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BerichtGeplaatst: 17 Jan 2006 20:31    Onderwerp: Caporetto/Karfreit/Kobarid Reageer met quote

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Battle Of Caporetto
"BATTLE OF. CAPORETTO - The Italian offensive I of Aug. - Sept. 1917 had reduced Boroevic's armies to the limit of resist 'See generally under Italian Campaigns.

ance, so much so that, as Ludendorff records, " the responsible military and political authorities of the Dual Monarchy were convinced that they would not be able to stand a continuation of the battle and a twelfth attack on the Isonzo.. .. In the middle of Sept. it became necessary to decide for the attack on Italy in order to prevent the collapse of Austria-Hungary." Though the Italian advance on the Bainsizza plateau had come so near to a definite break through, it had left the Italian II. Army badly placed for defence. South of Tolmino the Aug. fighting had bitten out a wide salient on the Bainsizza plateau. North of Tolmino the Italians were still in the positions they had occupied early in the campaign, among the mountains on the left bank of the Isonzo, with comparatively little room between the trenches and the river. Neither sector of the line was satisfactory for defence, and on the Bainsizza there had been little time to make adequate preparations, because of the rocky nature of the ground. But the real weakness of the situation was due to the enemy's possession of the Tolmino bridgehead. The bridgehead itself was strong, as it did not form a salient, the Austrian line running nearly due N. and S. from the great ridge of Rudeci Rob (6,250 ft.) by Mrzli and Vodil Vrh to the high hills of the Lom plateau, N. of the Bainsizza. The bridgehead was well protected by these flanking bastions, and for this reason it made an excellent point of departure for an attack. The ridges in front of it rose steeply, and were strongly held by the Italians, whose position, however, suffered from two grave drawbacks. In the first place it was impossible to support the defence by direct flanking fire against attacking troops; in the second place, there was little depth in the lines traced on the Zagradan-Jeza ridge, which fell rapidly to the head of the Judrio valley and the glens which carry the minor streams between the Judrio and the Natisone.

There was a clear difference of opinion on the Italian side as to the best way of meeting the forthcoming attack. Cadorna was convinced that he had to stand on the defensive, the more so as he was uncertain in which sector of the Julian front the chief blow would fall, but his instructions naturally included and recommended vigorous local counter-attacks. Capello, who commanded the II. Army, did not like the idea of the defensive. Iris army was in the main aligned for attack. Preparations had been made for a continuation of the offensive which had been broken off in Sept., and it was not possible, given the difficulty of communications and the risk of imminent attack, to take up those positions best adapted for defence. He felt, in addition, that opposite the Tolmino bridgehead he had little room for defence, and he was anxious to anticipate the enemy's move by an attack N.E. from his positions on the Bainsizza plateau. In this idea he had the support of more than one of his corps commanders, but Cadorna thought, and it is difficult to meet his reasoning, that he could not throw in the forces necessary for such an attack when he was uncertain as to the direction of the forthcoming blow. His first news from the enemy side spoke of an attack against his new lines on the Bainsizza. Later came the report of a more general attack, " from Plezzo to the sea." The enemy believed that Cadorna had been deceived by demonstrations made in the Trentino, and their belief was fortified by news that he was sending guns westward. But these were the French and British heavy guns (nearly 200 in number), which had been withdrawn when he stated that he could not renew his offensive, and a number of batteries now restored to the Trentino front, which had been stripped for the earlier fighting.

Cadorna was still preoccupied about the moral of his troops, and he made careful inquiries on this point, which received very satisfactory replies. He was especially anxious as the units which had suffered heavily during the last offensive were but newly filled with fresh drafts, and he had found reason before to fear the influence of some of the men fresh from the depots. But the answers of his corps commanders were thoroughly reassuring. He had enough men, though a number of his units were below strength, while others were battle-worn and others again had suffered much from an intestinal disease that had been prevalent in the valleys of the Natisone and the Judrio; and he had enough guns, in spite of the withdrawal of the Allied artillery, though he would doubtless have been glad of a larger reserve. Between Monte Rombon and Monte San Gabriele,, Capello had some 2,200 guns and nearly Boo trench mortars.

North of Tolmino the line on the left bank of the Isonzo was held by Cavaciocchi's IV. Corps, whose left wing held the Plezzo basin and was in contact with the Carnia Force on Monte Rombon. Next came Badoglio's XXVII. Corps, whose left wing, the 19th Div., raised to the strength of an army corps, held the lines opposite Tolmino. The other three divisions which completed the XXVII. Corps were across the river S. of the Lom plateau. Behind the 46th and 19th Divs., on the mountains W. of the Isonzo, lay the VII. Corps, newly reconstituted with units from other corps, and commanded by Gen. Buongiovanni. On the right of the XXVII., holding the line as far as the Sella di Dol between Monte Santo and Monte San Gabriele, were Caviglia's XXIV. Corps and Albricci's II. Corps, each of three divisions, with the XIV. Corps in immediate reserve. The Gorizia sector, from Monte Santo to the Vippacco, was occupied by the VI. Corps (Gatti) and the VIII. (Grazioli). South of the Vippacco the Duke of Aosta's III. Army had three corps (seven divisions) in line - XI., XIII., and XXIII.

The weak point of the Italian line was the Tolmino sector, the weakest part of this sector was at the junction of the XXVII. Corps (19th Div.) with the IV. (46th Div.), and the weakest position of all was that held by the right of the 46th Div., who were clinging to the slopes of Mrzli Vrh, completely dominated by the enemy, and badly off for communications with their neighbours. The Tolmino sector was chosen for the main enemy attack, and here, owing to a complex of circumstances, the Austro-German forces won a success that led to a great Italian disaster. In anticipation of the main drive in this direction, the II. Army reserves (XXVIII. Corps and various other units) were lying N. of Cormons, while three divisions under the direct control of Cadorna waited between Cormons and Cividale, at the foot of the valleys that run down S.W. from the threatened point. A further general reserve consisting of the XXV. (four divisions) and XXX. Corps (two divisions) lay about Palmanova, ready to be sent N. or E., according as the fighting developed.

The Italian preparations were much handicapped by the illness of Capello. From the beginning of Oct. the commander of the II. Army was seriously unwell, and though he had the assistance of Gen. Montuori, who was brought to Army Headquarters from the II. Corps, the II. Army undoubtedly suffered much from Capello's physical unfitness. Montuori had only taken command of the II. Corps a few weeks before; he had come from the Asiago uplands and knew little or nothing of the II. Army front. On Oct. 20 Capello left for Padua, in the hope of securing a short rest, leaving Montuori in command. His rest lasted less than two days; for when the imminence of the enemy attack was confirmed by two deserting enemy officers, of Rumanian nationality, he returned to resume his command, reaching Cormons late on the night of Oct. 22.

The main attack came in the direction anticipated, between Monte Rombon and S. of Tolmino, and was conducted by a mixed German and Austrian army under Gen. Otto von Below. The army, which was known as the XIV. Army, consisted of nine Austrian divisions and seven German, divided into four " groups." The northern group of four divisions (three Austrian and one German Jager) was commanded by Krauss, who had been called back from the Bukovina. Next came a group of three divisions (one Austrian and two German) under the German von Stein, and a group of two German divisions under the German von Berrer. South of these two central groups was a mixed group under the Austrian von Scotti (commander of the Austrian XV. Corps). This group consisted of one German and two Austrian divisions. Behind these, E. of Tolmino, lay four divisions in reserve, at Below's immediate disposal. Boroevic had 20 divisions in his two " Isonzo " Armies between Auzza and the sea. Below and Henriquez (II. Isonzo Army) had some 2,500 guns and 50o trench mortars.

The bombardment began at two o'clock on the morning of Oct. 24, in wild autumn weather. There was a drizzle of snow on the high ridges, rain below, and mist everywhere. The bombardment opened with a shower of gas shells, mainly directed against the artillery positions. It was only later that a very heavy fire was opened on the trench lines and upon all the zone to the rear of them. Towards dawn the fire died down, and it was thought on some parts of the defending front that the bad weather had counselled a delay in the attack. The wind had risen, the rain was blown in sheets, and the snow was whirling thickly on the mountains. But the attackers were to make skilful use of the weather conditions. Only on Monte Rombon, on Krauss's extreme right, an attack in conjunction with the left wing of Krobatin's X. Army had to be given up owing to the snow.

Krauss's main attack was a straight drive through the Italian lines in the Plezzo basin, his first objective the Saga defile. But he calculated that this position, too, must be carried in the first rush, so that he could reach without delay the great ridge of the Stol (6,467 ft.), which stood athwart a further direct advance. For this attack he detailed the 22nd Schiitzen Div., followed immediately by a Kaiserjager and a Kaiserschiitzen batt., which were to go straight for the Stol, and by six battalions of the 3rd (Edelweiss) Div., which were to make for the Val Fella by way of the Val d'Ucosa. Krauss's left-hand division, the 55th (Bosnian), attacked the Vrsich-Vrata ridge, with the object of breaking through to the Isonzo and Caporetto.

Krauss's main drive, of ter hard fighting, broke through the three lines held by the both Italian Div. in the Plezzo basin, but the attacking troops were checked at the Saga defile, where the Isonzo turns at right angles round the end of the Polounik ridge. When evening fell the position was still in the hands of the Italians, but the battle had gone badly for the defenders further south, and a retreat to the Stol became necessary. Krauss's Bosnians had met with no success against the left wing of the Italian 43rd Div., being driven back by counterattacks after capturing the front lines, but Stein's group had carried all before it. Stein opened his attack with his right wing, the Austrian both Div., at 7:30 A.M., attacking the Italian 46th between Monte Nero and Vodil Vrh. A little later the Bavarian Alpenkorps, advancing from Tolmino, attacked the ridges below the Passo di Zagradan, while Berrer and Scotti attacked farther south. When both Stein's initial attacks were under way, the 12th Silesian Div., under the command of Gen. von Lequis, was sent in between them. Lequis attacked in two columns, one on each side of the river, with instructions to drive straight for Caporetto, where, it was hoped, he would join with Krauss's Bosnians. Both columns were completely successful. The righthand column, aided by the strong attacks of the Austrian both Div., pierced the extreme right of the Italian 46th on the E. bank of the river and pushed N.W. with all speed. On the opposite bank the attack was equally successful. The Alpenkorps were making good headway on the slopes above the road, where the Taro brigade, surprised in the mist, made a feeble resistance, and Lequis's left-hand column quickly reached the Italian second line, where the valley narrows below the hamlet of Foni. This line, running up to Monte Plezia, had been held, until the eve of the battle, by a Bersaglieri brigade which formed the extreme right wing of the IV. Corps, but at the last moment this sector was transferred to the command of the XXVII. Corps, the Bersaglieri were given to Cavaciocchi as an additional reserve, and Badoglio received the Napoli brigade for the purpose of holding this important point. Only one battalion, however, was placed on Monte Plezia; the rest of this regiment (the 76th) lay at Passo di Zagradan, high upon the ridge to the west, and the other regiment of the brigade (the 75th), together with the brigade command, was nearly three m. away, on the western slopes below Zagradan. The single battalion, of which only a platoon was down by the river, seems to have been taken completely by surprise. It was run over by the German attack, and the Silesians proceeded on their way up the valley practically unnoticed. The rest of the regiment had seen and heard nothing in the mist (they were being heavily shelled), and the VII. Corps, of which the 3rd Div. was waiting on the Kolovrat ridge, appears to have been equally unconscious of the course of the battle.

Meanwhile the Alpenkorps, Berrer's two divisions, and Scotti's right wing were breaking up Badoglio's left, while the latter's right, across the river, and Caviglia's XXIV. Corps were being strongly attacked by Scotti's left and the right wing of Henriquez's II. Isonzo Army. The attack from Tolmino was carried out with skill, speed and resolution, and by a capital error which has never been satisfactorily explained the Italian guns remained silent until too late. Definite orders had been given both by Cadorna and by Capello that immediately upon the opening of the enemy's bombardment the Italian artillery should reply with a fire of " counter-preparation " upon the enemy's trenches and zones of concentration, and that they should lay down a violent barrage as soon as there were signs of movement. This order was not carried out as intended. The guns of the IV. and XXVII. Corps, and particularly those backing the 19th Div., were apparently ordered to hold their fire till the word of command came from Corps headquarters. The word did not come to the batteries until too late, some never received it at all. The heavy mist, and the fact that the weight of the enemy bombardment had worked great destruction among the telephone wires, combined to prevent any effective reply on the part of the Italian guns. When the guns began, their fire was fitful, uncertain, blind, and they were too late. The enemy's attack had already developed when the Italian guns opened on his trenches. Taken by surprise, puzzled by the comparative silence of their own guns and blinded by the mist, the troops of the 10th Div. opposed only a weak resistance to the Austro-German attack. They were heavily outnumbered, but they held strong positions which should have enabled them to delay the enemy advance until the reserves could come into play. Some of the troops fought with all their old stubbornness, but others gave themselves up or abandoned the trenches when the enemy columns came out of the mist.

Henriquez's attack on the Bainsizza plateau, although it met with some initial success, was readily repulsed, and Badoglio's troops captured several hundred prisoners in a strong counterattack. Badoglio had hoped to hold the enemy attack from Tolmino, and turn the scale by a counter-attack on the Lom plateau with his three divisions on the left bank of the river. He seems to have had the idea of doing on a smaller scale what Capello had wished to do in large, and it certainly appears as though he had kept his left unduly weak in the hope of being able to deal a heavy counter-blow. If he had obeyed in the letter Cadorna's order that the greater part of the forces belonging to the XXVII. Corps should be brought back to the right bank of the Isonzo (the r9th Div. and its reserves counted five battalions more than the three divisions across the river), it can hardly be said that the spirit of the order was carried out. In any case, Badoglio was not afforded the chance of attempting any such manoeuvre as he may have had in mind. It was long before he received any news of how the day was going on the front of the 19th Div., and from the beginning of the action he was unable to communicate with his divisions on the left bank. of the river. Telephones had broken down; the mist prevented signalling, and despatch riders do not seem to have been employed. It was not until the afternoon that Badoglio heard that his front lines were gone and his main positions threatened. He knew nothing of the break through in the valley and had no news from the IV. Corps. In a message sent to Army Headquarters at 4 P.M., he reported the enemy success south of Jeza, but said that he had no news from the commands of the 10th Div. and the troops farther N., and that he was unable to communicate with anyone.

By 4 P.M. Lequis's Silesians were approaching Caporetto. The left-hand column was unmolested by the troops of Buongiovanni's VII. Corps, which were lying too far back and were very slow in coming on the scene. The right-hand column, which had cut in behind the Italian 43rd Div., was making the task of the Austrian 50th comparatively easy, and brushing aside the spasmodic opposition of such small detachments as came in its way. The Austro-German advance was facilitated by the fact that Cavaciocchi had filled his front lines too full, and sent all his reserves across the river, in immediate support of the 43rd and 46th Divisions. When Lequis was approaching Caporetto Cavaciocchi had nothing in hand but a squadron of cavalry and one battalion of infantry which had not yet reached its destination E. of the river. For some hours previously Cavaciocchi had been calling on the VII. Corps, but Buongiovanni was very slow, not without excuse. His Corps was a scratch formation; his original left-hand division had been broken up two days before to strengthen the IV. and XXVII. Corps, and the 62nd, which had been assigned to him in its stead, was only moving up to take its place N. of the 3rd, already aligned, but too far back, on the ridge running N.W. from the Passo di Zagradan. A further difficulty was that no definite plan of action had been agreed on between Cavaciocchi, Buongiovanni and Badoglio, whose close cooperation was clearly necessary. Or, if a plan had been made, it was one which had been completely upset by the rapid successes of the enemy. In fact, as has been shown already, Badoglio had little idea of how the fight was going on his front; Buongiovanni was in the dark regarding the general situation except for the calls which came from Cavaciocchi; and Cavaciocchi, who saw his own danger, had played his cards too soon, and had nothing left. Krauss records the satisfaction he felt when he observed that the additional troops given to the IV. Corps on the eve of the battle were sent forward instead of being held in reserve.

By the evening the situation was very favourable to the attacking forces. Stein was pouring troops through the breach made by the Silesians, and was making good headway with the 50th Austrian division on their right, while the Alpenkorps, Berrer and Scotti had broken through the lines opposite Tolmino, and in several places had gained the high ridge dominating the head of the Judrio valley. Krauss was still held up at Saga and on Polounik, and the Bosnians had gained no more ground. But the break-through between Tolmino and Caporetto had made these positions untenable.

At Cividale, where Capello had his headquarters, and at the Comando Supremo in Udine, the first news that came from the IV. Corps and the absence of news from the XXVII. made a grave impression. Capello sent up the army reserves by the valley roads, and dispatched Montuori to direct the " left wing " (the IV. and VII. Corps). This was a step which might with advantage have been taken earlier; indeed, the II. Army might well have been further divided and, if necessary, made into an army group. It was too large, and covered too wide a front, for a single army command.

By evening the magnitude of the initial enemy success was clear, though it was not yet clear to what extent the whole Italian left wing was crumbling. There seemed good reason to hope that the advance might be blocked in the narrow valleys west of the Isonzo. But by nightfall both the IV. Corps and the 19th Div. were practically broken in pieces. Saga had to be abandoned owing to the break farther S., and the 50th Div., or what was left of it, retired into the Val d'Uccea and on to the ridge of the Stol, which was reached later by the remnants of the 43rd, who had held their own bravely, but were in great part cut off when they attempted to come back across the Isonzo. A gallant detachment (Alpini and details of the Etna brigade), finding retreat impossible, held out for days on Monte Nero till the battle had gone far to the W., and all their food and ammunition were gone. The 46th Div. was practically destroyed, many having surrendered when they found the enemy at their backs, and others having joined the masses of supply service troops which were now filling the roads. The 62nd Div. (VII. Corps) was beginning to be attacked at Luico, while its left was extending to occupy Monte Matajur and join hands with the 53rd, which had been dispatched by Capello to block the Natisone valley. The 3rd Div. was still in its old position, but it was now being attacked in front and its right was uncovered by the defeat and practical destruction of the 19th.

The right wing of the 19th was still holding on Globocak and had been reinforced by the ist Bersaglieri Brigade; Alpine troops still held a line down to the river, though they had been driven off their original positions on Krad Vrh, and troops of the 64th were being brought back from the left bank to strengthen this line. It was obvious that the positions on the Bainsizza could not be maintained. Capello had already transferred Badoglio's division beyond the river to the command of the XXIV. Corps (Caviglia), and the order had been given to Caviglia and Albricci to withdraw their troops to their main lines of defence and to the former to prepare for a retreat across the Isonzo.

At this moment the most dangerous point appeared to be the extreme left wing, where the 50th Div. had lost touch with the Carnia force, and only the Potenza brigade, of three regiments, but much weakened by disease, was available as a reserve. And the Potenza brigade was wanted farther south. Two Alpine groups were already on the way to this critical point, having been dispatched the day before, but it was clear that Krauss would try to push through by this route, the shortest way to the Tagliamento. The occupation of Caporetto threatened to open another route nearly as short, but the possession of Monte Maggiore and the Stol, together with Monte Matajur, gave good hope that the advance of the enemy might be quickly brought to a halt when it had outrun the protecting fire of its own guns. Cadorna ordered the Carnia force to occupy Monte Maggiore and block the Val d'Uccea " at all costs," and sent up a division to support the troops on the Stol. He gave orders for resistance to be made on three successive lines, but all of these radiated from Monte Maggiore, which was the key position. He gave orders for resistance on these lines, but at the same time he directed that plans and orders should be drawn up for a general retreat to the Tagliamento. This was a precaution only; at the moment, though the situation looked grave, there seemed little reason to doubt the capacity of the II. Army, and the reserves already under way, to stem the enemy's offensive.

Next morning Cadorna warned the Duke of Aosta of the danger of the situation, and directed him to send his less mobile heavy artillery W. of the Piave and prepare for a retreat beyond the Tagliamento. Tassoni, who commanded the Carnia force, was also directed to prepare for a withdrawal of his troops.

The news on the morning of Oct. 25 was increasingly grave. Krauss was pressing upon the Stol, and finding a weak resistance; the Potenza brigade was falling back from Creda; Monte Matajur had fallen, practically undefended. Other positions were seriously threatened, and there was no confidence that they would be held. For it was now known in Cividale and Udine that the behaviour of some of the troops had been very unsatisfactory, that men of some units had been quick to surrender, while others had retreated before they were heavily attacked. And this unexpected lack of spirit was communicating itself to some of the reserves. These had a difficult task in getting to the scene of action, for as they marched up the narrow mountain roads they were met by ever-increasing masses of fugitives, the bulk of these belonging to the non-combatant services. The confusion and congestion on the roads may be estimated from the fact that in the area of the IV. Corps alone the number of non-combatant troops exceeded 30,000. Somehow the word went round, among combatants and non-combatants alike, that the war was over and that there was nothing to do but " go home." Perhaps the cry was raised by enemy troops disguised in Italian uniforms, for some of these were found; more probably it was started by some who had drunk in the Socialist catchwords, pronounced by the deputy, Signor Treves: " This winter no one must be in the trenches "; who had believed the promise that if they laid down their arms the enemy would do likewise. It was an extraordinary case of collective deception, which hastened the break-up of Capello's whole left wing.

A gallant resistance was still being made at various points, notably at Luico and Globocak, but the enemy had broken through at several positions of vital importance, and, as has been said, the reserves were becoming entangled in the crowds of fugitives, and some of them were becoming infected. On the afternoon of Oct. 25 Capello, who could fight no more against an illness to which he ought perhaps to have given in sooner, and had been told by the chief medical officer of the army that he must resign his command, proposed to Cadorna an immediate retreat to the Tagliamento. His argument was that it was useless to send in more reserves to the chaos among the hills west of the Isonzo; that the only way to remedy the situation was to withdraw the bulk of the armies " from close contact with the enemy under the protection of vigorous rearguard actions," and so make possible the organization of a solid defence and eventual counter-attack. Cadorna agreed as to the probable necessity of retreat, but he was doubtful as to whether it should be immediate. He felt that unless he could delay the enemy advance down the Natisone and Judrio valleys by more than a mere rearguard action he ran the risk of having his centre and right, and all the mass of troops in the Udine plain, cut off from his bases. Montuori, who now succeeded Capello in command of the II. Army, was of opinion that he could hold on a line from Monte Maggiore to Monte Carnizza and thence across the valleys to Monte Korada. Cadorna decided to attempt the further stand, and, as the II. Army was obviously too large for movement, the left wing was given to Gen. Etna, late of the XXX. Corps, and the right to Gen. Ferrero, late of the XVI., while Gen. Sagramoso, who commanded the XIV. Corps, in reserve on the Isonzo, was charged with the duty of organizing a reserve line of defence on the river Torre. Tassoni, Di Robilant (IV. Army) and the Duke of Aosta were all warned to hold themselves in readiness for retreat, Di Robilant being told to send his big guns at once W. of the Piave to between Pederobba and Montebelluna. The VIII. Corps was detached from the II. Army and given to the Duke of Aosta, who was already forming a reserve line on the western rim of the Carso, preparatory to the withdrawal of his main body. Gen. Di Giorgio was sent northward, with two divisions from the general reserve, to occupy both banks of the Tagliamento in the region of Pinzano.

Cadorna hoped to hold, for a time at least, but at midnight on Oct. 26 he was wakened to hear the news that Monte Maggiore had fallen. He at once drew up the orders for a general retreat beyond the Tagliamento, and his plans were already matured for the longer retreat, across the Piave, which he foresaw would probably be necessary. Next day the weak resistance of the II. Army rearguards and the increasing number of disbanded soldiers confirmed his impressions. He saw, too, that there was, literally, no room to bring the II. Army back in good order. He was determined to keep the southern roads clear for the III. Army, and this meant that the retiring units of the II. Army would be so hampered by disbanded soldiers and fugitive civilians that most of them could scarcely hope to get back as units. In the circumstances he had to count out the greater part of the II. Army and fall back on a line that could be held by a smaller number of troops. It was only to gain time that he attempted a stand on the Tagliamento. Provisional orders and plans for a retirement to the Piave were issued on Oct. 29. The mournful retreat began on Oct. 27, and the prospects were rendered still more serious by the fact that the Tagliamento came down in sudden and violent flood. The fords could not be used; several existing bridges were carried away, and attempts to throw new bridges were unsuccessful. The danger of losing more men and guns on the retreat became still greater.

Fortunately for Italy, and for the cause of the Entente, the Germans and Austrians were, in part at least, outrunning their transport. Krauss complains that only he and Krafft von Delmensingen, Below's chief-of-staff, had been inspired by adequate ambitions for the attack. The objective had been Cividale, or, at best, the Tagliamento. Krafft thought they should have had the Adige in view. Krauss expressed the opinion that the real objective should have been Lyons. Without taking Krauss's aspirations too seriously, it may well be believed that if the German and Austrian Commands had worked out a bigger plan they would have done even more than they did do. But the transport difficulties were very great; Germany could not spare troops or material to make an unlimited effort on the Italian front, and the unexpectedly weak resistance of the Italian II. Army could hardly have entered into the calculations of those who were bound not to take too many risks. Krauss himself admits that if the Italians had held the Stol in strength his own move would have been frustrated.

Krauss, Stein, Berrer and Scotti were very quick in their pursuit, and Berrer paid for his haste with his life. He was shot by an Italian carabiniere at the gates of Udine on Oct. 28, the day on which his advance guard entered the town, less than 20 hours after Cadorna and his staff left for Treviso. His place was taken by Hofacher. The Italian covering troops were delaying the enemy advance, and giving time for the III. Army, fighting a strong rearguard action, to come back across the Tagliamento. Henriquez had difficult mountainous country to cross before he reached the plain, and both he and Wurm were held up on the Isonzo, where the bridges had been destroyed by the retreating Italians. The critical days for the Italians were Oct. 30 and 31, when the pressure from the N. and E. threatened the flank and rear of the III. Army, whose task had been rendered more difficult by the fact that the permanent bridges at Casarsa had been blown up prematurely, owing to a false alarm. Many guns had to be left on the eastern bank, including 46 heavy batteries, which had been brought all the way from the Bainsizza. The Tagliamento was falling, however, and a number of troops succeeded in fording the river. It had been impossible to keep the Casarsa bridges for the III. Army, as several units of the II. and a large number of disbanded men had been forced down by the pressure from the north. But on the afternoon of Oct. 31 the Duke of Aosta was able to inform Cadorna that all of his rearguard, with the exception of four brigades, who were holding a defensive bridgehead covering Madrisio, had passed the Tagliamento. The bulk of this rearguard crossed the same evening, and only a small bridgehead was held at Latisana.

A considerable number of II. Army troops, having failed to cross the river at Casarsa, were coming down towards Latisana pursued by Scotti's vanguard and threatened on the flank by Henriquez. Some of these succeeded in crossing at the Latisana bridges, but the enemy attacked in considerable force the following day, and a large number of Italians were cut off and taken prisoners. By the evening of Nov. i, the left bank was entirely in the possession of the Austro-German armies. Krauss tells a remarkable story according to which both Below, with Scotti's group, and later, Goiginger, with the right wing of Henriquez's army, wished on reaching the Tagliamento to swing S., and cut off the Duke of Aosta's army, which, Krauss maintains, was still some distance to the east. According to Krauss, Boroevic refused to allow Scotti to encroach upon his line of march, and forbade Gen. Ludwig von Goiginger to come S. of the line marked out for the II. Isonzo Army. But before Scotti was in a position to carry out the manoeuvre which Below is reported to have proposed, the bulk of the Duke's army was already across the Tagliamento, and his last four brigades were more than capable of dealing with anything Scotti could then bring against them. Before Goiginger was on the spot the whole of the III. Army had passed the river and there were on the eastern bank only the broken troops who had come down from the N. in a last attempt to find a way across. Krauss's remark, that " Boroevic had saved the Italian III. Army," has no foundation. Boroevic knew more about the III. Army than the " German staff officers or Goiginger, who were Krauss's authorities." Krauss also asserts that the manoeuvre would have led to the capture of the King of Italy and of Cadorna and his staff, a statement for which, though furnished by " a neutral crowned head," there are no grounds whatever.

Cadorna did not expect to stay long on the Tagliamento, but he did hope to hold up the enemy long enough to give adequate time for the retreat of the Carnia force and the IV. Army, and to organize a strong defensive line on the Piave. His weak point was the stretch of the river W. of Tarcento, for which Krauss and Stein were making with all speed. Two divisions under Di Giorgio had been dispatched to hold this line, but their march, at right angles to the line of the retreat and athwart the long streams of retiring troops and civilians, had been very difficult. Stein's troops, however, failed to cross the Tagliamento, their attempts being repulsed with heavy loss. It was left to Krauss's Bosnians, after vain attempts to ford the river, to cross by the half-broken railway bridge at Cornino, on the evening of Nov. 2. The Bosnians had crossed by nine o'clock, surprising and driving back the small detachment watching the bridge. The following morning Di Giorgio was strongly attacked at Pinzano and Krauss established a sufficient bridgehead. On Nov. 4 Di Giorgio's left was pushed back still farther, endangering the line of retreat for the Carnia force divisions, and once more threatening the whole Italian line with envelopment from the north. For Stein was sending troops across to reinforce Krauss, and incidentally, according to Krauss, to claim the credit which was due to the Bosnians alone.

On the morning of Nov. 4 Cadorna ordered the retreat to the line of the Piave, and that night the troops holding the line of the Tagliamento resumed their march westward. Cadorna's main preoccupation was now for the IV. Army, which had been slow in getting under way, and for the Carnia force. Di Robilant wished to hold on in Cadore. It was natural, perhaps, that he should not have realized fully and at once the urgent necessities of the situation, but his hesitation to act promptly in accordance with Cadorna's instructions exposed him to the danger of having the retreat of his right wing cut off. For the safety of his route to the new positions assigned to his army depended now on the ability of the left wing of the worn-out II. Army to hold back the pressure of Stein's troops. Krauss's group had been sent N.W. through the mountains to the Upper Piave, to establish contact with Krobatin's X. Army and try once more to envelop the Italian left wing. This move cut off the greater part of Tassoni's Carnia force, caught between Krauss and Krobatin.

Di Giorgio's force and the rest of the covering troops of the II. Army slowed down the enemy advance, holding for some time on the Livenza and the Monticano. The III. Army, to which the VI. Corps had now been attached, was coming back steadily, though Boroevic's advance guards were giving little peace to its covering troops. Cadorna had intended to put the battered units of the II. Army in reserve at once, to be reorganized and refitted; but the delay in the retreat of the IV. Army made it necessary to keep the II. and XXIV. Corps as part of the river defence force, the II. Corps in line from the Vidor bridge to Norvesa, the XXIV. in reserve, both under the command of Di Robilant, to whom was to be entrusted the sector from the Montello to the Brenta. The converging retreat of the IV. Army was being carried out with much skill, and Di Robilant's troops succeeded in bringing away with them a great amount of material, but several detachments were cut off, including remnants of the Carnia force, which had been attached to the IV. Army for the latter part of the retreat.

By Nov. 8 the bulk of the IV. Army had succeeded in coming into line between the I. and the III., though part of the I ' Corps was still on the road between Ponte delle Alpi and Feltre. On Nov. 9 and 10 the last covering troops of the II. and III. Armies crossed the Piave, from Pederobba to the sea.

The line chosen to defend the fortunes of Italy implied a withdrawal of the right wing of the I. Army. This contingency had been studied, and preparations for a new line had begun, during the Austrian offensive in 1916, and Cadorna had ordered the work to be continued during the interval. Pecori-Giraldi retired from Asiago and Gallio, and based his right on the fortified lines of the Meletta group. This formed a salient, for the line marked out for the IV. Army E. of the Brenta ran considerably farther south. Di Robilant had taken over the XVIII. Corps from Pecori-Giraldi, and it had been gradually withdrawn from its old positions to hold a line that ran from near San Marino in the Brenta gorge nearly due E. towards the Piave, keeping always in touch with the IX. Corps as the latter came down from Cadore. The IV. Army now held the line from the Brenta to the Piave, and the short stretch of the river as far as the Montello. The rest of the river line was held by the Duke of Aosta, with the VIII. Corps on the Montello, the II., which had been in line between Pederobba and the Montello, occupied in preparing defensive positions, going back to be rested and re-fitted with the rest of the II. Army.

Reserves were coming in fast from the depots, including the young class of 1899. French and British divisions were already in Italy, and others were on the way. Many units of the II. Army were being rapidly reorganized and were soon to come into line again. But for the moment the Italians had only the I., III. and IV. Armies to hold the new line; and the III. and IV. Armies had been sorely tried by the retreat. There had been a serious breakdown in the moral of a part of the II. Army, which had been largely responsible for the extent of the enemy's initial success, and the tremendous strain of the retreat had naturally been responsible for further breakdowns. The behaviour of the majority of the troops had been beyond all praise, but all were now worn-out, physically fatigued by the long trial of the retreat and suffering from the great moral depression caused by unexpected defeat and retirement from the lines they had held so long. Diaz, who took over the command from Cadorna on the morning of Nov. 9, had to face a situation that seemed almost desperate. The Italian armies had lost some 320,000 men in killed, wounded and missing, the number of prisoners being estimated at 265,000. The bulk of the II. Army had to be counted out altogether, and the total number of troops to be reorganized and re-fitted was over 300,000. More than 3,000 guns had been lost, and over 1,700 trench mortars. There was shortage in equipment of every kind. It seemed scarcely possible that these greatly weakened forces could resist the renewed attacks of the victorious armies which had followed so closely upon their heels. Fortunately, the plans for defence had been well and truly laid by Cadorna in the limited time that was available, and, still more fortunately, his foresight had caused elaborate preparations to be made on Monte Grappa. Roads had been built and gun positions prepared, and reservoirs made for water; trenches had been dug and strong redoubts constructed at various important points, though the defensive system was not completely finished when the enemy attacked at Caporetto. These works had been ordered with the double object of strengthening the defences of the Val Brenta against an attack from the N., and of providing against the possibility of a retreat to the Piave, which Cadorna had been compelled to consider once before, in May 1916. It was due to this forethought that resistance on the line now chosen was possible.

Diaz had little breathing-space, though some days were required before the enemy could prepare for an attack in force upon the new line. For Conrad saw a chance, and, though he was short of troops, he struck at once, while calling for reenforcements to be sent to him for the eastern armies. He attacked Pecori's troops on Nov. 10, as they were preparing to come back to the line already indicated. When they had taken up their positions in the Meletta - Badenecche salient, Conrad's attacks were renewed, and for 10 days the fight continued, but brought no success to the Austrians, who lost heavily. Conrad had brought to this sector of the front all the troops who had been in the Fassa Alps, but he still felt himself too weak for the end he had in view - a break-through to the plain, and he urged continually the dispatch of further reinforcements. Meanwhile Boroevic had tested the river defences at various points. On Nov. 12 a crossing was effected at Zenson, some 17 m. from the mouth of the river, and a small bridgehead was established in the loop formed by the curving stream. Various other attacks at San Dona, Intestadura, and the Grave di Papadopoli were unsuccessful, and the troops at Zenson could make no headway. Down by the mouth of the river Hungarian troops succeeded in establishing themselves between the Old Piave and the main stream, but they were unable to gain any more ground. As the days went on, other attempts to cross the river were defeated by the III. Army, and on Nov. 16 an attack in force failed completely. The Austrians crossed at various points N. of Ponte di Piave, but were repulsed with heavy casualties, losing some 1,500 killed and nearly as many prisoners. After this failure Boroevic abandoned his attacks. The river was a serious obstacle; the Italian defence was sound; it was clear that prolonged and careful preparation was necessary.

Conrad and Boroevic were making no headway, but a more dangerous attack was being conducted by Krauss, between the Brenta and the Piave. Krauss, who now had Krobatin's troops under his orders, and subsequently drew reinforcements from Stein's group, wished to organize a double drive through the Brenta and Piave gorges, and reach the plain by the tactics he had successfully employed in the Plezzo basin. Attempts to break through by the valley roads were quickly frustrated. Krauss blames his divisional commanders, who, he says, were opposed to these tactics, and could not make up their minds to a resolute attempt. An effort was finally made in the Quero gorge on Nov. 17 and failed badly. Nor were the numerous gallant attempts to capture the all-important ridge of Monte Tomba-Monfenera, which ran down from the Grappa massif to the Piave, more successful in breaking through the thin Italian lines. The struggle at this point lasted for five days, from Nov. 18 to 22, and the Italian IX. Corps, under Ruggeri Laderchi, fought a great fight. The critical day was Nov. 22. In the morning Krauss's troops, the Bosnians and the German Jager, who had both been heavily punished already, made a great effort to break through. The attacking columns reached the crest of Monte Tomba, but their bolt was shot; and Monfenera still held firm and raked their left flank. The Italian position, however, was critical in the extreme, for the line had become very thin, and there were no reserves to speak of. At dusk a message came from Di Robilant that he was sending up a brigade of the VI. Corps, which had been drawn from the reserve of the III. Army. A later message promised another brigade. Ruggeri Laderchi took his courage in both hands, and, without waiting, counter-attacked with his own battle-worn troops. He drove the enemy off the ridge, except at one point where a gallant handful of men still clung to a knob of hill that had been made into a machine-gun redoubt. Next day the reserves arrived, and the line was firmly established. Only one more attack was made in this sector and both Jager and Bosnian divisions had to be withdrawn and re-made.

When he failed in his first attempt to go through in the valleys, Krauss resigned himself to a frontal attack upon the mountain lines between the Brenta and the Piave. He claims justly that the conditions were very difficult, but he made a big effort. The attack with his centre and right began on Nov. 21, while he was still hammering against Monte Tomba with his left, and he gained ground to begin with, driving back the Italian outpost lines in the Grappa sector. For a week the attack lasted, but little progress was made. The 22nd Schiitzen and Edelweiss Divs. who had broken through at Plezzo, and the 94 th, from Krobatin's army, gained a little ground on the right, the Alpine troops of the 22nd capturing the summit of Monte Pertica, but the German Alpenkorps and the Austrian 50th, which had passed to Krauss from Stein's group, to replace the battered Bosnian and Jager divisions, made no headway against the salient of Solarolo and Spinoncia, or against the TombaMonfenera line. They succeeded in taking various positions, among them Spinoncia, but they could not hold them against the Italian counter-attacks, and further attempts to extend the success gained on the right were equally unsuccessful. On Nov. 26 the Edelweiss made a great attempt to capture Col della Berretta, but were repulsed, and a pause followed.

The breathing-space was needed by Di Robilant's troops, for the XVIII. and IX. Corps had been very highly tried, especially the latter. On Nov. 22 the situation in the Grappa sector had been improved by the arrival in line of the XXVII. Corps, already re-made, under the command of Di Giorgio; and the Corps distinguished itself greatly in the fighting which followed. But a new attack was preparing, when the situation was eased by the arrival in line of the British and French divisions which had hitherto been waiting in reserve. On Dec. 2 three British divisions under Lord Cavan took over the Montello sector, and a similar French force under Gen. Duchesne relieved Ruggeri Laderchi's IX. Corps in the Monte Tomba region. It was expected that both these points would be the object of early attack, but as it turned out they were both left unmolested. Conrad and Krauss continued their attempts to break through on the mountain front, but Krauss confined his efforts to the positions west of Monte Grappa and the worrying Solarolo salient. Boroevic remained quiet on the Piave front, and the rest of Below's army was now practically a reservoir for Krauss, who drew divisions both from Scotti and from Hofacher, as well as from Stein. Krauss was finding the question of communications very difficult, especially for his artillery ammunition, and could not open his new attack till Dec. ro. On Dec. 3 Conrad, reinforced by fresh troops but still complaining that he was starved for means of attack, opened a heavy bombardment on the curve of the Italian front from Monte Sisemol to E. of Monte Badenecche. Next day, by a skilfully conducted attack following a liberal use of gas shells, he pinched up the Meletta-Badenecche salient, occupying both Tondarecar and Badenecche and taking Monte Fior and Castelgomberto in the rear. Next day Conrad's eastern columns pushed down quickly towards Foza, but were held by a rearguard of Bersaglieri and Alpini who fought off the attack until a new line was established farther S., covering Valstagna and the mouth of the Frenzela valley. But more than i r,000 prisoners were taken as a result of the gas bombardment and the breaking of the line at the base of the salient. It should be said that on this occasion as at Caporetto the Italian gas mask proved very unsatisfactory. The army was shortly afterwards equipped with the British mask.

The loss of the Meletta-Badenecche positions Deft another salient exposed to Austrian attack. The hills S. of the Valle dei Bonchi were now open to artillery fire and infantry attack on three sides, and, after a fortnight's preparation, on Dec. 23 Conrad launched a new attack on the Italian lines between Monte Sisemol and the Frenzela valley. The salient was quickly wiped out, several thousand prisoners were taken, and both Col del Rosso and Monte Melago were captured. Next day the Italians counter-attacked, and re-took Col del Rosso and Monte Melago. They established themselves firmly in their reserve lines, and repulsed another attack, the last, on Christmas Day.

Between Conrad's two efforts Krauss had made a determined attempt to drive the Italians off the Grappa line. His command was now increased to the strength of io divisions, six AustroHungarian and four German, and he did not spare his troops. He opened his attack on Dec. z i by a push on each wing of his front, from the Brenta valley and Monte Pertica against Col della Berretta, and against both sides of the Solarolo salient. The attack from the N.E. was carried out by German troops, while W. of Solarolo and Col dell' Orso were picked Austro-Hungarian divisions. After the first day, when the Brandenburgers of the 5th Div. took Monte Spinoncia, the N.E. outwork of the salient, the Germans could make no more headway, in spite of repeated attacks, in which they were supported by the 94th Austrian Div. on the other side of the salient. Besides the 5th, the tooth and the Jager also took part in the attack, which was renewed again and again during i o days, but no further progress was made. Krauss, who reports that he was not allowed to have the German troops on the spot more than 48 hours before they were to attack, claims that this " excessive sparing " of the troops worked out badly, for they suffered from insufficient acquaintance with the terrain. However that may be, the German divisions, in spite of a great expenditure of shells, could gain no ground. Sometimes a position was gained for a few minutes, only to be lost again. The fighting was very stubborn.

Krauss had better success with his right wing. At the end of four days' hard fighting the Austrian 4th Div. had taken Col della Berretta and Col Caprile, though their occupation was not firmly established, and the Italians were continually counterattacking. Four days more, and Krauss's men had captured Monte Asolone, which looks down the Valle di Santa Felicita to the longed-for haven of the plain. This was the term of the Austrian advance. On Dec. 20 the Italians counter-attacked, and won back a good deal of the lost ground, the last move in the long struggle. Krauss accepted failure for the moment, hoping for an early spring offensive farther west. Five days later the snow came, the heavy winter fall that was at least a month late.

The Austrians and Germans were much favoured by the late coming of winter, which greatly prolonged the strain on the hard-tried armies of Italy. But it gave also to the defending troops the chance to re-make at once a shaken reputation.

The recovery of the Italian army on Monte Grappa and the Piave, after the initial failures and the heart-breaking experiences of the long retreat, was a remarkable feat of courage and will. It will be clear from the narrative here given that the Caporetto disaster was not due solely to the cause which was at first generally accepted as the explanation of a defeat so sudden and so overwhelming. Cadorna's communique of Oct. 28, which condemned in the strongest terms the behaviour of " detachments of the II. Army " and gave this as the cause of the enemy success, was too simple an explanation, and was, moreover, unwise. Inevitably, the impression was left that the failure in moral had been more widespread than was actually the case. For in the whole course of the war no such candid announcement had ever been made by any commander on either side; it was assumed, especially abroad, that if Cadorna confessed this much there was far more that he did not tell. Cadorna wished to arouse both army and country to a sense of the situation, and to indicate clearly the results of the peace propaganda against which he had protested. In Italy the result was good on the whole, for the country was stung to a great effort. But Cadorna's open condemnation of his soldiers was strongly resented in many quarters.

There is no question about the weak resistance of certain units in line, nor can it be denied that other troops, among the reserves, became temporarily infected with a spirit that led to what many observers likened to a strike. Extreme war-weariness and socialist propaganda had their offspring in these failures. But the failures were sporadic only. The stories current at the time and long after, of a preconcerted agreement for surrender to the enemy, have no foundation whatever. The defending troops were subjected to a very severe trial and some of them failed. Their failure led to disaster. How far might disaster have been lessened or averted if the preparations for the Austro-German attack, and the actual conduct of the defence, had been different?

The narrative has drawn attention to certain errors and misunderstandings which contributed to the enemy success. First among these, in order of time, was the difference of opinion between Cadorna and Capello as to the right course to pursue in face of the coming attack. It is difficult to avoid the impression that Capello was only half-hearted in adopting, and in directing his corps commanders to adopt, the line of action indicated by his chief. Whether Cadorna or Capello was right in idea is a question which will remain a subject of contention, though Cadorna's arguments seem almost unanswerable. The point is that Capello would seem to have interpreted Cadorna's instructions as to counter-offensive action in too liberal a fashion, influenced, perhaps unconsciously, by his own wish to attempt a big counter-stroke. The fact remains that the bulk of the II. Army was still aligned for an offensive, and though a complete modification was impossible, certain changes might have been made. The situation of the IV. Corps was especially unfavourable for defence, the front-line positions of the 46th Div. being practically untenable. The Sleme-Mrzli position ought to have been abandoned for the Pleca - Selisce line, which was as strong naturally as the other was weak. Despite the weakness of the Sleme - Mrzli line, both dominated and enfiladed, despite the practical certainty that it could not be maintained against a resolute offensive in force, the enemy attack found a large number of Italian guns, including many of medium calibre, stationed well in advance of the Pleca - Selisce line. Although various commanders had reported the Sleme - Mrzli line indefensible, steps which should have followed logically had not been taken.

It is obvious also - after the event - that if the reserves for the IV. Corps had been close at hand, on the Stol and higher up the Natisone valley, the inrush of the enemy might have been stemmed. Such dispositions were clearly desirable, even before the event. There was, in fact, a tendency to underestimate the amount of time necessary for the transference of troops from one position to another. On the other hand, Cavaciocchi did not make the best use of the reserves which he had. Cadorna's efforts had not succeeded in making all of his subordinates grasp the principles of defence in depth, or of " elastic " defence. It was only later that the theories upon which he had for long insisted were understood and applied. And it may be admitted that the tendency to push the infantry too far forward was a necessary consequence of the policy which had left the guns aligned as for an offensive. The failure to hold in strength the roads on both sides of the Isonzo has never been satisfactorily explained. All that can be said is that an attack along these roads was apparently unexpected; that it came; and that it had much to do with the disaster that followed. It is clear that there was insufficient collaboration between the commanders of the three corps occupying the front attacked. This was doubtless due to the extreme pressure of the days which preceded the offensive, and to the many modifications which had tb be made during these days. But it remains a grave omission.

The failure of the Italian artillery to carry out the general order of counter-preparation expressly given by Cadorna, and repeated in no less categorical terms by Capello, had an undoubted effect upon the course of the battle. The attacking troops, both gunners and infantry, found their task unexpectedly lightened by the absence of a heavy return fire upon their batteries, trenches, and zones of concentration. The Italian infantry, waiting under a crushing bombardment, were puzzled and disheartened by the silence of their own guns. This holding of the Italian fire, like the failure to appreciate the necessity for defence in depth, is explained by the fact that as regards the practice of defensive tactics the Italians were some two years in arrears. Cadorna and a few others had realized the progress made in attack methods and the necessity of meeting them with new methods of defence. The realization had not spread downward. The Italian armies on the Julian front had been so busily occupied in attack that they had not worked out the application of new defensive methods. They had had no recent practice in meeting an attack on the grand scale. It was this lack of practice, no doubt, and a false confidence based on obsolete experience, which led to the belief that even if the opening phases of the battle were unfavourable to the defence, there would be ample time to restore the situation. This spirit was widely evident in the disposition of troops and guns.

When retreat became inevitable, the prospects might well have seemed desperate to those who had to organize it. For the army, long used to the war of positions that had been the rule for 28 months, was in no condition to move. The retreat, with all its confusion, its mistakes and its tragedies, remains an astonishing achievement. The resistance which followed it, when the retiring armies turned and stood at bay on the mountains and on the Piave, was the greatest of Italian victories. (W. K. McC.)
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