This was a Mountain War Front and one that was thought to be able to be over quickly. In fact this was hard-fought and
took some three years five months and a week to control and win the Eastern Alps and Venetian Plain [23rd May 1915 to 6th
November 1918]. Italy entered the war on the Allies side after a Treaty in London [26th April 1915] with the Allies for the
control of her northern aspects with Austria. These were what are now South Tyrol and Trentino along with the northern Dalmatia
and Austrian Littoral regions.
High Altitudes are never a good battlefield. Supplies are difficult if land-based
logistics is the only option [air drop hazardous but advisable], exposure to the elements not only includes cold weather but
health issues soon take hold if not swiftly abated. Food takes longer to prepare and cook leading to issues of morale, hunger
and malnutrition. High-Altitude warfare is specialist and that soon became obvious, and at a high cost. The Mountain
front caused displacement of the local populations into refugee camps and several thousand died in these Austrian and Italian
refugee camps of illness and malnutrition.
The Italian Victory came about after the disintegration of Austria-Hungary
[see Western Front
page] and the Vittorio Veneto defeat of the Central Powers on 6th November 1918 leading to the Armistice of Villa Giusti.
What is interesting about this is that Italy was courted to be part of the Central Powers initially. Germany didn't though
take into account the significance of the long-standing disgruntlement with Austria-Hungary. After the Napoleonic Wars, the
Congress of Vienna in 1815 granted several key regions in Northern Italy to the Austrian Empire. Some 100 years later and
still nearly half in those regions are Italian-speaking and resentful of the Austria-Hungary Empire 'control'.
By 1910 this too was getting traction within the political powers and elite of Italy.
After Allied diplomats
had secured the Treaty of London, Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary on 23rd May 1915. What ensued were 11 battles of the
Southern Front of the Isonzo and Asiago offensives.
Italian military prowess knew the order of battle had
to be to control first the Karst Plateau. To do this would be to take the fortress town of Gorizia which is a crossing of
the Isonzo River. With the Austria-Hungary forces taking defensive positions in the higher ground of the highlands Northwest
of Gorizia and Gradisca. Italy's Alpini troops were ordered into battle on 23st June 1915 in a strength of three
to one against the Austria-Hungary troops. Due to the stronghold deployments on higher ground this battle was lost and ended
7th July 1915.
Two weeks later the second offensive was mounted - this time with a lot more artillery. This
frontal assault was again bloody, but this time a stalemate was the result as both sides on 3rd August 1915 due to logistics
failures leaving both sides no further weaponry. The Italian's Alpini forces were by now determined to win and rearmed
with 1,200 heavy guns and returned for a third battle on 18th October 1915, losing again by 4th November 1915. Rearmed the
fourth failed too which was 10th November 1915 to 2nd December 1915.
With the odd skirmish, little occurred
on that line during winter and the time was used to plan on both sides. The fifth assault in poor weather was made on 9th
March 1916, yet again Austria-Hungary saw off this offensive by 16th March. During this attack a counter-offensive to cut
off the Italian supply line and troop movements was launched on 11th March 1916 using 15 divisions of the Austria-Hungary
Army. This was the Battle of Asiago on the plateau of Altropiano di Asiago in Trentino. The counter-offensive was to cross
the River Po and cut off the Italian II, III and IV Armies [Northeast]. It failed and was the morale boost needed by all on
the Italian side, resulting in four further battles along the Isonzo River.
The sixth Isonzo Battle resulted
in Gorizia being taken a real win and a solid push back for the Italians. 14th September 1916 through to 4th November 1916
saw further Battles of Isonzo; namely the seventh, eighth and ninth. The frequency of these offensives was far higher than
that demanded of the Western Front. Discipline was far harsher too. A sad day for the Italians came on 13th December 1916
when avalanches in the Dolomites killed some 10,000 soldiers; this is known as 'White Friday'. The Shellfire over
difficult and rocky terrain caused 70% more casualties per round than on the softer grounds of France and Belgium of the Western Front
Two-pronged attack was the tenth Battle of Isonzo strategy - advancing against the Austria-Hungary lines
north and east of Gorizia. North was a success and Banjšice Plateau was won. Again logistics failed the Italians; on
the verge of victory they had to withdraw due to a lack of essential supplies. Sensing total defeat, the Austrians called
in reinforcements from the Imperial German Army.
The German and Austrian Armies planned a direct strike after
testing infiltration tactics with great success on the Isonzo lines. The Battle plan was for Caporetto [Kobarid] using huge
artillery and infiltration. Then attack the line from the rear cutting off retreat routes. On 24th October 1917 the Battle
of Caporetto began, by the end of the day the Italians had pulled back 12 miles to the River Tagliamento. The call went out
for reinforcements and within two weeks British and French boots were on the ground and the Italians were given the strength
they needed to not lose. This time the Austrians had outrun their logistics and supplies, forcing them to regroup and stop
advancement near Venice on the River Piave. By Autumn 1917 the Italian army losses were nearing the final death toll for the
war; yet the end was a long way off for those soldiers still fighting; By this point Italian losses had been 600,000.
Another tactical advantage was gifted to the Italians in early 1918 when Germany pulled back to move its troops in
preparation for its Spring Offensive on the Western Front
. With the help of the British, a divisive tactic was planned to disrupt the Austrian forces and their supply logistical lines,
and use air attacks to prevent supplies and regrouping. June 1918 the Battle of Piave River was mounted. First was a diversionary
attack near the Tonale Pass, which was won in just two days. This allowed for two of the Northeast Armies to move directly
into the path of the Austrian lines. What ensued was heavy losses both sides and no real counter-offensive was mounted to
'finish the job' to the perplexity of the Allies. The Italian General [Armando Diaz] commanding the battle was waiting
for more reinforcements from the Western Front
More reinforcements arrived and another solid offensive was planned and the orders given to commence
in October 1918 a full on attack of Vittorio Veneto across the Piave. First to fall was Sacile and the influx of Italian Army
crushed the Austrian forces of her key defensive line. On 3rd November 1918, 300,000 Austrian soldiers surrendered. Earlier
that day a flag of truce was raised by the Austria-Hungary commander as the inevitable bloodbath would have seen complete
loss of all his forces.
The terms of the Armistice were agreed by telegraph with Allied Authorities
in Paris, with Austrian high command. They were accepted and later on the 3rd November 1918 near Padua in the Villa Giusti
the Austrian and Italian Commanders signed an Armistice which took effect 4th November 1918 at 3pm. This was later re-signed
individually as a Treaty under separate armistices following the overthrow of the Habsburg Monarchy and the collapse of Austro-Hungarian
The Allies honoured the London Pact and helped the Italian forces push on for a further few days and
take control of Dalmatian coastal regions that remained. By this Armistice the Italian Military had seized the entire portion
of Dalmatia that was promised to them, leaving just a small coastal region that wouldn't respect the Armistice. Lissa
fell, Lagosta fell, Sebenico fell and onward. So on 6th November 1918 Admiral Enrico Millo declared himself Governor of Dalmatia
and that was the end of the Southern Front battles.
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