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Franco-Italian Alps cleared of barbed wire
July 20, 2012 3:12 AM   Subscribe

Barbed Wire no longer lines the Franco-Italian Alps. On the 11th of July this year, after working since 2002, mainly in the Mercantour National Park, the last of 134 tonnes of steel was finally removed for recycling by teams of volunteers.

During WWII, although the Franco-Italian alpine border was "not a military front of primary importance, it was defended by massive fortifications and specialised troops: the Italian Alpini and the French Chasseurs alpins, who were recruited from local communities." There were several types of barbed-wire defences, many of which could be found in the Alps: "For about 70 years, the ground in the area had hidden a network of metallic spikes, barbed wire, and debris".

The Franco-Swiss and Franco-Italian Alps have now been cleared of these dangerous installations [article in French], which had been injuring and hampering wild animals as well as hikers. In order to preserve the wartime history, each barbed wire site was mapped, and a line of it was kept at France's Mont Saint-Sauveur, with a sign explaining its background.
posted by fraula (24 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thank God. That damn barbed wire kept me from crossing from France to Italy I don't know HOW many times!

Seriously, however, this is a good thing. Down with barriers to free movement of wildlife!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:44 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know who else lined the Franco-Italian Alps with barbed wire?
posted by item at 5:01 AM on July 20, 2012


Mussolini?
posted by Mezentian at 5:01 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


...and now that I've looked at more than the first article, it apparently wasn't Hitler.
posted by item at 5:02 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have to admit I'm surprised there's still so much left from WWII. I guess what wasn't directly in the way was just left to decay. Good on these folks for doing this.
posted by tommasz at 5:27 AM on July 20, 2012


I was surprised as well! There are still stone bunkers along the coast here, but barbed wire? In the Alps?! That and the neat team effort involved that covered ten years inspired me to look into it and share.

In the French article, they mention that the volunteers rolled barbed-wire "haystacks" that they then took down the mountain, either as human-only teams or helped by draft horses (so as to preserve the environment). As part of their organized work, those were left along roadsides, where the Conseil Général des Alpes-Maritimes (which they familiarly call CG06, as do most people who live here) sent recycling trucks to pick up the wire for recycling. Quite a nice story of teamwork!

If you check the link about German barbed wire types, you'll notice that they actually worked on its design so that it would not decay:
The Germans are now making extensive use of a new type of barbed wire. This new type is made of a non-corrosive metal, and is thicker than ordinary wire. It is square in cross-section, rather than round. The wire, which is twisted, has 3/4-inch barbs, 4 inches apart.
I imagine this is the type of wire that was kept at Saint-Sauveur, since the French article also mentions that it was in particularly good shape. I imagine it was left in the mountains since populations here (a Résistance area) were pretty badly hit – in Nice alone, there are plaques commemorating public executions, as well as the usual WWI and WWII memorials with plaques listing names of locals killed in the wars – so not many people had leisure time to go about cleaning up what had become wilderness areas until now.
posted by fraula at 5:42 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait... I've been there! I don't think we came across any barbed wire, but there were definitely some buildings/bunkers that appeared to be remnants of fortifications.

The bit of the park I was in only became part of France in 1947. It was kind of odd to slowly realise this. Having just come from Italy, everything seemed very obviously French. But when you talked to people, there would be these references to the area having been Italy not so long ago. (Also, lots of Italians hiking, but that's more a hint to the proximity of the border.)
posted by hoyland at 6:03 AM on July 20, 2012


When I lived in Austria, a lot of the underground parking garages were old bunkers.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:11 AM on July 20, 2012


I imagine that the barbed wire was part of the Alpine line.
It contains great fortifications in the Franco Italian Alps.
F.i. L'ouvrage Sapey and Le Fort de Replaton were constructed in 1885 to defend France from intrusions through the Italo-Franco Fréjus train tunnel.
posted by joost de vries at 6:16 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know who else lined the Franco-Italian Alps with barbed wire?

Hemingway?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:23 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have to admit I'm surprised there's still so much left from WWII.

There's a still good deal left from World War One. Belgian farmers call the annual haul the Iron Harvest, much of it still capable of exploding.
posted by BWA at 6:23 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have to admit I'm surprised there's still so much left from WWII.

There's a still good deal left from World War One.


Hell, they're still digging up reminants older than that!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:30 AM on July 20, 2012


Hell, they're still digging up reminants older than that!

There was once a Corsican named Napoleon who walked through here with an army and left a road that people still use.

Nice itself was founded around 350BC by Greeks. And there are Bronze Age petroglyphs in the Mercantour. Lots of history!
posted by fraula at 6:48 AM on July 20, 2012


One "nice" thing about pre-20th-century wars: you don't have to call in a bomb-disposal squad when your plow unearths a gladius or a caltrop.

(Explosives predate that century, obv, but AFAIK the gunpowder from older periods is ruined by this time.)
posted by IAmBroom at 7:59 AM on July 20, 2012


Huh. Having recently been on another Eric Ambler kick this reads like some poignant epilogue. I wonder if the grandparents of any of the volunteers either laid the wire or tried to sneak over/under it during the war.
posted by yoink at 7:59 AM on July 20, 2012


When I lived in Austria, a lot of the underground parking garages were old bunkers.

I played a gig once in a WWII bunker in Rotterdam. The venue was called... de Bunker.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:02 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


flapjax at midnite: When I lived in Austria, a lot of the underground parking garages were old bunkers.

I played a gig once in a WWII bunker in Rotterdam. The venue was called... de Bunker.
I read an article in Le Match about a WWI recreation being staged on the original battleground in France by recreationists from several countries, commemorating the anniversary. The article mentioned "No Man's Land", which was expressed in French as "le No Man's Land".

I love that.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:07 AM on July 20, 2012


The article mentioned "No Man's Land", which was expressed in French as "le No Man's Land".

It should be noted, though, that the word "bunker" is Dutch, as well. Same word in both languages.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:16 AM on July 20, 2012


There are still several million acres of France off limits from WW1. The area around Verdun is saturated with ordnance, some chemical weapons, some stacked munitions simply abandoned, and some explosive ordnance that was just duds. Bombardments in some cases lasted days, saw millions of rounds expended, and a sizable percentage (as much as 10-15%) failed to explode on impact.

France still loses 20-30 citizens per year to UXO. Apparently, some intact Napoleanic era canon balls turn up from time to time.

Interesting book on the subject of UXO, generally, and covering this fascinating aspect in Chapter 1.
posted by FauxScot at 9:08 AM on July 20, 2012


There are still several million acres of France off limits from WW1.

To be fair, there are still several million acres of the North America that are off limits as a result of WWII despite the continent's lack of combat action.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:04 AM on July 20, 2012


For a moment, I thought this might refer to Pamela Anderson being denied passage between France and Italy.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:49 PM on July 20, 2012


IAmBroom: One "nice" thing about pre-20th-century wars: you don't have to call in a bomb-disposal squad when your plow unearths a gladius or a caltrop.
(Explosives predate that century, obv, but AFAIK the gunpowder from older periods is ruined by this time.)


Nope. A man was killed just a few years ago by a munition from the US Civil War. Close to 150 years old, and still deadly enough to kill him instantly and send shrapnel 400 yards away.
posted by tavella at 1:35 PM on July 21, 2012


I stand corrected. He, sadly, does not.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:02 PM on July 21, 2012


Weirdly, when playing World in Flames, there is no Alpine Line and the Italians can sneak in from the bottom quite easily unless garrisoned by one of those awful French 4-3 inf that they have too many of.

(Though you wouldn't want to do that because that means you can't declare Vichy France, IIRC.)
posted by wilful at 5:05 PM on July 22, 2012


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