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Isonzo Wars 1915: “People Stupid by Terror”

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story Isonzo Wars 1915

“Terrorism has made people stupid”

After Italy declared war on Austria in 1915, a total of twelve battles were fought on the Isonzo River. Despite the great superiority, the Italian troops were unable to make a breakthrough. The rift effect turned the karst into a death zone.

Italian night attack on the Isonzo front.  Probably a scene from a movie.  (Date Enrolled: January 1, 1915-December 31, 1917) Italian night attack on the Isonzo front.  Probably a scene from a movie.  (Date Enrolled: January 1, 1915-December 31, 1917)

Italian attack on Isonzo

Quelle: Image Alliance / SZ Photography

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DDespite the heavy losses Austria-Hungary’s forces had already suffered in the First World War, in mid-1915 a true frenzy once again gripped the country. Because on May 23, Italy declared war on the Empire, their ally with Germany since 1882 known as the Triple Alliance. Although Vienna had hitherto downplayed latent differences with Rome over South Tyrol and Istria, and had been emphatically reserved in the interest of preserving the alliance, a desire to avenge the open betrayal now surfaced.

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It also helped that Austro-Hungarian troops, along with German units, had recently succeeded in breaking deep into the Russian front near Korlis-Tarno. However, the emotions and the campaigns that fueled them were insufficient to solve the real problems that marked the new frontline imperialist state against Italy. In contrast to the Italian army, the Austrian army had made no preparations for a war, thus giving its deadliest Triple Alliance ally no argument to change alliances.

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Austro-Hungarian troops in the Carpathians in the winter of 1915: the siege of Presmysl ends in a crushing defeat

Defeats in the first months of the war against Russia and Serbia led to shortages of men and material. As Italy continued to remain neutral towards the German Reich (the declaration of war on Berlin was not made until August 27, 1916), the major ally’s divisions could not fill the gaps. The war against Italy became Austria’s own war. Given the situation, it had to be conducted on the defensive against “this treacherous state,” as Austrian Chief of the General Staff Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf used to describe a treacherous partner.

Since the mountainous topography of the Tyrol made large-scale movements impossible, Conrad’s Italian opponent Luigi Cadorna concentrated two armies of about 250,000 men and 700 guns west of the Isonzo River. From here, a rapid advance over the Julian Alps to Hungary seemed possible, while on the other side, Graz and, as a long-term goal, Vienna came into view.

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Indeed, Italian forces succeeded in advancing to the Isonzo in June 1915. The Austrian troops, who were not even half strong, were only able to hold the bridgehead at Kors (today Gorica) and Dolmein (Dolmin). To force the advance, Cadorna prepared an offensive, known as the First Battle of Isonzo. By 1918 eleven more were to follow.

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To achieve this, the Italian leadership deployed an entire arsenal of modern guns. Although the course of the war so far, particularly in Belgium and France, well-dug-in defenders with adequate machine guns had demonstrated that large-scale breakthrough attempts could fail, Kadorna saw salvation in offensive strategy.

During the Eleventh Battle of Isonzo: Surrounded by fallen comrades, an Austrian soldier, Ensign Johann Prilipzian, already wounded, defends the position against Italian troops.  (Date of enlistment: August 1, 1917-September 30, 1917)

Austrian machine gun position at Isonzo

Quelle: Image Alliance / SZ Photography

It soon became clear that equipment with machine guns was inadequate. There were only two Italian regiments, each led by an Austrian battalion. “Discipline against machine guns has always been an infinitely expensive proposition,” says the Austrian historian Manfried Rauchsteiner His standard work is “The First World War and the End of the Habsburg Monarchy”.

After the First Isonzo Battle finally opened on June 23, some divisions preferred to wait and see despite their overwhelming numerical superiority. But even when Kadorna decided to court-martial the recalcitrant officers — firing 27 generals in just a few weeks — there were no notable successes.

When the First Battle of Isonzo ended on July 7, 1915, the Austrians had lost 10,000 dead and the Italians 15,000. They considered their hold a victory and decided not to expand their positions further. with fatal consequences. Because when Cadorna launched the Second Battle of Isonzo on 17 July, his now-reinforced artillery turned the karst highlands into a death zone, especially since steel helmets were not yet available for head protection.

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An Austrian officer wrote in his diary: “The number of wounded is enormous… The people are rendered insensible by fear… Carnage like never before… Blood flows everywhere, all around in a circle, the dead and pieces of corpses lie . .” Man fell.

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His army commander Svetozar Boroević noted: “In two battles I lost 40,000 men in dead, wounded and prisoners. The Infernal Enemy Cannon benefits from the shattering effects of Broken Rock. Also, bodies cannot be buried. They pollute the air, body parts fly into the fire, which means our people lose their appetite due to disgust and go down despite having plenty of food.

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Nevertheless, Cadorna had to abandon Isonzo’s second battle in early August. The two following battles led to the same result at the end of the year: “Victory won some pieces of the trench,” Rauschsteiner summarizes. At the beginning of the year, Italian losses on this front amounted to 175,000 men and Austrian losses to 123,000.

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