100 years ago, in October 1917, the battle for the Beinsitz Plateau ended. The offensive of the Italian army was carried out in order to capture the natural mountain frontiers, the seizure of which was to ensure the strength of the Italian front. Also, the Italian government wanted to achieve victory, to reassure the public - the people were tired of a long, fruitless and extremely bloody massacre. A society of defeatism appeared, people wanted peace.
The eleventh battle of the Isonzo ended with a certain success of the Italian army. But the loss of the army was huge. And the supreme Austro-Hungarian command, fearing that soon the weakening and decomposition of the army would get out of control and it would not withstand a new blow, asked Germany for help in organizing a decisive offensive on the Italian front.
In the spring - in the summer of 1917 of the year, having considerably strengthened the army, the Italians attacked. The main hostilities continued to take place in the area of the Isonzo River, where both the Austrians and Italians improved their defense over the years, relying on the terrain that is convenient for protection (rivers, mountains). Therefore, both sides had here the most powerful defensive positions and offensive operations usually led only to insignificant advancement, and heavy losses on both sides.
So, in May 1917, the Italian army organized a new attack on the Isonzo - already the tenth in a row (Tenth Battle of the Isonzo). The offensive began on May 14, with artillery preparation in the area from Plavy to Goritsy. The Italian infantry, having gone on the attack, managed to improve their positions, having advanced 2-3 km. Then the Italian commander-in-chief, Cadorna, sent the main attack southward. A special feature of the operation was the participation of Italian aircraft 130, which bombed the Austro-Hungarian positions and fired at them with machine gun fire. The Italians managed to capture the first line of defense and a number of dominant heights. Further battles also led to tactical success, the Italians advanced another 2-4 km. By the end of May, the offensive outburst subsided, and the Italians set about organizing defense in the newly occupied areas. Both sides suffered huge losses during the battle: the Italians lost 36 thousand people killed, 96 thousand wounded and 25 thousand prisoners. The Austrians lost about 100 thousand killed and wounded and 24 thousand prisoners.
Since 10 June 1917, the Italian command has attempted to improve the position south of Trentino with four corps. This offensive is included in history like the battle of Monte Ortigar. The attacks of the Italians continued until June 25, but were unsuccessful and were also accompanied by heavy losses (battles were fought in the mountains, where nature itself helped the defenders). The Alpine units of the Italian army managed to capture the top of Monte Ortigar, but soon they underwent a powerful counterattack by the Alpine units of the Austro-Hungarian army. After suffering heavy losses, the Italian units rolled back. For the failure of the operation, General Mambretti, commander of the 6 Italian army, was removed from his post. The Italian army lost more than 20 thousand killed, wounded and prisoners, the Austrian losses amounted to 9 thousand killed and wounded.
At this time, the general situation for Italy at the front is deteriorating. In Russia, a revolution occurred, the armed forces quickly decayed, losing their combat capability. The Austro-Hungarian Empire got rid of the constant threat of a decisive defeat on the Russian front, which made it possible to start concentrating on the Italian front almost all the shock forces. The Austrian command began to withdraw troops and guns from the Eastern Front. So, after the 10 battle on the Isonzo, the 5-I Austro-Hungarian army was reinforced by three fresh divisions and an artillery brigade.
Eleventh Battle of the Isonzo
The Italian command decided to again conduct a major attack on the Isonzo. The Austrians, despite the gain, thought more about withdrawing to new positions, the troops were tired and demoralized by endless combat. However, there was a great risk that the retreating troops would not be able to stay on the new line of defense and would run farther, so they decided to continue to hold positions on the Bainzitz plateau. It was on this plateau that the fiercest battles took place during the new battle of Isonzo.
Militarily, the Italians wanted to improve their positions, fearing the gain of the enemy. In connection with the collapse of the Russian front, it was believed that the strengthened Austro-Hungarian army could launch an offensive. During the Tenth Battle at Isonzo, the Italian forces seized several important positions, but this was not enough to create an impregnable defense and get a springboard for the future decisive offensive deep into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In particular, the Italians wanted to occupy the Bainzitz plateau and the heights east of Goritsa. Also, the offensive was caused due to a number of political reasons. Italy made certain commitments at Allied Conferences. At the July meeting, Cadornu was asked to conduct two offensive operations before the onset of winter, or at least one. Italy received information about the various difficulties of Austria-Hungary, it seemed that one strong blow could lead to its complete military-political collapse. In addition, a great victory was needed for Italy itself, its ruling elite. A long war, the absence of decisive victories, standing of the army in one place, terrible losses and deprivations of the population caused public discontent. Defeatistic moods were quite strong. The government, the commanders, and the financial and industrial circles behind them, which had received enormous profits from the war, needed a great victory.
The High Command concentrated all free forces on the eastern front. By 18 in August there was a concentrated 51 division (600 battalions of the total in 887), about 5 thousand guns and mortars. The 2-I Italian army was again restored in six corps - 4, 27, 24, 2, 6, and 8 (total 26 ½ division). The 2, 4, and 6 buildings were located mainly on the left bank of the Isonzo, while the 27 and 24 buildings were located between the Plavoy and the western slopes of Monto Santo. The 8 Corps was a kind of separate group, supported by the link between the 2 and 3 armies. The army had 2366 guns and 960 mortars. The 3 Army consisted of 18 divisions, around 2000 guns and mortars. In addition, there was a special reserve in the 6 ½ infantry and 1 ½ cavalry divisions. The attack on the Beinszitz plateau was entrusted mainly to the 24 and 27 cases. If they broke through the defense of the enemy, they would advance on the wooded plateau of Ternova and could bypass the Austrian positions east of Goritsy. The 3 Army had to attack from the valley of the Vippakko River to the river of the sea.
The Italians were opposed by the 5-I Austro-Hungarian army under the command of General Boroevich (the Isonian army) in the 5 corps (248 battalions) with 2200 guns. Three divisions had already arrived from the Russian front and another 6 were deployed and were on the way. The Austrians controlled the bridgehead at Tolmino, which had good communications with the rear - the railway and the highway. The bridgehead was a convenient area for concentrating troops during a possible offensive. Plateau Beinsitz was another strong point and a springboard of the Austrian army, convenient for defense and attack.
18 August 1917, the Italian army launched another major offensive in the Isonzo Valley. After artillery preparation on the night of August 19, the 24 Corps of General Cavilla and the 27 Corps of General Vanzo began building bridges across the Isonzo. The task was extremely difficult: to overcome an impassable wading river with a fight in full view of an enemy entrenched on a high bank. The Austrians installed machine gun nests in the rocks and offered extremely fierce resistance, especially in the area of the 27 corps. Therefore, from 14 assigned to the construction of bridges, only 6 was managed to be established.
By the morning of August 19, the 8 battalions of the 27 Corps and the 4 Battalion of the 24 Corps crossed the river and attacked enemy positions, which were located in three tiers - at the river, on the slopes and coastal heights, and at the main heights of the plateau - Vrh, Cook, Elenik and Kobilek. At the same time, the 4 and 6 Italian corps tied down Austrians to the north and south with demonstrative actions. Began an active offensive and the 2 Corps of General Badoglio. On the night of August 20, the bridges previously damaged by Austrian fire were repaired and new ones were also built. Most parts of the 24 Corps forced the river. Italian troops reached the flank and rear of the key heights of Cook and Elenik. Soon Cook took the height. On August 22, by storm, they also took the height of Elenik swept over from three sides. The 2 Italian Corps attacked Kobilek. 23 August, this mountain and the other Austrian strongholds still remaining fell. The entire Austrian defense system on the plateau, including also Vrch, Bat and Monte Santo, collapsed.
In the Mesnyak and Velikiy Vrh regions, the offensive of the 27 Corps, as well as the 14 Corps entered into battle, was delayed. However, on the night of August 24, it became clear that the enemy was retreating. It was a victory, the Italians advanced approximately 10 km in depth, occupied the area in 200 square. km, captured up to 20 thousand prisoners and 125 guns, a huge number of different stocks and military equipment. The Austrians planned to gain a foothold on the line Mezenyak - Cal - Vrgowek - Madoni - Zagorje - San Gabriele. Here defensive lines were prepared in advance. The further advance of the Italians through the plateau slowed down: there was no water here, the roads were destroyed, the terrain was very rough. The troops were extremely tired, the rear units were lagging behind, they needed to be pulled up, just like the artillery. An even greater problem was the lack of reserves, it was necessary to replenish the parts that suffered heavy losses. The assault on the perfectly fortified Austrian positions was given to the Italian army by a lot of blood. Artillery ammunition was also coming to an end: 3,5 million of large and medium-caliber projectiles were procured for the operation, more than 2 million of them were already used. The supply of the army was well organized, but it was necessary to reckon with the possibility of a speedy Austrian counteroffensive, and ammunition needed to be protected.
The battle has not stopped yet, but it broke into a mass of small skirmishes. The 24 and 27 bodies succeeded, with great difficulty, to advance a little more, but the Austrians were already entrenched and steadfastly fought back. The forces and means to break through their defenses were not there. 29 August High Command ordered to stop the offensive. The fighting continued only north and east of Goritsy.
Simultaneously with the advance of the troops of the 2 Army, 19 August and the 3 Army went on the attack. On the coastal flank, the troops of the 3 Army supported Italian and British ships by fire. The 3 Army was not as successful as the 2 Army, here the Austrians defended themselves even more stubbornly than on the Bainzitz Plateau. The 7, 11 and 25 corps achieved insignificant, local success, but the Austrians counterattacked and recovered the lost. Similar minor gains were made in the sections of the 23 and 13 packages. 23 August had to halt a broad offensive due to huge losses, completely disproportionate to the results achieved.
Further, individual battles continued with varying success. The Austrian command, alarmed by the advancement of the Italian army, 4 September organized a vigorous counter-offensive in the area of Monte Hermada. Parts of the 23 corps were squeezed, but then regained their lost ground. The 13 Corps was pushed back to the old positions, attacked again, moved forward, but after heavy fighting, September 5-6 again retreated to the old fortifications.
September 4-5 Austrian troops counterattacked in the area of Santa Caterina, the Great Mushroom and San Gabriele. They pushed some Italians, but soon they attacked themselves and threw the enemy. September 11 after the most powerful artillery preparation part of the 6 of the Italian corps again went to the assault on San Gabriel. The Italians broke through to the top of the mountain and captured 2 thousand prisoners. But the strong Austrian fire forced the Italians to leave the top of the mountain. The fighting for the mountain continued for several more days and was distinguished by extreme stubbornness. Both sides suffered huge losses. The colonel of the 14 Austrian regiment wrote: “Who could fully describe this San Gabriele, this kind of Moloch, who every three or four days is consumed by a regiment of soldiers and who undoubtedly, even if not officially recognized, passes from hand to hand ? ”The Italians tried to organize another powerful assault on the mountain, isolating its garrison with heavy shelling from all sides, but this attempt had to be abandoned due to a lack of ammunition.
September 15 resumed fighting on the Bainzitz Plateau. The Italian troops took the heights 895 and 862, located in the extreme east of the plateau. Then the Italians achieved a few more local successes. By October 5 the battle was finally over.
The eleventh battle of the Isonzo was completed. The Italian army achieved success on the Bainzitz plateau. However, this success was tactical, since decisive success was not achieved. The Austrian army retained the key positions of Tolmino and San Gabriele. Keeping these positions behind them, the Austrians posed a threat to the Italian forces, which had advanced. Militarily, crossing the river in full view of the enemy, who held strong positions on the high bank, and the assault on a number of extremely heavily fortified parallel lines located in a mountainous area, represents one of the most brilliant operations of the Italian army in world war, honoring both commanders and and the ordinary composition of the Italian army. In the area of Goritsy, the Italians could not succeed. Little success was on Carso, with huge losses.
In general, the Italian army lost 166 thousand people in this massacre: 40 thousand killed, 108 thousand wounded and 18 thousand prisoners. The Austrians also suffered heavy losses, although less than the Italians. Especially many were prisoners - 30 thousand people.
The offensive of the Italian troops put the Austrians in a difficult position. The Austro-Hungarian army, tired of the endless slaughter, terrible losses on the Russian and Italian fronts, began to decompose. The chief of the Austrian General Staff, General Arts, expressed concern that the Italians would break through to Trieste and that in the event of a new Italian offensive, the Austro-Hungarian army could simply not stand and run. The German High Command was also concerned about the weakening of the position of an ally who could conclude a separate peace behind Germany’s back. Vienna really thought out such a step.
Ludendorff wrote: “The Italians are again successful. True, the Austro-Hungarian armies kept the space occupied by them, but their losses on the Carso Plateau were so great and their morale was so shaken that the leading military and political circles of Austria-Hungary were convinced that the Austro-Hungarian army would not be able to resist the new onslaught and will not withstand the twelfth offensive on the Isonzo. The Austro-Hungarian army on the Italian front needed to be reinforced by German troops. ” As a result, the Austro-German command decided to launch a decisive offensive on the Italian front.