When you go with your mountain bike along roads and trails of the Western Alps, there may happen to mee,t along the border between Italy and France, many majestic developments in: stone, concrete and steel.
It is all that remains of the ancient border fortresses, silent witnesses of a time that was, when the borders were considered "sacred and inviolable" and defended by men armed with rifles and cannons.
These were men destined to live all year in rigor and in the sacrifice of the high mountains and for this reason are considered of exceptional men.
I decided to write a few articles to tell you about these mountain men.
In the hope that when will happen you to visit those abandoned forts, you may have an idea of how those places were so far from civilization, when they were still inhabited.
The Gondran today
The History of an elite corp.
In 1929, the French general Dosse (was also the creator of high-altitude military school, established in 1932 in Chamonix), created an Alpine military force highly specialized, the :" Section Eclaireurs Skieurs( S.E.S.)". These were small teams of 40 men, commanded by a subaltern officer, organized as the franc-tireurs of the nineteenth century.
The Eclaireur Skieurs received intensive training, not only skiing but also alpine and shooting guns in high mountain, where it was essential to learn the necessary corrections in the shot, that at high altitudes is never exact. The Eclaireurs had to play, in peace-time, the key tasks of control and surveillance of the border and the presidium of winter outposts at high altitudes.
These lords of the mountain were able to face the long winter months in isolated military barracks and border fortress; held every day long marches in the snow by identifying each step or ridge, in order to be able to quickly overcome any natural obstacle. In time of war, represented the vanguard of the Alpine troops, had to be the first to stand up against the border and even beyond, engaging the enemy in order to allow the Alpine Battalions to line up and counterattack.
This is what will happen in June of 1940 during the Battle of the Alps against Italy, but the S.E.S will find on their own to face the Italian Army (French Alpine battalions had been sent on emergency facing the disaster to the east front). Yet these 3500 men, holed up in their fortifications and supported by a deadly fire of artillery will be the only ones who can be considered invincible.
For all these reasons, the Eclaireurs will be defined as: "Les Lévriers de la Montagne - La Fleur de l'Infanterie - the Aristocratie des Chasseurs Alpins", and I take the liberty of adding: "The Commandos of the MountainBOLD TEXT HERE".
Organization, composition and equipment of the Eclaireurs.Between 1929 and 1940, are created 87 sections of Eclaireurs skiers, broken down as follows:
-30 S.E.S. in the Battalions of Chasseurs Alpins.
-29 S.E.S. In the battalions of Alpine troops from Fortress.
-24 S.E.S. Regiment of Alpine Infantry.
-3 S.E.S. In the battalions of Chasseurs Pirénéens.
-1 S.E.S. Machine Gun Battalion.
Equipment and facilities are considered at the time the nonplusultra on high mountain. Windbreaker (new), smoked glasses for glacier, Bergame Backpack, white cover robes. The armament consists of the new MAS 36 rifles(with extra ammunition), to replace their outmoded Rebel. The hallmark of any Eclaireur was a blue star proudly brought sewn on the jacket, to them was more beautiful than a medal!.
Finally Eclaireurs use animals, birds and dogs to communicate messages (In the high mountains the batteries of portable radio run down quickly and the equipment of the time were heavy and bulky).
But above all dogs, that will prove invaluable companions, always on the side of their Alpine, faithful and tireless. They will also be used for transporting loads or wounded. And with their unerring instinct and heard, as guardians. In the midst of a storm were the only reliable.
Live as an Eclaireurs skieurs.Jacques Boel beautifully describes the Eclaireurs: "It has been said of them, and the word is especially true, they are the :"Greyhounds of the mountain". In indeed, these sections, the handful of men must be able to pass everywhere and as soon as possible, not to be taken by any natural obstacle, which requires a selection in the recruitment and training Alpine particularly pushed. This healthy life in the privacy of nature, any imbued with conscious or unconscious love for the mountains. The hard life in which the leader becomes a comrade without losing his authority, he does more than its value Alpine, that life creates and develops within the section, an unfailing solidarity, team spirit born of friendship collective.
Each has its own unique character, he is the officer who orders in their recruitment, their living conditions, but in each one find the same sense of duty without ostentation, the same ability to dedication, even physical force in search of expenditure, the same taste risk, the same love of liberty breathed on the peaks, as a similar horror of the barracks and all that it has a sad and stunning.
It has been criticized for these courses to show too much individualism: the Eclaireurs themselves, in fact, as the aristocracy of the Chasseurs Alpins. However, such a spirit is highly generator heroism indeed if Eclaireurs have to fight sometimes men, their enemies, they have to fight at any time, war or peace, against fickle nature of the peaks. An S.E.S is forty body one soul , at once, a whole small unit by the number and the considerable importance of missions and the dimensions of the field assigned to it.
The French journal Match, published the April 11 1940, cover photo of a Eclaireur of the 159th. R.I.A (Regiment Infanterie Alpine) of Briançon. The related article, within magazine, provides information on the composition and value of this unit, "These young men, the youngest of 45 is 19 years old, the eldest twenty-five and the officer who order is the average, live from dawn to dusk and heady life sports tops". From all over France and from all backgrounds, all intelligent, resourceful, bold and volunteers, they form one body homogeneity of rare and beautiful spirit of camaraderie. During the winter, only the S.E.S are monitoring the border. They will be continue their training for a thorough knowledge of their future field commitment. In the mountains, these small units remain under mission relative independence that will allow their qualities maneuvering to hold sway over an enemy far superior in numbers, through their knowledge of land covered in all seasons, night of day.
As with all elite troops, some pride is emerging in these sections. He repeats:" as above, there is God the father and the lieutenant and his platoon of scout, then the contour 3000 m and below most nothing! ".
We noted earlier, when the battalions and regiments go to the Northeast in the fall of 1939, the command gets their S.E.S remain in the Alps. While comrades are separated, men of S.E.S generally feel they are better used in mountain and that their place is in the Alps. The S.E.S is made ??up of elite soldiers, all volunteers. This selection push, training, pride of belonging to the exceptional units explains the success of S.E.S wherever they are incurred. Spirit, courage, passion, initiative and sacrifice, ingeniousness, these are the characteristics of S.E.S, which, combined with artillery fire, stop the Italians in June 1940.
This article is dedicated to the memory of an elite corps no longer exists.
The Gondran (Video)
Copyright External Links.Copyright.
From the Private Archive of Roberto Guasco, it is forbidden any use without written permission of the owner.
Visit to the Maginot Ouvrage of " Les Aittes ".
(Cervieres Valley-Hautes Alpes-France)