Ski-mounted alpine troops have long been a facet of mountain warfare in Europe, with specialized units such as the French Chasseurs Alpins and Italian Alpini battalions dating as far back as the 19th Century. It was after just such an encounter with the French “Blue Devils” that sparked the formation of German mountain infantry in 1915, modeled after the Austrian Landwehr’s Gebirgstruppe (mountain troops) of the latter country’s Tyrolean region.
The Germans evolved their Gebirgsjäger units over the years until no less than 16 divisions were given the title during WWII– although many were not true “mountain” troops.
Today, Germany still fields a full three-battalion brigade of high-quality mountain infantry, Gebirgsjägerbrigade 23, which consists of about 5,300 soldiers trained to fight under extreme weather conditions.
And their annual winter training, to include the Polarfuchs (“Arctic Fox”) exercise– which everyone from enlisted to the commanding officer has to complete– and the smaller International Mountain Warfare Patrol, are pretty legit. Basically, take the Winter Olympics’ biathlon and add grenades, Heckler & Koch rifles, and snow camo.
More in my column at Guns.com.
The below image shows a great selection of Soldiers of various units of the polyglot Austro-Hungarian army in 1914 (click to big up).
From left to right:
Austrian Landwehr ulan cavalrymen,
Austrian Landwehr (infantryman),
Tyrolean and Imperial Jäger,
Hungarian honvéd infantryman,
Common, or joint (közös) Hussar in a new camp uniform,
Common, or joint (közös) hussar,
Common, or joint (közös) Jäger,
Common, or joint (közös) dragoon.
Note the Austro-Hungarian bluejacket at the far right, dressed for shore duty.
And it doesn’t even include such exotic units as the Albanians:
While they looked good in photos and on paper, the Austrian forces were so poorly led, confusingly staffed and shallow in depth that German warlord Gen. Erich von Ludendorff said that to fight alongside old Franz Josef’s army was like being “shackled to a corpse.”
Of course, the uniforms would become much more practical as the Great War’s modern combat left the quaint 19th Century stylings behind in the mud of trench warfare– especially on the horrors of the Italian front, where the Austrians gave a better account of themselves than against the Serbs and Russians in the opening stages of the conflict.