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100 Years On – Caporetto

Austrian and Italian forces had been fighting a bloody stalemate along the Isonzo River for several years by the fall of 1917.  This stalemate was broken by the 12th Battle of the Isonzo, more commonly called “Caporetto“, when several German divisions joined the Austrians in pushing the Italians back to the Piave River.

After an initial bombardment with hundreds of gas shells and mortars against the Italian lines, German and Austrian forces attacked the Italian positions along the Isonzo.  These initial successes were relatively easy, as many Italian soldiers had been forced to run from the clouds of poison gas from the initial barrage.  German and Austrian forces did not attack on a broad front, but rather rammed a spearhead of infantry down the center of the Italian positions.  This forced defenders on the flanks to give way as reinforcements were used to try to stem the onslaught.   Eventually, the entire Italian army was in flight, only stopping to take up new defensive positions when they reached the Piave, almost 100 kilometers from their original positions.

German and Austrian forces lost 70,000 men in the attack, while the Italians lost 10,000 dead, 30,000 wounded, and a staggering 265,000 taken prisoner.  In addition, thousands of machine guns and artillery pieces were lost in the headlong retreat.

British and French divisions were dispatched to Italy to bolster the new lines, but played no role in stopping the Germans and Austrians as their offensive reached the limit of its logistical support and petered out in front of the Italians’ new lines.  These units, which were needed for fighting in France and Belgium, stayed in Italy for the rest of the war.

Caporetto sent shockwaves through the political and military leadership of Italy.  For years afterward, recriminations about the debacle continued to dog the Italians.

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2 Comments

  1. mrgarabaldi

     /  October 24, 2017

    Hey DB;

    Is this the campaign that helped Ervin Rommel earn his “blue Max”?

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