4/11/1918 The Italian Front armistice comes into effect #1918Live

The armistice between Italy and Austria-Hungary does not take effect until 3.00 pm today, but in an unfortunate mix-up the Austro-Hungarian high command ordered its men to stop fighting yesterday. As a result some 350,000 Austro-Hungarians find themselves captured in the war’s last hours as the Italians race to capture as much territory as they can. The Italians have not prepared for this number of prisoners; the conditions in which they are to be held will be harsh. Many of them are abused by Italian civilians as they are herded to the rear.

The armistice does not halt the Italian advance. Diaz, the army commander, and Orlando, the prime minister, are anxious that Italian troops occupy at least all the territories promised in the Treaty of London and so Italian troops are pressing onwards towards the Brenner pass and eastwards to establish an overland route to Trieste. Conquest of the Dalmatian coast will follow. The Italians are also casting their eyes towards Fiume, a Hungarian port specifically not allocated to them by the treaty.

In celebration of the victory, Diaz issues a pompous communique hailing his army’s great victory. Neither the assistance provided to Italy by its allies nor the fact that Austria-Hungary was already falling apart is mentioned.

image sources:

Map showing Italian progress and Austro-Hungarian prisoners captured

24/10/1918 Italy attacks Monte Grappa: more blood spilled for minimal gains

Italian troops are at last moving to attack the Austro-Hungarians, hoping to fight one last battle before the war comes to an end. The original plan was to combine an attack northwards against Monte Grappa with an amphibious assault across the Piave towards Vittorio Veneto. Unfortunately heavy rains in recent days have meant that the Piave is in flood, forcing a postponement of the river-crossing. Nevertheless, the assault on Monte Grappa goes ahead and subject positions across the Piave to a devastating artillery bombardment.

The Italians are attacking on the anniversary of the enemy attacks that began the Battle of Caporetto. Since that terrible defeat the balance has shifted significantly in the Italians favour, thanks to the reorganisation efforts led by Diaz and support from Italy’s allies. The Austro-Hungarians meanwhile have seen their army begin to disintegrate thanks to pressures tearing the Habsburg Empire apart. But the Italian attack on Monte Grappa is no Caporetto in reverse. Austro-Hungarian resistance is more dogged than expected, with the Italian assault resembling more the likes of the Isonzo battles one to eleven: heavy casualties for the attackers combined with minimal gains.

Orlando, Italy’s premier, is disappointed by the poor progress of the attack on Monte Grappa, but he is pleased that his army is finally attacking. By fighting a battle and taking casualties the Italians are staking their claim to the spoils of the coming victory.

image source:

Italian machine-gunners on Monte Grappa (Wikipedia)

23/10/1918 With British help, the Italians prepare to cross the Piave #1918Live

The Italian front has been quiet since the failed Austro-Hungarian attempt to cross the Piave in June. Now that the war looks like it will soon be ending, Prime Minister Orlando of Italy is desperately prodding Diaz, the army commander, to attack. Orlando fears that if Italy sits out the war’s end then it will be robbed of its rightful share of the spoils of victory.

After some foot-dragging, Diaz is now ready to attack. Tomorrow is the big day, with his men to launch a two-pronged attack: northwards against Monte Grappa and eastwards across the Piave. And the Italians will not be fighting on their own. After the Caporetto disaster British troops were sent to bolster the Italian defence and now these will assist in the crossing of the Piave. Although tomorrow is the day of the main assault, British troops make their first moves today, occupying islands in the wide channel of the river that will be used as jumping off points for the attack on the east bank.

Boroevic, the Austro-Hungarian commander, knows an attack is coming but is pessimistic about his army’s ability to contain it. The unrest and disaffection the now grips the Empire is also felt in the army; some units are already refusing to obey orders or move up to the line. But Boroevic is still loyal to the Habsburg dynasty. His main hope now is that he will be able to extract enough loyal troops from the maelstrom to assist Emperor Karl in suppressing his enemies within the Empire.

18/10/1918 Italy prepares to attack Austria-Hungary #1918Live

Last year at Caporetto the Austro-Hungarian and Germans smashed the Italians with an offensive of such intensity that the country was almost forced out of the war. Since then Diaz, who succeeded Cadorna as the Italian commander, has striven to rebuild the Italian army. Knowing that the army’s morale is brittle he has resisted pressure put on him to attack the Austro-Hungarians: he fears the effect of another Isonzo style bloodbath on his men. Even at the most desperate stage of the German spring offensives this year Diaz denied Foch‘s request for him to launch a diversionary attack on the Austro-Hungarians.

Now though Diaz is coming under pressure to attack from his own government. Prime Minster Orlando sees that the Western Front is approaching its end game. An armistice there could bring the war to an end at any moment. It would be a disaster for Italy if her troops were seen to have sat out the war’s end, as it would weaken Italian claims to Austro-Hungarian territory on the Dalmatian coast and Istrian peninsula.

Orlando has been pushing Diaz to attack for some time now. Diaz agrees that an attack is necessary but his preparations for one are proving to be a bit drawn out. Now Orlando learns that the Austro-Hungarians are planning to withdraw unilaterally from the all territory they are occupying before suing for peace. Orlando needs to have Italian blood shed. He telegrams Diaz frantically: “Between inaction and defeat, I prefer defeat. Get moving!”.

Orlando’s message adds some urgency to Diaz’s preparations, who decides that that the attack will begin on the 24th of October. His plan is to combine a northwards assault on Monte Grappa with amphibious attacks across the Piave river towards Vittorio Veneto. The Italians hope that they will have better luck crossing the Piave than the Austro-Hungarians did in June.

6/11/1917 Rapallo: Allied leaders demand Cadorna’s head #1917Live

Allied leaders are meeting at Rapallo in Italy to discuss the desperate position of the Italian army. Prime Minsters Lloyd George, Painlevé and Orlando are present, together with a raft of other politicians and senior generals from all three countries (and also Smuts of South Africa). A curious absence is Cadorna, Italy’s supreme general.

Caporetto has shattered the Italian army and the country’s leaders are essentially begging their Allies for the help needed to stave off complete defeat. However the British and French have no confidence in the command structure of the Italian army. They attach two conditions to their aid: British and French troops sent to Italy will remain under French command (specifically under Foch, now the French chief of staff) and Cadorna will be removed as Italian commander. The Italians have no choice but to accept these terms. Orlando is no friend of Cadorna and is probably happy to have an excuse to remove him.

image source:

The New Kursaal Hotel, where the Allied leaders met (My Simple Life in Liguria: the Glory Days of Rapallo)

30/10/1917 A new Italian prime minster spells danger for the army’s commander #1917Live

Just as the Germans and Austro-Hungarians launched their offensive at Caporetto the Italian government of Paolo Boselli fell. Now after a short interregnum Vittorio Orlando takes over as prime minister. Orlando is a liberal who has been serving as minister of the interior. He is determined to keep Italy in the war, notwithstanding the currently unfolding military disaster. Unlike his predecessors, however, he is not in awe of Cadorna, the army’s supreme commander. The army’s failures in the face of the enemy offensive has already put Cadorna’s star into the descendant. Faced with a hostile prime minister, it may not be long before the generalissimo is put out to pasture.

image sources:

Vittorio Orlando (Wikipedia)

Luigi Cadorna (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

25/10/1917 Caporetto: Italy reels from the enemy onslaught #1917Live

A German and Austro-Hungarian assault on the upper Isonzo has caught the Italians unawares. Caporetto has fallen and the Italian army is beginning to collapse, with men surrendering or abandoning their positions. In one incident, Erwin Rommel, a young German battalion commander, secures the surrender of an entire Italian brigade despite being outnumbered more than ten to one.

At a senior level the Italian response is confused. Capello, the local commander facing the enemy onslaught, favours a retreat to the Tagliamento or beyond. Cadorna, the commander in chief, is undecided but the Duke of Aosta, commanding troops on the southern Isonzo, is already bringing heavy artillery away from the front.

In Rome news of the disaster has yet to arrive, but by coincidence today the government of Boselli falls, losing a confidence vote thanks to a new combination of socialists and liberals. It looks like the next prime minister will be Vittorio Orlando, the interior minister, who for some time now has favoured the ouster of Cadorna.

image source:

Italian prisoners (The World of the Habsburgs: Pyrrhic Victory and Failure on the Isonzo)