12 we deal again (see episode #5) with chemical warfare. The first document is a passage of the memories of Italian military chaplain Feliciano Marini. The events took place at the outbreak of the Battle of Caporetto (12th Battle of Isonzo), the greatest defeat ever suffered by the Italian Army.

The battle began on the 24th of October 1917 at 2 am, with a massive use of chlorine and phosgene gas. The infantry followed a few hours later. Italians headquarters were expecting an assault but failed to organise the defense. The frontline collapsed, Italian troops fled without any assistance from the high command, entire divisions were surrounded and taken prisoner. The retreat only stopped on the 11th of November, when the last units reached the new defence line on river Piave. In less than 3 weeks the Central Powers moved the frontline 150 km to the west. They also captured more than 250.000 men, over 2000 cannons and a huge amount of equipments and supplies. Armando Diaz took the place of Luigi Cadorna as commander-in-chief, and the goverment had to resign.

The defeat of Caporetto struck so deep, that even nowadays „Caporetto“ is used in Italian language as a synonym for a military desaster.


Men and beasts wearing masks (http://www.navecorsara.it)


Gas played a major role in the success of the operation. Most of the soldiers didn’t trust their masks and fled, thus leaving the trenches unmanned. Some of them, however, were surprised by the gas and couldn’t react. In a journal entry Chaplain Feliciano Marini reports how the gassed soldiers arrived at the field hospital where he was working. Many of the gases used in WWI didn’t work instantly (see episode #5),  and the soldiers didn’t realise how badly they were poisoned until it was to late. Marini writes: „at first glance their conditions dont’t look serious at all. But shortly after the symptoms appear, and some of them almost died before I could give them the Sacraments“. Gassed soldiers were seized by panic when their brothers-in-arms suddenly started dying, and it was very hard to maintain order. The bad news from the front made it even worse. Feliciano Marini served as a a military chaplain and stood on the frontline from May 1915 until February 1918. The transcription of his memories, published with the title „Ricordi di un cappellano militare“, is available at: http://www.cimeetrincee.it/marini.htm.


German soldiers wearing a gasmask (Wikipedia)
German soldiers wearing a gasmask (Wikipedia)


The second document of the week is a letter from German soldier Johann Görtemaker (see episode #5), written on the 23th of May 1917. In a passage he mentions a British night attack with gasses, telling how hard it was to see while wearing the mask. Turning on the lights was strictly forbidden, which didn’t help. The full letter, together with many others, is available at: http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/de/contributions/462.


Australian soldiers wearing gasmasks. Ypres, 1917 (Wikipedia)


The last document is a letter from French soldier Jean Fauchet, from the 17th of February 1917. A few days before writing the letter Fauchet was victim of a German gas attack and was affected by the poison despite wearing a mask. After a few hours he fell like dead, and some soldiers brought him to a dressign station where they gave him drugs to induce vomit. Three days later he was still very weak and could only drink some milk, but he managed to write his family to inform them of his condition: „Now I feel better, but believe me, I suffered! I’d rather take a bullet straight in the head than die poisoned.“ The full letter, together with many others, is available at: http://forezhistoire.free.fr/jean-fauchet.html.



Editing: Carla Steinitzer , Matteo Coletta.

Voices in this episode: Hannes Hochwasser als Johann Görtemaker, Matteo Coletta as Feliciano Marini and Jean Fauchet


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


„…and the Bishop said: the ways of God are strange!“


In Stimmen aus den Schützengräben #11 we deal again with War Poetry. The first guest of the episode is Siegfried Sassoon, a British soldier who belongs to the so-called „War Poets„. WWI British war poetry is regarded either as a genre on its own or as a subgenre belonging to the so-called Georgian poetry. The authors – young soldiers and officers fighting on the Western front – used to send their verses to newspapers, and some of their work was thus well-known by the public. In 1985 a memorial was unveiled at the Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey. It bears the names of 16 poets, many of whom died in battle. Siegfried Sassoon served as second lieutenant and managed to survive the war.


The Bishop tells us: ‚When the boys come back
‚They will not be the same; for they’ll have fought
‚In a just cause: they lead the last attack
‚On Anti-Christ; their comrades‘ blood has bought
‚New right to breed an honourable race,
‚They have challenged Death and dared him face to face.‘

‚We’re none of us the same!‘ the boys reply.
‚For George lost both his legs; and Bill’s stone blind;
‚Poor Jim’s shot through the lungs and like to die;
‚And Bert’s gone syphilitic: you’ll not find
‚A chap who’s served that hasn’t found some change.
‚ And the Bishop said: ‚The ways of God are strange!‘


Siegfried Sassoon (Wikipedia)


Guillaume Apollinaire is a key figure in the cultural scene of early 20th century. In Paris he befriended the foremost intellectuals of his time, such as Pablo Picasso, Blaise Cendrars and Jean Cocteau. He also friends with Giuseppe Ungaretti, who later became the most influential Italian poet of his time. Apollinaire was born in Rome in 1880 from a Polish mother and an unknown father, but later moved to France and was living in Paris at the break of war. He volunteered for the army in December 1914 and served first in the 38th artilery regiment, then as second lieutenant in the 96th infantry regiment. In 1916 he received a severe head wound from a shrapnell, and could never fully recover. In 1918, still weakened, he contracted the Spanish Flu and died. His body was found on the 9th of November by his friend Ungaretti, who wanted to pay him a visit in Paris.

The life on the front left a deep trace in some of Apollinaire’s writings. The poet had a contraddictory vision of war, and managed to create astonishing metaphors from its dreadful images. In the selected poem, for exemple, he compares a shell – a beautiful shell – to a mimosa in bloom.


Second Lieutenant Guillaume Apollinaire (Wikipedia)
Second Lieutenant Guillaume Apollinaire (Wikipedia)


Si je mourais là-bas“

Si je mourais là-bas sur le front de l’armée
Tu pleurerais un jour ô Lou ma bien-aimée
Et puis mon souvenir s’éteindrait comme meurt
Un obus éclatant sur le front de l’armée
Un bel obus semblable aux mimosas en fleur

Et puis ce souvenir éclaté dans l’espace
Couvrirait de mon sang le monde tout entier
La mer les monts les vals et l’étoile qui passe
Les soleils merveilleux mûrissant dans l’espace
Comme font les fruits d’or autour de Baratier

Souvenir oublié vivant dans toutes choses
Je rougirais le bout de tes jolis seins roses
Je rougirais ta bouche et tes cheveux sanglants
Tu ne vieillirais point toutes ces belles choses
Rajeuniraient toujours pour leurs destins galants

Le fatal giclement de mon sang sur le monde
Donnerait au soleil plus de vive clarté
Aux fleurs plus de couleur plus de vitesse à l’onde
Un amour inouï descendrait sur le monde
L’amant serait plus fort dans ton corps écarté

Lou si je meurs là-bas souvenir qu’on oublie
– Souviens-t’en quelquefois aux instants de folie
De jeunesse et d’amour et d’éclatante ardeur –
Mon sang c’est la fontaine ardente du bonheur
Et sois la plus heureuse étant la plus jolie

Ô mon unique amour et ma grande folie

30 janv. 1915, Nîmes.

The third selected author is Ludwig Bäumer (1888-1928). He took part in WWI as a non-commissioned officer and after the conflict developed strong anti-war ideals.


Ludwig Bäumer painted by Christian Schad, 1927 (Photobucket)
Ludwig Bäumer painted by Christian Schad, 1927 (Photobucket)


Dämmerung im Graben

Wir sind längst mehr als dreimal verleugnet. In unsern Gebärden
Fielen alle Sehnsüchte zusammen, alle die waren
In unsern Müttern und Vätern. Wir stehn vor unsern Bahren
Und fangen Tode auf, damit wir zu Ende werden.

Denn das ist unser Sinn: Wir sind Kinder einer Zucht ohne das Sträuben
Von Kindern gegen ihre Zucht. Stärkelos! Wir haben die Augen
Die im eigenen Gehirn wühlen und Schmerzen saugen.
Wir sind längst mehr als dreimal verleugnet
Und müssen mehr als einen Gott betäuben.

Uns ist keine Wiederkehr gesegnet und unserm Weinen kein Amen
Zärtlicher Munde, die einmal vor Süße brachen.
Unsere Mütter versagten,
Die uns beklagten:
Wir staunen über die, die den Weg der Mütter kamen.

Und das verläßt uns nicht. — — Vielleicht wenn wir einmal wissen,
Daß wir Kinder des Irrtums sind und darum Unverzeihliche der Zeit,
Vielleicht dann … Was? … Stärkelos … Ein Land bleicht weit,
Und viele fielen, und wir sehnen uns in reine Kissen.

(Bereitschaft 1. Februar 1916.)

The fourth „guest“ of the week is Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), another British war poet. Owen served as a second lieutenant and was severely wounded by a trench mortar round. He also suffered of „shell-shock“ (PSTD), a condition that was not fully understood at the time. Owen was killed in action a week before the end of the war. The selected poem is probably Owen’s best known, and one of the most significant among British war poetry.


Wilfred Owen (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk)
Wilfred Owen (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk)


Dulce et Decorum est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!–An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

The last poem of this episode is by Giuseppe Ungaretti (see episode #6). It was written on the 23th of December 1915 in northern Italy, on the Isonzo front. All along the war, 12 harsh battles were fought in the sector, with heavy losses on both sides. These few verses depict the contrast between the dead body lying next to him and the poet’s craving for life.


Ungaretti in the trenches (on the left) - giordanicaserta.it
Ungaretti in the trenches (on the left) – giordanicaserta.it



Un’intera nottata
buttato vicino
a un compagno
con la sua bocca
volta al plenilunio
con la congestione
delle sue mani
nel silenzio
ho scritto
lettere piene d’amore

Non sono mai stato
attaccato alla vita



Editing: Romana Stücklschweiger , Matteo Coletta.

Voices in this episode: David Hubble as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, Matteo Coletta as Guillaume Apollinaire and Giuseppe ungaretti, Hannes Hochwasser als Ludwig Bäumer


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

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

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…“

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.