Italy - Kingdom of: The important and well documented Austro-Italian Alps Alpini Attack on Monte Curiol 25th August 1916 posthumous Al Valore Militare in Bronze awarded to 2nd Lieutenant Vincenzo Zanasi, Battaglione Monte Rosa, 4 Regimento Alpini. Zanasi from Bologna, where he studied at the University there, was a platoon commander with the Monte Rosa Battalion of the 4th Regiment of Alpini. The “Monte Rosa” was the second line reserve battalion to the Alpini Battalion “Intra”. It was the “Monte Rosa” who famously supported the Battaglione “Feltre” in the successful and now epic attack on the 2500 metre high Monte Curiol massif from 23rd to 27th August 1916, which wrestled the position from the control of the Austro-Hungarian troops of the 55th Habsburg Mountain Brigade, despite the superb bravery in the defence of the summit shown by Leutnant Oskar Kurt Schmilauer, who in vacating the position, would famously throw down the last grenades on the attackers, after which he turned and fled along the western crest cliff, in the direction of Passo Sadole. For his part, 2nd Lieutenant Vincenzo Zanasi was killed in action on 25th August during the fierce fighting on the slopes, he having been hit in the chest by shrapnel from the explosion of an enemy grenade. As the commander of a backup platoon, he had shown considerable initiative in bravely going forward into the fight to support other battling units which had come into difficulty owing to the defensive fire. He was posthumously awarded the Al Valore Militare in Bronze in 1917. This battle has gone down in Italian historiography and military propaganda as the most famous battle of the Fassa Alps.
Italy - Kingdom of: Al Valore Militare in Bronze, obverse with F.G. initials, reverse officially engraved: ‘VINCENZO ZANAZSI / CAURIOL - 25 AGOSTO 1916’.
Condition: Good Very Fine.
Vincenzo Zanasi was born in 1896 in Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy. Zanasi went on to study in the regional Technology Institute where he was on the outbreak of the First World War and he then received a commission and saw service as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Monte Rosa Battalion of the 4th Regiment of Alpini ( Battaglione Monte Rosa, 4 Regimento Alpini). The Monte Rosa Battalion was a wartime raised unit, and was the second line reserve battalion to the Alpini Battalion “Intra”.
Zanasi was posthumously awarded the Al Valore Militare in Bronze for his bravery during the attack on Monte Curiol on 25th August 1916, the citation being published in the Bollettino Ufficiale of the Ministry of War No.11 of 1917, page 880.
The Italian language version of the citation reads as follows: ‘Comandande di un plotone di rincalzo, con lodevole iniziativa si portava in linea a sostenere altri nostri reparti impegnati. Colpito al petto dallo scoppio di una granata nemica, cadeva sul campo. Curiol - 25 Agosto 1916’.
Commanders of a backup platoon, with commendable initiative they went into line to support other of our engaged units. Hit in the chest by the explosion of an enemy grenade, he fell onto the field. Curiol 25th August 1916.’
Mount Cauriol, at almost 2500 meters above sea level, with 360 degree views over the Dolomites and much of the mammoth wall of the Fassa Alps was an imposing feature to attack. The Cauriol massif dominates the entire Val Cia, the important pass of Sadole and part of the valley that descends from the latter to Ziano which, in the early twentieth century, represented the privileged communication route between the Val di Fiemme and the Vanoi. For these distinctive elements, the Cauriol became for the Austro-Hungarian command a position of absolute strategic value.
Inserted in the wider defensive context of the Fassaner Alpen, Mount Cauriol, with the tenars of Cardinal and Busa Alta, was in 1916 the theatre of an incredible eagle high altitude “mountain” war that had as protagonists the mountain troops of both armies, but also infantrymen from the southern regions of the Italian peninsula, Bosnia and Herzegovina or Hungary.
The first operational phase, concentrated mainly around the passes of San Pellegrino, Valles and Rolle, where the Bersaglieri managed to conquer the sharp peak of Colbricon, but the infantry did not achieve decisive successes on Cima Bocche and in Val Travignolo, a second one that condensed mainly in the upper Vanoi. It is in the latter that the Cauriol, but above all the men who fought there, rose to the forefront of the news. It was unexpectedly the Alpines of the battalion “Feltre” who, assisted by the men of battalion “Monte Rosa”, in absolute amazement, were able after four days of bitter struggle, to occupy the summit of the mountain. The Austro-Hungarian soldiers defending this position were commanded by a Leutnant Oskar Kurt Schmilauer. It was precisely the attack on Mount Cauriol, following the failure of the main action against the peaks of Cece and Valmaggiore and the homonymous passes, that gave the Italians the only important statement in the bloody offensive against the enemy positions in the Fassa Alps. An assault that, however, had no reason to be conclusive, since according to the orders given by the royal commands, the action against “(...) such arduous peak” had to be only demonstrative, enough to divert the attention of the Austro-Hungarians from the priority objective.
The feat against Cauriol was attained by two assaults. The first, composed of the “Monte Rosa” and some companies of infantry, pointed to the summit going up the south-eastern ridge; the second, consisting of the “Feltre”, attacked the mountain climbing along the steep south-west slope.It was therefore o the first of the assaults that Vincenzo Zanasi was assigned.
The approach march was long, complex and until the last moment, neither of the two Alpine units, was informed about the exact goal of what was initially passed off as a mysterious exploration in No-Mans land between the upper Val Cia and the so-called Colli Region (south of the Cupolà and Litegosa peaks). It was feared that the accidental capture by the Austro-Hungarians of some Apini could reveal in advance the real intentions of the Italian command. In reality everything proceeded according to plan and in the evening of 23rd August the advance guard were ready to attack, having concealed themselves in the thick coniferous forest at the foot of Cauriol, near Malga Laghetti. The Austro-Hungarians units stationed at Passo Sadole and on the surrounding positions had not noticed anything, except to have partially spot and shell the “Feltre” troops that in the previous days had been briefly observed moving from Forcella Magna to the Vallone Laghetti, and in doing so passing through Malga Cupolà.
In some way, the massing of the Italian units in charge of assaulting the front position between Cima Cece and Cima Valmaggiore, had hidden the manoeuvres of the Alpini carried out in the shadow of the Cauriol and the 55th Habsburg mountain brigade was certainly not expected an attack on the mountain.
The first signs that something serious was brewing occurred in the night on 24th August, when a patrol under the command of Leutnant Schmilauer, commander of the summit garrison, stumbled into the advance party of the Alpine “Monte Rosa” who were slowly approaching the lines defended by the soldiers of the 49 Infantry Regiment “Baron von Hess”.
The die was now set and the black feathers - alluding to the distinctive headdress of the Alpini, were now discovered, and therefore began without further delay their march towards the objectives that in the meantime had been well defined by the higher commands. It began in this way, the one that for Italian historiography and military propaganda would become the most famous battle of the Fassa Alps. A challenge that led to the conquest of the mountain by the Alpini del Feltre and the subsequent epic war for the possession of the surrounding peaks. Cardinal and Busa Alta in particular.
For three days and three nights, from 23rd to 27th August, the battle raged violently on the southern slopes of the mountain and on the summit, clinging for long periods by a dense hood of dust, generated by the terrifying blast of artillery shells and crossed by the deadly gusts of machine guns. Poor soldiers, both Austro-Hungarian and Italian, were united by a single terrible fate, for the possession of a strategically insignificant piece of land, but fundamental according to the tactics in vogue in that dramatic war. On of those was Vincenzo Zanasi, killed in action on 25th August whilst leading his platoon when hit in the chest by shrapnel from an exploding enemy grenade.
At 19.50 on 27th August, 1916, the summit of Cauriol fell into the hands of the remains of a exhausted platoon of the Battalino “Feltre” who, in a last desperate and bloody sacrifice, managed to drive away the now weakened opposition. A defenders were now a force composed of very few men under the command of Leutnant Schmilauer who, in an extreme last effort of defence, personally threw the last hand grenades against the Italians before himself turning and fleeing along the western crest cliff, in the direction of Passo Sadole.
The Austro-Hungarians then attempted to rush in some reserves as part of a counter-attack, who only managed to fight on a jagged rocky outcrop west of the main Cauriol summit. This smaller subsidiary summit later took the name Piccolo Cauriol. The Austro-Hungarian counter-attack was useless, except to extend the list of dead and wounded, as were further attempts of the following days by the Austro-Hungarian units, reinforced by the prestigious Landesschutzen (the mountain troops of the Habsburg army), to reoccupy the mountain. The Cauriol remained until the Italian defeat of Caporetto, in the hands of the Alpini.
Vincenzo Zanasi is now commemorated by name on the First World War Memorial for Bologna University.