Avalanches as weapons

by on August 12, 2009 at 1:26 pm in History | Permalink

Avalanches were used as highly effective
weapons during World War 1.  This disastrous weapon started when lots of
snow fell in the Alps during the December of 1916.  People could tell that
the avalanche risk was high.  A big avalanche killed 250 soldiers while
tumbling down on the barracks.  Some unknown person got the idea that
avalanches could make a highly effective weapon.  The avalanche war had
begun.  Avalanches could be started and even directed by just bombing a
mountain.  History has not yet calculated the exact number of deaths. 
Deaths have been estimated as high as 40,000 on each fighting side.  Humans
are responsible for these death causing, disastrous avalanche killer.

Other web sites bear out similar versions of this story, although often the number of deaths is cited at 60,000.

I was put on to this anecdote from Bill Streever's very good new book Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places.  Single-topic popular science books may feel like an exhausted genre, but we're still seeing good ones come along.

1 Craig August 12, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Fans of Hogan’s Heroes will remember the episode “Look at the Pretty Snowflakes” where Col. Hogan (Bob Crane) plays a drum solo (Crane, who was a drummer, plays a real drum solo) in hopes of starting an avalanche to stop a Panzer division. Hogan was unsuccessful, but in the end, Col Klink starts the avalanche with a sneeze.

2 Anthony August 12, 2009 at 5:39 pm

Do the Indian and Pakistani armies up near the Siachen glacier know about this?

3 john August 12, 2009 at 9:34 pm

If it was so effective, why wasn’t it tried in Kuwait? Or Iraq?

4 john August 13, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Paul. Kuwait is/was paying big bucks studying the feasiblity of hauling icebergs in for potable water. Maybe not avalanches, but how about calving?

5 Ole Palnatoke August 16, 2009 at 1:10 pm

The Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avalanche says that the avalanches were a side effect.

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