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.

image source:

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.

image source:

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

1/3/1917 Emperor Karl puts out peace feelers, sacks his army’s chief of staff

The situation within Austria-Hungary is increasingly desperate. The dislocation of war, Allied blockade and the breakdown of trust between the different parts of the Empire are leading to food shortages. The urban poor of Vienna are going so hungry that men are volunteering for the army in order to be fed.

Emperor Karl fears that if the war continues it will mean the end of his empire. But Austria-Hungary is too tied to Germany for him to simply defect from the alliance and sue for peace. Instead, through aristocratic contacts, he puts forth secret peace feelers to the French, so secret that even Ottokar Czernin, the current foreign minister, is kept in the dark about them. The British and French are interested by Karl’s desire for peace but Germany is their main enemy and they fear that pursuing negotiations in earnest with Austria-Hungary would be a waste of time. They also suspect that it will be impossible to agree a settlement with Austria-Hungary that will satisfy the demands of the Italians.

Karl is also trying to reform the military and civil structures governing the empire. Today he makes a key move in this regard, removing Conrad from his role as army chief of staff. Conrad was one of the main cheerleaders for war back in 1914 but the performance of the army since then has been disastrous. It is perhaps surprising that Conrad has held onto his job for so long, but perhaps it needed a new emperor to realise that he was a liability rather than an asset.

After being relieved of his post, Conrad is not forced into retirement but appointed to command one of the armies fighting on the Italian front. His replacement as army chief of staff is Arthur Arz von Straussenburg. Arz is a less political general than his predecessor. He is content to defer to Karl on matters of grand strategy.

image source:

Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary (Wikipedia)

7/1/1917 Romania overrun

Romania’s rash decision to declare war on Austria-Hungary has proved a terrible mistake. The country has now largely been overrun by the Central Powers, her armies smashed by the implacable might of Falkenhayn and Mackensen.

Bad weather and Russian reinforcements now bring an end to the enemy’s advance. Bucharest has fallen, together with the south and centre of the country. The remnants of the Romanian army hang on in Moldavia, where they desperately hope that they can preserve the independent existence of their country.

image source (Wikipedia)

6/12/1916 Bucharest falls

Romania’s bold counter-attack against the invading armies of Germany, Bulgaria and Austria-Hungary has failed. The shattered remnants of the Romanian army are now in retreat, hoping to find some safety towards the Russian frontier.

With the defeat of the Romanian army, Bucharest is now untenable. The Romanian king has already abandoned the city. Now it falls to the enemy, with Germany’s Mackensen installing himself in the royal palace.

image source:

German mounted troops in Bucharest (Wikipedia)

3/12/1916 Romania’s counter-offensive fails

Romania is engaged in a desperate battle for national survival in the face of invading German, Bulgarian and Austro-Hungarian armies. Mackensen leads a mainly Bulgarian force from the south while Falkenhayn commands an invasion force advancing from Transylvania in the west.

The Romanians have concentrated their forces and launched counter-attack on Mackensen’s force, hoping to smash his army before Falkenhayn can come to his aid. In some respects they are trying to emulate the 1914 German victories at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes, where widely separated Russian armies were defeated in detail.

The battle started well for the Romanians. Mackensen was pushed back and many prisoners taken. But Mackensen and Falkenhayn are not incompetents like Samsonov and Rennenkampf, the unfortunate Russians defeated in 1914. Mackensen quickly recovers from the initial shock and mounts a spirited defence, aided by a contingent of Turkish reinforcements. Falkenhayn meanwhile launches attacks all along his front to aid his colleague.

The Romanian counter-offensive collapses. Flung back in all sectors, the Romanians now retreat to avoid encirclement. The gates of Bucharest lie open for the enemy.

image source:

map (Wikipedia)

August von Mackensen (The First World War in 261 weeks)