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.
Origin of the French Alpine troops
In the mid-nineteenth century, the interest of the general staff for the French Alpine boards was very low. The recent defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, had turned all the attention on the eastern border.
Yet in Italy since 1872 were born the first Alpine units.
In 1876, Baron Berge future commander of the Armée des Alpes, is sent over the Alps, to prepare a detailed report about the condition of the units deployed to the border with Italy.
His analysis is merciless, the FORTIFIED TOWN is garrisoned by a few old and poorly equipped men, the officers did not know anything about the areas that should defend and rarely explore the territory assigned to them.
Indeed, for many officers, including masters above, should be allocated to the Alpine frontier, similar to a kind of punishment or exile worst winter!
In 1878 through the initiative of Colonel Zédé, are made a series of high altitude reconnaissance and maneuvers with a battalion of "Chasseurs à Pied".
The initiative takes such a success that in the following years (1880-1885), are five battalions involved in the Alpine maneuvers:
12 ° -13 ° -14 ° region of the XIV Army Corps (Savoy and Dauphiné).
7 ° and 24 ° of the XV Corps of the Army (Provence).
In 1881, a battery of mountain artillery is aggregated, on an experimental basis, to the 12° Battalion. The initiative is a that is immediately extended to all other units.
As a result of these decisive and significant: "Experiments", the general plan for the mobilization of 1882, provides that the Armée des Alpes is made up of 130,000 men organized in five battalions. These are no longer Chasseurs a Pied, but are progressively supplied with equipments in keeping with the High Mountain, that is to say: "Alpinizzati".
Born of the Chasseurs des Alpes
The law Freycinet (Minister of War) of 24 December 1888, officially decreed the birth of the French Alpine troops.
Between 1886 and 1888, seven more battalions in addition to the five already existing and deployed along the western frontier.
The kind unit of Alpine troops is the battalion (BCA):The battalion (32 officers and 1000 men) comprises six companies, each with 4 officers, 9 non-commissioned officers and 150 enlisted men; Each battery of mountain guns is composed of six pieces of 80.
In all, each Group has 2000 men.
The recruitment is carried out between youths accustomed to hard work (athletic) originating in the Alps, the Cevennes, Auvergne, Corsica and the Basque Country.
Each group is responsible for the supervision of one sector of the border, a valley or a mountain range. In spring the Alpine leave winter billeting and spend four months along the border line relentlessly.
Normally they do not sleep in tents but they are garrisoned in the homes of mountain villages, this creates a new revenue for the poorest populations in the mountains, which are more than happy to host them. Furthermore, no one can complain about an army paying , build roads, bridges, and revitalizes businesses (taverns flourish anywhere).
During the summer each company allocates a section for construction of roads and fortifications. The Chasseurs Alpins have built the mountain roads of the Hills: Galibier, Vars, Izoard Parpaillon.
The new Alpine regiments: "157 ° -158 ° -159 °", provide garrisons the fortresses of Bourg Saint Maurice, Modane, Briancon and Tournoux.
It was established that small units of volunteers, even in winter remain to guard the border outposts, to name a few: "Ruinée Redoute (Petit St. Bernard), Turra (Mont Cenis), Mont Froid, Acles".
SkiingMilitary Skiing is developed rather late in France, it appears in Briancon in 1901, personal initiative of two officers. In 1903 the ski school was officially military Briancon (the other is in Gérardmer Vosges).
War!In their history the Chasseurs des Alpes participated in all of France's most important conflicts, often on land that had nothing to do with the mountains and their specific training: Morocco (1912), Eastern Front (1914-18), Norway (1940).
Were often improperly used for mission impossible, in which they have always taken a great value.
Their flagship is the Italian resistance to the aggression of June 1940, a few men to defend their nation, they have stopped many!
It is for this reason that the Armée des Alpes can be rightly called invincible army.
The Blue Devils today.
Copyright & External LinkCopyright.
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)