The Italian troops, having crossed the Tagliamento, hoped to create a solid defense there and hold on to these positions. But they were forced to continue to withdraw even further, to the river Piave. The departure on Piave was different from the previous retreat, it proceeded in an organized, planned way. Many of the previously decomposed brigades were reformed, the soldiers who had fled had returned to the ranks of their units and were determined to defend their homeland. The rearguard units bravely held back the enemy on Tagliamento and on Livenze.
3-I army retained its combat capability, although it lost a lot of people. Even the previously defeated 2-I army has recovered somewhat, brought up discipline. The rearguard detachments of this army for 12 hours held back the enemy at the Mauria mountain pass between the upper Tagliamento and the valley of the upper Piave. By November 7, the Italian army reached Piave, moving away from its initial positions on 70 - 110 km. The adversary was held back by Di Giorgio’s special corps. By November 9, the last units of the Italian army crossed the Piave. The avant-gardes of the Boroevich army group came to Piave with the departure of the last Italian units to the right bank. Soon the troops of von Belov came to the river, the advance along the lower slopes of the Alps was slower. Belov sent a part of the 14 Army commanded by General Krauss to pursue the defeated Italian troops in the mountains. In the mountainous region, Army Group of Field Marshal Conrad von Hötzöndorf (10-I and 11-I of the Austro-Hungarian army) was not yet ready to attack.
The 4-I army that was withdrawing from the Cadorian Alps, General Di Robilanta, also continued to move. But, in the opinion of Commander-in-Chief Cadorna, the 4 Army retreated too slowly, taking advantage of the absence of special pressure from the enemy and without incurring serious losses. However, on November 9, the enemy crossed the mountains and was able to block part of the troops of the 4 Army. 10 November was stubborn battle, the Italians tried to break out of the environment. Part of the troops was able to escape through the mountains from the environment, but the rest, about 10 thousand people, were captured. True, the death of a part of the army and the delay of the enemy allowed the remaining troops with artillery and the material part to retreat to new positions between Piava and Brent. On the Grappa massif between Piave and Brenta, they hurriedly equipped defensive lines to bar the exit to the plain between these two rivers.
Italian prisoners with an Austrian escort
The Italian High Command hoped to stay on Piave. The front fell by 200 km and was occupied by large forces. The 3 Corps and the 1 Army, which occupied the front from Stelvio to Brenta, numbered 400 Thousands of fighters and were on full alert. The 4 and 3 armies, which occupied the front from Brenta to the sea, numbered about 300 thousand soldiers. These armies were tired of battles and retreats, units had a large shortage of personnel, lack of weapons and equipment, but were not demoralized, although they needed replenishment and rest. The remnants of the 2 Army and 12 Corps - about 300 thousand people, almost lost the organization, largely lost their services and weapons, were demoralized and not ready to continue the battle.
Thus, in the new sector of defense, the Italian army had 700 thousand people and 300 thousand soldiers from the remnants of the 2 army, which must be put in order and reformed. On the mountain front there were several powerful natural strongholds that sought to prepare and equip accordingly. In the flat part of the river Piave was wide and difficult to force, while at the same time in the middle reaches of the river the right bank commanded the left. 7 November Cadorna released a call for the army to fight to the last opportunity. The appeal ended with the words: “We maintain unshakable determination; in new positions between Piave and Stelvio, we must defend the life and honor of Italy; Let every fighter know that the call and the command of conscience of every Italian say - to die, but not to retreat! ”
This was Cadorna’s last appeal to the army. On November 8, the Commander-in-Chief of the Italian Army, General Luigi Cadorna, was removed from his post (which the allies actively demanded). His place was taken by the Chief of General Staff, General Armando Diaz. It is worth noting that the collapse of the front on the Isonzo caused a serious crisis in society. The refugees scattered throughout Italy, carrying rumors about the collapse of the army. Panic reigned in the Venice region and in parts of Lombardy, they were expecting occupation there. Supporters of the neutrality of Italy intensified. The socialists declared the collapse of "bourgeois Italy" and demanded a separate peace. A significant part of society cursed the government, the ruling classes and the monarchy itself. The patriotic part of society was suppressed. It even went so far that a prominent and zealous supporter of the alliance of Italy with the Entente, Baron Leopoldo Franchetti, could not stand this defeat and committed suicide. However, the hopes of Vienna and Berlin that a hard defeat would cause a revolution in Italy and a new government go to a separate peace were not justified. The Italians had too many historical accounts with the Austrians to finally lose heart. On October 26, the government of Paolo Boselli resigned, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando was appointed prime minister, and the new government actively began to take measures to strengthen the defense of the front.
Broken during the retreat Italian wagon train
In the meantime, the Italian army was supported by the Allied forces. In Italy, the 10-I French army was formed under the command of General Duchesne as part of the 31-Corps - 64-I and 65-I divisions, as well as 46-I and 47-I divisions of Alpine rangers. November 20 - December 2 another army joined the army as part of two divisions. In addition, the 14 British Corps arrived in Italy - the 23 and 41 divisions, which were sent to the Mantua area. Later, another 11 Corps arrived as part of the 3 divisions.
The Italian command was actively working on rebuilding and re-forming broken connections. Parts that needed re-formation were concentrated in two groups. The first group consisted of 6, 25, 28 and 30 corps from the 2 army, the second - 2, 12 and 14 corps, which formed the new 5 army in the area of Parma. The 27 corps was reformed on the spot and on November 22 was sent to the front. The first group of buildings was sent to the front a little later. A total of 50 infantry brigades, 47 individual battalions, 812 machine-gun companies, 910 light machine gun compartments, 22 light artillery regiment (188 batteries), 50 mountain batteries, 75 mortar batteries, 91 siege weapons, non-strike-down techs, non-strike-down-old ones, Cec’s, 570 mountain batteries, 23, mortar batteries, 72, siege weapons, non-Inflica 11 communications companies, 1918 pontoon companies, etc. The reshaping was planned to be completed by early February XNUMX.
However, this plan was not fully implemented. Austro-German troops continued their offensive and several marching brigades were urgently thrown into the reinforcement of the 1 Army, and the 27 Corps sent to support the 4 Army on the Grappa massif. The mortar units left without mortars reorganized the infantry battalions into 7 and sent them to the front line. By the end of the battle, some corps had entered the battle before they were put in order.
From 10 November 1917, the Austro-German troops, pulling up the rear and artillery, resumed the offensive. The Italians originally had 29 divisions at the front: 3 Corps - 2 Divisions, 1 Army - 12 Divisions, 4 Army - 7 Divisions, 3 Division - 8 Divisions. Italian troops lacked artillery, aircraft, transport, all kinds of supplies. The defensive positions on Piave were weak, there were not enough shelters and wire barriers. The soldiers themselves were different in training, combat experience and age: from veterans who went through fire and water, to former deserters who returned to their units and sent back to the front, and the youth of 18 years (1899 year of birth), thrown into battle after minimal training . Thus, the Italian command faced a difficult task, it was necessary to stop the victorious enemy. At the same time, the Allies were not in a hurry to put their divisions on the front line. The Italians had hoped that the allied divisions would be replaced by some of the utterly weakened Italian units, but the Allied command refused. As a result, the allied units decided to leave in reserve.
Field Marshal von Hoettsendorf Army Group (10 and 11) had 17 divisions; 14-I Austro-German army of General von Belov - 19 divisions; Army Field Marshal Boroevich Army Group (1-I and 2-I armies) - 19 divisions. Total Austro-German troops had 55 divisions (650 battalions), up to 1 million soldiers, with good artillery and all military means. Austro-German troops were inspired by the victory and remained confident in the future success. The commanders inspired the soldiers that when they entered the Venetian Valley, they would have plenty of booty and rest.
The Austrians launched an offensive on the plateau of Asiago (Asyago). Army Conrad von Hötzendorf tried to break into the Venetian valley. With the success of this strike, the Italian army would have been forced to leave positions on Piave. Italian troops withstood an enemy strike. The fighting went on with varying success, the Italians went over to counterattacks. The Austrians, despite the desperate attacks of 3 of the day, could not get ahead. 15 - November 17 Austrians attacked in the area of Grappa and achieved success, capturing the northern peaks of this array.
On Piave, the Italians beat off the first attack, but on the night of 12 in November, the Austrians were able to capture a small bridgehead from Censon. However, the Italians did not allow the enemy to expand it. On the night of November 16, the Austrians attacked again, but the Italians launched a counterattack and in a fierce battle they threw the enemy across the river. About 1 thousand people were captured. This battle with Fagar was the Italians' first success since October 24. The remaining attempts to force the river the Italians also successfully repelled. The new defensive line on the Piave resisted.
Having failed on Piave, the Austrians resumed their offensive in the area of Grappa and Asiago, trying to break through the thin line of defense of the Italian army and reach the Venetian plain. 18 - November 22 The 27 Corps under the command of General Di Giorgio led continuous battles on the heights of the Grappo massif. The battle was bloody and stubborn, fights turned into melee when bayonets, hand grenades and stones were used. Sometimes the fighters had to build from the bodies of rubble, because of which they fired. In the mountain-artillery division of Captain Di Rocco, who operated on the Monfener 9, whose batteries were at the forefront, all of the guns were destroyed by enemy fire or bombarded during collapses caused by ruptures of enemy shells, and all the soldiers were killed or wounded. Austro-German troops stubbornly attacked, replacing the depleted parts with fresh ones. Particular attention was paid to the position of Monte Tomb, the most vulnerable point on the Grappa massif. The most selective Austrian and German units were thrown here. The Austrians captured part of Mount Tomba. 23 November after a stubborn battle, when the position passed from hand to hand, the enemy was occupied by the top of Mount Perth. The Italian command, fearing an enemy breakthrough, led the 6 corps to the front, which had not yet completed reorganization, and placed it behind the 27 corps.
November 23 offensive of the Austrian army was suspended, they suffered heavy losses. November 25 Austrians launched a new attack on the Grappa array. The remnants of the Italian units defending Monte Pertic launched a counterattack and rejected the famous Edelway division. For several hours the top of the mountain passed from hand to hand. In the end, fiercely fired from both sides, the top remained unoccupied. The Italians occupied one side of the mountain, the Austrians - the other. November 22 Austrians attacked in the region of Asiago. The Austrians began to run out of steam, and within a few days their attacks everywhere were repelled by Italian troops.
Thus, the new offensive of the Austro-German army did not lead to success. The Austrians were able to seize some prominent positions, but in general, the new line of defense resisted. During the fighting, intensified work continued on organizing and finalizing the defensive line, and on preparing new rear lines. By the end of November, a new defensive line on the Piave River was finally ready. Italy withstood the blow. The morale of the troops has increased. The Italians fought stubbornly and did not allow the enemy to break through further. The Anglo-French divisions, after much coordination, occupied the defense sector in the Montello area. At the beginning of December, there were already 552 Italian and 86 French-British battalions at the front. Italian units were replenished to staff. The 5th Italian Army (70-80 battalions) was reorganized and now needed only weapons (at first the army was supplied from France).
In December, the fighting still continued. December 4 Austrian and German troops attacked again in the mountain area at Melette. They captured several positions, but failed to break through the Italian defense. The Austrians were planning a landing operation on the coastal sector of the front, in order to cover from the flank a defensive position on Piave. The naval division was concentrated in Trieste. However, on the night of December 9 Italian anti-submarine boats were able to break into the bay and sank the cruiser "Vienna", which led to the disruption of the landing operation.
December 11 large Austro-German forces resumed attacks on the Grappa massif and captured several important positions. The Italians fought hard, counterattacked. But by fierce efforts and at the cost of heavy casualties, the Austrian-German troops managed to advance in the north of the Grappa massif. December 23 Austrians, after a short and intensive artillery preparation, made the last attempt to break through the Italian front in the mountains. The Austrians captured the advanced positions of the Italian army. The Italian right flank leaned back and the Austrians were close to breaking into the valley. However, the Italian troops counterattacked and threw the enemy. More Austrians did not attack.
German Field Marshal Hindenburg noted: “I was convinced that our forces were insufficient to secure the Venetian Alps, which dominate the vast expanses of the Italian plain, and to overcome the resistance in Piave. Operations are at an impasse. The most staunch commanders and their troops were forced to lay down their arms before this reality ... As a result, our victory remained unfinished. "
In the last battles of the winter campaign, the initiative passed to the Italians and their allies. So, December 30 The 37-I French division, after a thorough and well-prepared artillery preparation, beat Mount Tomba from the enemy. At the same time, the units of the 3 of the Italian army, cutting off the Piave ferry with strong artillery fire, destroyed the only small Austrian bridgehead at Zenson with an energetic attack.
The operation under Caporetto was one of the most significant in the history of the First World War. More than 2,5 million people took part in it on both sides. The Austro-German command carried out one of the few successful operations to break through the positional front in the First World War. Success was assured by assault tactics, first successfully tested on the Russian front. However, the victory of the Austro-German army remained unfinished, it was not possible to finish off the enemy. The Italian army was able to recover and stop the further advance of the enemy. England and France had to send 11 divisions to Italy in order to strengthen their ally. The Italian army for some time lost the ability to conduct major offensive operations.
The losses of the Italian army were 265 thousand prisoners, 40 thousand killed and wounded. In addition, more soldiers fled or were in hospitals. Much damage was done to the material part: more than 4800 guns and mortars, 3 thousand machine guns, 22 aviation park, a large number of small arms and a huge amount of various military equipment and supplies (some of them managed to be destroyed, but even more were captured by the enemy). The losses of the Austro-German army amounted to about 70 thousand people.
The disaster at Caporetto forced the Allies to engage in closer interaction. Previously, cooperation was mainly limited to empty talk and the desire of Paris and London to "fight to the last Russian soldier." 5 - 6 November 1917 was decided at the meeting in Rapallo to create the Supreme Military Council, which included the heads of allied governments. They were assisted by the Military Committee, where France was represented by Foch, Great Britain, Henry Wilson, and Italy, Kadornoy. The Supreme Military Council of the Entente countries was created after the breakthrough of the German army on the French front in the spring of 1918. It includes the heads of government and representatives of the general staffs of France, England, Italy and the United States.
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