14/5/1917 The Battle of Otranto

On land the Italians are making their tenth attempt to break through the Austro-Hungarian defences at the Isonzo. At sea though it is Austria-Hungary which is attacking. Their target is the Otranto Barrage, the Allied blockade of the mouth of the Adriatic at the Straits of Otranto. Drifters, mostly British, patrol here, trailing nets in which they hope to catch enemy U-boats; larger ships are ready to support the drifters in case of enemy action.

Led by Commander Horthy, an Austro-Hungarian flotilla sails out at night to attack the drifters, sinking 14 of them and damaging another four. An Allied squadron comprising British, French and Italian ships gives chase, trying to prevent Horthy’s ships from escaping back to port. However the Austro-Hungarians also bring up reinforcements. In the fighting that follows, the Austro-Hungarians see one of their cruisers suffer heavy damage (with Horthy himself severely injured) but the Allies have the worst of it, losing two destroyers.

The battle shows the Allies that they cannot be certain of complete control of the Adriatic. However there are no great consequences of the action. The Otranto Barrage remains in operation, but it also continues to be a a rather ineffectual barrier to German and Austro-Hungarian submarines.

image sources:

The Castle of Otranto (Echoes form the Vault)

SMS Novara, Horthy’s flagship (Wikipedia)

Horthy, seriously wounded (Wikipedia)

29/12/1915 Durazzo: Austrian ships mostly flee to safety

Austro-Hungarian ships have sailed out to attack the Italian-occupied port of Durazzo in Albania. However they managed to sail into a minefield and now they are slowly making their way back northwards, towing the stricken Triglav. They hope to return to base before being caught by pursuing ships of the British, French and Italian navies.

French ships are the first to catch up with the Austro-Hungarians. The Triglav is abandoned to its fate and scuttled. British ships engage the others at long range but the Austro-Hungarians manage to make it to safety, though not without suffering damage.

The Austro-Hungarians have learned the hard way that they run great risks when they send their ships out into the Adriatic.

28/12/1915 Durazzo: an Austrian naval raid goes awry

The Serbian army has retreated into Albania to escape destruction at the hands of the German, Bulgarian and Austro-Hungarian invaders of their country. Many of the Serbian soldiers and the civilians fleeing with them have died crossing the Albanian mountains, mostly from exposure and the effects of hunger but some at the hands of Albanian raiders; many Albanians are less than pleased at the Serbs bringing the war into their country.

The Serbs are making their way to the coast, where they hope to be brought to safety by Allied ships. To interfere with this evacuation an Austro-Hungarian naval force headed by the Helgoland sails down into the Adriatic to attack the Albanian port of Durazzo, now under Italian occupation (and renamed from the Albanian Durrës). On their way they spot and sink a French submarine. Then they bombard Durazzo and sunk some Greek ships that may have been planning to assist the Serbs. Then their luck runs out as they blunder into a minefield. One Austro-Hungarian ships is sunk, another, the Triglav severely damaged.
The Austro-Hungarians now decide that discretion is the better part of valour and begin to retreat back to base, towing the crippled Triglav. But there is danger ahead for the slow-moving flotilla. British, French and Italian ships are converging, intent on destroying the Austro-Hungarian squadron. They race northwards hoping to catch the enemy ships before they reach safety.

image source:

SMS Helgoland (Wikipedia)

18/7/1915 The Second Battle of the Isonzo: Italy attacks again

The first Italian attempt to break the Austro-Hungarians along the Isonzo failed. Now, less than two weeks later, the Italians are having another go. By now their army is at last fully mobilised and they hope to apply lessons learned from their previous mistakes.

The assault is preceded by a heavy artillery bombardment, intended to stun and devastate the Austro-Hungarians. The results are less impressive than they hoped, however. The Italians have not pinpointed all the defenders’ positions accurately, so not all the shells land where they should. The Austro-Hungarians have also in many cases cut deep dug-outs into the rocky landscape, in which they are able to shelter. Still, there are no shelters for the Austro-Hungarian reserves behind the frontline; the artillery wreaks a heavy toll on them.

The Italians are concentrating their efforts on taking Mont San Michele, on the Carso plateau. Taking the peak should put Gorizia in their grasp. In the afternoon the infantry moves forward. In an effort to reduce officer casualties, an instruction has been issued that they are to wear the same uniforms as their men. Unfortunately there has been insufficient time to implement this, so most of the officers are still wearing the distinctive uniforms that mark them out as targets. Their habit of marching in front of their units with drawn sabres also makes it easy for the enemy to pick them out.

Progress is slow, but there is progress. Italian forces manage to overrun the enemy’s forward positions. The real work will begin when they move further up the slopes towards the main Austro-Hungarian lines.

Meanwhile, the Italians are also attacking at sea. A naval squadron has set sail from Brindisi to attack the coastal railway in Dalmatia. Their shelling of the line near Ragusa Vecchia is not challenged by the Austro-Hungarian surface fleet. However, an enemy submarine fires a torpedo, singing the Giuseppe Garibaldi and putting the rest of the squadron to flight. Following the sinking of the Amalfi on the 7th, the Adriatic is increasingly looking like an unsafe area of operations for the Italian fleet.

image sources:

Isonzo front (WorldWar1.com)

Guiseppe Garibaldi sinking (Wikipedia)

24/5/1915 Italy’s war with Austria-Hungary begins

Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary yesterday with the war officially beginning at midnight. If the more bellicose members of the Italian public were expecting a rapid march to victory they are soon mistaken. The army is still being mobilised and is not expected to be ready until mid-June. There is some skirmishing along the border but no major engagements.

The Austro-Hungarians have been aware for some time that Italy is going to join the Allies. They are still shocked by the declaration of war. Italy has after all been allied to Austria-Hungary for more than thirty years. Emperor Franz Josef issues a message to his people denouncing Italy’s treachery. He also reminds them that in previous conflicts Austrian forces have always been able to defeat Italian armies.

Austria-Hungary’s commitments on the Eastern Front mean that there are few troops to spare for deployment against the Italians. Austro-Hungarian troops on the frontier are heavily outnumbered, but they have the advantage of terrain that favours the defender.

There is little action today between Italy and Austria-Hungary’s land armies, but at sea it is a different matter. The Austro-Hungarian navy sets sail from its naval base at Pula and bombards the Italian port of Ancona and other coastal targets. Austro-Hungarian ships also sink the Turbine, an Italian destroyer.

The war in the air too begins more promptly than on land. Austro-Hungarian aeroplanes drop bombs on Venice and other Italian targets.

image source:

Franz Josef (Wikipedia)