Since Italy joined the war in 1915 the army has launched eleven offensives in the Isonzo sector. While gains have been made they have been relatively modest. Trieste remains in Austro-Hungarian hands with no sign of it being about to fall. The gains the Italians have achieved have been paid for in blood: the scale of Italian casualties has shocked the nation.
Since the end of the eleventh battle Cadorna, the Italian commander, has ordered his men to adopt a defensive posture. He plans no further attacks until the spring but fears that the Austro-Hungarians might launch some kind of counter-attack, perhaps on the Carso plateau near the coast.
The bloodletting has had a terrible effect on the army’s morale. The soldiers are gripped by war weariness and have had enough of the enemy’s attentions and the brutal discipline of Cadorna’s officers. Disorders have been reported, but nothing on the scale of the French mutinies. However the numbers of deserters are now enormous. Many soldiers decline to return from leave while young men are going on the run to avoid the draft; there may be as many as 200,000 of these renegades.
Cadorna blames the crisis in morale on defeatism and anti-war agitation by socialists and other malcontents. Some in the government are growing tired of Cadorna’s posing, with Orlando, the interior minister arguing that the army’s morale problems stem from Cadorna’s prodigious spending of his men’s lives. But for now the government is backing the general. To combat the menace of defeatism Sacchi, the justice minister, issues a decree introducing draconian punishments for anyone who undermines the war effort. People can now be thrown in jail for mocking Cadorna or suggesting that the war is not going particularly well.
A fanciful depiction of an Italian attack. (MetroPostcard Guide to the Italian Front during World War One on postcards)
Ettore Sacchi (Wikipedia)