19/9/1917 As Eleventh Isonzo draws to a close, Austria plans to strike back #1917Live

After initial gains the eleventh Italian assault on the Isonzo has turned into another slogging match. The Austro-Hungarian decision to retreat to the eastern edge of the Bainsizza plateau has paid off: the Italian advance has been contained. After a series of massed attacks fail to break through Italy’s Cadorna orders his men to halt and assume a defensive posture. The battle is now over.

Italian losses have been great: they have taken some 166,000 casualties, with 25,000 losses in a series of fruitless attempts to take the mountain of San Gabriele. Two thirds of the units involved in the battle are now at half strength or less. Cadorna trumpets the battle as a victory on the basis of the early gains achieved, but a few more victories like this will break the Italian army.

The situation on the other side of the hill is not so good either. At 140,000, Austro-Hungarian casualties are also very high. Their army on the Isonzo is smaller than the Italians so the proportionate losses are greater.

Boroevic, the Austro-Hungarian commander, Boroevic fears that the next Italian offensive will cause the collapse of his line. However Emperor Karl has promised him that the next battle will be a counter-offensive against the Italians. Now he prepares to approach the Germans, to ask them to supply more troops for the Eastern Front that will allow him to send more Austro-Hungarians from there to the Isonzo.

image source:

Italian position on the Carso (Storia e Memoria di Bologna: 11 Battaglia dell’Isonzo (History and Memory of Bologna: 11th Battle of the Isonzo))

18/9/1917 Carzano: an Italian attempt to utilise Austro-Hungarian turncoats #1917Live

The Eleventh Battle of the Isonzo is beginning to wind down, with the Italians having made some gains but at a terrible cost in lost men. Other sectors of the front are relatively quiet but tonight in the Trentino sector the Italians launch a surprise attack on the town of Carzano. Italian troops here have made contact with the troops opposite, who include Serbs and Czechs hostile to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The rebels have arranged to let Italian troops advance through their positions to Carzano, to be followed by the main body of Italian troops who will exploit this hole in the enemy lines.

Unfortunately the more senior Italian commanders in the sector are half-hearted in their support for the attack, suspicious that some kind of trap is being laid for them. The first wave of Italian troops move through the enemy lines to Carzano but the followup troops advance far too slowly. Eventually the Austro-Hungarians realise that something is up. The Italian commander orders a withdrawal, abandoning the troops who have made it to Carzano itself. Italian artillery shells them as they surrender.

image source:

Fighting in Carzano (Wikipedia: Sogno di Carzano)

28/8/1917 11th Isonzo: the Italian advance contained #1917Live

The Eleventh Battle of the Isonzo has seen the Italians make unexpected gains near Gorizia on the Bainsizza plateau. Rather than leave his men to be annihilated, Austria-Hungary’s Boroevic has withdrawn them to more readily defensible positions on the edge of the plateau.

The withdrawal appears to work. When the Italians reach the plateau’s edge they are unable to make further gains against the Austro-Hungarians. Unfortunately for them, the Italian reserves are concentrated further to the south and cannot be deployed to the plateau quickly enough, leaving the exhausted troops who made the first attacks unable to bludgeon through on their own. With the Italian assault running out steam, it begins to look like it will not after all be eleventh time luck for Italy’s Cadorna.

Cadorna can at least console himself with the suppression of anti-war rioting in Turin. The army has restored order there, killing dozens and injuring hundreds.

image source:

Austro-Hungarian defensive position on the Bainsizza (Roads to the Great War: What Happened on the Bainsizza Plateau in 1917?)

24/8/1917 11th Isonzo: Austria-Hungary retreats

Italian attacks have made little progress in their attacks on the Carso plateau, on the southern end of the Isonzo line. Now the Italians scale back their efforts here to concentrate on the Bainsizza plateau to the north, where the they have made considerable gains. This however allows the Austro-Hungarians to begin transferring men from the Carso to aid their hard-pressed comrades to the north.

Following a conference between Boroevic, their commander, and Emperor Karl, Austro-Hungarian troops on the Bainsizza today withdraw to the eastern edge of the plateau. Fearing annihilation if they remain in place, the Austro-Hungarians hope that they will be able to contain the Italians from their new lines.

The Italians are used to the Austro-Hungarians holding positions to the last man. The Austro-Hungarian withdrawal happens before dawn, in silence and great secrecy. Failing to realise what is happening, the Italians then shell the now empty Austro-Hungarian positions.

image source:

Fanciful image of Austro-Hungarian troops repelling an Italian attack today (Worldwar1.com, The St. Mihiel Trip-Wire: October 2013)

22/8/1917 Crisis on the Isonzo

Previous offensives on the Isonzo have seen mixed results for the Italians. This time though they are making great progress on the Bainsizza plateau near Gorizia. The Austro-Hungarians here appear unable to halt the onslaught. The Italians roll forward, capturing some 11,000 prisoners and many artillery pieces.

The Austro-Hungarian crisis is so grave that Emperor Karl arrives today at the headquarters of Boroevic, the local commander. Boroevic’s instinct is always to defend every inch of ground to the last man and to stage desperate counterattacks to recover any ground lost. These tactics have contained previous Italian offensives, albeit at considerable cost to the Austro-Hungarians. However the risk now is that if this tactic is continued, the Austro-Hungarians on the Bainsizza will be wiped out, leaving the Italians a clear path into the heart of the Habsburg Empire.

Karl prevails on Boroevic to change tactics. The Austro-Hungarians will retreat to more readily defensible positions. To sugar the pill, he promises Boroevic that the next battle will see the tables turned, with Austria-Hungary launching an offensive against the Italians.

image source:

Boroevic and his staff (Cro-EU: Hrvatska / Boroevic Svetozar v. Bojna)

19/8/1917 11th Isonzo: Italy smashes Austria-Hungary #1917Live

Italian artillery has been blasting the Austro-Hungarians on the Isonzo since the start of the month. Now the infantry attacks, launching the Eleventh Battle of the Isonzo. Italy’s Cadorna hopes that this time his men will finally smash through the defences of the enemy and win the decisive victory of which he has long dreamed. He is confident of success. The Italians outnumber the Austro-Hungarians by the same margin as in every other Isonzo battle, but this time their superiority in artillery is overwhelming. Italian aircraft also control the skies.

Italian troops attack all along the Isonzo line. On the Carso plateau, near the coast, gains are modest and in many cases lost to determined counter-attacks. But around Gorizia the situation is different. Here the Austro-Hungarian defenders are heavily outnumbered and stunned by the weight of the bombardment they have had to endure. They find themselves unable to resist the Italian onslaught. Capello, the local commander, sends more men forward to exploit the breakthrough, ordering them to press on regardless of whether they outrun their supply lines. The day of victory appears to be at hand: this is not a time for holding back.

image source:

Italian infantry attack (Wikipedia; image is from the Ninth Battle but they’re all the same)

15/8/1917 As Italy prepares for another offensive the Pope calls for peace #1917Live

The Italian army is preparing for another offensive on the Isonzo. Cadorna hopes that this eleventh battle will be the one that finally breaks the Austro-Hungarians. He has assembled an impressive store of artillery and the Italian air force has control of the skies, so he is confident of success.

Not everyone is on board with the Italian commander’s martial vision. In Rome, Pope Benedict XV has called again for an end to the war, which he describes as “useless slaughter”. The Pope’s words strike a chord, with many wondering whether the cost of the war is worth enduring. Socialists and radicals also denounce the war in increasingly strident terms.

Within the army too a certain war weariness is becoming evident, though the military authorities do their best to keep the men in line with harsh discipline. Today in a trench near the front officers find a note scribbled on cardboard saying that the unit there will surrender to the enemy if they are not taken out of the front line. The culprit is not found, so the local commander orders four men to be chosen by lot and immediately executed.

image source:

Pope Benedict XV