15/7/1917 Santa Maria la Longa: an Italian mutiny suppressed #1917Live

Yesterday a mutiny broke out among Italian troops of the Catanzaro brigade. After suffering in heavy fighting during the recent Tenth Battle of the Isonzo, these men from the far south of Italy had been taken out of the line and based temporarily at the village of Santa Maria la Longa. Expecting to be posted to a quiet sector, the men were shocked to then receive orders to return to the Isonzo frontline. Anger leads to mutiny, which is suppressed by the cavalry and armoured cars. 11 men die in the disturbance, including two officers. The rebels had apparently planned to kill D’Annunzio, stationed in a nearby village, but the warrior poet had been away visiting a nearby airfield.

More men die today. 28 men are executed for their part in the mutiny, 12 chosen at random from the most mutinous company, in accordance with Cadorna‘s directions on how to deal with units that fail in their duty. D’Annunzio watches the executions of the men who would have killed him.

image source:

Benediction for the condemned (from the film Uomini Contro) (La Grande Guerra: Fucilazioni della brigata Catanzaro a Santa Maria la Longa)

30/6/1917 Cadorna denounced in the Italian parliament

With minimal progress on the Isonzo and the recent failure of the offensive on the Asiago plateau it is hard for anyone to say that the war is going very well for Italy. The Italian government has allowed parliament to let off steam in a closed session debate on the war’s conduct. Criticism of the government and the army is relatively muted until today, when Fortunato Marazzi takes the floor. This liberal politician has previously served on the Isonzo as a divisional commander. Now he eviscerates Cadorna, the army’s chief of staff, and the government that has left him in place. He denounces a succession of mistakes made by the military and the failure of the politicians to hold Cadorna to account. He is particularly critical of Cadorna’s failure to concentrate artillery and continued reliance on broad front offensives.

Marazzi’s speech impresses many of his fellow parliamentarians, including his political opponents. However Cadorna can only removed by unseating Boselli, the prime minister, and the politicians fear chaos if the government were to fall now. The parliament ends up voting confidence once more in Boselli’s government, meaning that Cadorna is safe in his job for the moment.

image source:

Fortunato Marazzi (Wikipedia)

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.

image source:

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.

image source:

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.

image sources:

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.

images source:

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.

image source:

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