American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

The War in the Alps

  • Notes
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1945

The War in the Alps. In the last issue of the Journal (p. 255) we summarized possible invasion routes from the Po basin to France and Germany. Although Allied armies are still on the outer perimeter of the Alps, the situation has greatly changed.

The Apennines are an eastern prolongation from the Maritimes, forming the watershed between the Po basin and the Mediterranean. They cross the northern part of the Italian peninsula, but break down before reaching the Adriatic at Rimini. This is the point where the Germon Gothic line has been flanked and which will eventually cause the enemy to retreat N. of the Po.

The recent advance of Allied armies up the Rhone Valley, with the taking of Briançon and the occupation of the Maurienne Valley to Modane and Lanslebourg (September 18), has placed the crucial passes of the Western Alps firmly in our hands and brought American units into contact with mountains comparatively unfamiliar to American climbers, who have more often visited the centers of Chamonix, Zermatt and Grindelwald. As our armies have reached the Swiss frontier, it is obvious that Chamonix has also been liberated.

The mountain groups which American soldiers are now seeing are as follows:

The Maritime Alps, extending from the Col di Tenda to the Col de l’Argentière, with Punta dell’ Argentera (10,794 ft.) as the highest summit.

The Cottian Alps, containing the watershed northward to the Mont Cenis Pass and culminating in Monte Viso (12,609 ft.).

The Dauphiné Alps, W. of the main watershed and the upper Durance Valley the highest peak being Bar des Ecrins (13,462 ft.), the group linking with peaks of the main divide at the Col du Galibier.

The Graian Alps, extending from the Mont Cenis Pass to the Col de la Seigne, culminating in Gran Paradiso (13,324 ft.).

The Chain of Mont Blanc (Western Pennines), continuing from the Col de la Seigne to the Col Ferret, Mont Blanc (15,781 ft.) being the loftiest point.

On the French side the Cottian and Graian Alps are drained by the Durance and Isère Rivers and their tributaries. The Mont Genèvre Pass in the Cottian Alps, was probably Hannibal’s route to Italy. This pass and the Mount Cenis route converge on Turin and and the Po Valley (Dora Riparia), our occupation of Briançon and Modane cutting the two chief rail routes from central France to Italy. In the Graian Alps the Little St. Bernard Pass gives access to the northern source of the Po, the Dora Baltea, and Aosta.

It will thus be seen that our forces are astride the motor roads forming the Route des Alpes, leading from the Lake of Geneva through Barcelonnette to the Mediterranean at Nice. This route parallels the main watershed on the French side and, in the section passing through the Col du Mt. Iseran and the Col du Galibier, is an especially valuable feeder for attacks through the watershed to the Po Valley. Nothing like this chain of N.-S. roads exists on the Italian side of the frontier and our armies can now follow classical routes into Italy which are far more satisfactory than from the opposite direction.

The breaking of the Gothic line will drive the Germans N. of the Po, while attacks through the passes of the Western Alps will flank the Po line. The principal German route of escape will then be through the Brenner Pass, a bottleneck in which our air superiority should take a terrible toll if the war is not over earlier.

J. M. T.

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