New attempts of the Italian army to break through the Austrian defense
100 years ago, 1 November 1916, the ninth battle on the Isonzo began in the Alps - the new attempt of the Italian army to break through the Austrian-Hungarian defense. Under cover of fog, the Italian infantry went on the attack, but the Austrians were not taken aback by surprise.
Already on November 4, the advance of the Italian troops was completely stopped. The total losses of the Italians killed and wounded amounted to 75 thousands of soldiers and officers, the Austrians - about 63 thousands. This was already the fifth for the year the attack of Italy in the Isonzo region, all of which turned out to be practically fruitless. Both sides needed a break, and the fighting on the Italian front subsided until the spring of 1917.
In total in the autumn of 1916, the Italian army conducted three unsuccessful offensive - the seventh, eighth and ninth offensive at the Isonzo. Not a single operation, like the previous attacks on the Isonzo, led to victory. Italian troops failed to complete the tasks. They suffered serious losses. However, the depletion of the Austro-Hungarian army went faster.
Thus, the 1916 campaign of the year on the Italian front did not bring the expected results to either side, exhausting only their strength. Neither the Austrian army during the battle of Trentino, despite initial success, nor the Italians, who conducted five operations on the Isonzo (the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth battle on the Isonzo), could not win a decisive victory and break the enemy. But both sides suffered heavy losses: 1916 thousand people dropped out of the Italian army for the 483 campaign of the year, about 260 thousand people dropped out of the Austrian-Hungarian army.
The 1916 campaign of the year was very active on the Italian front. After extensive training and additional mobilization, in March, the Italian army of General Luigi Cadorna, at the request of the French, launched the fifth offensive at Isonzo. But the advance of the Italian troops was minimal, the offensive did not bring any benefits to the Italian command.
The Austrian high command, completing active offensive operations on the Eastern Front in 1915, redeployed divisions to the Italian front, increasing the number of troops and artillery. The Austrians planned to carry out a decisive offensive and withdraw Italy from the war or weaken it as much as possible, removing the threat from the Italian army. To do this, they decided to strike a blow in the Trentino area in order to cut off the Italian troops on the Isonzo. The success of the Austrians threatened the Italian troops with a catastrophe, as they would be cut off from their supply bases and would be forced to capitulate. This put Italy on the brink of defeat, since the most numerous and efficient grouping of the Italian army was concentrated in the Isonzo area.
The powerful grouping of the Austro-Hungarian forces 15 in May launched the first large-scale offensive on the Italian front. The beginning of the operation was successful: the Austrians broke through the Italian defense. However, the emergency measures of the Italian High Command (transfer of large forces and assets to the Trentino area, the formation of the 5 army); the lack of powerful reserves for the development of a breakthrough for Austro-Hungarians (the Germans refused to participate in the operation), the delay of heavy artillery from poor communications; the beginning of the offensive of the Russian army on the Eastern Front, which riveted all the attention of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and forced the Austrian command to transfer half of its forces from Trentino to Galicia, saved the Italian army from disaster. The Austrian advance was exhausted. Italian troops launched a counter-offensive, beating off previously lost territory. 16 June was followed by the order of the Austrian command to go on the defensive.
Despite the dire consequences of the Trentino operation for the Italian army, the Italian High Command did not abandon the idea of a sixth offensive in the Isonzo area. In August, the Italian troops again launched an offensive. The Goritsky operation of the Italian troops (Sixth Battle of the Isonzo), thanks to powerful artillery preparation and a considerable advantage in forces, gave the Italian army some successful results unlike previous unsuccessful offensives. A number of settlements were captured, including the city of Goritsa, the operational situation of the Italian troops improved, and the Italians were able to somewhat close the negative psychological effect of the Trentino operation.
Situation at the front
At the beginning of the autumn of 1916, the overall situation of the Allies in the Entente seemed to be quite prosperous. The Russian offensive led to a serious defeat of the Austro-Hungarian army and the abandonment by the Austrians of considerable territory. Germany and Austria-Hungary were forced to redeploy troops from other sectors of the Russian front and from other fronts in order to close the gap in the strategic front. The offensive of the English and partly French troops on the Somme distracted the attention of the German command. The French launched a counter-offensive in the Verdun area. In late August, Romania took the side of the Entente, which was considered a great success in Rome and Paris.
All this led to the desire of the Italian commander-in-chief Cadorna to resume the offensive in the Isonzo area as soon as possible, in order to use the successes of the allies on the Italian front. The Goritsky operation led to a small advance, and the Italians wanted to build on success. The city of Goritsa and the entire bridgehead with strong fortifications were in Italian hands, but the heights to the east and northeast of Goritsy were firmly held by Austro-Hungarian troops. As a result, the Italian army had to either break through enemy defenses frontally east of the city, or attack east of Vallone and go into the flank and rear of the Austrians, forcing them to abandon their positions east of Goritsa.
Cadorna sought to attack on all fronts. However, due to exhaustion of forces and lack of material resources, the Italian army could attack only in one sector. Thus, at first, the Italian command decided to launch an operation by attacking enemy positions east and northeast of Gorica by the forces of the 2 Army. To this end, heavy artillery and mortars were concentrated in this area. It was planned that as soon as the 2-I army completed the operation, transfer artillery to the area of the 3-th army and launch an attack on Carso.
During the preliminary preparation of the operation, the Italian command changed the direction of the strike. From a military and political point of view, the attack on the Goritsy direction was the most necessary: the pressure on Goritsa and the possibility of the Austrians retaking the city were weakened, and the enemy was deprived of the possibility of keeping the Isonzo river under attack. The victory in this direction would have caused the desired effect in Italian society. However, reconnaissance of the enemy’s positions revealed that the conditions for the offensive in the Goritsky direction are worse: dense forests made it difficult to determine the positions of the enemy and his batteries. Carso conditions were better. Therefore, the 2 army ordered to limit the defense and the preparation of a future offensive, and the 3 army immediately began the attack. Also, the 2 Army had to conduct heavy artillery fire, creating the appearance of the start of operations in its sector, and preventing the Austrian artillery from flank fire on the troops of the 3 Army.
Italian front. 1916 — 1917
Seventh Battle of the Isonzo
3-I Italian army had two corps: 5 divisions in the first line, 4 - in reserve. The site concentrated 430 heavy and medium guns, 566 light guns and 584 mortar. General Chilianus commanded the 11 Corps, General Tettoni the 7 Corps. The main blow struck 11 th case. The breakthrough of the 3 army of the Italian defense allowed them to move to positions east and southeast of Goritsa, which contributed to the ability of the 2 army to launch a frontal attack, and also brought the Italians to the approaches to Trieste. The Austrians in this direction defended the 11-I army of General Boroevich. She was strengthened from 116 to 148 battalions.
The 3 Army launched the September 14 1916 offensive. The offensive was preceded by artillery preparation that lasted several days. When the Italians decided that the task of destroying the enemy fortifications was solved, the Italian infantry rushed forward. In the beginning, the Italians achieved success in the northern sector. By September 16, Italian troops, having lost 17 thousand people, took several enemy positions and heights.
However, the Italians were not lucky with the weather - a lingering heavy rain began with thunderstorms, obstructing the visibility and eroding the roads. The Italian command stopped the attack. Thus, the Italians advanced a few hundred meters, but then, due to bad weather conditions and strong resistance from the enemy, the fortifications of which could not be completely destroyed, stopped. During the fierce battles, both sides lost thousands of people killed, wounded and captured by 15-20.
Eighth Battle of the Isonzo
After the September offensive, the command gave the troops a three-week rest. Both sides strengthened the defenses and prepared for new battles. The Italians planned to attack the two corps of the 3 Army (on the left flank and in the center) on Carso in conjunction with the 8 Corps of the 2 Army.
After artillery preparation, which was 9-10 of October, 11 of October, the Italian infantry went on the attack. This time, in addition to the traditional troubles - lack of ammunition and poorly organized actions - the Italian commander-in-chief, Luigi Cadorna, again intervened in the form of a sharp cooling and heavy rain. Thick fog interfered with the actions of all artillery. It was possible to seize the first line of trenches only in a section several hundred meters wide, after which the Italians had to depart. In the evening, they were again able to occupy part of the enemy fortifications, but the next day the Austrians beat them again.
Thus, the Italians failed again to break through the front of the enemy. The Italian army captured the first enemy line east of Vallone, occupied some space, captured 8 thousand Austrians. Some Austrian units were completely ground in stubborn battles. But the Italians also suffered serious losses. In just two days, both sides lost thousands of people killed, wounded, and captured by about 25.
Battle of the Isonzo Ninth
After a two-week respite, the Italians launched the third autumn offensive. He was planned to start earlier, but the bad weather that stood all the time and the poor visibility caused by it, was forced to stop artillery training that had already begun. Only 31 October managed to organize shelling with good results.
On November 1, soldiers of the 26 and 8 corps of the 2 army attacked east of Goritsa. They captured several enemy positions, but then the Italian soldiers, stuck in the mud, came under heavy fire from the Austrians and stopped. Then left part of the previously captured trenches. On Karso, the troops of the 3 Army on the left flank captured the enemy’s second line. The Austrians made a strong counterattack, but did not succeed. However, the further advancement of the Italians was not decisively successful. Already on November 4 the advance of the Italians was completely stopped. Given the heavy losses and bad weather conditions, the Italian command decided to suspend the offensive.
The Italian command planned to launch another attack in the late autumn. However, these plans due to weather conditions had to be abandoned. The soldiers literally drowned in the mud. Thus, the third autumn offensive did not lead to a serious victory. Both sides lost 25-30 thousand people killed, wounded and captured.
The total losses of the Italians killed and wounded during the three autumn operations amounted to about 70-75 thousand soldiers and officers, the Austrians - 66-75 thousand people.
All three battles (the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth battles of the Isonzo), in fact, were stages of a single operation, and lasted only a few days. The Italian High Command was convinced that the best results were achieved at the beginning of the operation, when the offensive was well prepared, the terrain was reconnoitered, the actions of artillery were of great importance, and parts were fresh and full-blooded. In the next stages, the effectiveness of the attacking troops quickly falls, the troops quickly become more and more exhausted, suffer huge losses, and the enemy only increases resistance, defining the main direction of attack and pulling reserves. Therefore, it was decided to stop the troops at the first stage of the offensive. Before they are exhausted and completely drained of blood. The Italians decided to gradually gnaw through enemy defenses, beating position after position, section by section.
The Austrian command was concerned for its defense system, the Italians east of Vallone seized the first and second lines and came close to the third. The Austrian General Svetozar Boroevich wrote: “The zone directly covering Trieste is becoming more and more subtle, and with each new step back our front is getting more and more drawn, demanding more and more forces to hold it.” Austria-Hungary was forced to reduce the forces that sent to the Romanian front.
Thus, during the 1916 campaign of the year, a number of important events occurred on the Italian front. The Austro-Hungarian offensive in Trentino inflicted heavy losses on the troops and the material part of the Italian army, but in the end the Italians stopped the enemy and recovered a large part of the lost land.
On the Isonzo, the Italians in August won an important psychological victory, taking Gorica and its fortifications. However, the heavily fortified second line of defense of the Austro-Hungarian army restrained further enemy movement. On Carso, after a series of attacks, pulling up serious artillery, the Italians advanced only 5 km, suffering heavy losses. The Austrians organized in this direction several well-fortified lines and the loss of a number of positions did not lead to a breakthrough of the front. A well-organized defense allowed the Austrians, who had weaker forces, to organize strong resistance, and to extremely slow down the movement of the Italian army, to cause great damage to it.
The battle of attrition on the Isonzo demanded a huge expenditure of ammunition and other materiel. Weak Italian industry could not solve this problem as quickly as Austria. However, Italy was supported by industrialized France and England. In addition, the Austro-Hungarian army suffered a second catastrophe on the Eastern (Russian) front in 1916, and for it the gradual depletion in the Italian direction was more important than for the Italian army. Austria-Hungary was no longer able to fully support Germany on the Western and Eastern fronts and kept only at the expense of the Germans. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was approaching.
- Alexander Samsonov
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