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Svetozar Boroević Johann Ritter von Henriquez Otto von Below Secondary attacks: Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf Luigi Cadorna Luigi Capello

Units involved

Army Group Boroević 14th Army Secondary attacks: South Tyrolean Army Group 2nd Army

Strength

~350,000 soldiers[2] 2,213 artillery pieces ~874,000 soldiers 6,918 artillery pieces[3]

Casualties and losses

70,000 killed and wounded 305,000: 10,000 dead 30,000 wounded 265,000 captured 3,152 artillery pieces

600,000 internally displaced people[4]

v t e

Italian Front

1st Isonzo 2nd Isonzo 3rd Isonzo 4th Isonzo 5th Isonzo Asiago 6th Isonzo
Isonzo
(Doberdò) 7th Isonzo 8th Isonzo 9th Isonzo White Friday 10th Isonzo Ortigara 11th Isonzo Caporetto Pozzuolo Battles of Monte Grappa Piave River San Matteo Vittorio Veneto

The Battle of Caporetto
Battle of Caporetto
(also known as the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo, the Battle of Kobarid
Kobarid
or the Battle of Karfreit as it was known by the Central Powers) was a battle on the Austro-Italian front of World War I. The battle was fought between the Entente and the Central Powers
Central Powers
and took place from 24 October to 19 November 1917, near the town of Kobarid
Kobarid
(now in north-western Slovenia, then part of the Austrian Littoral). The battle was named after the Italian name of the town (also known as Karfreit in German). Austro-Hungarian forces, reinforced by German units, were able to break into the Italian front line and rout the Italian forces opposing them. The battle was a demonstration of the effectiveness of the use of stormtroopers and the infiltration tactics developed in part by Oskar von Hutier. The use of poison gas by the Germans also played a key role in the collapse of the Italian Second Army.[5]

Contents

1 Prelude 2 Battle 3 Aftermath

3.1 Analysis 3.2 Casualties 3.3 Subsequent operations

4 Legacy 5 Notes 6 References 7 Sources 8 Further reading

Prelude[edit] See also: Battle of Caporetto
Battle of Caporetto
order of battle

The Isonzo
Isonzo
river, location of the initial attacks at Kobarid (Caporetto).

In August 1917 Paul von Hindenburg
Paul von Hindenburg
decided that to keep the Austro-Hungarians in the war, the Germans had to help them defeat the Italian army. Erich Ludendorff
Erich Ludendorff
was opposed to this but was overruled.[6] In September three experts from the Imperial General Staff, led by the chemist Otto Hahn, went to the Isonzo
Isonzo
front to find a site suitable for a gas attack.[7] They proposed attacking the quiet Caporetto sector, where a good road ran west through a mountain valley to the Venetian plain. The Austro-Hungarian Army
Austro-Hungarian Army
Group Boroević, commanded by Svetozar Boroević, was prepared for the offensive. In addition, a new 14th Army was formed with nine Austrian and six German divisions, commanded by the German Otto von Below. The Italians inadvertently helped by providing weather information over their radio.[8] Battle[edit]

German assault troops at Caporetto.

Italian 102/35 anti-air guns mounted on SPA 9000C trucks during the retreat

Provisional Italian trenches along the Piave river

Foul weather delayed the attack for two days but on 24 October there was no wind and the front was misted over.[9] At 02:00, 894 metal tubes similar to Livens projectors (Gaswurfminen), dug into a reverse slope, were triggered electrically to simultaneously fire canisters containing 600 ml (21 imp fl oz; 20 US fl oz) of chlorine-arsenic agent and diphosgene, smothering the Italian trenches in the valley in a dense cloud of poison gas. Knowing that their gas masks could protect them only for two hours or less, the defenders fled for their lives, though 500–600 were still killed.[10] Then the front was quiet until 06:00 when all the Italian wire and trenches to be attacked were bombarded by mortars. At 06:41, 2,200 guns opened fire, many targeting the valley road along which reserves were advancing to plug the gap. At 08:00 two large mines were detonated under strong points on the heights bordering the valley and the infantry attacked.[11][12] Soon they penetrated the almost undefended Italian fortifications in the valley, breaching the defensive line of the Italian Second Army between the IV and XXVII Corps. To protect the attackers' flanks Alpine Troops infiltrated the strong points and batteries along the crests of the adjoining ridges, Mount Matajur
Mount Matajur
and the Kolovrat Range, laying out their telephone lines as they advanced to maintain contact with their artillery.[13] Specially-trained and equipped stormtrooper units led attacks, making good use of the new German model 08/15 Maxim light machine gun, light trench mortars, mountain guns, flamethrowers and hand grenades.[14] The attackers in the valley marched almost unopposed along the excellent road toward Italy, some advanced 25 kilometres (16 mi) on the first day. The Italian army beat back the attackers on either side of the sector where the central column attacked, but Below's successful central penetration threw the entire Italian army into disarray. Forces had to be moved along the Italian front in an attempt to stem von Below's breakout, but this only weakened other points along the line and invited further attacks. At this point, the entire Italian position was threatened. The Italian 2nd Army commander Luigi Capello was commanding while bedridden with fever. Realizing that his forces were ill-prepared for this attack and were being routed, Capello requested permission to withdraw back to the Tagliamento. He was overruled by Cadorna who believed that the Italian force could regroup and hold out. Finally, on 30 October 1917, Cadorna ordered the majority of the Italian force to retreat to the other side of the Tagliamento. It took the Italians four full days to cross the river, and by this time the German and Austro-Hungarian armies were on their heels. By 2 November, a German division had established a bridgehead on the Tagliamento. About this time, however, the rapid success of the attack caught up with them. The German and Austro-Hungarian supply lines were stretched to breaking point and consequently they were unable to launch another attack to isolate a part of the Italian army against the Adriatic. Cadorna was able to retreat further and by 10 November had established a position on the Piave River[9] and Monte Grappa, where the last push of the German and Austro-Hungarian forces was met and defeated by Italian forces at the First Battle of Monte Grappa. Even before the battle, Germany was struggling to feed and supply its armies in the field. Erwin Rommel, who, as a junior officer, won the Pour le Mérite
Pour le Mérite
for his exploits in the battle, often bemoaned the demands placed upon his "poorly fed troops".[15] The Allied blockade of the German Empire, which the Kaiserliche Marine
Kaiserliche Marine
had been unable to break, was partly responsible for food shortages and widespread malnutrition in Germany and the Central Powers
Central Powers
in general. When inadequate provisioning was combined with the gruelling night marches preceding the battle of Caporetto, a heavy toll was imposed on the German and Austro-Hungarian forces. Despite these logistical problems, the initial assault was extremely successful. However, as the area controlled by the combined Central Powers
Central Powers
forces expanded, an already limited logistical capacity was overstrained. By the time the attack reached the Piave, the soldiers of the Central Powers
Central Powers
were running low on supplies and were feeling the physical effects of exhaustion.[15] As the Italians began to counter the pressure put on them, the German forces lost momentum and were once again caught up in another round of attrition warfare. Aftermath[edit] Analysis[edit]

Marshal Luigi Cadorna

Sullivan called Caporetto "the greatest defeat in Italian military history."[16] Schindler wrote "By any standard, Twelfth Isonzo [Caporetto] and its aftermath represented an unprecedented catastrophe for Italian arms."[17] The disaster "came as a shock" and "triggered a search for scapegoats," culminating in a 1919 Italian military commission that investigated the causes of the debacle.[18][2][19] At Rapallo, a Supreme War Council
Supreme War Council
was created to improve Allied military co-operation and develop a common strategy.[20] Luigi Cadorna
Luigi Cadorna
was forced to resign after the defeat, a final straw according to the Prime Minister, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando. Cadorna was known to have maintained poor relations with the other generals on his staff and by the start of the battle, had sacked 217 generals, 255 colonels and 355 battalion commanders.[21][22] In addition, he was detested by his troops as being too harsh.[23] Cadorna had been directing the battle 20 miles (32 km) behind the front and retreated another 100 mi (160 km) to Padua
Padua
when replaced by Armando Diaz
Armando Diaz
and Pietro Badoglio. Italian propaganda offices were established, promising land and social justice to soldiers. Italy also accepted a more cautious military strategy from this point on. Diaz concentrated his efforts on rebuilding his shattered forces while taking advantage of the national rejuvenation that had been spurred by invasion and defeat. Casualties[edit]

Italian POWs after the battle.

Italian losses were enormous: 10,000 were killed, 30,000 wounded and 265,000 were taken prisoner[3] – morale was so low among the Italian troops, mainly due to Cadorna's harsh disciplinary regime, that most of these surrendered willingly.[20] 3,152 artillery pieces, 3,000 machine guns and 1,712 mortars were lost,[3] along with a vast amount of stores and equipment.[20][a] In contrast, the Austro-Hungarians and Germans sustained 70,000 casualties.[3][b] Subsequent operations[edit] The last push of Austro-Hungarian and German forces was met and defeated by Italian forces at the First Battle of Monte Grappa: they had advanced more than 100 km (62 mi) in the direction of Venice, but they were not able to cross the Piave River. Although up to this point the Italians had been left to fight on their own, after Caporetto they were reinforced by six French infantry divisions and five British infantry divisions as well as sizeable air contingents. However, these troops played no role in stemming the advancing Germans and Austro-Hungarians, because they were deployed on the Mincio River, some 97 kilometres (60 mi) behind the Piave, as the British and French strategists did not believe the Piave line could be held. The Piave served as a natural barrier where the Italians could establish a new defensive line, which was held during the subsequent Battle of the Piave River
Piave River
and later served as springboard for the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, where the Austro-Hungarian army was finally defeated after four days of resistance. Legacy[edit]

The Museum of the Isonzo
Isonzo
Front in Kobarid, Slovenia

Opera Nazionale Combattenti, an Italian charitable organisation, was setup in December 1917 in the immediate aftermath of the battle, to provide assistance to veterans of the First World War; it was closed in 1977.[24] After the battle, the term "Caporetto" gained a particular resonance in Italy. It is used to denote a terrible defeat – the failed General Strike of 1922 by the socialists was referred to by Mussolini as the "Caporetto of Italian Socialism". Many years after the war, Caporetto was still being used to destroy the credibility of the liberal state.[21] The Battle of Caporetto
Battle of Caporetto
has been the subject of a number of books. The Swedish author F.J. Nordstedt (pseud. Christian Braw) wrote about the battle in his novel Caporetto. The bloody aftermath of Caporetto was vividly described by Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway
in his novel A Farewell to Arms. Curzio Malaparte
Curzio Malaparte
wrote an excoriation of the battle in his first book, Viva Caporetto, published in 1921. It was censored by the state and suppressed; it was finally published in 1980. Today, a museum in the town of Kobarid
Kobarid
is dedicated to the Isonzo Battles in general, and the Caporetto Battle in particular. Notes[edit]

^ An additional 350,000 troops were temporarily separated from units before rejoining them, mostly at the Piave line.[13] ^ By 10 November Italian losses were 10,000 dead, 30,000 wounded, and 265,000 prisoners (about 350,000 stragglers from the Second Army did manage to reach the Piave line). The army had also lost 3,152 artillery pieces of a pre-offensive total of 6,918. An additional 1,712 heavy trench mortars and 3,000 machine guns had been captured or abandoned in the retreat, along with vast amounts of other military equipment, especially as the rapid withdrawal had prevented the removal of heavy weapons and equipment across the Isonzo
Isonzo
River. In contrast, the attackers had sustained about 70,000 casualties.Tucker, Spencer C.; Roberts, Priscilla Mary (25 October 2005). World War I: A Student Encyclopedia. United States: ABC-CLIO. p. 431. ISBN 1-85109-879-8. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 

References[edit]

^ The Signifigance [sic] of Caporetto ^ a b Tucker, Spencer C. (11 November 2010). Battles That Changed History: An Encyclopedia of World Conflict. United States: ABC-CLIO. p. 430. ISBN 978-1-59884-429-0. Retrieved 16 September 2012.  ^ a b c d Tucker, Spencer C.; Roberts, Priscilla Mary (25 October 2005). World War I: A Student Encyclopedia. United States: ABC-CLIO. p. 431. ISBN 1-85109-879-8. Retrieved 5 August 2012.  ^ http://ricerca.gelocal.it/ilpiccolo/archivio/ilpiccolo/2006/06/13/NZ_14_ROSI.html?refresh_ce ^ Seth, Ronald (1965). Caporetto: The Scapegoat Battle. Macdonald. p. 147 ^ Falls, Cyril (1966). Caporetto 1917. Weidenfeld & Nicholson. p. 25.  ^ Hahn, Otto (1970). My life. Herder and Herder. p. 127.  ^ Geoffrey Regan, More Military Blunders, page 161 ^ a b Stearns, Peter; Langer, William (2001). The Encyclopedia of World History (6th ed.). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 669. ISBN 0-395-65237-5.  ^ Haber, Leonard (1986). The Poisonous Cloud: Chemical Warfare in the First World War. Clarendon Press. p. 186. ISBN 0198581424.  ^ Dupuy & Dupuy (1970), p. 971 ^ Die Kriegführung im Sommer und Herbst 1917. Die Ereignisse außerhalb der Westfront bis November 1918. Der Weltkrieg: Militärischen Operationen zu Lande. XIII (Die digitale landesbibliotek Oberösterreich ed.). Berlin: Mittler. 2012 [1942]. OCLC 257129831. Retrieved 28 October 2015.  ^ a b Taken from the rest of the army: 300,000 stragglers and 50,000 deserters, overwhelmed by the routed first line but then were back. See also previous footnote and Rommel, Erwin (1995). Infantry Attacks. Greenhill Books. pp. 168–227. ISBN 1-85367-199-1.  ^ Gudmundsson, Bruce (1989). Stormtroop Tactics. Innovation in the German Army, 1914–1918. Praeger. ISBN 0-275-93328-8.  ^ a b Macksey, Kenneth (1997). Rommel: Battles and Campaigns. Da Capo Press. pp. 16–21, 224. ISBN 0-306-80786-6.  ^ Sullivan, Brian R. (1994) "Chapter 4. Caporetto: Causes, recovery, and consequences" in: Andreopoulos, George J.; Selesky, Harold E., ed.s, The Aftermath of Defeat: Societies, Armed Forces, and the Challenge of Recovery (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1994), p. 60. ^ Schindler (2001), p. 263 ^ Tucker (2010), p. 433 ^ Cassar (1998), p. 232 ^ a b c Simkins, Peter; Jukes, Geoffrey; Hickey, Michael (2003). The First World War. Osprey Publishing. pp. 312–313. ISBN 1-84176-738-7.  ^ a b Townley, Edward (2002). Collier, Martin, ed. Mussolini and Italy. Heinemann. p. 16. ISBN 0-435-32725-9.  ^ Geoffrey Regan. More Military Blunders, p. 160. ^ Morselli, Mario (2001). Caporetto, 1917: Victory Or Defeat?. Routledge. p. 133. ISBN 0-7146-5073-0.  ^ [s.n.] (2010). Opera nazionale combattenti (in Italian). Dizionario di Storia. Roma: Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana. Accessed December 2017.

Sources[edit]

Andreopoulos, George J.; Harold E. Selesky (1994). The Aftermath of Defeat: Societies, Armed Forces, and the Challenge of Recovery. Yale University Press. ISBN 9781852851668. Retrieved 2016-03-17.  Cassar, George H. (1998). The Forgotten Front: The British Campaign in Italy 1917-18. A&C Black. ISBN 9780300058536. Retrieved 2016-03-17.  Schindler, John R. (2001). Isonzo: The Forgotten Sacrifice of the Great War. Greenwood. ISBN 9780275972042.  Tucker, Spencer (2010). Battles That Changed History: An Encyclopedia of World Conflict. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781598844290. 

Further reading[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Battle of Caporetto.

Cavallaro, G. V. (2009). Futility Ending in Disaster: Diplomatic, Military, Aviation and Social Events in the First World War
First World War
on the Austro-Italian Front 1917. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris. ISBN 1-41345-742-8. [self-published source] Connelly, O. (2002). On War and Leadership: The Words of Combat Commanders from Frederick the Great to Norman Schwarzkopf. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03186-X.  Dupuy, R. E.; Dupuy, T. N. (1970). The Encyclopaedia of Military History: From 3,500 BC to the Present. sbn 356-02998-0 (rev. ed.). London: Jane's.  Morselli, M. (2001). Caporetto 1917: Victory or Defeat?. Military History and Policy. London: Frank Cass. ISBN 0-7146-5073-0.  Reuth, R. G. (2005). Rommel: The End of a Legend. London: Haus Books. ISBN 1-904950-20-5.  Seth, Ronald (1965). Caporetto: The Scapegoat Battle. London: Macdonald. OCLC 1407385. 

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