The Italian commander-in-chief, General Cadorna, during the entire April 1917 of the year, when fierce battles were fought on the French front (“Nivel Meat Grinder”), deciding the fate of the operation, was inactive, expecting the Austrians to strike in the Trentino area. And only in the middle of May, having made sure that the Austrian army was not going to attack from the side of Trentino, he decided to launch his offensive operation on Isonza (now the tenth). That is, the Italians decided to go on the offensive at the very time when the Anglo-French offensive was already exhausted. As a result, the Italians could not achieve decisive success, only a few pressed the enemy.
During the first months of 1917, fighting in the Italian theater was not conducted due to weather conditions. During this period, the Italian command continued to strengthen the army: 8 new divisions, 262 batteries (52 light, 44 mountain and 166 medium) were formed. The number of heavy and medium guns increased from 1180 to 2101. Significantly increased the number of machine guns, which previously strongly lacked. The air force was strengthened in both numerical and qualitative relations, and the quality of training of pilots was improved.
Significantly increased military production, especially the production of shells and cartridges. In the military industry have invested large amounts: from 100 million lire in 1915 year to 1332 million lire in 1917 year. Production of iron and steel increased from 600 thousand tons to almost 1 million tons. The number of enterprises producing military materials increased from 125 with 115 thousand workers in 1915 year to 1800 with 600 thousand workers in 1917 year. Italy even got the opportunity to export a certain amount of military materials to the allied countries: light guns, airplanes, cars and trucks, manual firearms. weapon etc. But, on the whole, Italy’s military industry could not yet meet the needs of the army for conducting large-scale military operations.
In November, 1916, at a conference in Chantilly, a decision was made on the general offensive of the Allied armies in February, 1917. But the commanders could set the start date of the offensive within a three-week period and even extend it, depending on the features on their front. Thus, as before, the Allies could not achieve a concerted speech in the French, Russian, Italian and Balkan fronts.
In January, 1917, another Allied conference took place in Rome. Luigi Cadorna suggested that the Allies focus their efforts on the Italian front in order to break through the enemy front, which led to a decisive strategic success. Cadorna believed that if the Italian army was strengthened by several British and French divisions and heavy artillery, it would be possible to break through the enemy front in the spring, which would lead to the defeat of Austria-Hungary, and Germany would remain alone and be forced to capitulate. Initially, Cadorna requested 8 divisions and 300 heavy weapons, then up to 10 divisions and 400 heavy weapons. According to the Italian commander-in-chief, the capture of Leibach and Trieste, which he hoped to accomplish by receiving Anglo-French reinforcements, opened the way to the unprotected southern Germany, which led to a faster end of the war than the breakthrough on the Western front, since the French theater had important German military industrial facilities were located far from the front and there it was only possible to liberate part of the previously lost French lands.
However, the French and British general staffs opposed such an idea; they did not want to participate in major operations outside the French front. The French and British were preparing a major offensive (Operation Nivelle), and were not going to transfer troops to Italy, so as not to weaken the Western Front. In the extreme case, the Allies were ready to provide the Italians with heavy weapons, but only until April, when they must be returned. Cadorna did not agree, because the climatic conditions (winter in the mountains ended later) did not allow starting a serious operation before April. As a result, the idea of a decisive blow at the Italian Theater was abandoned. The Allies nevertheless provided the Italians with 99 guns, mostly heavy ones, in the beginning of the autumn they handed over 102 guns (after the operation was completed, they were recalled back).
In this case, the Italian command feared a serious offensive of the enemy. The Austrian commander-in-chief, General Conrad, actually proposed to conduct an Austro-German offensive in the Trentino area at the beginning of 1917, but his proposal was rejected. There was no hope for the support of the Anglo-French, they were preparing for an offensive on the western front. Cadorna told Prime Minister Boselli that Italy must rely only on herself and that it is necessary to mobilize "all our energy and all our resources." The February-March revolution in Russia completely destroyed the strike power of the Russian army, which during the whole war was the main threat to the Austro-Hungarian empire - the main enemy of Italy. Now Italy had to fear the strike of the whole Austrian army, which could have left several weak and secondary divisions on the Russian front, and several units in Romania and Macedonia. Italian intelligence believed that the attack of the enemy was inevitable.
Thus, the Italians were simultaneously preparing to repel an enemy strike in the Trentino area and were preparing their offensive in the area of the Isonzo River. Since the Austrians did not expect a serious strike in the winter, the reserve artillery of the 1 Army and the new 6 Army were transferred to the Isonzo. March 4 was formed Goritsky group of troops in the 6-th, 26-th and 8-th corps, it gave the 2-th army. Later the 2 corps was also transferred to this group. The group was led by General Capello, who distinguished himself in previous battles. 5 April Kadorna created a reserve group subordinate to the High Command: 19, 24 and 26 corps, 12, 54, 57 and 60 divisions (total 10 divisions).
After ensuring that the Austro-Hungarian troops would not attack in the Trentino area, the commander of the Italian army, General Cadorna, decided to launch a new major offensive at the Isonzo. At the first stage a strong artillery strike was made in the area from Tolmino to the sea; on the second, the Goritsky group attacked the heights between Plava and Goritsa, especially Monte Cook, Monte Vodice, Monte Santo and Monte San Gabriele; the third is the attack of the 3 Army on Corso (Carso) with the aim of reaching the approaches to Trieste. A special army group (the Goritsky group) and the 3 Army were to take part in the offensive. The Goritska group had 12 divisions, 140 light batteries, 528 heavy guns and 67 mortar batteries. The Duke of Aosta's 3 Army consisted of 16 divisions, 190 light batteries, 530 heavy guns, 63 mortar batteries. Italian troops supported 130 aircraft.
The Italians were opposed by the 5-I Austrian army of Boroevich. Before the advance of the Italians, the Austrians pulled up reinforcements, artillery and in this area had 18 divisions. The Austrians had an advantage in ammunition stocks and relied on a strong defensive line.
Cadorna gave the order to launch the 7 attack in May on 1917. But he was postponed for several days due to weather conditions. Artillery preparation began on May 12 and lasted a day 2. 14 May 1917, the Italian troops launched an offensive. Fought hard battles that lasted 7 days. The Austrians were expecting an Italian attack on the Corso, so they were little ready to meet the enemy north of Goritsy. However, the Austrians quickly came to their senses and organized a series of violent counterattacks, but they could not bring down the offensive fervor of the Italians. The Italian troops took the important heights of Cook, Vodice and the western spurs of Mount Santo, on which the successes of the Italians as a whole ended. Thus, during the fights, the Italians managed to advance 2-3 km and improve their positions somewhat. 7 of thousands of Austrian soldiers and a large number of trophies were captured.
19 May Austrians, trying to divert the attention of the Italians from the Isonzo area, launched a series of counterattacks in Trentino on Azyago. But these counterattacks had little success and May 22 stopped. After that, the Italian army 23 May launched its main attack on Corso. Almost all heavy artillery of the 3 Army was concentrated here. The artillery opened fire at 6 in the morning and thoroughly destroyed the enemy fortifications, and in 16 hours the Italian infantry went on the attack. However, due to the lack of ammunition, artillery could not have a long-term impact on the enemy’s defense and support the attack in the future. The number of heavy guns has seriously increased, but there were few projectiles. Already 17 May (during the first phase of the operation) Cadorna ordered not to use artillery of medium and heavy calibers, with the exception of offensive operations and repel large enemy attacks.
However, the offensive was supported by the fleet and aviation. From the sea, the attack was facilitated by naval artillery and, in addition, the attack on the ground forces was supported by 130 aircraft that bombed Austrian positions and fired them with machine guns. The Italians seized a number of important positions and knocked out the enemy from the first line of defense. The Austrian troops stubbornly fought back, repeatedly turned into fierce counterattacks, but all their attacks were repulsed, they could not regain previously lost positions. On May 25, Italian troops, during a stubborn battle, broke through the enemy’s defenses on the slopes of the difficultly overcome Monte Germada, which was the most important defense node of the Austrian army on the way to Trieste. In the following days, the battle became even more fierce, several points passed from hand to hand several times. The Austrians pulled up artillery and discarded the Italians. On May 29, the battle died down, only small skirmishes occurred, both sides were gaining ground at new frontiers of defense.
As a result, the Italians managed to advance on 2-4 km, to seize the first and partly the second lines of the Austrian fortifications and the western slopes of the Hermada massif, this natural citadel on the way to Trieste. On this their successes ended. In the Corso region, the Italians captured about 16 thousand people.
Counterattack of the Austro-Hungarian infantry in the area of the Karst Plateau. June 1917
Thus, the successes of the Italian army in the Tenth Battle of the Isonzo had a tactical significance. However, the success of the Italians in the Hermada region created a threat to the Austro-Hungarian naval base on the Adriatic coast - Trieste. When the supreme Austrian command asked the commander of the 5 Army Boroevich whether he could guarantee the safety of Trieste, he replied that the situation was threatening and that it was necessary to undertake a counterattack to remedy the situation. This forced the Austrian command to strengthen the 5 Army with three divisions.
On June 4, the Austrians launched a counterattack, striking the 3rd Italian army. At the first stage, the Italian troops, which suffered serious losses in the previous battles, were exhausted and had not yet had time to gain a foothold, were pushed back and lost a significant part of the territory that they had previously captured. Then the Italian troops vigorously counterattacked and restored the situation. However, the Austrians succeeded on the far right flank, where they were able to surprise the 20th Italian division. This led to the collapse of the Italian defense throughout the southern sector of the front; large masses of Italian soldiers were captured. The Italian troops in this section rolled back to their original positions. As Cadorna noted, although numerous examples of exceptional courage have been shown here, but “for the sake of historical of truth, we must admit that in some parts there have been regrettable cases. " In this counterattack, the Austrians captured more than 20 thousand people.
The battle was extremely fierce and bloody. During the Tenth Battle of Isonzo, the Italians lost 36 thousand killed, 96 thousand wounded and 25 thousand prisoners. The Austrians lost about 100 thousand killed and wounded and 24 thousand prisoners.