23/5/1917 Unrest in Italy as attacks continue on the Isonzo

The Tenth Battle of the Isonzo continues. Cadorna had lowered the tempo of his men’s attacks on the Carso Plateau to focus on attacks on the more mountainous terrain around Gorizia to the north. Fighting there has become positional, with both sides taking and retaking hilltop positions and suffering heavy casualties while they do so.

Now Cadorna turns his attentions back to the Carso. Italian artillery blasts the Austro-Hungarians with a terrible intensity, though with much of the artillery still deployed around Gorizia the bombardment is not quite as intense as it could be. Still, the hope is that when the infantry attack tomorrow they will have better luck than in their advance at the start of the battle.

On the Italian home front meanwhile the strain is beginning to show. A wave of unrest sweeps across the country, particularly strongly in Milan. The authorities respond harshly, deploying troops to restore order in Milan and to crush leftist trouble-makers there. Some 50 people are killed and 800 arrested.

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Italian position, Mont San Gabriele (Rainer Regiment)

15/5/1917 Tenth Isonzo: Cadorna changes tack

Cadorna had high hopes that this time after a heavy bombardment his men would be able to smash through the Austro-Hungarian lines. But on the Carso Plateau the enemy has put up stiff resistance. Since the infantry attacked yesterday the Italians here have suffered some 25,000 casualties.

The Italians have made more progress further to the north, though nothing like the promised breakthrough. Cadorna now decides to concentrate efforts here, even though the terrain does not make a breakthrough likely. His intention now is to let Capello, the local commander, seize more of the high ground and consolidate his gains, after which his artillery will be transferred back to the Carso for a renewed attempt to break through the Austro-Hungarians and press on to Trieste.

image source (Emerson Kent)

14/5/1917 Tenth Isonzo: the infantry attack

After subjecting the Austro-Hungarians to a bombardment of an intensity not yet seen on the Italian front, now Cadorna sends his infantry forward. In this Tenth Battle of the Isonzo, the Italians are hoping to seize the high ground beyond Gorizia, with ambitious plans to then roll up the Austro-Hungarian lines.

With their fighting spirit buoyed up by pep talks from the Futurist poet Filippo Marinetti, the Italians manage to storm the position known as Hill 383, albeit after suffering horrendous casualties from the vastly outnumbered but determined enemy. They are unable to take Mount Kuk, but the Italians manage to storm Mount Sabotinio. However, the fighting then becomes one of attack and counter-attack as the Austro-Hungarians and Italians struggle to deny each other the summit.

The Italians are also attacking on the Carso plateau, down towards the coast, hoping to smash through the depleted Austro-Hungarian positions here. Unfortunately the Habsburgs are able to contain the Italians thanks to a combination of dogged resistance by the infantry and murderously accurate artillery fire.

At the end of the first day it looks suspiciously like this battle of the Isonzo will be much like the previous ones, with the Italians making only minimal gains and taking enormous casualties. Nevertheless the attacks will continue tomorrow.

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Soldiers (La Grande Guerra e i Giovani di Trezzano Sul Naviglio)

12/5/1917 Tenth time lucky on the Isonzo?

Since the Italians joined the war in 1915 they have launched nine offensives against the Austro-Hungarians on the Isonzo line. All have failed, apart perhaps from the Sixth Battle, which saw Italy capture frontline town of Gorizia.

Now shelling begins for the tenth offensive. The Italians have built up their artillery, doubling the number of medium and heavy guns available a year ago. They now have 3,000 guns at the Isonzo, a smaller concentration than would be seen on the Western Front, with less shells for them to fire, but this is still capable of blasting the Austro-Hungarians with an intensity never before seen on this front. Cadorna hopes that this time after a short artillery bombardment the infantry will be able to smash through the enemy and achieve the breakthrough that has long eluded him.

22/4/1917 Italy’s avant garde goes to war

Before the war Italy’s Futurists embraced the mechanisation of the 20th century, with artworks hailing the dynamism of the new age. Many of the Futurists are strongly supportive of the war effort, seeing the conflict as bringing their ideas into life.

If the Futurists have a leader it is Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. He is not an artist himself but an influential art theorist and the writer of Futurist Manifesto. He is dismissive of democracy and supports an elitist view of society. He is also a keen supporter of the war.

At the war’s outbreak some of the Futurists joined the army, either as conscripts or volunteers. The painter and sculptor Umberto Boccioni joined an artillery regiment but died last year after being thrown from a horse. Marinetti is older, however, and this may have saved him from being conscripted. Yet his civilian status has not kept him away from the front. He has found a kindred spirit in General Capello, one of the army commanders on the Isonzo.

The Italians are preparing for their next Isonzo offensive (their tenth) and Capello recruits Marinetti to fire up the men’s fighting spirit. This Marinetti does by delivering what he terms “violent futurist speeches”, including readings of such of his poems as ‘The Song of the Pederasts’. What the soldiers make of these is not recorded.

Note: for more on Italy’s strange pro-war avant garde and the Italian war generally I highly recommend Mark Thompson’s book The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front.

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Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, by Umberto Boccioni (Wikipedia)

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (Encyclopaedia Brittanica)

4/11/1916 Isonzo: Cadorna’s nerve fails again

Italian troops continue to push forward on the Carso plateau. An Austro-Hungarian counter-attack failed to stop their advance. Now the Italians are pushing towards the enemy’s second line of defence and few on the Austro-Hungarian side think that this will stop them. Boroevic, the Austro-Hungarian commander, is running out of reserves to commit to the battle. He has just one battalion left, an ethnically mixed unit from the Banat region. He sends them forward to launch one last desperate counter-attack against the Italians.

The Banat soldiers are heavily outnumbered, yet somehow their attack achieves the impossible. The Italians are shaken, their onward march temporarily halted. In the lull, another infantry division arrives from Galicia to reinforce the Austro-Hungarians. They wait for the Italians to resume their advance, hoping that they might just now be able to contain it.

But the Italians do not renew their advance. Cadorna too is shaken by today’s counter-attack. He orders a halt to the offensive. He hopes to launch a new offensive before Christmas, weather permitting, once his artillery has had a chance to batter the enemy’s second line trenches. For now the Italian troops are to be stood down.

The Austro-Hungarians are astonished. They know how desperately stretched their lines are now, how close they are to breaking. As with the Eighth Battle, Cadorna appears to have thrown away a chance for victory.

The Ninth Battle has cost the Italians another 39,000 casualties, while the Austro-Hungarians have suffered something like 33,000.

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Luigi Cadorna (Wikipedia)

2/11/1916 Ninth Isonzo: the Italian juggernaut appears unstoppable

Italy’s ninth offensive on the Isonzo continues. This time things are going well for the Italians. They have overrun the Austro-Hungarian first line along several kilometres of the front on the Carso plateau and are pushing forward towards the enemy’s second line. Boroevic tries to stop the Italian advance by launching a great counter-attack of his own. Savage fighting ensues, but Cadorna sends forward the Italian reserves. The Austro-Hungarians are overwhelmed and forced to fall back. The Italian advance continues.

To the Austro-Hungarians it looks now as though their second line is bound to fall. Is the Italian breakthrough imminent?