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DOI 10.4461/GFDQ.2022.45.4


WWI Military Use of Caves in the Classical Karst of Northeastern Italy

Pages 41-54


The area of the Classical Karst in Northeastern Italy was involved during the Great War by a series of military actions known as “the Twelve Battles of the Isonzo”. The knowledge of the karstic landscape and its fea¬tures clearly represented an advantage in military operations. A well-con¬solidated theoretic military geological preparation led armies to exploit for warfare purposes natural morphologies, such as caves, sinkholes, fault scarps and dry valleys; many artificial modifications were apported to the hypogean and epigean landscapes to adapt landforms to military purposes. Human-made tunnels, walls, stairs, floors, built with concrete and/or rocks found onsite, served to the realization of complex defensive systems, whose strategical importance was newly re-discovered in recent times. Two hundred and twenty natural caves have been mapped in the Italian Classical Karst that were used in wartime, to analyze their utiliza¬tions and geographical distribution. Most caves were used by soldiers as shelters, representing a safe natural environment during enemy artillery bombings. Several other purposes reveal the complexity of artificial ad¬aptations and planning in construction works. Water reserves, electrical stations, command posts, ammunition depots are only few examples of the natural exploitation offered by caves. We investigate six Austro-Hun¬garian military caves from various locations along the frontline, describ¬ing their different artificial modifications and geological features. The Classical Karst not only represents a globally known key site for the study of karst geomorphology, but is also one of the most iconic traits of warfare on the Austro-Hungarian front during WWI.

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