Were Avalanches Used As World War I Superweapons?

In December of 1916, as World War I raged on, a roiling avalanche of snow, ice, and stone came crashing down on an Austrian barracks at the base of an Italian mountain, killing as many as 300 soldiers in one catastrophic slide. As tragic as the disaster was, it may have caused some of the Austro-Hungarian forces to ask, "How do we do that again?"

While largely unconfirmed, the legend that the Austrian forces fighting in the snowy Italian Alps began deliberately causing avalanches to tumble down on their enemies is a pervasive one. According to a number of (again, unverifiable) sources, Austrian troops, inspired by the initial tragedy that befell their comrades, began shelling the mountainsides high above Italian encampments, causing deadly avalanches that devastated the Italian bases. Some reports put the number of deaths caused by this natural hack as high as 60,000. In a small mention in the 2007 title, An Incomplete History of World War I, it's said that the practice became so common that these unstoppable ice cascades became known as "the White Death."

Unfortunately the use of avalanches as weapons does not seem to be officially reported in any specific battles, so whether this stone-cold tactic was actually employed is up for debate. However since the bodies and camps of Italian forces are still being discovered under the thawing ice, this incredible legend might be more than just a snow job.

For more tales of the strange intersection of war and nature, check out Atlas Obscura!

Image Credit: Brian Romans