6/7/1917 Finland declares independence from Russia #1917Live

At the front, any hopes that the Kerensky Offensive will lead to a great victory are rapidly unravelling. Although the Russians are pushing back the Austro-Hungarians, the main effort against the Germans is coming badly unstuck and the stresses of battle are hastening the Russian army’s disintegration.

This reverse is not the only crisis facing the Provisional Government. Aside from the increasingly chaotic situation in the heart of the country, Russia is increasingly beset by separatist movements on the periphery. The Rada in Ukraine has already declared autonomy. Now the parliament of Finland goes one step further, today declaring independence for what had hitherto been a self-governing part of the Russian empire.

The Finnish declaration causes consternation in Petrograd. Both the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet are opposed to Finland’s unilateral declaration of independence. The Soviets resolve to persuade the Finns to revoke their declaration but the Provisional Government adopts a more forceful position, preparing to use force if necessary to keep Finland in the empire.

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The Grand Duchy of Finland (Wikipedia)

1/7/1917 The Kerensky Offensive: Russia attacks

Kerensky, Russia’s war minister, has ordered a great offensive against the Germans and Austro-Hungarians. Brusilov, the new army commander, presided over the preparations but he has become increasingly concerned that the Russian army is in no fit state for such an undertaking. Nevertheless, Kerensky has insisted that the offensive go ahead.

After two days of artillery bombardment today the infantry attack. Their target is the Galician city of Lemberg, known to the Russians as Lvov, which was occupied in 1914 but then recaptured by the enemy the following year. Initial progress is good, particularly against the Austro-Hungarians. The assault troops find the enemy trenches largely abandoned. It appears that the Teutons have been scared away by the artillery. The Russians press on.

But the Germans have not collapsed. Fraternisation between German and Russian troops meant they were fore-warned of the offensive. They have withdrawn to positions further to the rear and left the Russian artillery to pound their empty frontline trenches. Now they are waiting for the Russian infantry.

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The Eastern Front, summer 1917 (Wikipedia) (Lemberg is shown as the target of the two converging black arrows)

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)

25/6/1917 Mount Ortigara recaptured by the Austro-Hungarians

The Italians have been attacking on the Asiago plateau, hoping to evict the Austro-Hungarians from territory they seized in their <a href="https://ww1live.wordpress.com/tag/punishment-expedition/"Trentino offensive last year. The Italians managed to storm the summit of Mount Ortigara and then dug in to repel Austro-Hungarian counterattacks. Since then they have had no rest, facing continuous infantry assaults and artillery bombardments. Now the Austro-Hungarians attack with gas and flame-throwers. The Italians have had enough and are pushed off the mountain top. The blood of the Austro-Hungarians is up: they attack along the line, determined to recover all of the Italian gains.

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A somewhat fanciful depiction of Alpine warfare (MetroPostcard Guide to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War One on postcards)

19/6/1917 Italy attacks, Mount Ortigara falls

Earlier in the month the Italians attacked on the Asiago plateau, hoping to clear the Austro-Hungarians from positions they had retreated to after their Punishment Expedition last year. The attacks were staged in the middle of a summer storm and the assault troops foundered in a sea of mud.

Now the weather has improved and the Italians are attacking again. With better visibility Italian artillery is able to batter Austro-Hungarian positions. The Italian air force also lends a hand, with bombers supporting the infantry.

This time the Italians enjoy considerable success. They manage to storm to the summit of Mount Ortigara, wresting it from the Austro-Hungarians in brutal hand-to-hand fighting. Around a thousand prisoners are captured and several artillery pieces. But the Italians know that they cannot rest on their laurels: they will have to defend the mountain from the inevitable Austro-Hungarian counter-attacks.

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Italian troops storming the mountain (EreticaMente: La conquista dell’Ortigara)

map (Valgame: La Guerra sull’Altopiano)

10/6/1917 Italy launches a new offensive on the Asiago plateau

Italy’s main effort against Austria-Hungary has been on the Isonzo. However, Cadorna has been planning for some time to hit the enemy on the Asiago plateau further to the west. Here the Austro-Hungarians are still entrenched in the strong positions here they retreated to after the failure of their Punishment Expedition last year. Defending a line of hills, their position is anchored by Mount Ortigara, an inhospitable pile of rock. Dislodging the Austro-Hungarians from here will not be easy, but Cadorna hopes that massed firepower and weight of numbers will do the trick.
The Italian assault here was to take place at the end of the month, but the start date was brought forward after the Austro-Hungarian counter-attack on the Isonzo. But this means that the infantry are having to attack in the middle of a summer storm. Low cloud cover has prevented Italian artillery from accurately targeting the enemy wire, but the Austro-Hungarian gunners still have a clear view of the ground across which the Italians will have to advance.

When the infantry go forward they find themselves stuck in a sea of mud. Progress is minimal and many find themselves trapped in front of the Austro-Hungarian wire, unable to advance or retreat. As can be imagined, casualties are horrendous.

Cadorna meets with Mambretti, the local commander. At this stage he is used to failure so the debacle appears not to overly trouble Cadorna. He and Mambretti agree that for now the assaults will halt, but when the weather improves the struggle for Mount Ortigara will resume.

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Italian mountain troops before the battle (Wikipedia: Battle of Mount Ortigara)

Italian troops attack! (MetroPostcard.com: Belligerents and Participants in World War One: The Kingdom of Italy  pt1)

Explosion! (MetroPostcard.com: Belligerents and Participants in World War One: The Kingdom of Italy  pt1)

4/6/1917 Tenth Isonzo ends with an Austro-Hungarian surprise

Italian troops have been attacking on the Isonzo. This tenth offensive has made some progress at heavy cost but the Austro-Hungarians have been able to contain the Italian advance. The battle appeared to be winding down, but it turns out the Austro-Hungarians have a surprise in store for the Italians. At the height of the battle, when an Italian breakthrough appeared to be a real possibility, the Germans permitted the Austro-Hungarians to transfer two divisions from the Eastern Front to the Isonzo. Now they use these to stage a counter-attack on the Italians.

The Austro-Hungarian counter-attack successfully recovers some of the ground lost. More striking though are the losses it inflicts on the Italians. They suffer some 22,000 casualties in the fighting. Of these some 10,000 are taken prisoner, with rumours of entire regiments (including officers) surrendering without firing a shot. The numbers who surrender suggest that a crisis of morale is building in the Italian army.

Cadorna is furious at the success of the Austro-Hungarian counter-attack. He writes to Prime Minister Boselli to denounce the defeatist prattling of the politicians that has led to his soldiers throwing down their arms. He is also furious at the men who surrender and wishes that he could ask Boroevic, his Austro-Hungarian counterpart, to have them flogged.

Thus ends the Tenth Battle of the Isonzo. In its three weeks the Italians have taken some 150,000 casualties, including 36,000 killed. Austro-Hungarian losses are lower, with perhaps 75,000 total casualties but only 7,300 killed.

Now Cadorna begins preparations for the eleventh battle. The Austro-Hungarians surely cannot take much more of this.

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Luigi Cadorna (The Italian Monarchist: Marshal of Italy Luigi Cadorna)