15/5/1917 Tenth Isonzo: Cadorna changes tack

Cadorna had high hopes that this time after a heavy bombardment his men would be able to smash through the Austro-Hungarian lines. But on the Carso Plateau the enemy has put up stiff resistance. Since the infantry attacked yesterday the Italians here have suffered some 25,000 casualties.

The Italians have made more progress further to the north, though nothing like the promised breakthrough. Cadorna now decides to concentrate efforts here, even though the terrain does not make a breakthrough likely. His intention now is to let Capello, the local commander, seize more of the high ground and consolidate his gains, after which his artillery will be transferred back to the Carso for a renewed attempt to break through the Austro-Hungarians and press on to Trieste.

image source (Emerson Kent)

14/5/1917 Tenth Isonzo: the infantry attack

After subjecting the Austro-Hungarians to a bombardment of an intensity not yet seen on the Italian front, now Cadorna sends his infantry forward. In this Tenth Battle of the Isonzo, the Italians are hoping to seize the high ground beyond Gorizia, with ambitious plans to then roll up the Austro-Hungarian lines.

With their fighting spirit buoyed up by pep talks from the Futurist poet Filippo Marinetti, the Italians manage to storm the position known as Hill 383, albeit after suffering horrendous casualties from the vastly outnumbered but determined enemy. They are unable to take Mount Kuk, but the Italians manage to storm Mount Sabotinio. However, the fighting then becomes one of attack and counter-attack as the Austro-Hungarians and Italians struggle to deny each other the summit.

The Italians are also attacking on the Carso plateau, down towards the coast, hoping to smash through the depleted Austro-Hungarian positions here. Unfortunately the Habsburgs are able to contain the Italians thanks to a combination of dogged resistance by the infantry and murderously accurate artillery fire.

At the end of the first day it looks suspiciously like this battle of the Isonzo will be much like the previous ones, with the Italians making only minimal gains and taking enormous casualties. Nevertheless the attacks will continue tomorrow.

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Soldiers (La Grande Guerra e i Giovani di Trezzano Sul Naviglio)

12/5/1917 Tenth time lucky on the Isonzo?

Since the Italians joined the war in 1915 they have launched nine offensives against the Austro-Hungarians on the Isonzo line. All have failed, apart perhaps from the Sixth Battle, which saw Italy capture frontline town of Gorizia.

Now shelling begins for the tenth offensive. The Italians have built up their artillery, doubling the number of medium and heavy guns available a year ago. They now have 3,000 guns at the Isonzo, a smaller concentration than would be seen on the Western Front, with less shells for them to fire, but this is still capable of blasting the Austro-Hungarians with an intensity never before seen on this front. Cadorna hopes that this time after a short artillery bombardment the infantry will be able to smash through the enemy and achieve the breakthrough that has long eluded him.

16/11/1916 Allied plans for 1917: more of the same

Allied leaders are meeting in Paris, trying to find a way to prosecute the war to victory. The French and British want to concentrate their forces on the Western Front, a view with which the others are obliged to grudgingly acquiesce. This means there will be no substantial reinforcement of the Allied force in Salonika, which is bad news for the Serbs and Romanians. Cadorna too declines to send more Italian troops to Albania or Greece, preferring to keep his men concentrated on the Isonzo.

So what do the Allies agree on? They agree once more to hit the Central Powers with combined offensives next year, with May scheduled as when the hammer blows will fall. Given the casualties the Germans and Austro-Hungarians must have suffered this year, the Allied leaders hope that they will not be able to resist another round of major assaults.

4/11/1916 Isonzo: Cadorna’s nerve fails again

Italian troops continue to push forward on the Carso plateau. An Austro-Hungarian counter-attack failed to stop their advance. Now the Italians are pushing towards the enemy’s second line of defence and few on the Austro-Hungarian side think that this will stop them. Boroevic, the Austro-Hungarian commander, is running out of reserves to commit to the battle. He has just one battalion left, an ethnically mixed unit from the Banat region. He sends them forward to launch one last desperate counter-attack against the Italians.

The Banat soldiers are heavily outnumbered, yet somehow their attack achieves the impossible. The Italians are shaken, their onward march temporarily halted. In the lull, another infantry division arrives from Galicia to reinforce the Austro-Hungarians. They wait for the Italians to resume their advance, hoping that they might just now be able to contain it.

But the Italians do not renew their advance. Cadorna too is shaken by today’s counter-attack. He orders a halt to the offensive. He hopes to launch a new offensive before Christmas, weather permitting, once his artillery has had a chance to batter the enemy’s second line trenches. For now the Italian troops are to be stood down.

The Austro-Hungarians are astonished. They know how desperately stretched their lines are now, how close they are to breaking. As with the Eighth Battle, Cadorna appears to have thrown away a chance for victory.

The Ninth Battle has cost the Italians another 39,000 casualties, while the Austro-Hungarians have suffered something like 33,000.

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Luigi Cadorna (Wikipedia)

2/11/1916 Ninth Isonzo: the Italian juggernaut appears unstoppable

Italy’s ninth offensive on the Isonzo continues. This time things are going well for the Italians. They have overrun the Austro-Hungarian first line along several kilometres of the front on the Carso plateau and are pushing forward towards the enemy’s second line. Boroevic tries to stop the Italian advance by launching a great counter-attack of his own. Savage fighting ensues, but Cadorna sends forward the Italian reserves. The Austro-Hungarians are overwhelmed and forced to fall back. The Italian advance continues.

To the Austro-Hungarians it looks now as though their second line is bound to fall. Is the Italian breakthrough imminent?

1/11/1916 Round nine: another Italian attack on the Isonzo

The Eighth Battle is barely over, but now the Italians are attacking again on the Isonzo. Cadorna hopes that now at last the Austro-Hungarians will break in the face of the Italian onslaught. He is determined that there will be no backsliding on the part of his men. The local Italian commander has already had men summarily executed for mutiny. Now Cadorna goes one step further and orders that any unit that fails in its duty is to be decimated: one in ten men picked at random and shot. He also has military policemen with machine guns deployed behind the assault troops, ordered to fire on their own comrades if they move forward too slowly.

The Italians are attacking on the Carso plateau, scene of much of the Isonzo fighting. Italian artillery has done its job well this time, pulverising the Austro-Hungarian frontline positions. The Italians make astonishing gains, pushing three kilometres into the enemy positions along at five kilometre wide front. Now Cadorna pushes forward his reserves in the hope of exploiting these gains and achieving a general breakthrough. But the Austro-Hungarians too are sending forward their reserves, in a desperate attempt to prevent the collapse of their line.

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Italian troops move forward (Wikipedia)