Bizarre World War 1 Tactics: The Pole Vaulting Soldiers

World War 1 was an odd combination of rigid and unimaginative strategy (such as suicidal human wave attacks against enemy trenches) and technical innovation and creative ways to kill the enemy (the tank, the airplane, the flamethrower, etc). Sometimes these innovations were quite bizarre, as in the case of this Italian solution to getting past enemy barbed wire.

The standard approach was to try to blow the enemy’s barbed wire to bits with artillery bombardments, or to cut it using special tools. Later in the war, tanks were used successfully to plow through barbed wire.

These Italian troops came up with a unique and surprisingly athletic solution to breaking through the Austrian trenches. Instead of cutting the wire, they would leap over it using a pole vault.

This 1918 article from Leslie’s Weekly, reproduced below, shows elite Italian shock troops training to attack the Austrians. In one picture, an Italian soldier is using the latest flamethrower. That’s fairly mundane compared to the photo in the middle of the page showing leaping soldiers pole vaulting over the enemy trenches.

bizarre world war 1

I am not aware of this method every being used in actual combat, and I suspect that the pole vaulters would have been shot to pieces long before they managed to reach the enemy trenches. I can not even imagine what kind of military genius decided to create a platoon of pole vaulters. Perhaps the plan was to make Austrians die from laughing.

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