These are four soldiers who lived to talk about –maybe a couple of them, anyway– the Battle of Caporetto (Slovenia’s Kobarid), the 12th and final battle of the Isonzo Front (Soška fronta) during World War I. They’ve secured their place in history at the Kobariški muzej in northwest Slovenia, a museum dedicated to chronicling this series of battles which were later immortalized by Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms.
The Battle of Caporetto was a bloody romp of Italy in late October and early November of 1917 by Austria and the assisting Germans, leaving 11,000 Italian dead, another 20,000 injured, and an astounding 270,000 taken prisoner. Over the course of the dozen battles that raged on for 29 months more than 500,000 soldiers were killed; some estimates range as high as a million. In a diary entry, a soldier writes that Mt. Krn, the 2245m (7365 ft) high peak which towers over the area, was renamed Monte Rosso “because it is so soaked in blood.” But the numbers are just a part of the story.
The rugged terrain of this charming corner of the Julian Alps tells the rest, illustrating the insane lengths to which man has gone to inflict pain on his fellow man. To advance northeast and take control the Soča (Isonzo) River, Italy had to neutralize the fiercely defended mountains on both sides of the river valley, ultimately an impossible –and unfathomably bloody– task. Most of the young Italian recruits had never seen a battlefield, and were hardly prepared for the cruel winters that dumped upwards of six meters (20 ft) of snow on the mountains.
In all, half of Italy’s 600,000 total casualties in World War I came on the Isonzo Front; Austria-Hungary lost upwards of 200,000. [More on the battles here.]
If you’re in the area, this three story museum in the center of Kobarid is a must. There are plenty of period photos (including pics of Hemingway), guns and ammo, maps, and examples of field supplies along with a large relief model of the Upper Soča region that chronicles the various advances and ultimate Italian retreat.
But what makes the museum and its collection stand out is that there is no glorification here, no bias of any sort. Just the facts. In 1993, the museum won the Council of Europe Museum of the Year award.
Open daily year round, admission 4 EUR. The museum’s website is here. And a few more pics from Kobarid are here.