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  • Those Nice Austro-Hungarian Machine Gunners October 2, 2010

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    Beachcombing recently found himself marveling over a passage in Mark Thompson’s The White War on Italy’s dreadful First World War campaigns. Italy it must be remembered was fighting, for the most part, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Peacock Imperial Throne of central Europe.

    Another kind of collusion was so rare that very few instances were recorded on any front. It happened when defending units spontaneously stopped shooting during an attack and urged their enemy to return to their line. On one occasion, the Austrian machine gunners were so effective that the second and third waves of Italian infantry could hardly clamber over the corpses of their comrades. An Austrian captain shouted to his gunners, ‘What do you want, to kill them all? Let them be?’ The Austrians stopped firing and called out: ‘Stop, go back! We won’t shoot any more. Do you want everyone to die?’

    Italian veterans described at least half a dozen such cases. In an early battle, the infantry tore forward, scrambling over the broken ground, screaming and brandishing their rifles. The Austrian trench was uncannily silent. The Italian line broke and clotted as it moved up the slope until there were only groups of men hopping from the shelter of one rock to the next, ‘like toads’. Then a voice called from the enemy line: ‘Italians! Go back! We don’t want to massacre you!’ A lone Italian jumped up defiantly and was shot; the others turned and ran.’ [1-2]

    The Austrians and Italians it must be remembered were ancestral enemies. The Kingdom of Italy had been carved out of Austrian territory in the north of the Peninsula. And Austria had long resented their upstart little brother to the south. So why this unusual charity?

    Beachcombing wondered idly if some of the Austrian soldiers were actually Italian speakers from the north of Italy – what language did the Austrian soldiers shout in? But though the Austrian army had almost as bad a reputation as the Italian army in the First World War Beachcombing imagines that most Austrian Italian-speakers were off at the Russian front where they could do as little damage as possible to Vienna’s Imperium.

    So why these unusual acts of mercy on the part of the Austro-Hungarians? Some strange Alpine solidarity that the mud of Flanders failed to bring out in the Germans, French and British? Certainly Beachcombing finds these acts more impressive (if less curious) than a famous Anglo-German game of soccer at Christmas 1915.

    Beachcombing would be extremely interested if there were any other WW1 instances of mercy in the midst of battle. drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com