- Italian Campaign (World War I)
Infobox Military Conflict
World War I
caption=Italian troops entrenched along the Isonzo river.
date= 23 May 1915 – 3/4 November 1918
result=Italian victory, Collapse of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire, Treaty of Trianon
flagicon|United Kingdom United Kingdom [George H. Cassar, "The Forgotten Front: The British Campaign in Italy, 1917-1918" (Continuum International Publishing Group, 1998), p.91]
flagicon|France France [ [http://www.worldwar1.com/itafront/alliesitaly.htm Allies in Italy] ]
flag|United States|1912 [ [http://www.worldwar1.com/itafront/dbsitaly.htm Doughboys in Italy] ]
Conrad von Hötzendorf
Otto von Below
casualties2=|The Italian campaign refers to a series of battles fought between the armies of
Austria-Hungaryand Italy, along with their allies, in northern Italy between 1915 and 1918. Italy hoped that by joining the countries of the Triple Ententeagainst the Central Powersshe would gain the province of Trento "(Trentino)" and the port of Trieste, as well as the province of Bolzano-Bozen "(Alto Adige/Südtirol)", Istriaand Dalmatia. Although Italy had hoped to begin the war with a surprise offensive intended to move quickly and capture several Austrian held cities, the war soon bogged down into trench warfaresimilar to the Western Front.
Causes for the campaign
Although a member of the Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Germany, Italy did not declare war in August 1914, arguing that the Alliance was defensive in nature and therefore that Austria-Hungary's aggression did not obligate Italy to take part. Italy had a long standing rivalry with Austria-Hungary, dating back to the
Congress of Viennain 1815 after the Napoleonic Wars, which ceded several important Italian regions to Austria-Hungary. In the early stages of the war, Allieddiplomats courted Italy, attempting to secure Italian participation on the Allied side, culminating in the Treaty of London of April 26, 1915 in which Italy renounced her obligations to the Triple Alliance. On May 23, Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire.
Campaigns of 1915-1916
First battles of Isonzo
Italy opened the war with an offensive aimed at capturing the town of
Goriziaon the Isonzo(Slov. Soča) river. However, the Italian Armywas poorly equipped in artillery, vehicles, and ammunition. At the beginning of the war, Italy had just 600 vehicles to move troops.As with most contemporary militaries, the Italian army primarily used horses for transport, and these failed to move supplies fast enough in the tough terrain of the Alps. Also, the newly appointed Italian commander, Luigi Cadorna, had no combat experience and was highly unpopular amongst his men.
At the beginning of the offensive, Italian forces outnumbered the Austrians 2 to 1, but failed to penetrate their strong defensive lines along the Alps. This was mostly due to the Austrian forces being based on higher ground, and so Italian offensives had to be conducted climbing. Two weeks later, the Italians attempted another frontal assault with more artillery but were beaten back again. Another attack was mounted from
October 18to November 4with 1,200 heavy guns, which again resulted in no gain.
The Asiago offensive
Following Italy's disastrous offensives, the Austrians began planning a counteroffensive ("Strafexpedition") based in Trentino and directed towards the plain across the Altopiano di Asiago. The offensive began on
March 11, 1916with 15 divisions breaking the Italian lines. Though warned of an impending offensive, the local Italian commander had chosen to conduct local offensives instead of preparing a defense. The unprepared Italian positions collapsed and Italy only staved off defeat by quickly transferring reinforcements from other fronts.
Later battles for the Isonzo
Later in 1916, four more battles along the Isonzo river erupted. The
Sixth Battle of the Isonzo, launched by the Italians in August, resulted in a success greater than the previous attacks largely because the Austrians had depleted their lines for the Brusilov Offensive. The offensive gained nothing of strategic value but did take Gorizia, which boosted Italian spirits. The Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth battles of the Isonzo ( September 14- November 4) managed to accomplish little except to wear down the already exhausted armies of both nations.
1917: Germany arrives
Following the minuscule gains of the Tenth Battle of the Isonzo, the Italians directed a two-pronged attack against the Austrian lines north and east of Gorizia. The Austrians easily checked the advance east, but Italian forces under
Luigi Capellomanaged to break the Austrian lines and capture the BainsizzaPlateau. Characteristic of nearly every other theater of the war, the Italians found themselves on the verge of victory but could not secure it because their supply lines could not keep up with the front-line troops and they were forced to withdraw.
The Austrians received desperately needed reinforcements after the
Eleventh Battle of the Isonzofrom German Armysoldiers rushed in after the Russian offensive ordered by Kerensky ( Kerensky Offensive) of July 1917 failed. The Germans introduced infiltration tactics ( Hutier tactics) to the Austrian front and helped work on a new offensive. Meanwhile, mutinies and plummeting morale crippled the Italian Army from within. The soldiers lived in poor conditions and engaged in attack after attack that often yielded minimal or no military gain. On October 24, 1917 the Austrians and Germans launched the Battle of Caporetto(Italian name for Kobarid) with a huge artillery barrage followed by infantry using Hutier tactics, bypassing enemy strong points and attacking on the Italian rear. At the end of the first day, the Italians had retreated 12 miles to the Tagliamento River.
1918: The war ends
Battle of the Piave
Advancing deep and fast, the Austrians overran their supply lines, which forced them to stop and regroup. The Italians, pushed back to defensive lines near
Veniceon the Piave River, had suffered 600,000 casualties to this point in the war. Because of heavy losses, the Italian Government called to the arms the so called "'99 Boys" ("Ragazzi del '99"), that is, all males who were 18 years old. In November 1917, British, French and US forcesFact|date=November 2007 started to bolster the front line, though not in decisive numbers; the Italians were able to contain the Austrian offensive largely by themselves. Far more decisive than Allied help in troops, indeed, was Franco-British (and US) help provided in those strategic materials (coal, steel, etc.) Italy always lacked sorely. In the spring of 1918, Germany pulled out its troops for use in its upcoming Spring Offensive. The Austrians now began debating how to finish the war in Italy. The Austro-Hungarian generals disagreed on how to administer the final offensive. Archduke Joseph August of Austriadecided for a two-pronged offensive, where it would prove impossible for the two forces to communicate in the mountains.
Battle of the Piave Riverbegan with a diversionary attack near the Tonale Pass, which the Italians easily repulsed. Austrian deserters betrayed the objectives of the upcoming offensive, which allowed the Italians to move two armies directly in the path of the Austrian prongs. The other prong, led by general Svetozar Boroević von Bojna initially experienced success until aircraft bombed their supply lines and Italian reinforcements arrived.
The decisive Battle of Vittorio Veneto
To the disappointment of Italy's allies, no counter-offensive followed the Battle of Piave. The Italian Army had suffered huge losses in the battle, and considered an offensive dangerous. General
Armando Diazwaited for more reinforcements to arrive from the Western Front. By October 1918, Italy finally had enough soldiers to mount an offensive. The attack targeted Vittorio Veneto, across the Piave. Though Austrian soldiers fought viciously, the superior numbers of the Italians overwhelmed them. The Italians broke through a gap near Sacileand poured in reinforcements that crushed the Austrian defensive line. On November 3, 300,000 Austrian soldiers surrendered.The Battle of Vittorio Venetoheralded the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Armyas an effective fighting force, and also triggered the disintegration of Austria-Hungary. During the last week of October, declarations made in Budapest, Prague, and Zagreb proclaimed the independence of their respective parts of the old empire. On October 29 the imperial authorities asked Italy for an armistice, but the Italians continued to advance, reaching Trento, Udine, and Trieste. On November 3, Austria-Hungary sent a flag of truce to the Italian Commander to ask again for an Armistice and terms of peace. The terms were arranged by telegraph with the Allied Authorities in Paris, communicated to the Austrian Commander, and were accepted. The Armistice with Austriawas signed in the Villa Giusti, near Padua, on November 3, and took effect on November 4, at three o’clock in the afternoon. Austria and Hungary signed separate armistices following the overthrow of the Habsburg Monarchyand the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
World War I
History of Austria
Italy in World War I
Bollettino della Vittoria
* [http://www.potimiruvposocju.si/ The Walks of Peace in the Soča Region Foundation] . The Foundation preserves, restores and presents the historical and cultural heritage of the First World War in the area of the Isonzo Front for the study, tourist and educational purposes.
* [http://www.frontedolomitico.it/ The Great War in the Dolomites] . The men, the mountains and the events
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