30/6/1917 Cadorna denounced in the Italian parliament

With minimal progress on the Isonzo and the recent failure of the offensive on the Asiago plateau it is hard for anyone to say that the war is going very well for Italy. The Italian government has allowed parliament to let off steam in a closed session debate on the war’s conduct. Criticism of the government and the army is relatively muted until today, when Fortunato Marazzi takes the floor. This liberal politician has previously served on the Isonzo as a divisional commander. Now he eviscerates Cadorna, the army’s chief of staff, and the government that has left him in place. He denounces a succession of mistakes made by the military and the failure of the politicians to hold Cadorna to account. He is particularly critical of Cadorna’s failure to concentrate artillery and continued reliance on broad front offensives.

Marazzi’s speech impresses many of his fellow parliamentarians, including his political opponents. However Cadorna can only removed by unseating Boselli, the prime minister, and the politicians fear chaos if the government were to fall now. The parliament ends up voting confidence once more in Boselli’s government, meaning that Cadorna is safe in his job for the moment.

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Fortunato Marazzi (Wikipedia)

30/6/1917 Germany’s dawning realisation that the U-boat war has failed

Germany is trying to win the war with its escalated U-boat campaign. The U-boats have been given carte blanche to attack Allied merchant ships without warning. They are also authorised to attack ships flying neutral flags but suspected of carrying supplies to Allied countries. The Germans hope that the submarine war will reduce Britain to poverty and starvation, forcing it to make peace with Germany

Since the beginning of the escalated campaign in February the Germans have sunk an astonishing 3,844,000 tons of Allied shipping. Holtzendorff, the German navy’s chief of staff, has calculated that sinking 600,000 tons a month would be enough to cripple British trade. The U-boats have achieved these targets, sinking 670,000 tons in June alone, so surely this means that the British will soon be forced to make peace?

Yet the British do not appear to be on the brink of collapse. Holtzendorff appears to have miscalculated. The British have been able to increase domestic food production and through effective rationing are spreading food supplies relatively fairly (far more successfully than is the case in Germany). The U-boat campaign has not scared neutral shipping from the seas. Instead it has reduced the amount imported into the likes of Holland and Denmark for resale to Germany.

Allied countermeasures against the submarines are becoming more effective, with merchant ships increasingly sailing under protection in convoys and US and British destroyers patrolling more aggressively against the U-boats. It is starting to look as though the U-boat campaign is not going to end the war in the next few months. Tacitly recognising that the war will continue, the German navy now orders the construction of more U-boats, which will not be available for use until 1919.

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A merchant ship torpedoed (Military History Now: Sea Wolves Unleashed – Germany’s First U-boat War)

A U-boat surfaces (Military History Now: Sea Wolves Unleashed – Germany’s First U-boat War)

29/6/1917 The guns fire for Kerensky’s great offensive

Some thought that Russia’s revolution would mean that it would have to drop out of the war. Kerensky, the war minister, hopes to prove them wrong. He has ordered a great offensive against the Germans, with the aim being to capture the Austro-Hungarian city of Lemberg (known to the Russians as Lvov) and show the world what revolutionary Russia is capable of.

The offensive is taking place under the direction of Brusilov, the army’s new commander. Brusilov was one of the few generals who supported the revolution. Initially he was an enthusiastic supporter of Kerensky’s offensive, but he has begun to have doubts. Since he took over as army commander he has seen for himself how discipline has broken down. Officers are unable to make their men obey orders. The rebellious character of the men means that officers are now fearful of being lynched if they try to impose their will. Many officers have fled their posts. Many of their men have followed suit, deserting en masse and either heading home or living as brigands in rear areas.

There are also shocking reports of fraternisation between Russian troops and their German enemies. This seems to be encouraged by German commanders, who want to convince Russian soldiers that the war was forced on Germany by the elites of Russia and other Allied countries.

As preparations continue for the offensive rebelliousness in the army increases. A mutinous mood manifests. As units are moved up the front so many men desert that some lose three quarters of their strength. Soldiers are defiant towards their officers, declaring that the only authority they recognise is that of Lenin, the Bolshevik leader.

All this leads Brusilov towards the conclusion that the offensive will be a disaster. But when he puts his concerns to Kerensky he is ignored. Kerensky is adamant that the great revolutionary offensive must go ahead. And so today the artillery bombardment of the German positions begins.

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Kerensky addresses soldiers (Wikipedia)

29/6/1917 Defeated Italians withdraw to their start lines on the Asiago plateau

Italian troops had made gains on the Asiago plateau but a determined Austro-Hungarian counter-attack has recaptured the summit of Mount Ortigara. Now the Italians are being pressed all along the sector. Mambretti, the local commander, recognises that the position of his men is untenable. He orders a withdrawal back to the positions they held at the start of the offensive.

The Italians have taken some 25,000 casualties since the start of the battle and have gained no territory. Austro-Hungarian losses are not insignificant but much lower, perhaps around 9,000.

Cadorna succeeds in hiding the scale of the defeat from both the press and his political masters in the government. He accepts no blame for the failure of the offensive, instead railing against the lack of offensive spirt on the part of the infantry.

With Italian arms baulked on the Asiago plateau, Cadorna now turns his attention back to the Isonzo, where preparations are already under way for another offensive, the eleventh. After being battered by the ten previous assaults, the Austro-Hungarians here must surely be in a desperate state. Cadorna hopes that the next Battle of the Isonzo will be the one that sees his men smash through the enemy lines and begin their march to Trieste.

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Italian prisoners under escort (Die Tiroler Kaiserjägerbund)

[interlude] The uses of history

People sometimes think that history is forgotten and of no relevance to the present day. Yesterday however in the Irish parliament politicians argued about the democratic credentials of Lenin and Kerensky, almost a 100 years after the Russian Revolution‘s progress saw the rise of one and the fall of another.

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Alexander Kerensky (Wikipedia)

Vladimir Lenin, painted by Isaak Brodsky (Wikipedia)

Read the bizarre parliamentary debate here.

27/6/1917 A new British commander in the Sinai desert

British and Commonwealth forces have advanced across the Sinai desert but have been blocked form advancing into Palestine by the Turkish defenders of Gaza. Now British leaders in London decide that they have had enough of Murray, the local British commander. He is removed from command and replaced by Edmund Allenby, after South Africa’s Smuts declines the role.

Allenby previously served in the Boer War. More recently he was based on the Western Front, where he was the local commander at Arras. Considerable initial gains were achieved at Arras before the battle degenerated into the usual attritional meat-grinder. British leaders are hoping that he will be able to replicate his success in his

Allenby has been directed to advance into Palestine and seize Jerusalem by Christmas, but he is not being provided with any extra men to do this. His army is much stronger than that of the Turks but his task is not an easy one. The Turks are defending a strong position and have easy access to the waters of Palestine. For now at least Allenby’s men are stuck in a desert and face grave problems keeping themselves supplied, particularly with water. Nevertheless he begins to survey the situation and make plans for an advance north.

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Edmund Allenby (Wikipedia)

26/6/1917 Justice catches up with the last of the conspirators against Franz Ferdinand

It is nearly three years since Franz Ferdinand was murdered in Sarajevo, lighting the spark that engulfed the European continent in war. Gavrilo Princip, the man who pulled the trigger, languishes in an Austro-Hungarian jail, his youth saving him from the death penalty. Other members of his gang have either been executed or are also in prison (where Chabrinovitch, who threw a bomb at the Arch Duke, died last year).

But there are other conspirators who did not fall into the hands of the Austro-Hungarians. Princip and his comrades were aided by elements within the Serbian intelligence service led by Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević, generally known by his code-name Apis. Apis ran a secret organisation called the Black Hand that supplied arms to Princip and his associates. Whether the Black Hand was operating in defiance of Serbia’s political leaders or with their connivance remains a mystery.

Since Franz Ferdinand’s assassination Serbia has reaped the whirlwind. Its territory has been overrun and its army chased out of the country. Famine and disease have decimated the country. What remains of the Serbian state now exists in exile in northern Greece. These straitened circumstances may have encouraged some reflection by Serbian leaders on whether allowing the Black Hand a free hand had really been such a good idea. Earlier this year Prince Alexander, Serbia’s regent, and Pašić, the prime minister, had Apis and his Black Hand associates arrested on charges ostensibly unrelated to Franz Ferdinand’s murder. Today they are executed by firing squad.

Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary has been engaging in back channel negotiations with the French. He may also have made contact with the Serbians and demanded the execution of Apis and the others as a pre-condition for the restoration of Serbian territory. Or perhaps Alexander and Pašić simply feel that Apis represented a political threat and had to be eliminated. Either way, justice of a kind has now caught up with these men whose actions brought death and destruction to the continent.

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Dragutin Dimitrijević in 1915 (Wikipedia)

Dimitrijević and his fellow conspirators (plus an unidentified woman) (Wikipedia, which says that this picture was taken after Dimitrijević and the others had been sentenced to death)