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.

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

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 Rather than leave his men to be annihilated, Austria-Hungary’s Boroevic has withdrawn them to more readily defensible positions on the edge of the plateau.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.

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

21/8/1917 Anti-war riots in Turin while crowds in Milan demand a Cadorna dictatorship

Italian troops are continuing to make gains on the Isonzo, where the Austro-Hungarians are reeling from the impact of the eleventh Italian offensive there. Away from the front however signs of war weariness are appearing in Italy. In Turin today a demonstration against food shortages erupts into a full scale riot that is eventually suppressed by the army with great loss of life. The incident is disturbing to the authorities, as the rioters’ demands stretch beyond simple economic issues and to demands that the war be brought to and end. Aside from the rioting in Turin there are also reports of workers in factories organising joint strikes and preparing workers councils, reminiscent of the soviets that have sprung up in Russia.

But not everyone in Italy is against the war. Throughout the summer there have been pro-war demonstrations in Milan and other cities, calling for Cadorna, the army commander, to be made dictator; these demonstrations may have been organised by Cadorna’s own agents. Rumours begin to swirl around that Cadorna is planning to stage a coup, either on his own or with sympathetic conservative politicians. If the fighting on the Isonzo continues to go Italy’s way then perhaps Cadorna will acquire the prestige that allows him to become the master of Italy.

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Riot (25 Agosto 1917. A Torino scoppia la “Rivolta del Pane”)

Luigi Cadorna and friends (Storiaverità: Il Convegno di Peshiera)

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.

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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.

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Pope Benedict XV

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.

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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.

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Italian prisoners under escort (Die Tiroler Kaiserjägerbund)