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.

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

28/5/1917 A bizarre episode on the Italian Front

The Tenth Battle of the Isonzo is winding down. The Italians have failed again to smash through the Austro-Hungarians, though for a while it did look like the defenders of the Carso Plateau would collapse before the Italian onslaught.

While the main Italian effort is now over, they are still staging local assaults. One of these occurs today, an attempt by Italian troops to cross the river Timavo and seize the village of Duino, from where they are to raise an Italian flag which will be visible in distant Trieste.

The attack fails. The terrain is extremely unsuitable to the kind of advance the Italians were planning and the Austro-Hungarian defence is too vigorous. The Italians are thrown back with heavy casualties, including the commander of the assault. Many of the Italian assault troops surrender once they realise how suicidal is the plan of attack.

The surrenders enrage Captain D’Annunzio, the modernist poet who had joined the army in pursuit of martial glory. He orders the artillery to shell the Italian prisoners as the Austro-Hungarian prisoners escort them to the rear. He also boasts of having prevented his mortally injured commander from taking poison, so that he would die a slow and painful death.

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Italian troops attack (Metropostcard.com)

Gabriele D’Annunzio (left) and fellow officer (Wikipedia)

26/5/1917 Once again, Italy runs out of steam on the Isonzo

Italian troops are attacking the Austro-Hungarians again on the Isonzo. In this tenth battle, Cadorna has alternated between attacking the Carso Plateau and mountainous positions further north around Gorizia. For the last few days the focus has returned to the Carso. After a bombardment of an intensity not previously seen here, the Italian infantry have made considerable gains, advancing up to two kilometres. The Austro-Hungarians appear to be on the brink of collapse, with many prisoners being taken by the Italians.

But today the tide turns. Boroevic, the Austro-Hungarian commander, has brought men south from the Gorizia sector to reinforce the Carso. The Germans have also permitted the transfer of two Austro-Hungarian divisions from the Eastern Front (where Habsburg units fight under German command). The Italians meanwhile are exhausted after their efforts of the past few days and also running low on artillery ammunition. Their attacks run out of steam and the front begins to stabilise.

The failure of another offensive to smash the Austro-Hungarians may be beginning to demoralise the Italian rank and file. Their commanders too are feeling the cold hand of pessimism on their shoulders. The Duke of Aosta, local commander of the assaults on the Carso, remarks that he fears the war could go on for another ten years. Others note that the men appear increasingly despondent, with some reporting that they wept as they went into battle, knowing that they were going to their deaths. Still, unlike the French, the Italian infantry continue to obey orders to attack. Perhaps one more battle of the Isonzo will be the one that sees them finally win victory over the Austro-Hungarians.

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Guns (Metropostcard.com)

Emanuele Filiberto, Duke of Aosta (Wikipedia)

23/5/1917 Unrest in Italy as attacks continue on the Isonzo

The Tenth Battle of the Isonzo continues. Cadorna had lowered the tempo of his men’s attacks on the Carso Plateau to focus on attacks on the more mountainous terrain around Gorizia to the north. Fighting there has become positional, with both sides taking and retaking hilltop positions and suffering heavy casualties while they do so.

Now Cadorna turns his attentions back to the Carso. Italian artillery blasts the Austro-Hungarians with a terrible intensity, though with much of the artillery still deployed around Gorizia the bombardment is not quite as intense as it could be. Still, the hope is that when the infantry attack tomorrow they will have better luck than in their advance at the start of the battle.

On the Italian home front meanwhile the strain is beginning to show. A wave of unrest sweeps across the country, particularly strongly in Milan. The authorities respond harshly, deploying troops to restore order in Milan and to crush leftist trouble-makers there. Some 50 people are killed and 800 arrested.

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Italian position, Mont San Gabriele (Rainer Regiment)

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.