September 12, 2017

WHIRLWINDS OF THE 20TH CENTURY

Bohinj hinterlands of the Isonzo front

Author: Tomaž Budkovič

During World War I, Bohinj was the rear of the line – the passage between the front line and the hinterlands. Because it is located next to the Bohinj railway and out of range of Italian artillery, Bohinj was the rally point for soldiers that were used to reinforce units that suffered losses on the Isonzo Front. From here, they were sent to Tolmin and Krn territories.

In autumn of 1915, several thousand soldiers of temporary formations gathered here. Many were only trained for combat in Bohinj, and were immediately sent to the front. Bohinj also served for R&R for wounded and sick soldiers. It was the supply route for the northern part of the 15th Corps, i.e. for the 50th Division, which held the front between Batognica and Mrzli Vrh in the Krn mountain range.

The supply system had multiple links. Army resources were brought by the Bohinj railway to the station in Bohinjska Bistrica. Large storehouses were located where now a wood factory stands. From there, the freight was shipped first by carts and later by the narrow-gauge railway to Ukanc. From there, it was delivered to the foot of the Bogatinsko Sedlo ridge, first on foot and horseback, later by cableways. This was the supply station that received carriers from front line units. Later, the cableways were extended all the way to the front line at Peski, and over the Tolminka valley towards Mrzli Vrh.

NARROW-GAUGE ARMY RAILWAY BOHINJSKA BISTRICA – ZLATOROG

The Bohinj railway was the most important supply route of the northern section of the Fifth Army of Austria-Hungary. It was built ten years before the war broke out. During the day, traffic ran to Podmelc. At night, it extended to Sveta Lucija. Several army storehouses were located next to the railway. Apart from resources, it was used to deliver fresh troops to the battlefield, and return with the wounded, and the units that were getting relieved.

In spring and summer of 1915, long columns of carts moved between Bohinjska Bistrica and Ukanc. The local population was mobilized by the army to help carry the supplies. The carts were an emergency solution; even though many people and draft animals were used, it was not enough. Thus, the army horse railway Bohinjska Bistrica – Zlatorog was built. The first transport on it was done in late autumn of 1915. Every four-axle wagon was pulled by two horses. The wagons were open or closed. Each could transport up to 2.5 tons of cargo – six times more than with an all-terrain wagon.

In 1917, the fourth year of the war, horses and horse fodder were becoming increasingly scarce. The Command decided to electrify the railway. A power station was built at Savica. The tracks remained the same. The railway had four powered sections with transformers. The power line was on wire-holders, which were fixed to roadside poles.

ROADS AND DRIVING ROUTES TOWARDS THE FRONT

The pre-war roads and trails from Bohinj to the Krn mountains could not handle the increased traffic after the beginning of the war with Italy. Out of necessity, suitable roads were built in a very short period in summer of 1915. They were mostly built by Russian prisoners of war.

The most important road went from Savica over Mt. Komna and the Bogatinsko Sedlo ridge to Peski. To the west from the Bogatinsko Sedlo ridge, a part of the road branched off towards the Duple plateau. Long columns of carriers with small Bosnian horses transported supplies to the supply station every day. Front line unit carriers took these supplies to their units. Along the whole length of the road, wooden or wire fence was erected.

Traffic was incessant between Savica and Krn, even in winter and bad weather. It was only stopped when the danger of avalanches was extremely high. Regardless, in snow storms, soldiers often wandered off the road and froze to death, and sometimes they died buried by avalanches.

ZLATOROG – PESKI (CAMP KRN) CABLEWAY SYSTEM

WITH A BRANCH TO TOLMINKA VALEY AND ONWARDS TO MRZLI VRH AND SLEME

Using horses for transport was not efficient enough, and it was only a temporary solution. Therefore, already in 1915, a transport cableway was built between the final station of the horse railway and the supply station under Bogatinsko Sedlo. In autumn 1916, the cableway system was extended to the rear of the front line on Krn and Mrzli vrh.

INTERMEDIATE SUPPLY STATIONS AND CAMPS

ON THE WAY TO THE KRN MOUNTAINS FRONT

Along the road from Bohinjska Bistrica to the Krn battlefield, many camps with huts were erected. There, the supply route crews were housed. They had barns for draft animals, storehouses, a hospital, resting places for front line units, the office of war mail, various workshops for arms and equipment repair, kitchens and bakeries, a meteorological observatory, a chapel etc.

Prisoners of war – the main work force in the rear of the front line. When the front line stopped in Krn mountains, the building of infrastructure in the direct rear was imperative. Local work force was scarce. The gap was filled with prisoners of war, mostly Russians.

PREPARATIONS FOR THE 12TH BATTLE OF ISONZO

When the 12th Battle of Isonzo was closing in October 1917, life in the direct rear of the front line changed quite a lot. Austro-Hungarian and German armies only had five short weeks to prepare a large-scale offensive before winter. Railways towards the Isonzo battlefield were running at full capacity. The majority of the freight was brought in on the upper Sava railway to Kranjska Gora, on the Bohinj railway and on the Ljubljana – Trieste railway.

Bohinj Military Cemeteries

There were three military cemeteries in Bohinj. The cemeteries in Ukanc and Rebro are still being tended to, but the one on Na Kraju plateau had already been moved. Several tens of people were buried in the Planina na Kraju cemetery. Their names remain unknown, but it is believed they were mostly Hungarians.

INTERESTING FACTS

  • Book: You can read everything about Bohinj in WW I in the book by Tomaž Budkovič – “Bohinj 1914 – 1918: Between the Front and the Hinterlands”
  • Museum collection: Muzej Tomaža Godca na Bohinjski Bistrici.
  • Theme route: The supply hinterland for the Krn battlefield

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