The German and Austro-Hungarian offensive at Caporetto has smashed the Italians, forcing them to abandon the Isonzo line. They retreated to the Tagliamento but were unable to stop the enemy there. Since then the Italians retreated to the Piave, knowing that if the enemy could not be held here then Venice would fall and the Germans and Austro-Hungarians advance could become unstoppable.
The Germans and Austro-Hungarians however are now finding the going harder. Their stormtroopers are exhausted after the continuous fighting and marching since the offensive’s beginning. Their commanders have failed to plan for the scale of the defeat they have inflicted on the Italians, failing in particular to adequately resource a second attack by Conrad from the Asiago plateau that could have cut off the Italian line of retreat.
With both sides exhausted, the Italians are able to hold the Piave. Italy will be able to stay in the war after all. But the battle has been devastating. The Italians have taken over 300,000 casualties in the battle, with some 294,000 of these captured by the enemy (only 42,000 of the Italian casualties are killed or wounded). Meanwhile another 300,000 troops have been separated from their units and are either trying to make their way home or are wandering aimlessly behind the lines. The Italians have also lost some 3,000 guns, half the army’s complement of artillery pieces. A telling tribute to the rout of its army is the loss by its soldiers of 300,000 rifles. It will be a long time before Italy is able to strike back against the Austro-Hungarians.
Those Italians who surrendered to the enemy may have hoped to quietly sit out the rest of the war. Sadly, for them the nightmare is only beginning. Austria-Hungary struggles to feed its own soldiers and civilians; it has little or no food to spare for this large bag of enemy prisoners. And the Italian government prohibits the transmission of food parcels to those captured by the enemy, who are viewed as little better than traitors. For the unfortunate Italian prisoners, starvation waits.
With the battle winding down, the Germans prepare to withdraw the men and the guns they have lent to the Austro-Hungarians. Soon their stormtroopers will be able to apply their infiltration tactics in France, when Ludendorff launches the battle he hopes will win the war.
map (Wikipedia: Battle of Caporetto)
Italian prisoners (Mental Floss WWI Centennial: Disaster At Caporetto)