Reported in Scientific American, this Week in World War I: October 2, 1915
After Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary on May 23, 1915, Italian troops attacked their neighbor to the northeast over a wide front of their shared border. The great aim of Italy’s attacks was to break through the mountainous terrain into the wide plains beyond. The attacks did not succeed until the Hapsburg Empire itself collapsed three years later.
By the time this image was published (there’s no story with it—a common practice with cover images at the time), the Italians had launched two major offensives along the Isonzo River, for little gain. Much of the fighting was conducted in the awe-inspiring but unforgiving terrain of the Southern Limestone Alps. Our image of Italian soldiers from the elite Alpini regiment shows the towering peaks where some of the fighting took place. Both sides together lost over a million men dead; one estimate places the toll from avalanches alone at 60,000.
Our full archive of the war, called Scientific American Chronicles: World War I, has many articles from 1914–1918 on the various fronts of the First World War. It is available for purchase at www.scientificamerican.com/products/world-war-i/
Suggested Further Reading:
A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway, is a fictional account first published in 1929 and loosely based on Hemingway’s work as an ambulance driver on the Italian front during the war.
The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919, by Mark Thompson (Basic Books, 2009), is a superb account of the hard fighting in the white limestone mountains, set against the military, political, social and cultural backdrop of Italy.