The Forgotten Front; the Battles of the Isonzo

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Italy entered the war on May 23, 1915, dumping its commitment to the Central Forces and joining the Allied side. In exchange for shifting sides, the allied promised substantial border corrections once the war was won.

The only suitable location for an offensive was in the lower Isonzo valley at the southeastern end of the dividing mountain ranges. This river runs north-south along the border on the Austro-Hungarian side (now western Slovenia) to the Adriatic Sea. The idea was to cross in the southern area which was less mountainous. The first step was to cross the Isonzo (Soča) River and capture Monfalcone and especially Gorizia. Having established that bridgehead, the Italians then could turn south and capture Trieste and continue eastward accross the lowlands toward Lubljana and there turn north to threaten Vienna.

At least, that was the theory and the plan.

 

generals

Dicission how to defend and attack are made in warm and quiet surroundings by the general staff: next week in Vienna (or Rome) ...

reality was - as usual, a bit different

battle 0     battle

and it ended up in a bloody slugging fest and war of attrition for three years on a narrow and static front

Czech cemetery

Making a simple cemetery for fallen comrades of the k.u.k. 91. IR on Mrzli vrh

Opposing the Italians was the k.u.k. 5. Army, later strengthened with elements from other units. They literally held the high grounds, with the Italians having to cross the river while under the reach of well-defended mountain ridges. History now counts 11 Battles of the Isonzo over a 27 month period in which the Italians attacked. Despite heavy losses, the Italian commanders refused to believe that they could not win by massive frontal attacks. In the end, despite numeric superiority, they were beaten back each time with heavy losses on both sides.

In August 1916, during the sixth battle, the Italian army finally managed to conquer Gorizia. However, this was as far as they came.

In the Twelfth Battle, also called the Miracle of Kobarid or the Battle at Carpetto (Italian for Kobarid), the Austria-Hungarian troops were massively supplemented with fresher German troops and much needed equipment. In that battle, raging from October 24 trough November 9, 1917. The Central forces for the first time at that front attacked, and smashed through the Italian lines. The attack started with a massive bombardment of Italian trenches with poison gas and normal artillery. The Central forces rolled the depleted and exhausted Italians back and routed them out of the mountains into the Italian flat land. Only at the river Piava did the Central forces stopped, more than 70 kms western from the Isonzo front.

Copyright: to the best of our knowledge, the images used here are free of copyright in public domain.

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© Robert Dulfer (2017)