Battle of San Matteo

Coordinates: 46°22′44″N 10°34′0″E / 46.37889°N 10.56667°E / 46.37889; 10.56667

The Battle of San Matteo took place in the late summer of 1918 on the Punta San Matteo (3,678 m) during World War I. It was regarded as the highest battle in history until it was surpassed in 1999 by the Kargil Conflict at 5,600 m.

Battle of San Matteo
Part of the Italian Front
(World War I)
Battle.of.San.Matteo.memorial.JPG
Italian monument dedicated to the victims of the battle, on the way to the Gavia Pass
Date13 August – 3 September 1918
Location
Result Austro-Hungarian victory
Belligerents
 Kingdom of Italy  Austria-Hungary
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of Italy Arnaldo Berni   Austria-Hungary Hans Tabarelli de Fatis
Strength
307th and 308th Alpini Companies of the Battalion "Monte Ortler" 150 Kaiserschützen (3rd KuK Kaiserjäger Regiment)
Casualties and losses
10 killed 17 killed

At the beginning of 1918 Austro-Hungarian troops set up a fortified position with small artillery pieces on the top of the San Matteo Peak. The base of the peak lies at 2800m altitude and it takes a four-hour ice climb up a glacier to reach the top. From this position, they were able to shell the road to the Gavia Pass and thus harass the Italian supply convoys to the front line.

On August 13, 1918, a small group of Alpini mountain troops (308th Company, Battalion "Monte Ortler") conducted a surprise attack on the peak, successfully taking the fortified position. Half of the Austro-Hungarian soldiers were taken prisoner; the other half fled to lower positions.

The loss of the San Matteo Peak constituted a loss of face to imperial Austria, and reinforcements were immediately sent to the region while the Italians were still organizing their defence on the top of the peak.

On September 3, 1918 the Austro-Hungarian forces launched operation "Gemse", an attack aimed to retake the mountain defended by now by the 307th Alpini Company, Battalion "Monte Ortler". A large scale artillery bombardment, followed by the assault of at least 150 Kaiserschützen of the 3rd KuK Kaiserjäger Regiment stationed in Dimaro, was eventually successful and the lost position was retaken. The Italians, who already considered the mountain lost, began a counter-bombardment of the fortified positions, causing many victims among both the defending Italian and the Austro-Hungarian troops.

The Austro-Hungarians lost 17 men in the battle and the Italians 10. The counterattack would be the last Austro-Hungarian victory in World War I. The Armistice of Villa Giusti, concluded on November 3, 1918 at 15:00 at Villa Giusti (near Padua) ended the war in the mountains on November 4, 1918 at 15։00 h.

In the summer of 2004, the ice-encased bodies of three Kaiserschützen were found at 3400m, near the peak.[1][2]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "WWI bodies are found on glacier" BBC News 23 August 2004
  2. ^ Roberto Bianchin Il ghiacciaio dei soldati-mummia Corpi intatti dopo 86 anni La Republica.it 22 August 2004

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