World War one in the Italian Alps

La Guerra Bianca in Adamello, Trentino, 1915-1918.

 Alcune precisioni sulla morte d´un giovane ufficiale dei Kaiserjaeger in 1917.”

 Mark Milburn, 20 July 2017

        “The White War in Adamello, Trentino 1915-1918.

Some considerations on the death of a young Kaiserjaeger officer in 1917.”

The following notes  attempt to suggest the most probable way in which a young Austrian lieutenant, Felix Hecht von Eleda, met his death on 15 July 1917 during a massive and determined Italian attack on a mountain named Corno di Cavento ( 3,405 m ) situated within the Adamello range and lying about 48 km west-north-west of the city of Trento. The initial artillery bombardment started at 0430 from a ridge situated to north-west by a cannon still in position to-day.

Tactics and strategy lie outside the scope of this text. It should however be mentioned that the summit area of the mountain appears to consist of hefty stone blocks which look easier to attack than to defend. The enemy, crack Alpini mountaineers, were attacking basically from the west and north, and diversionary ski troops were moving about on the Lares glacier to north-east.

Shortly before the Italian attack the Austrian colonel and his staff had visited and left without making any decision (Hecht, at Rif. Carè Alto,11 June 1917, in Ongari 1983:45).

Hecht, the commander of the Austrian position, was sitting in a gallery facing downhill towards about north. He could fire his MG onto part of the glacier and also at anyone mounting the steep rocky terrain leading up towards his position from Cavento Pass (3.198m)  lying nearly 500 m to north and  about 200 m lower in altitude than the summit of Corno di Cavento itself.

If we accept a report that Hecht momentarily left his MG inside the gallery and went outside  to encourage his Kaiserjaeger mountain soldiers, only to be partly decapitated by an incoming piece of heavy metal, it looks as though he died instantly and that no Italian troops had  yet reached his fire-position by coming up from the Cavento Pass. His companion Sepp Mayer, probably a trusted NCO, is said to have run through the Austrian lines calling out that the lieutenant was dead, as recorded by Viazzi (1981: 318 ).The name of the man who witnessed this event has been given as Josef Sterbenz, also written as Strebenz  (Viazzi, 2002:136) and he survived the war.

.One early report (Viazzi,1968:338) mentioned a version received from Cap. Emilio Battista, a participant in the Cavento operation (who had not been present at the death of Hecht) about an Austrian who was said to have been wounded, offered resistance and been thrown over the north side of the mountain. This information was attributed to an Alpino who had apparently said that Hecht had been firing a machine-gun and that he should not have been doing so.

Note however that there exists a photo of Captain Alfredo Patroni standing beside a young second lieutenant sitting on the ground ( on a hard rock surface ) and firing a machine-gun.

A later Austrian version (von Lichem, 1988:198) reports that Hecht met a young Italian officer, Nicolò degli Albizzi, who was attacking uphill from the Cavento Pass and towards his MG position with thirty commandos, known as  “arditi”. Both seized their weapons and the Italian was quicker. It may be that von Lichem used text by Capitano Alfredo Patroni ( 1974: 157 ) for this information, since the latter had reported, perhaps acting on a mere supposition, that degli Albizzi had killed Hecht.

In another text by Viazzi (2002:133) it is written that Hecht was killed by blasts from hand-grenades ( “ a colpi di bomba a mano”). But compare an earlier Viazzi statement (1981: 318.)

Assuming that the Italian artillery was no longer actually firing on the Cavento position after  their own troops had reached it, one may deduce that Hecht was killed without actually coming face to face with a single enemy soldier, even if he had been firing his MG at ski troops  on the Lares glacier to north-east.

It looks probable that another plucky Austrian may have taken over firing Hecht´s MG and that the enemy who captured him mistook him for an officer. Many Italians had probably never seen an Austrian face to face. It happens that in the Austrian army both a lieutenant and a corporal ( “caporalmaggiore”/”Unterjaeger”) wore two stars, one above the other, on their collars (See Offelli, 2001: 141 and 143). The standard photograph of Hecht in uniform in various publications is perfectly clear. In numerous books on the White War in the Alps one can also see that Austrian NCOs  (“sottufficiali”) wore one, two or three stars on the collars of their uniforms (Compare also Offelli (2001: 148 and 190).

Perhaps this explanation dispels certain legendary suppositions covering the death of Hecht.

It had previously happened that on 29 April 1916 the Alpini had made a prodigious advance eastwards. Their leader was the redoubtable Captain Nino Calvi, who had formed an autonomous group of skiers, for which he seemingly did not get the praise nor the promotion to major warranted by such a feat. His orders were to take Corno di Cavento; however his men were too exhausted that evening to attempt this attack and remained at Passo Cavento for the night. Next day Calvi looked up at the peak and believed he could see that it was already occupied.

In fact no one was there, although an Austrian group did arrive hours later and indulged in a long fire-fight that held off the enemy. Finally no further Italian effort to capture the peak was made until 15 July 1917.

If any errors are found in these notes the author would be grateful to be informed.


Martinelli, V. 1998. Guerra Alpina sull`Adamello 1915 – 1917. Vol. II.

Pinzolo (TN): Edizioni D. & C. Povinelli, 735 pp.

Offelli, S.   2001. Le armi e gli equipaggiamenti dell´esercito austro-ungarico dal 1914 al 1918.

Novale: Gino Rossato, 230 pp.

Ongari, D. 1983. Diario di Guerra dal Corno di Cavento del primo tenente dei Kaiserjaeger FELIX HECHT. Note di DANTE ONGARI.

Calliano: Manfrini Editore,126 pp.

Patroni,  A. 1974. La conquista dei ghiacciai 1915 – 1918. Milano: Longanesi, 212 pp

Viazzi, L.    1968. La Guerra Bianca sull`Adamello. second edition, Trento: Monauni, 435 pp

1981   I diavoli dell´Adamello. La guerra a quota tremila. 1915 – 1918.

Milano: Mursia, 510 pp.

2002      Ricordi e Documentazioni relativi al ritrovamento e alla prima pubblicazione  del diario di Guerra del Tenente Felix von Eleda.

Aquile in Guerra, Anno 10: 133 – 136.

Von Lichem, H.1988. Der einsame Krieg. Fourth Edition. Bolzano: Athesia, 256 pp.