Emperor Karl VI raised the 14th Infantry Regiment in November 1733 for service in the War of the Polish Succession (1733-1738). Since then it has fought in numerous battles including Kolin 1757, Belgrade 1789, Wagram 1809, Magenta and Solferino 1859 and Koeniggraetz 1866. In 1882, Linz, the capital of the province of Upper Austria, became its permanent home. At the outbreak of what was to become known as World War 1, its reservists and recruits were mainly drawn from that province. Mobilisation quickly followed and all too soon the Regiment found itself on what was then known as the Russian front, probably better described these days as in the southern part of Poland.
The experiences of the Regiment's Medical Service were well recorded in the early 1930s by its last Chief Medical Officer, Dr Leopold Strauss and what follows is a translation (to the best of my ability) of the story he wrote so long ago. His writings reflect all too clearly the terrible conditions under which this war was fought. While the landscape the Regiment encountered in many of its battles was very different to that experienced by fighting men on the Western front, conditions were nevertheless equally devastating. Terror and death were known to all sides and in all areas where fighting raged during this war.
Emperor Karl VI raised the 14th Infantry Regiment in November 1733 for service in the War of the Polish Succession (1733-1738). Since then it has fought in numerous battles including Kolin 1757, Belgrade 1789, Wagram 1809, Magenta and Solferino 1859 and Koeniggraetz 1866. In 1882, Linz, the capital of the province of Upper Austria, became its permanent home. At the outbreak of what was to become known as World War 1, its reservists and recruits were mainly drawn from that province. Mobilisation quickly followed and all too soon the Regiment found itself on what was then known as the Russian front, probably better described these days as in the southern part of Poland.
ABOUT THE MEDICAL SERVICE WITH IMPERIAL REGIMENT No. 14 IN THE GREAT WAR
The greater the distance in time from mighty world-shattering events, the more difficult it becomes to remember military attitudes and thinking shortly before the outbreak of the war.
Filled with vast enthusiasm we went to war against Russia in August 1914 and knew nothing about war. No one had quite imagined how the medical service was to function, that unimportant appendage to the Regiment that had been provided with Red Cross insignias, that during peace time exercises was always in the way and in which to serve was not considered the greatest of honours. No one could have imagined in what numbers and how seriously troops were to suffer wounds and sickness during the war. And even less did anyone believe that so many men bearing Red Cross armbands would die a hero's death, just like their armed comrades, while carrying out their Samaritan duties.
The Regiment first went into action on 28th August 19l4. Its headquarters was in the small village of Oserdow. As set down in their instructions the medical officers and other medical personnel assembled at the local presbytery from where they were able to watch the infantry advancing surprisingly fast against the enemy's artillery and rifle fire. According to their rank every medical officer was allocated either to deal with the lightly wounded or the severely wounded. A huge Red Cross flag was hoisted atop a long pole. This made a wonderful target for the Russian artillery! After a direct hit in the presbytery's garden one could hear "That's not right!', "This is against the Geneva Convention!", "We are under the protection of the Red Cross!" and they even considered sending a delegation to the Russians to protest against the shelling of the Dressing Station. After some weeks we were able to laugh about our naive expectations of war and the Geneva Convention and learnt to disguise well the location of our Dressing Stations.
The doctrine that "the wounded had to be brought into the Regimental Dressing Station during a lull in the firing'' was another instruction that needed to be discarded. But there seemed to be no pause in the firing. The clatter and roaring did not abate and soon one or two and then more and more walking wounded arrived who reported that out there in the field the wounded lay in piles those heroes who could not help themselves and whose blood the comrades could not staunch. Well - recover the wounded in the face of the enemy's fire, use what cover there was and be quick! In that first action it seemed to us to be a hard order to give to the stretcher-bearers and these good men did not hesitate to carry out this order that, as time went by, became the norm.
The medical officers worked unceasingly. Each one dealt with whatever was brought before him. And then we ran out of dressings. One has to experience this to fully appreciate this situation. As no one knew where more supplies could be found we were only able to apply temporary dressings. Yet we knew that much depended on proper dressings in the first instance. It is quite a depressing thought for medical officers. Later in the war this predicament seemed quite ludicrous for we were in a village and all we would have needed to do was to obtain sheets from the locals, cut them into strips, sterilize them with a hot iron and use them as dressings. But on this first day of our war we were still too imbued with the instruction that one must not take anything from the locals without payment for it. As the war went on this was another instruction that simply had to be ignored.
This particular instruction also brought other difficulties on this 28th of August 1914 as the wounded began to suffer pangs of hunger. Field kitchen upon field kitchen drove by but none stopped at the Regimental Dressing Station. The powers that be had omitted to put the Dressing Station into "the system". At the time we were busy looking after 300 wounded Austrians and 200 Russians. It has to be said that in comparison to later in the war their hunger was not too fearful as they helped each other with money and one or other of the wounded officers would buy a duck from one of the farmers' wives. The farmers' wives moved by this never before experienced misery, brought pails upon pails of milk. But on 28th August 1914 one was still of the unwarlike view that meals must be served daily and at the right time.
Out there the Regiment had defeated a superior enemy and had followed him in his withdrawal. Where to, we in Oserdow did not know as no one had thought of communications with our Headquarters. We managed to discover that the Regiment had gone in the direction of Liski. But where was Liski? We discovered that a map would have been most useful but we had none. And so it was decided to send out a medical officer with a detachment of stretcher- bearers to try and find Liski and the Regiment. At the column's head fluttered a Red Cross flag on a long pole.
"The Divisional Aid Station takes over the wounded from the Dressing Station and thus relieves it". That is what the instruction book had said. We therefore need not worry about the further treatment of the wounded. But the Divisional Aid Station did not arrive. It had gone a different way and had overtaken us. Indeed they were already working in the manor house at Liski while we in the Dressing Station were still waiting for them at Oserdow. By accident we discovered a hospital in nearby Belc and decided to look after the further evacuation of the wounded on our own. We made the farmers harness up their carts, and despite their growing reluctance, made them drive diligently. When the hospital then sent out its own stretcher-bearers, the evacuation proceeded briskly.
The Regiment's first engagement was a glorious event in its history as it had won! However as medical officer I could not take much delight in this as I had the strong feeling that the medical service had failed. With greater experience of war this feeling was confirmed. With all the sternness of self- criticism one could not blame anyone for this as we had behaved strictly in accordance with directions and these had been promulgated without any knowledge of modern warfare.
Much emphasis has been placed by me on this the Regiment's first engagement because this experience became the foundation for re-shaping the medical service - without any preconceptions - to the satisfaction of both the wounded and those treating them.
The partition of the Dressing Station into two sections, one to deal with the slightly wounded and the other for those severely wounded, disappeared of its own accord in this first action and was only taken up in the rarest of circumstances during the entire war. It was always shown that at first large numbers of lightly wounded streamed in and only then the severely wounded would arrive. This can be explained by the fact that the lightly wounded were able to come to the Dressing Station of their own accord while the severely wounded had to be carefully retrieved and just as carefully carried away.
It took some time before we took it on board that a Red Cross flag did not protect a Dressing Station from being a target for enemy artillery as we had been too imbued with the provisions of the Geneva Convention. I do not want to say that the Russians deliberately aimed at the Dressing Station. It was that we had been tactically too guileless in the choice of its location. At first we merely considered whether its position was central to the Regiment and its distance from the firing line. Only gradually did it dawn on us that it should be out of the enemy's sight as traffic to it was lively. At this realization the Red Cross flag disappeared. We learnt to set up Dressing Stations beside the paths and roads that the wounded were most likely to use. A simple signboard on a cottage was sufficient to indicate its presence. We also learnt not to set up in the vicinity of any gun emplacements. We soon became aware of the Russians' excellent powers of observation and objected strongly when some of the Regiment's reserves were held near the Dressing Station. With growing experience of war we also noted that the enemy liked to shoot at prominent points in the area. We therefore learnt to avoid the vicinity of bridges, windmills and road junctions and preferred to be in a dirty peasant's cottage rather than in a substantial farmhouse. And the more we learnt in this regard the safer the location of the Dressing Stations became. However this is getting ahead of events, as by the time we were able to deliberately apply all this the year 1915 had arrived.
The very first action had shown us that we could never have sufficient dressings, as precise requirements could never be foreseen. The instructions said that these supplies were to be obtained from the Divisional Aid Station. For this reason its whereabouts had to be known at all times even though the experienced medical officers knew that they could not entirely depend on this. Communications with the Divisional Aid Station were also vital, as it was to take over the wounded after they had been treated at the Regimental Dressing Station. In practice this did not always occur. During an advance the Dressing Station would be filled with wounded before it, too, was due to advance. During a withdrawal handing the wounded to the Divisional Aid Station became impossible mainly because the Dressing Station had to remain with the troops at all times while the Divisional Aid Station, being larger and slower, was confined to using roads. For this reason the onward movement of the wounded became the special duty of the medical officers and due to its importance and difficulty, especially on days of heavy fighting, it became the measure of each man's ability.
While it was important to be in communication with the Divisional Aid Station, it was of even greater importance to be in communication with the Regimental or Battalion Headquarters. In a war where the situation often changes rapidly, a Dressing Station needed to know what was occurring at all times for when it is overloaded with wounded it cannot readily move forward. During a retreat this knowledge becomes even more important as measures taken belatedly cannot protect the wounded from becoming prisoners-of-war.
It had become obvious to us on the first day of fighting that, like any other officer, we needed to have maps and that the Dressing Station needed to be able to feed, or at least to refresh, its wounded. We now understood these requirements but before we were able to put some of these lessons into effect we, and the Regiment, experienced some difficult times during which the medical service was only able to perform a very few plucky deeds.
Who would ever forget the days when after the Regiment's initial victory, achieved with great losses near Krylow, its remnant was forced to withdraw. And as they marched, it rained continuously and the countryside turned into knee-deep mud. There were endless rearguard actions, daylong marches and there was no food. It became a Via Dolorosa., And the medical officers, who in peace time only knew of dysentery out of their books, had to observe how the whole Regiment from the Commanding Officer down to the lowliest private suffered from bloody diarrhoea, how their strengths evaporated from kilometre to kilometre, their eyes burning in their hollowed faces. The memory of this withdrawal belongs among my worst experiences in this war.
During this time our good Upper Austrians dragged themselves along much more with moral fortitude than physical strengths. The sick could not be evacuated as the Divisional Aid Station and the field hospitals had preceded the Dressing Station in the withdrawal in so far as the Russians had not taken them prisoners. As far as possible we requisitioned peasants' carts, loaded them with the sick and wounded and asked them to travel in a south-westerly direction until they found a hospital.
The locals who saw the Regiment in its defeat did not disguise their anti-Austrian sentiments. The peasants feared, with some justification, that they might never again see their horses and carts. They therefore hid their vehicles and this caused many of the sick and wounded to fall into enemy hands. In the main, those that were able to get away landed in the fortress of Przemysl where their presence overloaded the fortress's already stressed food supply.
But even those who found a seat on a cart were not necessarily safe as not all carts headed in the right direction. Several lost their way in the unfamiliar countryside and drove towards the enemy. That there were many severely ill men who survived this dreadful withdrawal - from Rawaruska to Rzuchowa - seems like a fairy tale but it is the truth. It can only be attributed to their incomparable moral strengths. They were supported by individual officers, who, understanding the character of the men, told funny stories and jokes to ameliorate the difficulties of their position, the lengths of the march and the territory over which they had to pass. Here one needs to particularly mention young Lieutenant Tauer, who himself suffering badly with dysentery, joked continuously or played on a rusty mouth organ and so carried the men with him.
All too often one could see that a harsh, and perhaps unwarranted word by a superior, easily broke the waning strength of the sick. Those who fell by the wayside not to rise again had to await a cruel fate at the hands of the pursuing Cossacks.
Afterwards the Regiment's medical officers, who themselves were all suffering from dysentery, were accused of not having taken sufficient steps to fight this epidemic. Only those who had not themselves experienced the conditions of the withdrawal could make such an accusation. Indeed an Order had gone out that only boiled water was to be drunk, that only cooked fruit or agricultural produce was to be eaten, and that great cleanliness had to be observed. However who was to dig latrines along the route of the withdrawal? Who should have boiled water as fires were not permitted due to the enemy's hard pursuit? How was a soldier, on the march both day and night, to keep clean when he was fortunate to doss down for some hours along the muddy tracks? Who could prevent some men from drinking out of dirty puddles while they were suffering excessive thirst due to dehydration? Their dysentery simply forced them to drink although they knew the dangers. Who could have prevented men to reach for plums and pears in local orchards or to eat potatoes and turnips plucked raw from the fields? The men were forced to march for days on end but no sustenance was provided for them during this withdrawal. Those that believe that they would have had the heart and energy to prevent all this have never known the reality of hunger!
For the treatment of dysentery we had only that well-known tincture of opium, 400 grams of which had been allocated to each Battalion. Despite the fact that this is hardly a cure for dysentery we soon ran out of even this and were unable to obtain any further supplies due to the speed of the withdrawal.
When on 15 September (1914) the Regiment crossed the river San and staged at Jaroslau the worst was over and the severest cases of dysentery could be evacuated. The Regiment now found itself in billets and no longer had the Russians at its heels. It was also among mountains and the men were of the view that the Russians were unused to mountainous country while they themselves felt quite at home. This lifted the outlook and spirits of the men, the best ally to achieve good health. However their meals unvaryingly consisted of beef tea followed by boiled beef without any accompaniments. This led to the outbreak of yet another new disease, namely scurvy whose most obvious symptom is the loosening of teeth.
At the end of September, with dysentery and scurvy, the Regiment at last arrived at Rzuchowa near Tarnow for rest and recuperation. Only now were we able to begin our work of fighting these diseases. Unfortunately we made the mistake of giving in to the wishes of the military. All those suffering from dysentery, even those only suspected of harbouring this disease ought to have been moved to an isolation hospital. If this had occurred then the Regiment would have been free of dysentery and the men would have been battle ready once again. However this medical knowledge stood against the imperative desire of the military to have as many ready rifles per Company as possible. For this reason soldiers suffering only mildly from dysentery were kept with the troops and thus became a continuous seat of infection.
However, despite this error the days of rest and recuperation in Rzuchowa were of great benefit to the medical service as it enabled the Regiment's then Chief Medical Officer. Dr Siegfried Kraft, a man of great energy and organisational ability, to institute improvements to the service that although deviating in many ways from the regulations laid down, elevated it to one of the best in the Austrian army. That some of these improvements had in time to be superseded does not diminish in the least from the debt that is owed to him.
When the Regiment returned to the front near Kamien on 8 October (1914) it was well supplied with dressings, bringing with it a whole waggon load of these. The provision of meals for the wounded had also been organised as the Regimental Staff's kitchen was ordered to supply meals to the Dressing Station if and when required. As well a non-commissioned officer had been appointed to liaise with the Regiment's command. Lastly Dr. Kraft was able to arrange that in the daily Divisional Reports the location of the Divisional Aid Station be always shown.
October saw the Regiment stationed near the river San. The fighting in the area of Iezajik and Stary Miasto did not present any undue difficulties for us. The recovery of the wounded and their evacuation during the hours of darkness was always possible. The frontline soldiers were regularly relieved and this enabled them to sleep in billets and their diet was varied and plentiful. It followed that the health of the troops was good and cases of infectious disease rarely occurred.
However, rather sadly, it was then that the first cases of self-mutilation were seen. This had been a well-known phenomenon throughout the army and there were numerous decrees and orders relating to it. Even during the direst circumstances these rather typical wounds occurred only rarely within the Regiment and it was usually lower Austrians (soldiers who were natives of the province of Lower Austria) who were affected.
During this period an office was opened in the Dressing Station that gradually became an indispensable enquiry centre for all members of the Regiment. A conscientious N.C.O., Johann Frenzi, who was also able to write well, was put in charge and not required to carry out any other duties. The Regiment's Chaplain, Chaplain Suman, had been taken prisoner during the first days of the withdrawal and no replacement had been forthcoming. This led to the N.C.O. not only being required to record the treatment of all wounded and sick but he had to keep the roll and under the Chief Medical Officer's direction, he became the Registrar whose duty it was to record and pack the belongings of the fallen.
During the fighting on the river San, the work of the medical service was far more difficult in the vicinity of Nisko. There the terrain was swampy and provided no cover during the ever-moving bitter and bloody fighting for the control of river crossings. The enemy had the advantage of height and exploited it ruthlessly. Food either did not reach the men who were constantly engaged in heavy fighting or could only be provided to them ice-cold and late at night. The recovery of the wounded caused the loss of numerous stretcher-bearers as in contravention of all convention the enemy directed both rifle and machine gunfire at them as they carefully transported the wounded. A stretcher-bearer can't throw himself down with his burden but has to remain upright and to keep on carrying the wounded through the firing. Even the further evacuation of the wounded from the Dressing Stations at Nisko-Town, Nisko-Railway and Raclawice was a dangerous undertaking as cover was non-existent as far as the forest of Wacholy and the enemy relentlessly shot at any moving vehicle. Despite this, and under cover of darkness, it was possible to regularly move the wounded to the rear.
The frosts of autumn, the thick fogs along the river bank, the constant and heavy fighting and not in the least the lack of warming food led to the outbreak of serious intestinal diseases. Beside dysentery and typhoid we experienced the first outbreak of quite a severe form of cholera and this had to be dealt with under the worst possible sanitary conditions. People showed the first symptoms of the disease and within hours were dead. We did our best to prevent the disease from spreading. We opened cholera hospitals in isolated barns well away from anywhere, we appointed special bearers that were only permitted to deal with cholera patients and one of the medical officers was appointed to treat the sick. During this epidemic medical treatment and healing were impossible. The so-called cholera hospitals were simply collecting points for the dying. And so it happened that often the bearers who brought them in became ill themselves and were buried in the same mass grave some hours later. Of course the most sensible course would have been to withdraw the infected Companies and to isolate them completely but due to a shortage of rifles this was not possible. Under the prevailing conditions, the medical service would never have been able to cope with this epidemic so that when on 2 November (1914) a withdrawal was ordered, it was a blessing from a medical point of view.
When in the evening of that day the Order was given to begin the withdrawal, no one expected further heavy losses to occur but no vehicles whatsoever were available for the transport of the wounded. A large number of them would have fallen into the pitiless hands of the Russians but for the resolute action of Medical Orderly Mueller. After the Regiment had already departed and almost under the eyes of the Russians, he requisitioned peasants' carts and loaded the wounded onto them. As the enemy followed cautiously this rather unusual rearguard in due course reached safety.
During the remainder of the withdrawal into the Cracow district, which occurred voluntarily and without enemy harassment, we were able to evacuate the sick and even those suspected of being sick, so that the Regiment was able to enter the fortress of Cracow free of infectious diseases. Diet and quarters during the withdrawal were good and this contributed to the health of the troops.
German science (and here 1 am using the word German as relating to people and not to nationality) was now able to make an invaluable contribution to the fight against the most dangerous diseases of the war, the devastating intestinal infections. It enabled us to fight them with inoculations. Inoculations were feared by many of the men but were a great blessing. The first inoculations against cholera were carried out on 15th November 1914 while the Regiment was in Cracow.
The few days that the Regiment was afforded a stay in the outskirts of Cracow were, in medical terms, of great benefit. The troops were able to thoroughly clean both themselves and their clothing. The peaceful but varying life of a town appealed and they were able to have a beer with some German troops stationed there. This improved the men's spirits immensely and their readiness grew. One should not forget to mention here that the Regiment set an example to others in the construction of its latrines.
The second half of November saw the Regiment in a sharp offensive in an area north-east of Cracow in the direction of Makocice. Fast advances at considerable cost marked the fighting. The necessity of following the advancing troops before it had been possible to evacuate the wounded due to the unending arrival of them, taught us to divide the Dressing Station and to advance it in stages. This worked well throughout all offensives. That section of the Dressing Station closest to the fighting now had to deal with the initial treatment of the wounded, while the rearward section dealt with feeding and evacuation. We attempted more and more to evacuate the wounded using our own resources, as the Divisional Aid Station with its cumbersome transport was rarely readily available. From time to time we had an unofficial supply of local vehicles. As we could afford to be generous with straw and similar bedding the evacuation of the wounded was reasonably comfortable. Most valuable was the speed with which these carts were able to travel. It is thanks to them that during the short withdrawal to Cracow at the end of the month, though accompanied by constant fighting, not a single wounded soldier fell into enemy hands.
There were also other ways in which we unofficially amended the regulations. We began to look after the feeding of the wounded on our own account so that the Regimental Dressing Station seemed more like a sub-division inspired by the set-up of German Medical Columns. In the Austrian Army the Regiment was the first to have its own kitchens which, as the war progressed, proved to be of considerable benefit for the care of the wounded. Eventually we also did our own requisitioning and accounting and thus indeed became a real sub-division. To institute these improvements this goal had to be steadfastly pursued. This had not been without its obstacles as numerous layers of command had to be convinced of its efficacy and figures had to be provided to show that the cost of provisioning the Regiment would not increase. It has to be recorded that none of this could have been achieved without the co-operation of the Regiment's true blue Colonel, Col. Viktor von Vittorelli (Col. Richard von Vittorelli was the Regiment's Commanding Officer.) and his unusual interest and good will toward the medical service. Well-thought out submissions for the improvement of the medical service were considered by him with great care and, if they withstood his criticism, supported with all the weight of his influence.
The heavy fighting during the first half of December, that later became known as the battle of Limanowa-Lapanow, taught further lessons to the Dressing Station. It is of course clear that it is impossible to know ahead of time in what part of the line the heaviest casualties were likely to occur. A system was therefore instituted whereby the Dressing Station was advised of the casualties in the various parts of the line so that an adequate number of stretcher-bearers could be provided in each instance. In this way the recovery of the wounded could be undertaken quickly and uniformly.
On 10th December 1914 the Regiment came into great danger due to the conduct of an adjoining unit. In order not to be completely encircled, the Regiment had to speedily evacuate Grabina and Sobolow and withdraw to the heights of Wola Wieneszyska. During this withdrawal a considerable number of wounded at the Dressing Station in Sobolow were taken prisoner by the enemy. The fact that we were able to bring with us the major part of the wounded and the whole of our medical supplies, was a matter of luck and pluck. In particular it was due to the quiet competence of Assistant Medical Officer (Assistenzarzt), Dr. August Ganglbauer.
Christmas saw the Regiment near Radlow. In the fighting for this town we made our first acquaintance with dum-dum bullets. Although there was no mistake that these bullets were used, we felt that it was quite against all convention but in retrospect I feel today (1930) this was an almost minor annoyance. To put this into perspective one has to consider that, as the war progressed, Lima di Lana, Monte Cimone and Monte Pasubio (all on the Southern Front, South Tyrol) were blown up complete with men and mice, that the infantry was attacked with mines, flame throwers and gas, that airplanes bombed open cities and that England wanted to starve Germany and Austria into submission.
We had not looked forward to the winter but it had arrived. The expectation of fighting in winter and the cold of Galicia had caused some anxiety. Both of these, at least in the line held by the Regiment, had been overrated. During November, when north of Cracow, the Regiment had already experienced a number of cases of frostbitten toes so that we expected to have a considerable number of these cases in the "real" winter. In comparison to later years the number of victims of frostbite during the Galician winter remained comparatively small even though the issue of heating stoves and special winter clothing was unnecessarily delayed.
The low number of victims of frostbite was due to the women at home. At the start of the autumn in 1914 the women, from the highest station in life to the lowest, urban and rural, began to knit. The Army Postal Service thus carried an unending supply of socks, singlets, wrist warmers and balaclavas made out of best quality wool. So much of this was provided that even the few individuals who attempted to turn these gifts into cash were scarcely noticed. These gifts from the homeland were given with love and their meaning provided sunshine and warmth for the soul and heart of the recipients. And anyone who believed himself forgotten by his mother, wife or fiancee still received these gifts from the homeland, for an unknown woman cared and knitted for him who was defending the homeland and who wanted to bring him happiness with a bit of homeland love and homeland sun. That particularly Upper Austria sent a huge amount of these loving gifts to her sons in the field will remain forever a monument in its history. These gifts of love warmed body and soul and influenced the health of the troops most favourably, may it therefore be permitted for a medical officer to express to these women his warmest thanks.
Another decisive reason was the fact that during this first winter of the war the troops were still provided with waterproof footwear, something that later seemed like a fairytale. As well their diet included a great deal of bacon on the basis that bodies burnt a considerable amount of fat during extreme cold. And naturally enough the troops were also given many instructions on how to prevent frost bite.
Around the year's end fighting came to a virtual standstill on both sides. The Regiment was stationed in the area of Wielka Wies and near the river Dunajec. The medical service becomes more important during these relatively quiet periods. When the frontline moves about any disease-ridden village can be quickly left behind but during a stationary war the greatest enemy becomes the louse, particularly as a carrier of spotted typhoid, a disease that had so far spared the Regiment. There were bathing and delousing facilities at Lapon and at Brzesko but it was impractical to use these due to distance. Improvisations therefore had to be made even though for bathing there was only a large wooden tub and for delousing we were only able to boil the washing. Nevertheless it was a successful fight! Other measures to prevent disease were also taken in kitchens, among cooks and with the food provided, all of which were placed under the supervision of medical staff. Special stress was placed on the correct construction of latrines and to disinfect them with lime soon became a routine duty for the stretcher-bearers.
In collaboration with the Dressing Station a kind of Convalescent Depot (Marodenhaus) was established in Wojnicz where treatment was similar to that in a regular hospital with its departments strictly separated. A medical officer was allocated to the vehicle pool at Sufczyn where he also had to look after the civilian population. In this way infections in the vicinity of the Regiment's positions could be identified and dealt with.
After a rather bloody fight near Sierowa on 19th February 1915 that made considerable demands on the medical service, the Regiment moved into the area of Janowice. During this phase of the stationary war the conditions for good hygiene were even better. Here special emphasis could be placed on regular delousing as the delousing station at Zakliczyn had great capacity and was within easy reach. The Regimental Dressing Station at Janowice again had a Convalescent Depot attached to it. In addition, a surplus Divisional Convalescent Depot in Wroblowice was also available. The Janowice-Lubynka line was rather thinly manned with the Regiment being rather scattered. This naturally forced the division of medical services and the formation of Battalion Dressing Stations mainly housed in extremely squalid Galician peasants' huts. One of these Dressing Stations had to treat a case of the then usually fatal disease of meningitis. Immediate measures were taken to prevent its spread and the Regiment remained free of further cases.
By and large the health of the troops during this first winter remained good. Dysentery and typhoid never entirely disappeared, but only individual cases occurred. Only the 4th Battalion, which was accommodated under considerably less hygienic conditions, suffered an epidemic of typhoid in mid-April that was quickly brought under control.
It must not be forgotten that medical science provided to the fatherland an important weapon against typhoid and inoculations against that disease were carried out during this first winter. As at the time medical opinion was still divided about the efficacy of these inoculations, we collected a large amount of statistical data about their effect. However during the further progress of the war, the effectiveness of these inoculations was proven without any doubt so that the collection of data became almost superfluous.
And then came the 2nd of May 1915, the day of Gorlice. An artillery barrage of a magnitude never before experienced began its destruction of the enemy's lines and of the nerves of all that witnessed it. It was expected that despite this mighty onslaught, the Russian lines would not be broken without heavy and bloody fighting by the Infantry necessitating a speedy evacuation of the wounded from the rather confined Dressing Station. In the knowledge that on this day the Divisional Aid Station would have to cope with the receipt of wounded from three separate Regiments and that this was an impossible task for it, Col. von Vittorelli permitted the use by the Dressing Station of the whole of the Regiment's vehicles. The carts that carried munitions and provisions uphill to the fighting troops carried the wounded on their return journey. Of course this was against all convention but we, like the enemy, had stopped being overly fussy about the provisions of the Geneva Convention. Nor did we place the returning carts under the protection of the Convention as no one in the heat of battle thought about affixing Red Cross flags to them. The purpose of evacuating the wounded as quickly as possible succeeded so brilliantly that when the Russian lines were broken on the 3rd of May, the Regimental Dressing Station was cleared of its wounded within an hour. This allowed it to join the Regiment in its march to Tarnow. That this achievement was due to careful organization by the medical service and particularly to the great care and courage shown by the stretcher-bearers goes without saying.
For the first time it had happened that a strong, static front line had been penetrated by a purely frontal attack. The medical service had anticipated that the meeting of these two mighty forces, with their impressions on eye and ear, was likely to affect the psyches and nervous systems of its witnesses. Fortunately the men coped well then and during even heavier artillery barrages later in the war. There were of course exceptions that suffered from 'grenade neurosis', a description invented by the patients themselves, but these simply confirmed the norm.
An advance quickly followed this breakthrough to the river San. This was mainly along reasonable roads and losses remained within acceptable limits. As a result the Divisional Aid Station was usually able to clear the Regimental Dressing Station and its sub-sections of their wounded or to look after them.
The Divisional Aid Station's work had become considerably less arduous as it now tended more and more to dispense with the use of its cumbersome ambulance carts and to replace them with a lighter more practical version and with simple peasants' carts.
When the Regiment reached Debica we found a modern well-equipped Russian infectious diseases hospital and discovered that the retreating enemy was suffering badly from various epidemics including cholera. We therefore realized that any further advance would be through countryside polluted with cholera bacteria. Daily lectures to the men to instruct them in preventive measures were therefore necessary. The health of the troops had remained good during the first phase of the offensive as far as the river San even though great exertions were required and meals were only provided irregularly. It would not be incorrect to say that the knowledge that the Regiment was advancing gave heart to the men and had a positive influence on their general health.
The circumstance that in this movable war each Company and each Platoon had to be ready to fight and often do so instantly, soon made it necessary for each sub-section to have its own complement of stretcher-bearers. Each Battalion Commander and each Company Commander had at all times to be aware of the position of the Regimental Dressing Station. The recovery of the wounded therefore changed from stretcher bearers being sent out from the Dressing Station, as after Laparow, to them coming into the Dressing Station from surrounding positions, it thus changed from being centrifugal to being centripetal. Both methods have their good points and it depends on the experience of the medical officer to choose the best method in individual cases. What proved very successful during the offensive was the partition and step-wise advance of the Regimental Dressing Station as had already been practiced in November 1914.
The advance was followed by a short stationary period in the vicinity of Rudnik on the Sau that was of general medical interest. Up to now the Regimental Dressing Station had utilized available buildings or houses, some well located others less so. During the rapid advance the medical staff had to frequently work in the open air. The forests and marshes along the river Sau were devoid of any buildings that might have been used but a longer stay had to be contemplated. And so we learnt to build. We were quite proud, as our very first efforts were successful. A Battalion Dressing Station near Chalupi was erected within two days by a capable N.C.O. and because of its cosy appearance became a popular object for the district's photographers.
Of medical interest is the fact that at the time both officers and men suffered from a febrile illness lasting five days. Initially this was suspected of being typhoid but the fever vanished without any treatment. It may have been identical to what was later described as the 'Wolinian fever' but at the time its origin was not discovered. Its occurrence was actually forgotten during the further developments of the war.
Another matter that came to our notice at this time was the word 'gas'. in those days the protection against gas that was supplied, or it would be better to say that was advised, was more effective in imagination than in reality. Fortunately the 'gas grenades' that the Russians sent into the Regiment's line now and again when in the mood, had no other effect than that they stank. How very unworldly that in those days the medical staff was expected to have on hand remedies against gas poisoning!
Part of the line was in sandy soil totally devoid of cover so that the men were exposed to the full heat of the month of June. During daylight the carrying of water from the local wells was too dangerous to undertake. It is therefore understandable that many men suffered heatstroke but the Regiment's stretcher- bearers had been well drilled to cope with this so that not a single man was lost to this often-dangerous malady. However in this hot and humid climate the men suffered greatly from mosquitoes that tormented them unmercifully at night.
The low standards of hygiene that existed in Galicia even during the pre- war period led to an outbreak of smallpox among the civilian population in the villages at the rear with refugees being particularly affected. There were numerous victims to this disease and the suspicion arose that the withdrawing Russians had brought it to the area. The advancing Regiment found dozens of sufferers crowded closely together in miserable barns. Although serious measures were taken to prevent the spread of smallpox, it was not possible to prevent all contact between the sick and individual members of the Regiment. Despite this not a single soldier contracted the disease, proving overwhelmingly the effectiveness of smallpox vaccinations.
By and large in reflecting on this period of rather stationary warfare and despite numerous small annoyances, the Regiment remained healthy and in good spirits. This is shown by the fact that when it was announced that our "loyal ally", Italy, had declared war against Austria, this was received with much greater enthusiasm and song than on the other side of the line by the Russians.
During the third week of June (1915) the offensive again began to roll. As the fighting in the areas of Krasnik and Lublin was particularly bitter and bloody, we were again fully occupied with the care of the wounded. As the enemy was usually defeated, it goes without saying that they not only left behind their guns and supplies but also their diseases.
In the beginning this was scarcely noticed as the Regiment had entered a particularly prosperous farming area where foodstuffs of all kinds were plentiful. The Regiment's good and varied diet at first made the men resistant to disease. However, due to the heavy fighting, long marches and heavy rains, the resistance of the men to infections found in villages and trenches was slowly eroded. The further north we advanced the greater became the number of men suffering from typhoid and dysentery.
With hindsight it can be said that under the influence of typhoid inoculations, the probably highly virulent form of this disease left behind by the Russians, did not lead to serious illness and rarely caused the death of any soldier - however any soldier who was ill diminished the fighting capabilities of the Regiment. It also happened that some men did not feel ill at all and continued to march with their Companies and thus unwittingly became sources of infection.
The fact that there were numerous sick soldiers did not find much understanding among the higher commands who wished to have available as many fighting men as possible. Because of this pressure, soldiers suffering from infectious diseases were often carried along for a week or so in the Convalescent Depot adjoining the Regimental Dressing Station. This could not be justified on medical grounds and a catastrophe could not be avoided.
All at once at the beginning of August in an area north of Lubartow an epidemic of cholera, typhoid and dysentery broke out. This decimated the Regiment within a very few days and necessitated its instant complete isolation. We could now undertake all necessary measures and send each and every infected soldier to hospital without interference. As a result of this it took only a week before the Regiment was almost free of infectious diseases and ready to continue its march to the area of Luck.
Of course for some time note had to be taken of every stomach upset. While the Regiment marched from the bend of the Wieprz to the area of Luck, it had a number of carts following it. Onto these we loaded all those suffering from digestive problems and these travelling convalescent carts enabled us to keep a sharp eye on our patients.
Not much can be reported about the fighting during the offensive in the area of Luck-Rowno as the care and evacuation of the wounded was carried out smoothly. The area was rich in produce so that under the influence of a varied diet the number of sick soldiers steadily decreased. Quite different circumstances prevailed during the short but fast withdrawal from Olyka to Krupy. It is simply in the nature of a withdrawal that the withdrawing Divisional Aid Station cannot accept the wounded from the Regimental Dressing Station. Nor were any other carts available.
The highest praise must be given to the medical officers and to the courage and self-sacrifice of the stretcher-bearers who enabled the wounded to be carried for incredibly long distances despite the fact that Cossack patrols followed closely and had no compunction in killing both stretcher-bearers and wounded. The knowledge that the Cossacks knew no mercy undoubtedly gave the stretcher-bearers superhuman strengths. It was a great credit to Upper- Austrian comradeship that most of the wounded were saved.
Later, when the Regiment again advanced it found the bodies of those who had fallen into Cossack hands. That some of these were found stripped naked simply confirmed the enemy's unbridled barbarity.
At the end of September (1915) the 5-months long offensive came to a halt and the Regiment found itself in the region of Olyka-Oderadskij, engaged in trench warfare in an area that provided very little cover. Now began the hard work of ensuring good hygienic conditions. Untiring efforts built a position in which even the fussiest Hygiene Officer would have had joy. Great cleanliness in the trenches, excellent accommodation for the men, exemplary latrines, all these should have formed the basis for the men's good health but toward Christmas their health was precarious as for a time their diet had been poor and the food supply short.
The Regiment's talented Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kraft created a Dressing Station in Pokaszczewo more worthy of the name of "Hospital". He converted five objects, three houses and two large dugouts, into a hospital well able to house 100 patients in comfortable and hygienic surroundings. Only patients whose healing was expected to be lengthy or who needed a long period of convalescence were evacuated. To enable the men to have the benefit of regular bathing, eight large cabbage vats were combined to become a bathing establishment.
Two field kitchens had their fire going both night and day to provide sufficient hot water for these baths. Immediately on arriving in the area Dr. Kraft had sufficient foresight to arrange for the collection of cabbages, turnips and carrots from the deserted fields and this enabled him to provide additional food for patients during the winter. In critical times he was even able to assist the fighting troops in this way.
In the Dressing Station at Pokaszczewo, as though in a large hospital, medical research was undertaken. Under Dr. Kraft's expert direction a post mortem was conducted after each death. This not only sharpened the medical officers' knowledge but also deserved the thanks of them all.
It is understandable that in the Russian winter, where temperatures to below 30 degrees Centigrade were experienced, it was not possible to completely prevent frostbite. However under the influence of all available means of prevention, losses to the Regiment remained in very acceptable limits.
Since Whitsun 1915 when the Regiment, while near Rudnik on the river San, had received the news of Italy's desertion, both officers and men fervently wished to hold Austria's former ally to account. This wish was granted, for at the end of March (1916) the Regiment was transferred to the southern front.
Here they found that warfare in the mountains was very different to that in the Galician or Polish lowlands. Everything had to be re-learnt, not the least the methods used by the medical service. Totally new problems lay ahead that seemed all the greater as those comrades who had been fighting against Italy for some time advised us how much more difficult the war here was compared to Russia. In this new situation the Regiment had a new Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Josef Bochskani. He was a man who remained calm in all situations and allowed nothing to shake his composure.
In the beginning the Army Command gave the Regiment plenty of time to acclimatise itself to the mountainous terrain around Trient (now called Trento). They did this very conscientiously. It was clear to us that the recovery of the wounded and their transport to the Dressing Stations over the rocky, pathless terrain would require of the stretcher-bearers much greater bodily strength, care and knowledge in first aid than had been the case in Russia. With this in view we trained our teams.
We climbed high up into the mountains, made the stretcher-bearers carry dummy wounded with all care over the most difficult of rocks and taught them the application of splints to broken limbs. We practiced the raising by rope of those that had fallen down precipices and the lowering by rope of the wounded. A range of new field implements had been issued to us. It was expected that they would be most useful in this mountainous region and we tormented our men with these. It can be said that when it came to their practical application most of these specially designed implements failed even though they seemed quite neat during practice sessions.
Even here in the Alps the old-fashioned stretcher remained the best field implement for the stretcher-bearers. But whoever thought that after these exercises near Trient, he knew anything about war in these altitudes was mistaken. It is only in a real war that one learns how to conduct it.
On 15th May 1915 the world was surprised with something quite new. In these high mountains a major offensive had begun. The overcoming of the military difficulties of such an offensive are best left to a writer on military matters, however the difficulties of the terrain were there to be overcome. The apparent impossibilities that the terrain presented to the medical service were dealt with more easily than we had dared to hope.
The evacuation of the wounded during the enemy's fire was even more dangerous as the Regiment was in the offensive and the defenders' positions were usually at greater height but due to the courage of the stretcher-bearers, the evacuation was accomplished almost as quickly as in Russia. The carrying of the wounded over the pathless, rocky and lacerated slopes was undertaken with deliberation and care and the stretcher-bearers became more surefooted by the day. Extremely difficult was the evacuation of the wounded to the Divisional Medical Column (the new name for the Divisional Aid Station). During the early days of this offensive, this too had to be undertaken by stretcher as there were no passable roads in the entire area between the Durer and Veno Passes and even the mule-tracks were in a badly neglected state.
Of course during the early part of the offensive the Dressing Stations needed to be in the open air, often hard by the snow line or in the snow as the area was devoid of buildings. The Regiment was thankful to the Italians who contributed to the health of the men by leaving behind on the Pra di Bertoldi and near Osteria Florentini a considerable amount of furs and blankets. Without the help of these, the men, weakened by loss of blood, would have suffered greatly while in the Dressing Stations and during their evacuation. It must be said that there would have been enemy dugouts that might have been used but their state was such that they were not fit for Upper-Austrians even for a temporary sojourn. It is hard to describe the state in which the Italians seemed to have housed in them.
In the choice of Dressing Stations we soon found ourselves to be quite good mountaineers. From the start we understood that these mountains had the advantage of providing easy cover and we used this. We also discovered the Italian artillery's hobby of bombarding with great persistence one single feature, a feature one simply had to avoid - so very different to the Russians whose fire continuously covered the entire line.
After crossing the Vena Pass from where we were able to see at a great distance and like a tempting promise, the silver mirror of the Adriatic Sea, the situation for Dressing Stations changed once more. Here there were again villages and houses but the enemy was entrenched on the top of Monte Cimone and thus covered the entire plateau of Tonezza. The Italians also had a brilliant position for their artillery at Punta Corbin that covered all entrances and exits to and from the plateau. It was here that the Regiment experienced heavy artillery barrages against the Dressing Stations at Tonezza and Campana that caused casualties among both the wounded and the stretcher-bearers.
However Monte Cimone was conquered by the Regiment which continued southwards and descended from a height of 1240 m above sea level to Arsiera at 320 m. A few days earlier the Regiment had still camped among the snow and now it suffered in Italy's June heat and this had a debilitating effect on the men. As well the food supplies could only reach them irregularly as the enemy had positioned artillery close-by and covered all entrances to the town with well- aimed fire.
Cold rain followed soon after these very hot days. The men were constantly involved in heavy fighting and had to bivouac in the open air. It is therefore not surprising that gastric diseases made their appearance. In most cases these proved to be ordinary but heavy gastric attacks but typhoid and dysentery also occurred.
These gastric diseases forced us to open larger Convalescent Depots for which the town had numerous buildings. Of course the town was subject to artillery fire at all times which forced us to move the hospitals from time to time but there was plenty of material to run the hospitals in accordance with the rules of hygiene. Men would be admitted quite dirty from the fighting in the offensive but we had the means to clean them up and to provide them with fresh underwear out of the town's stock. We were fortunate to have plenty of soap of German origin. Sick rooms were disinfected several times a day and so were the latrines as there were large supplies of Lysol and lime among the stores abandoned by the enemy.
The ready availability of mattresses and bed linen in the town enabled us to provide good clean beds for all wounded and sick. To get around the necessity of disinfecting these when evacuating our patients to the Divisional Medical Column we sent them along with their bed and bedding or at least their blankets and sheets.
That in this way we managed to incorporate into our own stock a large amount of the enemy's linen supplies could not have been of detriment to him. Of great benefit to us was also the huge amount of dressings that fell into our hands in Arsiero. The Regiment acquired a very large stock of these and was able to pass on large amounts to the Divisional Medical Column.
Unfortunately the location of the Dressing Station in Arsiero suffered greatly from the enemy's artillery fire. The enemy overlooked the entire basin of Arsiero and commanded it completely with his artillery, especially with the fearsome batteries at Schiri. Every dressing station was a target. At the dressing station in Maso a grenade destroyed the entire medical supplies. That the firing upon the dressing stations did not cause a blood bath was entirely due to luck.
One thing however has to be acknowledged in favour of the enemy - they never fired at the stretcher bearers while they were carrying the wounded on foot from the line all the way to Maso and Arsiero and this despite the fact that whenever and wherever one of our soldiers became visible he would be shot at unmercifully.
According to orders the wounded and sick were to be evacuated over Monte Cimone. Well, we had walked across this mountain and knew that it would need eight stretcher-bearers and a full day and much hard labour to move a single patient across this terrain and to use carts was quite impossible. We were aware of a good road that went from Arsiero via the valley of the Astach to the town of Pedescala, and so Dr. Bochskani decided, contrary to his orders, to evacuate the sick and wounded by way of the Astach valley.
This independent action saved much labour and made the evacuation shorter and far less strenuous. The higher command was miffed over this "independent move" but this did not last long and gave way to admiration for this decision. Admittedly the route had a spot that was not quite safe as in an open area the ambulances and carts had to pass within 600 paces of the enemy's line. At first the enemy had unsuccessfully shot shrapnel at the vehicles but soon allowed their free passage, in fact they assisted with the transfer of the wounded and sick by regularly providing floodlights.
During our time at Arsiero the medical service was provided with a small field cart drawn by a team of dogs (system Countess Hadik) that proved invaluable then and later for the fast and inconspicuous evacuation of the seriously wounded. A pre-condition for its use was a good path or road with a moderate gradient. For steep gradients on mountain roads even the strongest dogs proved to be too weak.
On 24 June the Regiment's line was withdrawn to the heights north of Arsiero. The men had been much weakened by the toil of the offensive and went into a rest area near Serrada and San Sebastiano. From a medical standpoint one can look back on this with considerable satisfaction. Our first duty was the cleaning up of the villages themselves that were found in a most unsanitary state for during the deployment of troops for the offensive they had served as temporary quarters for the most diverse of units.
The hard work of the men and the circumspection of the officers made it possible that after three days of scrubbing, washing and burying of rubbish, the two villages were unrecognizable. Within those few days they were transformed from disease-ridden filthy holes into welcoming mountain villages where it was a pleasure to be, both for body and soul. As there was a very effective bathing and delousing station at nearby Folgaria as well as a steam laundry, it did not take long for each man to have clean underwear and linen and to be free of vermin.
Certainly in the beginning there were numerous sick as many bowel infections had been brought along from Italy and at first the two villages had to be cleared of sources of infection. Soon under the influence of sanitary measures, good and regular food, and not the least under the influence of the wonderful summer weather in the mountains, all traces of illness disappeared. One could hear from the happy yodelling within sight of Lornetto and Filadonna (Evidently two mountains) and the wonderful homeland songs that rose to the azure blue sky how healthy and happy the men were.
Another good influence for the health of the troops was that, under direction of the Ministry of Economics, the men were engaged in farm work on the alpine meadows and in the somewhat sparse fields - work that was not too arduous. The men followed their normal farming occupations with joy and zeal and for a while were able to forget the horrible and unforgiving war. And that, I believe, from the point of view of a medical officer was very beneficial.
When the Regiment returned to the frontline in July it was ready in every way and in good health. The trench warfare that followed had the peculiarity that the Battalions were used as individual fighting units and geographically widely dispersed. Every terrain had its oddities even for the medical service.
Two of the Regiment's Battalions were stationed on Monte Cimone until rnid-winter and in the beginning were in position at Valle-Vallo and then east of Tonezza. Here medical co-operation was possible. Not so simple was the question of space as everything was to be permanent but account had to be taken of the fact that the enemy could discover our positions at any time, particularly as the Tonezza uplands were within the enemy's line of sight.
The villages could not be used under any circumstances. They were regularly shelled by the enemy and had become rubble. When at last we did find a corner we began to build quite vigorously. We used the same basic principles to build all Dressing Stations. We dug a trench straight down with its rear to the main line of the enemy's fire. If there were rocks in the way, we used explosives. We then widened it to 3 ½ metres with the length as needed, flattened the floor and on this base constructed a hut.
In the beginning these were very poor wooden constructions that were by no means windproof and really only served as a roof. We ceaselessly worked at improving these "homes" so that in the end they became buildings well able to weather even the deepest winter. There was no shortage of building materials in the villages of Selia-Dia, Valle and Tonezza where the enemy had not left one stone resting on another. There were sufficient roof trussees to be used as abutments and enough floorboards to build walls and enough roof tiles to be used again.
The furniture left behind by the inhabitants was also used and we found sufficient windows. If one was slightly larger, the next square and the third round, that didn't really matter to our wartime architects. We built substitute tiled stoves out of cement floors and there were large numbers of sheets of cut marble from a quarry near Vallo that we leant against the wooden walls for protection in winter.
Instead of mortar we used moss and earth. We used sheets of marble to drain a damp depression near Vallo and were not only able to dry it entirely but to completely conceal the outflow of a not inconsiderable amount of water. True to the German tradition of having something visually attractive at each home, we also constructed small flower gardens. That we were not a little proud of these efforts can well be imagined.
During the trench warfare in Italy the Dressing Stations soon had their typical organization. Beside a room for dressings there were rooms for bowel diseases, for wounded and for those less ill, for the medical officers and for the medical orderlies. All rooms were scoured with sand and brush on a weekly basis and almost every month the walls were re-calcamined. The Dressing Stations were surely up to the highest standards of hygiene that could be expected in a war.
The evacuation of the sick and wounded was also simple during summer as in the Tonezza uplands it was possible to use vehicles everywhere.
The sanitary welfare of the fighting troops was looked after in a way that 1 was not able to experience either earlier or later in the war. It can only be described as exemplary. Drinking and cooking water was supplied by way of water pipes that came from high up in the Tonezza mountains straight down into the Regiment's position. The area of the outflow was concreted, its surrounds were kept dry by the use of pebbles and the greatest care was taken to keep it all clean.
In Tonezza we had erected showers for the men and bath tubs for the officers which in connection with a steam disinfector also served for delousing. Every night 40 men were bathed and deloused. As at the time numbers were down, it was possible for every man to be completely cleaned every three weeks and that is a very good effort during a war. The usefulness of the Regiment's baths was also for the benefit of other troops stationed in the area. There were the Rainers (members of the 59th Infantry Regiment), the sappers and the gunners and they were all grateful for it.
Special care was taken in the feeding of the men. A purchasing officer travelled continuously throughout the villages of South Tyrol to enable the men to have a satisfactory diet with plenty of greens. It was even possible to have meals at regular times in the trenches near Valle and Tonezza and the greatest cleanliness was looked for in the kitchens.
Apart from requiring the utmost cleanliness of the cooks in the storage of provisions and during the preparation of the food, the stools of all cooks were bacteriological examined on a weekly basis so that no cook would transmit bowel infections and so endanger the health of his comrades. By these methods we hoped to eliminate all infections within the whole Regiment. Unfortunately this proved to be impossible, as the Field Laboratory in Folgaria was unable to cope with such an increase in its workload.
A great deal of attention was given to hygiene in the trenches. The entrances to the various positions were kept dry with sand and pebbles and camouflage provided a friendly shadow that made them seem more like a promenade. Springs and brooks were given firm beds so that they never overflowed or allowed water to run into the trenches. The men's accommodation hidden behind boulders was clean and welcoming.
Wooden tubs that stood in front of all positions allowed each soldier to wash himself several times a day. Each Platoon had its tub of drinking water, that in order to avoid contamination, could only be emptied by way of a pipe. The latrines that were frequently renewed, could be limed several times each day and all men were required to use washing utensils located beside each latrine after passing stool. In order to make living in caverns as comfortable as possible these were given floors and benches and were kept as dry as possible. Of course each cavern had its own tub of drinking water.
We had to admit that as time passed, the Tonezza uplands became known as the "drawing-room theatre of war". However that it got that name and deserved it was entirely due to our own efforts and diligence!
However the sanitary conditions were different when periodically we had to occupy positions on Monte Cimone. After the peak of Monte Cimone had been blasted off in September 1916 there was for many long months an uninterrupted nuisance fire unto our positions and behind them. This made an improvement in living conditions impossible for days on end. The men had to live closely packed together in the few, and, invariably damp, caverns, food did not always arrive and when it did it was cold.
Not in the least autumn brought steady rain. It is not surprising therefore that in addition to the losses caused by the firing, the decimation of the men through disease was considerable. As always in unhygienic conditions here too infectious bowel diseases appeared and spread. However very slowly living conditions even in this part of the front improved.
Unfavourable hygienic conditions also existed on Monte Majo occupied for half a year by the 1st Battalion. There was no water. Water had to be brought up from the Val Inferno in small containers and casks by way of narrow and steep paths. That under these conditions there was little water left over for the men's personal cleanliness can well be imagined.
Bathing could not be thought of and so it is understandable that the "burghers of Monte Majo", as the men liked to call themselves, were plagued by lice. As there was a conscious effort to keep up all other possible hygienic measures the health of then men remained quite reasonable.
Great difficulty was experienced on Monte Majo with the evacuation of the wounded. Narrow paths had to be hewn out of rock by the Regiment's Pioneers and the wounded had to be carried on stretchers down along them, a task which took many hours.
It was even more difficult to evacuate the wounded from the Laghi basin where the Battalion "Sauer" was stationed for a considerable time. Every wounded had to be carried up along the infamous "Way of Lightning". This was a steep path from the Val Campoluzza to the Val Zara between the mountains of Lima del Laghi and Monte Gusella, where for a distance of 4000 steps the difference in height was nearly 1000 m. Only those that have used this path carrying a rucksack on their back are able to fully appreciate the work carried out by the stretcher-bearers quite often under enemy fire.
Along this way reinforcements had also to be brought in. Despite these difficulties this worked well but it is not surprising that the men of the Regiment had to be first class mountaineers. The other questions that had to be faced by medical officers in the Laghi basin were solved quite satisfactorily but it has to be said that the prior occupiers, a Bosnian unit, had left behind a great deal of refuse to be cleared away. In Vanzi we even managed to erect a bath. Though small, it did excellent service.
The 3rd Battalion had its own history during the second half of 1916. In August it was suddenly moved to the Isonzo (An area on the southern front well known for the bitterest and bloodiest of fighting). In heavy fighting it had to hold a poorly completed line near Lokwica and Oppachiasella against a technically and numerically vastly superior enemy. The raging mine and artillery fire that was directed against the Battalion and the heavy hand to hand fighting in the trenches caused many bloody losses. In this flat and coverless landscape the retrieval of the wounded was only possible at night and required considerable care and courage by the stretcher-bearers. The Battalion's Aid Post was located in two rather poorly constructed wooden huts in a hollow about 600 steps behind the trenches and was therefore quite unprotected against the enemy's artillery fire. A direct hit there caused many victims among the wounded and the orderlies. But despite these difficult and dangerous conditions the care of the wounded went smoothly. It was possible to evacuate them in vehicles but this could only be carried out at night and under heavy artillery fire. It is understandable that supplies also were brought in at night so that a man occupied in heavy fighting could only be fed late at night and then the food was cold.
The men suffered greatly under the oppressive and muggy heat of the Isonzo flatlands and water was impossible to get. Under these conditions it is easy to see that bowel diseases of all kinds appeared and increased the number of losses. In the hot and damp climate of the Isonzo malaria had its home and the Battalion soon had to pay tribute to this disease. In order to try and keep all these diseases within bounds, many preventive measures were taken.
During short periods of rest the medical staff took samples of stool in an attempt to isolate those carrying disease, even charcoal was given as a preventive measure but this can be described as quite useless. Of course every man received a daily dose of quinine against malaria. All this could keep the diseases in check but could not prevent them.
In October the longsuffering Battalion returned to the Tyrol but it was sick and in great need of recuperation. However the expected rest did not eventuate. As soon as the Battalion detrained it was loaded into motor vehicles and taken to Pasubio ( to withstand another dangerous enemy attack. And to the suffering caused by the heavy fighting, here at a height of 2000 m, were added some very low temperatures and the Battalion suffered all the more as it had been at sea level and had no in-built resistance against the cold.
The losses through frostbite were therefore exceptionally high. To cap it all there were heavy fails of new snow that brought avalanches in their wake that caused further losses to the Battalion. The Pasubio (Monte Pasubio - a mountain), too, had no water. As a substitute there was only melted snow. The exhausted troops were unable to cope with this water as it was completely free of salt and calcium and caused a disease not seen since service in Russia, and that was scurvy. (Ed. note: Scurvy is caused by lack of vitamin C, it is not caused by melted snow water)
If one disregards the terrible circumstances of the 3rd Battalion then one can say that the summer of 1916 belonged to the more pleasant periods of the Regiment's war. But after summer follows winter, the alpine winter, not quite familiar to most and this posed numerous new problems to be overcome.
Already in autumn a beginning was made to lay down depots of food of all kinds and in large quantities in the vicinity of the troops and their positions as it was expected that the routes for replenishing these would be closed due to avalanches and blizzards. To monitor the keeping qualities of the food in these alpine depots, or at least to discover their deterioration in time, they were inspected weekly by a commission to which a medical officer was attached. For the 14th Infantry Regiment the depots in Vanzi, on Monte Majo, in Valle and in Tonezza were available. In addition its living stores distinguished the food depot in Tonezza, i.e. it possessed about 50 sheep. A most unusual appearance in the war was a shepherd who, though not even able to count his "troops", nevertheless did not have a single sheep stolen. Surely this fact belongs to the biggest wonders of the World War!
To get through the winter that was expected to preclude all replenishments, and to prevent some nasty surprises, in autumn we were provided with a large quantity of dressings, medicines and dietary supplements so that the Dressing Station at Lima Pajle boasted of a pharmacy that was well- equipped even by rearward standards.
To prevent accidents caused by avalanches, "alpine advisers" had been provided from circles claiming to be well versed in these matters. They were to recognize potential avalanches, to report these and to notify of endangered spots to permit the timely relocation of quarters. Despite this, it did not take long for a number of barracks complete with their inhabitants to be buried by avalanches. This shows clearly that the "white death" has its local idiosyncrasies that can only be recognized with local knowledge.
Earlier than expected, in December 1916 winter arrived with all its might and its first tremendous snowfalls, closely followed by mild south winds that quickly caused the thunder of avalanches and the 'white death". Two medical staff, Ecker and Emminger, were the Regiments first casualties who, ignoring the danger of an avalanche, attempted to rescue a packhorse's guide who had fallen down a precipice. They were to be the Regiment's first victims of the "white death".
The Regimental Dressing Station on the Lima Pajle was in grave danger during this December. Avalanches passed both in front of it and in its rear and forced its immediate relocation. This period of many accidents caused by avalanches showed clearly the great comradeship between the Regiment's men. During the many rescue attempts made necessary by avalanches on the Lima Pajie, on the Vena Pass and on the Lima Valbona, the men worked tirelessly day and night despite the danger of further avalanches. Only this made it possible to save a large number of buried men from certain death.
Every enemy loses its fearsomeness once one has become familiar with him. Enemy "winter" was no exception and then his weapons were no longer powerful. At first, of course, hard lessons had to be learnt but afterwards the danger of avalanches was recognized in good time and the paths subject to them were closed. This was not easy as often communication with the rear was disrupted for days and even weeks on end but it was the only way to prevent the further loss of men by avalanches.
The time of isolation from the world brought the medical officers a new and welcome opportunity. While in normal times of fighting every wounded or seriously ill soldier would be moved on to the Divisional Medical Column, this could not be effected due to the snow and it enabled the medical officers to actually provide treatment for them. Even during periods when there was no danger of avalanches, evacuation was not possible except for the most difficult cases due to the extreme cold and the impassability of the alpine paths and tracks. Only the completely static front made this possible. Especially in the Laghi basin evacuations had to be avoided as the "Way of Lightning" was an ice-covered channel until April and was almost totally impassable. Unfortunately the Dressing Stations at Molino and Vanzi were rather small and could not be enlarged, as building materials could not be obtained.
If we had expected that the winter in South Tyrol would cause great losses because of frostbite then this belief was mistaken. Despite the great cold, frostbite only occurred now and then. The reasons for this were that in autumn the Army's administration had provided the troops with a plentiful supply of items for warmth - not only did every man have warm underwear but he also had the opportunity to sit close to a warming stove during his free time. There was plenty of wood for this on Monte Cimone and in the Laghi basin and for the troops on Monte Majo a plentiful supply had been sent up.
The men's diet had been augmented by a so-called "height allowance", was nutritious, with lots of fat, and plentiful. The frontline had become static in June 1916 and had not changed since so that everywhere the men had warm and comfortable accommodation. Even for the transport of the wounded warming items had been provided. The Aid Posts had warm blankets, special snow caps and first rate overshoes lined with fur and wool. To provide the wounded with warm drink during transport every medical patrol had been issued with a thermos flask.
To protect against exhaustion those troops who for various reasons had to spend hours walking along difficult tracks, "tea stations" were erected and spaced along all paths leading to the front. At these every passing man was able to obtain a cup of tea against his signature. It can be seen that even in the inhospitable border country of the South Tyrol fruitful co-operation by all could make life bearable. As a result of this work and the care taken the health of the Regiment during the whole of the winter of 1916/17 was most favourable. Infectious diseases were as good as gone.
From a health point of view it was not insignificant that, following the German army's example, hostels were erected in the rear. They were to be places where the troops could relax among themselves, without any military duties or military supervision, where they could recapture their love of home that suffers so greatly during a war, and where a soldier could be a human being and nothing else for a while.
The chaplains were responsible for the erection and administration of these hostels. The hinterland supported these hostels greatly so that some of them had extensive libraries, magazines and the most popular daily papers. And that there were playing cards and bowling alleys so beloved by Upper Austrians goes without saying. Chaplain Matthias Bader erected a particularly well-run hostel in the summer of 191 7 in San Piedro in the valley of the Astach.
These hostels served their purpose well. Pleasant occupations, stimulation of the intellect and complete freedom had an excellent effect on both body and health. Thus the medical officers were greatly interested in these hostels and it is understandable that they were most grateful to those who promoted their growth and continuation.
Visits to the field cinemas that the men were able to attend from time to time during periods of recuperation need also to be looked at from this standpoint.
The summer of 1917 on the other hand brought losses never before imagined. In June the enemy wanted to make a mighty blow against our positions on the Seven Communities (Sieben Gemeinden - a plateau south-east of Trient also known as the Asiago Plateau ) in order to open up the road to Trient. The Army Command became aware of the threatening danger and threw the Regiment out of its comfortable positions into the endangered area, the infamous Ortigara (A mountain).
The demands made upon all members of the medical service during the difficult defence of Porta Lepozze went beyond human experience. The lines were smashed, the caverns were too few and due to the heavy grenade fire often caved in. The 2000 m high chalky formation did not provide shelter and the few hollows could not protect against the enemy's heavy artillery fire and even less against the mines. The bloody losses of the Regiment during the many days of the barrage were therefore particularly heavy.
The recovery of the wounded had to be effected during the enemy's unceasing barrage. That it nevertheless went smoothly for the 14th Infantry Regiment is a never to be forgotten proof of the real heroism and true comradeship of the stretcher-bearers. The medical officers, too, had to carry out their work under these same conditions. The two dressing stations were located in hollows about 800 steps to the rear of the line and were, of course, also in the line of fire.
Both dressing stations received direct hits and after two years' service at the front and whilst carrying out the blessed work of attending to the wounded, Head Physician (Oberarzt), in the Reserve, Dr. Gabor found here a hero's death. Equally as difficult and dangerous was the evacuation of the wounded who had to be carried by stretcher and under heavy artillery fire as far as Regimental Command Nr. 17's position.
Major Heinrich Sauer called this track "the path of death'. No other description could have been more appropriate. Even today, 20 years later, 1 still feel awe about the silent heroism of the stretcher bearers who walked along this path ten or more times daily to carry out their Samaritan duty. On this "path of death" at Porta Lepozze many of these stretcher-bearers were to find a quick soldier's death.
Even the further transportation of the wounded from Regimental Command Nr. 17 that could be effected on good roads by carts and cars suffered under the enemy's barrage.
On the Ortigara the men lay for days on naked rocks and in malodorous caverns at a height of 2000 m above sea level. The provision of food was of course completely insufficient and irregular and as the men were in constant danger of death they also suffered mentally. It is not surprising that serious diseases reappeared and nothing could be done against this but to send the sick to hospital.
At the end of June the almost beaten Regiment was sent to Trient for rest and recreation after its severe trials. Under the influence of baths, delousing and regular and hearty meals, good quarters and complete quietness the long- suffering Regiment soon recovered. After several days no further illnesses were reported.
In mid-July the Regiment returned to the front, healthy and ready for the fray. The majority (1st and 4th Battalion) was fortunate as they were sent to well-constructed positions on both sides of the valley of the Astach. Supply and accommodation were excellent, they were able to use a bathing and delousing station that formed part of the Regimental Medical Column in San Piedro and it was only the occasional rifle shot that reminded them of the war. However the beautiful hostel in San Piedro that had been erected by Chaplain Bader in the spring of 1917 had become quite neglected. The Upper Austrian love of order soon allowed it to shine again and once more become a cosy retreat for the troops.
The 2nd Battalion was less fortunate as at first it was used as jack of all trades in conjunction with the 22nd Riflemen's Division (Schuetzendivision). Their accommodation was drab. Although there were camps on Hills 1426 and 1510 and on Monte Mosciach, the barracks were dilapidated and provided no protection against the weather. The condition of the camps and their surroundings were hygienically wretched.
During the battle for the Seven Communities many troops had passed through these positions and had only stayed for a day or perhaps a night. During the battle the area had also been covered by the enemy's barrage. These events easily explain why these camps were full of dirt and refuse and so were a ready source for infections.
The Regiment's men had to carry out heavy work on a daily basis and so it came about that an epidemic of dysentery made its appearance that decimated the Battalion. We immediately took measures to fight this disease and hard work by the men made it possible that within a fortnight the camps had been brought up to a good standard. The cleaner the area became the fewer cases of dysentery occurred. When the Battalion left these camps for the frontline it could be said to have been free of disease.
The garrison in the Zevio-Assa area was able to use an efficient bathing and delousing station at Ghertele. This station was however geographically remote and lost its significance as no clean underwear was available. After bathing the men had to again dress in their old dirty underwear and this made a mockery of the delousing process.
During the following trench warfare in the sectors Monte Dorole and Monte Rasta the Battalion was accommodated under hygienic conditions almost like their colleagues in the valley of the Astach. Of course the lack of water was an annoying difficulty that had to be overcome by the use of a cable car and pack animals.
Suddenly the Regiment was torn out of these favourable conditions in their beloved Tyrolean mountains to be transferred to Austria's most notorious front, the Isonzo, to make further bloody sacrifices.
The deployment areas to the battlefields of the Isonzo were different to those in Tyrol. We missed the beautiful scenery of the valley of the Wippach and the careful order and cleanliness of the military accommodation that we had become used to in the Tyrol. We knew that after experiencing the war for a number of years that these were the best means of protection against infectious diseases. We saw with surprise that it was not a matter of course to dig latrines for encamped troops. Perhaps the terrible bloody losses in the battles of the lsonzo made the losses through disease seem insignificant and therefore not Much effort and understanding was given to this. Perhaps this was the reason but for us this was new.
The Regiment was destined for Monte San Gabriele and at first was kept in Reserve in a hollow in a low pine forest near Pri Peci. During the bitter fighting for Monte San Gabriele it was a matter of course that many different troops had bivouaced in the area and, particularly as no latrines had been dug, it was full of herds of infection. However no one had time to consider this aspect as enemy planes and artillery constantly harassed the Reserves. The whole Regiment had already suffered deeply both physically and psychologically before it was sent into the first line on Monte San Gabriele on 1 1 September 191 7. The Italians called the mountain Monte Della Morte, shuddering as it did under the hecta-bombs that promoted on both sides the cruelty of the God of War. On this "mountain of death" the Regiment was to perform wonders of military heroism.
The hygienic conditions there were the worst that the Regiment had experienced during the entire war. During week long bitter hand to hand fighting and all-destroying artillery barrages countless were killed who could neither be recovered nor buried. Later bombs uncovered bodies that were buried by earlier grenades. The smell of decaying bodies mixed with poisonous gases was everywhere and the hot and sweetish air was unbearable.
In the few available caverns people were huddled close together. Their body odours, their excrement and the smell of the blood of the wounded that lay among them caused an unbearable thirst. And there was no water on the mountain of death"! The provision of meals was almost impossible due to the enemy barrage. The only nourishment came from rations that each man was to carry in his pack but often no longer possessed.
To hunger was added the nerve-shattering barrage and the hand to hand fighting during almost daily enemy attacks. Under such suffering that affected body and soul deeply, it is not surprising that the health of the men deteriorated alarmingly. The medical service was required to work under conditions that can only be compared with those at Porta Lepozze. The recovery of the wounded from the destroyed trenches, from the approaches covered with corpses and from the choked-up caverns called for the greatest courage and ended many a stretcher-bearer's life.
The care and dressing of the wounded had to be carried out in the poisoned atmosphere of caverns used as Dressing Stations and the sip of water that the wounded begged for had to be carried there under the greatest risk of the carriers' lives. The enemy knew the location of the few cisterns in the area only too well and covered these unmercifully with his barrage. The dense pile of corpses around the cisterns was shocking proof of the dire necessity of water for survival.
The work of the medical officers could not cease because of danger nor could they rest by day or by night. The wounded had to be carried out by stretcher and under the same dangerous conditions as their retrieval from the field. The Regiment's losses on Monte San Gabriele were enormous. The barrage left irreplaceable gaps among the stretcher-bearers so that the medical orderlies could no longer cope with the work required. And so the Regiment was allocated stretcher-bearers made up of politically unreliable elements.
We had the saddest experiences with them. The duties of a stretcher- bearer require love, noble and sacrificial comradeship, a high sense of duty and real heroism. These stretcher-bearers lacked in all of these. Col. von Vittorelli therefore allocated for this purpose the Regiment's Technical Company. They were members of the Regiment and they undertook successfully this difficult task. That despite all efforts of the medical teams not every wounded soldier was recovered on this "mountain of death' cannot be held against them under these indescribable conditions.
After the terrifying days on Monte San Gabriele the Regiment was moved into the Ternowaner Woods "to recuperate'. Alas, this was not the spot where a badly decimated Regiment could have recuperated. It was a swampy semi- jungle 1082 m above sea level that despite its dampness had no water supply. Many troops had camped there and left behind them thoroughly unhygienic conditions. There was not a single barrack despite the fact that the wood was full of trees and belonged to the State. The Regiment therefore had to camp out; the nights were cold, the mornings damp and foggy and the days humid and hot.
It is not surprising therefore that during this "recuperation" the Regiment suffered badly and that many bowel infections further decimated the men. We worked valiantly to improve the sanitary conditions in this neglected wood and were able to obtain for the men improvements in their diet but under the wretched conditions pertaining in the Ternowaner Woods it was not possible to even hope to diminish infectious diseases. The commanding officer of the Corps, Count Schoenburg-Hartenstein, a real soldier's general, now took personal care of the Regiment and within a few days deliverance arrived by way of marching orders.
The Regiment's health began to improve during the lovely and not very strenuous marches to Idria only to find immediately on arrival deteriorating conditions. The old mining town had no billets for the Regiment! And so the men had to bivouac in the damp countryside along the river Idria. later, after quite a number of sick soldiers had to be sent to hospitals, only then did Idria provide good billets for the Regiment so that no further illnesses occurred. Strengthened and full of pluck the Regiment left Idria in the beginning of October 1917 only to face further difficult tasks.
A mighty strike against Italy, Austria's former ally, was planned with great care and in the minutest detail in the autumn of 1917. The Regiment had to undertake some difficult marches accompanied by torrential rain when it was moved from Idria to the area of Flitsch. During these marches the men saw the mighty preparations for the offensive and everywhere met German soldiers and that made the dreadful weather more bearable. The atmosphere inspired the thoroughly drenched men to sing homeland songs even after a 30-kilometre march - but these cheerful Upper Austrian songs had a dangerous undertone for the enemy. The elevated mood into which the whole Regiment came before the offensive was probably the main reason that during this period, in which the hygienic conditions were reasonably poor, the health of the troops was good.
This autumn offensive that began on 24 October proceeded with a speed that could only be kept up by the infantry and the fight artillery. The supply lines were disrupted but that was of no consequence to the troops as the countryside provided plenty of produce. The supply lines are however at the same time the lines for evacuation of the wounded. The Dressing Stations that of necessity had to be with the frontline troops, could not be cleared as the Divisional Medical Column was not able to keep up with the advancing victorious infantry. This caused us serious worry as we would have preferred to be able to hand the wounded on into reliable hands.
We therefore erected hospitals in Stolvizza, Tolmezza and Longarone, and there left behind some able medical officers and a few stretcher-bearers. They were given the task of nursing and feeding the wounded until such time as a Medical Column arrived. As good as this idea was, the erection of these hospitals was discontinued as the number of available medical officers was soon exhausted nor was it possible to dispense with other well-drilled medical personnel for what seemed to be an indefinite period.
Now and again it was possible to pass the wounded to a busy mobile Alpine Medical Column but that was a matter of chance. The Division's scheme did not incorporate an Alpine Medical Column. Whether we liked it or not, at times we had to leave the wounded with the local mayor (Sindaco ) of whatever village we were in. We did this with stern orders to nurse and feed the wounded until such time as a Medical Column arrived. It was not something we liked to do as we believed the populace to be fairly anti-Austrian and therefore not to be trusted.
Later we learnt that our distrust had been misplaced and that the Town Councils followed our orders conscientiously. Whether they did this out of compassion for the wounded or out of fear of Austria's power was irrelevant as far as we were concerned. The speed of the advance in this mountainous region had once again put paid to all our former experiences. Only our own resourcefulness and our own decisions made it possible for us to enable the wounded to be passed on for treatment. The disruption of the supply lines did not affect the provision of dressings as the enemy had left behind in all towns and villages a plentiful supply of first-rate dressings,.mostly of German origin.
The situation was different however in relation to food and with that the health of the men. Everywhere, even in the most isolated mountains, there were many cattle that had been left behind partly by the retreating army and partly by the civilian population. The men also found cheese, rice and coffee as welcome booty. However bread and salt were nowhere to be found. As rice was available one could dispense with bread but the lack of salt was surely an important reason that many bowel diseases occurred.
As we had no salt we suddenly understood the deeper meaning of the historic custom that towns that had surrendered presented the conqueror with bread and salt. Despite the lack of bread and salt, despite the exertions of marching in these alpine regions, despite camping out, sometimes in snow at a height of 1400 m, sometimes in the rain in the pebbly bed of the Tagliamento river, despite all this, the general health of the Regiment remained comparatively good. The explanation can probably be found in the heightened emotions of the men who were expecting the long hoped for victory over the deceitful enemy. Of course these tremendous alpine marches produced a large number of convalescents but they were not lost as fighters as they always returned to the Regiment.
The bloody losses during the autumn offensive were remarkably small. Only the last battles near San Marino and near Collicello in the valley of the Brenta caused considerable losses. The medical service here worked under conditions peculiar to trench warfare despite the fact that the placing of the Dressing Stations was within the enemy's sight and therefore not satisfactory. However during the short period there it was not possible to erect reasonably safe Dressing Stations particularly as this would have needed explosives that had not yet been moved forward.
Luck helped us to cope with this situation. Despite the enemy's constant shooting at Gismon and Collicello nothing undue occurred (to the Dressing Stations). The collection of the wounded and their evacuation was most uncomfortable along both sides of the river Brenta, as there was constant enemy fire along both roads on the river's edge up to Vanini and Pioveza. To stop the evacuation did not enter the soldierly minds of the stretcher-bearers but of course losses were inevitable.
In the meantime December arrived. The strain experienced during the offensive, the bitter fighting in the Brenta Gorge and not least the start of the cold (weather) affected the health of the Regiment adversely. Recuperation became urgent and the Regiment was relieved on 6th December and came to the pleasant alpine township of Lamon. It was intended that here the men would be Thoroughly bathed and deloused but the bath and delousing facilities were not completed until it was time for the Regiment to leave. The peacefulness of Lamon alone was however of benefit to the men. As everywhere in the Italian towns and villages behind the front, wells and quarters were in wretchedly unhygienic conditions.
Together with the 3rd Emperor's Tyrolean Rifle Regiment (Tiroler Kaiserjaegerregiment), the 14th worked incessantly to improve conditions in the village. The greatest difficulty was to educate the local civilians to the degree of cleanliness that to our ideas was "European". It was especially difficult to make the civilians understand that toilets and latrines were to be used and that the wells that produced crystal clear water had to be kept clean. Hopefully the troops that followed were successful in keeping the beautifully situated village of Lamon clean according to German notions but the local inhabitants made the beginning most difficult.
Conditions were similar in the villages of Salce, Giarnosa and Mier near Belluno to where the Regiment was moved to continue its recuperation. The advantage in these villages was that the residents were not as hard of hearing as those in Lamon.
In the beginning around Belluno the Regiment suffered badly from very cold billets. Italian houses did not have stoves in their rooms. Only in the kitchens there would be an open fire. As a modest supply of army stoves soon became available the billets became more comfortable. However there was little to burn as the countryside had no forests and the civilians' meagre supply of wood had disappeared during the period of our advance. All that was left for our use were the willows along the creek whose heating capacity was poor but whose capacity for smoke was enormous.
In any event it was some sort of fuel and the men could devote themselves to the ever popular occupation of making Coffee ("Kawa-Kochen" - that this may mean making coffee is purely my intuition) which formed an integral part of the recuperation for the men from the 14 lh Regiment! However even in the area of Belluno it was not possible to bathe and delouse the men as here too these facilities were only just being erected
On 21 December 1917 the Regiment, complete with its lice, was again sent to the front. At Christmas time it occupied a defensive line on Col dei Orso and on the eastern side of Col delta Beretta. A "line" in its military sense it was not. in these mountains, at 1700 m above sea level, shrubs and dwarf-pines provided cover, accommodation, and Christmas trees all at once. Tireless work improved these so-called "trenches" so that in time the huts of leaves and branches became proper accommodation complete with stoves. But until this was achieved the greater part of the Regiment had been lost to frostbite and respiratory diseases.
To everyone's complete surprise the Regiment was posted to Vienna at the beginning of February and remained there until May. There would be a great deal that a medical officer could say about the stay in Vienna but 1 have to take into account the fact that Vienna is a long way from the war and there is little connection with the Regiment's heroic times at the front. But there was one curiosity that 1 feel 1 should mention. The Regiment became a victim of a measles epidemic that was so severe that there were a number of deaths, even militiamen in their 50s contracted this "childhood disease".
Travel over the Semmering Pass and through the beautiful summer landscapes of Styda and Carinthia brought the Regiment into the dry and dusty heat of the valley of the Sugane at the end of May. There in Borgo awaited us the cellar of the Council Chambers or bare rooms lacking even a chair. And here it was too that Dr. Bochskani was transferred to command the 3rd Divisional Medical Column while I became the Regiment's Chief Medical Officer. The events that followed ensured that I was to be its last one.
It was intended to begin an all-destroying offensive on 15th June 1918. It became the most terrible and bloodiest of defensive actions experienced by the Regiment during the entire war. On 11th June the Regiment was deployed in the Frenzela Gorge at the foot of blood-drenched Col del Rosso. The story goes that Dante, when describing the entrance to Hell in his 'Divine Comedy', had the Frenzela Gorge in mind. Nature itself had given this gorge its aura of fear and dread. The Regiment's medical service was here to face tasks far greater than any it had encountered during the Regiment's whole blood-soaked history in this war.
The enemy covered the Frenzela Gorge day by day and night by night with hour long annihilating fire, entire squadrons of English, French and Italian airplanes came and dropped bomb upon bomb and several times during the day gas grenades exploded along the whole length of the gorge. There were no caverns; the men perched on rocks, like birds on battlements. The losses were therefore considerable even during the period of readiness. Based on past experience we had brought with us into the battle what we had believed to be an inexhaustible supply of dressings. But already on 15th June, the first day of actual fighting, we had to report that our supply of dressings was almost exhausted.
As it was we had two carts full of a secret supply of dressings with the Supply Column in Tre Pali that could be called upon at any time. Although the forward supply of dressings was fairly plentiful, even this secret cache was used up and we often believed that we were about to use the very last dressing. Nothing is more depressing for a medical officer than to run out of dressings. This had not occurred since the fighting at Oserdow on the very first day of the Regiment's war. The Regiment was simply being destroyed in its positions on the Col del Rosso, in the gullies that led from its peak into the Frenzela Gorge and in the gorge itself.
At the Dressing Station the wounded had to lie in long rows on the bare earth and in the open air. The poor wooden hovel that we were able to use had to serve both as dressing station and as operating theatre. To our Dressing Station was annexed the evacuation point for the whole of the 'Edelweiss' Division whose regiments had suffered just as many losses as our own. Daily we had to cope with 200 to 300 severely wounded. Because the route of evacuation via the road Foza-Lazaretti-Malga Fratte was under the enemy's fire, the evacuation did not go well.
By 1918 the carters were mainly Ruthenians and Roumanians who did not willingly endure the shooting and whose enthusiasm for the war was non-existent, particularly by 1918. It is therefore perfectly understandable that with all the firing they simply deserted their carts and ran away. The Divisional Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Gottfried Schnopfhagen, with great enterprise and determination, sought carts for the evacuation of the wounded in the whole of the area covered by the Division. It often happened, however, that he announced that forty carts would arrive during the night but only a half dozen would actually turn up.
To evacuate the wounded by stretcher was not feasible because of their enormous numbers. And so the numbers at the Dressing Station increased alarmingly. The constant shooting that covered all areas of the Frenzela Gorge affected these helpless and defenceless men according to each soldier's temperament - resigned or bitterly complaining. Here they were wounded a second or third time or even slain.
The less the medical officers and orderlies were able to help the moaning men, the greater their nerves were affected. Chaplain Matthias Bader was an untiring comforter of the severely wounded in these days and hours of despair. The word "gas" produced terror among the wounded in the Frenzela Gorge. First came a dull thud, then a bubbling hiss followed by the siren and at the same time the call "gas" sounded through the gorge. And the wounded called the loudest. Of course every man grabbed his gas mask, and every man had been taught not to part with it under any conditions, even if wounded, but who was going to ask a man who may have lost his leg or had a shell in his gut as to where he might have left his gas mask!
Many of the wounded were brought to the Dressing Station without gas masks. And many died there the fearful death of gas poisoning. It is humanly understandable that just those who already bore the mark of death called most loudly for a mask during a gas attack.
The following happening in this connection seems almost superhuman when stretcher-bearer Alois Bachmayr, who was known in the Regiment as the "Capuchi", gave his own gas mask to one of the dying and thus lost his life. Of course we had immediately begun to collect the gas masks of the dead and so we gradually acquired sufficient gas masks for the wounded but until we had achieved this there were many who died of gas poisoning.
Although every day we provided fresh dressings to those of the wounded who could not be evacuated, because they were lying on the bare contaminated earth of the Frenzela Gorge, it goes without saying that many of their wounds became severely infected. This also caused numerous deaths though these occurred later. The floor of the Frenzela Gorge was really one big breeding ground for infections. Thousands had walked on it, hundreds had bled to death there and all the dead that could be recovered from Col del Rosso were brought down into the gorge for their last assembly.
Whole columns of packhorses that carried munitions and supplies into the gorge during the night were surprised by gas attacks. And so there lay dozens upon dozens of dead horses in and around the yellow-green waters of the creek, grenade splinters opened their swollen bodies and the heat of June favoured the rotting and decomposing of the cadavers. The water in the creek, in which parts of human bodies and of animals and other matter floated, stank. Yet this was our only water supply and we had to use it and even accommodate ourselves to it. The air was full of dust, gas, the smell of blood and germs of all kinds, it was sweetish and sticky and oppressed greatly.
In the afternoon of 23d June there was a thunderstorm that brought with it a tremendous cloudburst and hail. For a brief period the air became clean so that the widened lungs greedily absorbed the oxygen but the effect on the wounded was disastrous. Despite using all available tentage, everything became waterlogged including the dressings. In scarce a quarter of an hour the slow moving Frenzela Creek became a raging torrent that flooded the entire valley and poured its contaminated waters over the bodies of the wounded.
As every gully became a creek, the torrents poured down the walls of the gorge and with them brought loosened rocks. It needed all our energy to master the panic of the wounded. After an hour it was all over and Frenzela Creek had reverted to its slow and innocent course but with its waters clear as never before experienced. For us however this thunderstorm had cost us a full night's additional work and two pack animals' worth of dressings, as all dressings needed to be renewed and at the time we were responsible for over 200 wounded.
The thunderstorm had wonderfully carried out the work of the Hygiene Squads in the Frenzela Gorge as the wild waters cleared out everything including the horses' cadavers. This remark should not be taken as criticism of the work of the Hygiene Squads in the Frenzela Gorge that were, of all things, commanded by a veterinary surgeon, who despite his personal pluck and his best intentions was overwhelmed by the magnitude of events in the gorge and with his dozen gun-shy Ruthenians appeared more like a powerless high-class knacker. The sanitary conditions in the Frenzela Gorge could simply not be improved by human efforts while the battle raged.
On Col del Rosso the Regiment bled to death. To give an idea of its losses it has to be said that in the evening of 15th June it went into battle with 1538 rifles and it left the field with 150 of them on 2nd Ju1y.
As no meals were provided for days on end, as there were artillery barrages for weeks on end that destroyed the strongest of nerves, as the days were hot and the nights were cold, it is not surprising that diseases struck in fearsome numbers. Our losses during this period due to sickness can be estimated at 550 men. Many seriously ill, using what little strength they had left, undertook a climb taking several hours up through the Miela Gorge to the Divisional Medical Column at Tre Pali in order to escape the hell of the Frenzela Gorge where orderly evacuation remained problematic. We allowed this kind of "evacuation" even to those with a high fever as the risks to their lives were less than if they had remained in the gorge during the battle.
That in all critical periods the majority of infectious intestinal diseases were typhoid and dysentery goes without saying. It is also certain that the rising percentage of pneumonia cases was due to the ruthless use of gas.
Decisive for the difficulties of the medical service are however the casualties. The Regiment's stretcher-bearers performed superhuman feats. All wounded had to be recovered during bombardments and had to be evacuated down gullies into the valley during artillery barrages. It is difficult to find words even today to commemorate the heroism of these men. They were men of conscience. And many, many died or were wounded carrying out their duties.
When the Regiment was relieved we had only six stretcher-bearers left. All others were wounded, sick or missing and thirteen of them were dead. In no other phase of the war did the Regiment's medical service suffer such losses.
It is obvious that this tiny group was not able to carry out all the work required of it. We were therefore allocated - as in Gabriele - columns of carriers. These consisted of unreliable people that not only did not bring in any wounded but also managed to throw away any medical equipment if a grenade fell near them. Our experiences on Monte San Gabriele were unfortunately confirmed in every respect.
It must also be recorded that the efforts of the medical officers in the Frenzela Gorge in medical, military and organisational terms were without precedent in the Regiment's history. There was no sleep to be had for weeks on end and they needed nerves as strong as "cord made from sugar" (Dr. Strauss uses the word 'Zuckerschnuere") . The work carried out there by Head Physician in the Reserve, Dr. Franz Dangi commands unending gratitude for all time.
We did not know it then but it was the Regiment's last battle. Even those that had remained until relieved were no longer fit to fight, others were sick in body and soul.
A small column struggles to Foza
No star brightened the dull night
Back the last of the Hessians go*
Not defeated but badly hurt.
Their cheeks are hollow and silent their mouths
Their eyes are tired and heavy their tread.
The small silent column bears witness
What they suffered on Col del Rosso.
*Hessians - members of the Regiment whose Hon. Colonel was the Grand-Duke of Hesse
Soldiers' blood spills easily but this time there were no jokes and no songs rose from the marching column, not even when they were out of the enemy's range as they trudged across alpine meadows and their heads hung low.
A small adventure however provided a miracle. They bivouaced in the lovely forest near Maiga Brutta during a calm star-lit night. Due to possible enemy aircraft fires were not permitted. Suddenly a huge pile of wood came alight and someone mentioned the word "solstice". Col. Onti (Col. August Onti, the then Commanding Officer of the Regiment)was about to chastise the men sharply when he noticed the devotion on their faces. He himself came under the spell of the fire and in a most warm-hearted manner celebrated the solstice with his soldiers. It was a side he usually hid under a gruff exterior.
From there on the jokes and songs returned. The Regiment that had suffered so unmercifully was to recuperate and heal. First of all it went to Al-Pra in the valley of the Sugano where the crystal-clear waters washed away the dross of body and soul and the blessed sun warmed their hearts and minds. After a few days one could no longer speak of sickness in the Regiment. Mid- July the Regiment was moved to the valley of the Etsch to the villages of Kurtatsch, Entikiar and Tramin. Here there were no traces of the war whatsoever. Half the Regiment went on leave while the remainder celebrated with the region's wines and undertook a few exercises to hoodwink inspecting officers.
As the supply officers were keen to buy large quantities of green vegetables, their diet, even in this fifth year of the war, remained satisfactory. The billets, too, were very good. The steady mixing with the wonderful German speaking civilian population forced all to be most careful in dress and cleanliness. And so it came to pass that during the summer of 1918 the most ubiquitous and loyal animal of the war, the louse, came to a sudden end. The medical officers, too, had a lovely time. They were busier in private practice than in military service. Who would ever forget South Tyrol and in particular Kurtatsch!
Mid-September the Regiment was moved to the Mendel Pass for exercises. The entranced eye certainly saw in the clarity of the morning air one of the most overwhelming vistas of the alpine world, but the soldiers, wrapped in their tent flies, had to sleep on the bare concrete floors of garages. The nights in September on the Mendel Pass are quite cold especially for those who had been sunning themselves only so recently in the valley of the Etsch. Besides the only additions to meat and dumplings made of polenta were the notorious dried vegetables. Sickness, especially intestinal diseases, soon increased.
There was a great deal written about dried vegetables in left-leaning papers after the war but in itself they would have been a quite useful food. But for low and quite transparent reasons the supplier had mixed these with large quantities of sand that could not even be disposed of by daily washing and soaking. It is almost two decades since this event but it has only confirmed my opinion in this regard.
Nevertheless I do not see the delivery of these dried vegetables complete with sand as the greatest vileness of the war. The Regiment's soldiers hardly ever ate these dried vegetables, they threw them away as they preferred to go hungry rather than cope with the sand among their teeth and in their stomachs.
At the end of September the Regiment marched into the area of Villazone near Trient. Here the sad events of the autumn of 1918 began to cast their shadow. Our food supply became scarcer than ever before, uniforms, shoes and dressings were simply unobtainable despite numerous orders to ready for a winter campaign. Bad rumours circulated from mouth to mouth and the eyes of the inhabitants, particularly its womenfolk, became malicious and unfriendly. Newspaper upon newspaper reached the troops. A large number of commissions, that had been given unsolvable problems to solve, were formed. A nervousness and sultriness lay in the air that needed to discharge.
The medical officers were, however, not able to note these signs of an approaching crisis as they had to practice medicine. In the autumn of 1918 wave upon wave of an influenza epidemic covered Europe and caused a greater number of deaths than the war. The Regiment itself was spared somewhat but the civilian population of Villazano was badly hit and required constant attention. There was also diphtheria in Villazano which required the strongest of preventive measures.
At the end of October the Regiment again marched to the Seven Communities, an area that had been endlessly drenched in its blood. One's whole soul resisted being used in the Seven Communities, but even in this the consciousness of a soldier's oath of duty was triumphant.
And suddenly the war was over. In the badly wounded body the spirit had become sick. Out of necessity and confused by slogans the soul had lost its way. This is the only explanation for the events of November 1918. Even bearers of noble names were carried away by the intoxication of the times so that one cannot blame the ordinary man for this. These musings have certainly nothing to do with the Regiment's medical service but for a medical officer who served with the Regiment for five years and knew the good souls of its men; one must permit his search for a medical explanation.
The deeds of the Regiment remain. Its heroism is remembered in its laurel leaves. It will be remembered for generations. But - the greater the distance from those events the more the efforts of the Samaritans will pale. And it is especially this service that required mighty men. May these pages be a memorial to all those quiet heroes who lived, suffered and died while carrying out their Samaritan duties with the Regiment.
Firstly, 1 would here like to pay tribute to the writer of this history of the medical service of the 1th Infantry Regiment, its last Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Leopold Strauss. Dr. Strauss was born in Gruenbach near Linz in Upper Austria in 1889. At the outbreak of the war he appears to have been an officer in the Reserve and by 6th August 1914 he commenced his frontline service where he was to remain with only one interruption for the duration of the war.
During his service he received five Awards, one as early as December 1914 while the Regiment was on the Russian front. His last Award was for the work he had carried out in June 1918 during the fighting on Col del Rosso and in the Frenzela Gorge. Each and every one of the five Recommendations for these Awards refers to his courage under fire, the meticulous manner in which he carried out his duties and how his coolness assisted the evacuation of the wounded. (Copies of the Recommendations have been obtained from the Oesterreichisches Kriegsarchiv, the Austrian War Archives).
Secondly, having read so much about the experiences of the Regiment's medical service and the lessons it learnt during this war, it is as well to know what became of the Regiment after the signing of an Armistice with Italy on 3rd November 1918.
Much has been written elsewhere about the events that followed but very briefly, on the 2nd
of November the 1st Battalion had been ordered to climb Panarotta (2002 m) to cover a troop withdrawal. They heard firing in the valleys, saw lights go up but saw nothing whatever of other Austrian troops. They decided to march further into the mountains. On 4th November in a valley they came across a column of English armoured cars and opened fire but as they had little ammunition left and were deadly tired they withdrew quickly. These were to be the last shots fired on the Italian front.
It was not until the afternoon of 5th November that the Battalion was advised that an Armistice had been concluded on the 3rd . They were also advised that unless they crossed the Brenner Pass by the 10th , they would become Prisoners of War. They packed up immediately and headed further into the mountains. They crossed seemingly impassable mountain ranges; they marched for days on end and eventually arrived at the Brenner Pass in time.
Further on they were able to pick up a train and they arrived in Linz on the 12th November at 8.30 a.m. They then marched in closed formation to the Castle Barracks, handed in their rifles and were disbanded. During the whole of this remarkable withdrawal over trackless mountains, without regular food, the Battalion had maintained exemplary discipline. They had been determined not to become Prisoners of War.
And while the 1st Battalion had been on its lonely march over the mountains many units were caught up in the confusion of the Armistice and the collapse of much of the Austrian Army. Anarchy prevailed, Army depots were plundered by undisciplined troops, men left their posts without orders and trucks and cars loaded with loot raced northwards.
Col. Onti was also determined that the remainder of the Regiment should not become Prisoners of War and he, too, tried to reach the Brenner Pass as quickly as possible. They avoided Trient and reached Bozen (Now called Bolzano) without incident. What the men saw around them loosened order and discipline. Some groups wanted to leave during the night to reach the Brenner Pass but were persuaded to remain. The Regiment did reach North Tyrol in time. Further orders were to be received from the Army Command at Mount Isel, but a message reached them that it was no longer there.
At Bad Hall they seem to have picked up a train and the men asked whether they could return home. Col. Onti gave his permission and so the numbers thinned from station to station. They arrived at Linz during the night and there at the railway station and without further ado the rest of the Regiment was dismissed.
1 August 1914---------------------- General mobilisation began
6 August 1914---------------------- The Regiment was fully mobilised and equipped
28 August 1914 ---------------------First action near the village of Oserdow on the Russian front.
October 1914----------------------- Fighting in the areas of Lezajik, Stary Miasto and Nisko
2nd half November 1914 ----------Offensive NE of Cracow
1st half December 1914------------ Battle of Limanowa-Lapanow.
19 February 1915-------------------Fighting near Sierowa.
2 May 1915------------------------- Major offensive at Gorlice.
23 May 1915------------------------ Italy entered the war on the Allied side despite its alliance with Austria-Hungary.
3rd week June 1915 ---------------- The May offensive re-commenced. Regiment fighting near
Krasnik and Lublin.
End September 1915---------------- Trench warfare near Oiyka-Oderadskij.
18 February 1916-------------------- Relieved. Preparations began for transfer to the Southern Front (South Tyrol).
Mid-March 1916 ---------------------All of the Regiment had arrived on the Southern Front.
15 May 1915-------------------------- Major offensive, incl. Tonezza, Monte Cimone and Arsiero, also Monte Majo.
August 1916 ---------------------------3rd Battalion to Isonzo.
October 1916-------------------------- 3rd Battalion returned to South Tyrol but sent to Pasubio.
June 1917------------------------------ Hard fighting at Ortigara and Porta Lepozza, also at Asiago
Plateau known as Seven Communities.
11 September 1917 -------------------Regiment now fighting on the Isonzo, in particular Monte San Gabriele.
October 1917 ------------------------- Returned to South Tyrol.
24 October 1917---------------------- Autumn offensive begins. Fighting at Cismon Collicello. Heavy fighting
in the Brenta gorge.
8 December 1917 ---------------------Relieved.
21 December 1917 --------------------Returned to front. Fighting on Col del Orso and Col della Beretta.
End of January 1918-------------------Relieved.
9 Feb. to 30 May 1918 ----------------To Vienna. Re-organisation
11 June 1918 ---------------------------Very heavy fighting on Col del Rosso and Frenzela Gorge - part of the Battle of the Seven Communities (Battle of Asiago).
2 July 1918 -----------------------------Relieved. Rest and recuperation in the villages of Kurtatsch, Entikiar and Tramin.
September 1918 ------------------------Exercises on the Mendel Pass
End October 1918 ----------------------Returned to the Seven Communities.
3 November 1918-----------------------Armistice signed with Italy
4 November 1918 -----------------------Last shots fired by soldiers of the Regiment.
10 November 1918 ---------------------All had traversed the Brenner Pass and thus had avoided becoming Prisoners of War. On arrival in Linz the members of the Regiment were dismissed.
Note: Some of the above dates may be approximate only.