Battles of the Isonzo

Last updated

Isonzo front
Part of Italian Front (World War I)
Kampfe auf dem Doberdo.JPG
Depiction of the Battle of Doberdò.
Date23 May 1915 – 27 October 1917
(2 years, 5 months and 4 days)
Location
Isonzo river valley
Result
  • Five Italian victories
  • Three inconclusive
  • Three Austro-Hungarian victories and final Central Powers victory [1]
Belligerents
Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg  Kingdom of Italy Flag of Austria-Hungary (1869-1918).svg  Austria-Hungary
Flag of the German Empire.svg  German Empire
Commanders and leaders
Luigi Cadorna Rudolf Stöger-Steiner von Steinstätten
Units involved
2nd Army
3rd Army
5th Army
Casualties and losses
645,000
(pre-Caporetto)
450,000
(pre-Caporetto)
Northeast Italy, farthest Italian advance against Austria-Hungary The Literary digest history of the world war, compiled from original and contemporary sources- American, British, French, German, and others (1919) (14804773203).jpg
Northeast Italy, farthest Italian advance against Austria-Hungary
The plain at the confluence of the Soca and Vipava rivers around Gorizia is the main passage from Northern Italy to Central Europe. Mirenskigrad1.jpg
The plain at the confluence of the Soča and Vipava rivers around Gorizia is the main passage from Northern Italy to Central Europe.

The Battles of the Isonzo (known as the Isonzo Front by historians, Slovene : soška fronta) were a series of 12 battles between the Austro-Hungarian and Italian armies in World War I mostly on the territory of present-day Slovenia, and the remainder in Italy along the Isonzo River on the eastern sector of the Italian Front between June 1915 and November 1917.

Contents

Italian military plans

In April 1915, in the secret Treaty of London, Italy was promised by the Allies some of the territories of Austro-Hungarian Empire which were mainly inhabited by ethnic Slovenes.

Italian Field Marshal Luigi Cadorna, a staunch proponent of the frontal assault, initially planned breaking onto the Slovenian plateau, taking Ljubljana and threatening Vienna.[ citation needed ] The area between the northernmost part of the Adriatic Sea and the sources of the Isonzo River thus became the scene of twelve successive battles.[ citation needed ]

As a result, the Austro-Hungarians were forced to move some of their forces from the Eastern Front and a war in the mountains around the Isonzo River began. [2]

Geography

Remains of Kluze, an Austro-Hungarian fortification between Bovec and Log pod Mangrtom SpodnjeKluze1.jpg
Remains of Kluže, an Austro-Hungarian fortification between Bovec and Log pod Mangrtom

The sixty-mile long Soča River at the time ran entirely inside Austria-Hungary in parallel to the border with Italy, from the Vršič and Predil passes in the Julian Alps to the Adriatic Sea, widening dramatically a few kilometers north of Gorizia, thus opening a narrow corridor between Northern Italy and Central Europe, which goes through the Vipava Valley and the relatively low north-eastern edge of the Karst Plateau to Inner Carniola and Ljubljana. The corridor is also known as the "Ljubljana Gate".

By the autumn of 1915 one mile had been won by Italian troops, and by October 1917 a few Austro-Hungarian mountains and some square miles of land had changed hands several times. Italian troops did not reach the port of Trieste, the Italian General Luigi Cadorna's initial target, until after the Armistice. [3]

Primary sector for Italian operations

With the rest of the mountainous 400-mile length of the Front being almost everywhere dominated by Austro-Hungarian forces, the Soča (Isonzo) was the only practical area for Italian military operations during the war. The Austro-Hungarians had fortified the mountains [ citation needed ] ahead of the Italians' entry into the war on 23 May 1915.

Italian Chief of Staff Luigi Cadorna judged that Italian gains (from Gorizia to Trieste) were most feasible at the coastal plain east of the lower end of the Soča (Isonzo). However he also believed that the Italian army could strike further north and bypass the mountains on either side of the river so as to come at the Austro-Hungarian forces from the rear.

Cadorna had not expected operations in the Isonzo sector to be easy. He was well aware that the river was prone to flooding — and indeed there were record rainfalls during 1914–18.

Further, when attacking further north the Italian army was faced with something of a dilemma: in order to cross the Isonzo safely it needed to neutralise the Austro-Hungarian defenders on the mountains above, yet to neutralise these forces the Italian forces needed first to cross the river — an obstacle that the Italians never succeeded in overcoming.

In the south (along the coastal zone) geographic peculiarities, including an array of ridges and valleys, also gave an advantage to the Austro-Hungarian defenders.

Casualties

Austrian troops crossing the Isonzo, November 1917 Uberschiffung von Truppen uber den Jsonzo bei Canziano 31.11.17. (BildID 15608586).jpg
Austrian troops crossing the Isonzo, November 1917

Despite the huge effort and resources poured into the continuing Isonzo struggle, the results were invariably disappointing and without real tactical merit, particularly given the geographical difficulties that were inherent in the campaign.

Cumulative casualties of the numerous battles of the Isonzo were enormous. Half of the entire Italian war death total — some 300,000 of 600,000 — were suffered along the Soča (Isonzo). Austro-Hungarian losses, while by no means as numerous, were nevertheless high at around 200,000 (of an overall total of around 1.2 million casualties). [4]

More than 30,000 casualties were ethnic Slovenes, the majority of them being drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army, while Slovene civilian inhabitants from the Gorizia and Gradisca region also suffered in many thousands because they were resettled in refugee camps where Slovene refugees were treated as state enemies by Italians, and some thousands died of malnutrition in Italian refugee camps. [5]

Number of battles

Austro-Hungarian supply line over the Vrsic Pass. October 1917 Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1970-073-25, Isonzo-Schlacht, Trainkolonne am Moistroka-Pass.jpg
Austro-Hungarian supply line over the Vršič Pass. October 1917

With almost continuous combat in the area, the precise number of battles forming the Isonzo campaign is debatable. Some historians have assigned distinct names to a couple of the Isonzo struggles, most notably at Kobarid (Caporetto) in October 1917, which would otherwise form the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo.

The fact that the battles were always named after the Isonzo River, even in Italy, was considered by some a propaganda success for Austria-Hungary: it highlighted the repeated Italian failure to breach this landmark frontier of the Empire. [6]

The Isonzo campaign comprised the following battles:

Brief summary of Isonzo battles
BattleDatesItalian casualtiesAustro-Hungarian casualtiesOutcome
First Battle of the Isonzo 23 June – 7 July 191515,00010,000Limited Italian advance
Second Battle of the Isonzo 18 July - 3 August 191541,80046,600Italian victory
Third Battle of the Isonzo 18 October – 3 November 191566,99841,847Austro-Hungarian victory
Fourth Battle of the Isonzo 10 November – 2 December 191549,50032,100Austro-Hungarian victory
Fifth Battle of the Isonzo 9–15 March 19161,8821,985Inconclusive
Sixth Battle of the Isonzo 6–17 August 191651,00042,000Italian victory
Seventh Battle of the Isonzo 14–18 September 191617,00015,000Italian victory
Eighth Battle of the Isonzo 10 October 1916 – 12 October 191655,00038,000Inconclusive
Ninth Battle of the Isonzo 31 October – 4 November 191639,00033,000Austro-Hungarian victory, Italian advance halted
Tenth Battle of the Isonzo 10 May – 8 June 1917150,00075,000Limited Italian advance
Eleventh Battle of the Isonzo 18 August – 12 September 1917158,000115,000Italian victory
Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo 24 October – 19 November 1917305,00070,000Decisive Austro-Hungarian victory; end of the Isonzo Campaign
Total casualtiesJune 1915 – November 1917950,180520,532Central Powers victory, counteroffensives on the Piave river (First and Second battle)

In literature

Related Research Articles

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Battle of Caporetto

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Bovec Place in Slovenian Littoral, Slovenia

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Italian front (World War I)

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Luigi Cadorna

Marshal of Italy Luigi Cadorna, was an Italian General and Marshal of Italy, most famous for being the Chief of Staff of the Italian Army during the first part of World War I. Because of the multiple and consecutive failed attacks led by him, the large amount of casualties incurred among his own men, and his personal reputation as disproportionately bitter and ruthless, Cadorna is often considered one of the conflict's worst military generals.

Sixth Battle of the Isonzo

The Sixth Battle of the Isonzo also known as the Battle of Gorizia was the most successful Italian offensive along the Soča (Isonzo) River during World War I.

First Battle of the Isonzo A battle in 1915 on the Italian Front during the First World War

The First Battle of the Isonzo was fought between the Armies of Italy and Austria-Hungary on the Italian Front in World War I, between 23 June and 7 July 1915.

Second Battle of the Isonzo A battle in 1915 on the Italian Front during the First World War

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Third Battle of the Isonzo A battle in 1915 on the Italian Front during the First World War

The Third Battle of the Isonzo was fought from 18 October through 4 November 1915 between the armies of Italy and Austria-Hungary.

Battle of Doberdò

The Battle of Doberdò was fought in August 1916 between the Italian and Austro-Hungarian Armies, composed mostly of Hungarian and Slovenian regiments. The battle, which was part of the Sixth Battle of the Isonzo, took place on a strategic area the westernmost edge of the Karst Plateau. The Italians, who conquered the lowland area around Monfalcone and Ronchi, tried to force themselves over the Karst Plateau in order to gain control over the main road linking the port city of Trieste to the town of Gorizia. After fierce fighting and huge casualties, they succeeded in their attempts. The Austro-Hungarian forces retreated and Gorizia fell to the Italians. They, however, didn't succeed in forcing their way to Trieste, and were stopped northwest of Duino.

Eleventh Battle of the Isonzo

The Eleventh Battle of the Isonzo was a World War I battle fought by the Italian and Austro-Hungarian Armies on the Italian Front between 18 August and 12 September 1917.

Military history of Italy during World War I

This article is about Italian military operations in World War I.

Fourth Battle of the Isonzo A battle in 1915 on the Italian Front during the First World War

The Fourth Battle of the Isonzo was fought between the armies of Kingdom of Italy and those of Austria-Hungary on the Italian Front in World War I, between November 10 and December 2, 1915.

Fifth Battle of the Isonzo

The Fifth Battle of the Isonzo was fought from March 9–15, 1916 between the armies of the Kingdom of Italy and those of Austria-Hungary. The Italians had decided to launch another offensive on the Soča (Isonzo) River.

Seventh Battle of the Isonzo

The Seventh Battle of the Isonzo was fought from September 14-17, 1916 between the armies of the Kingdom of Italy and those of Austria-Hungary. It followed the Italian successes during the Trentino Offensive and the Sixth Battle of the Isonzo in the spring of 1916.

Eighth Battle of the Isonzo

The Eighth Battle of the Isonzo was fought from October 10–12, 1916 between Italy and Austria-Hungary.

Ninth Battle of the Isonzo

The Ninth Battle of the Isonzo was an Italian offensive against Austria-Hungary in the course World War I. Including a triumvirate of battles launched after the Italians' successful seizure of Gorizia in August 1916 to extend their bridgehead to the left of the town, it ended in further failure for the Italian Chief of Staff Luigi Cadorna.

Tenth Battle of the Isonzo

The Tenth Battle of the Isonzo was an Italian offensive against Austria-Hungary during World War I.

See also: 1916 in Italy, other events of 1917, 1918 in Italy.


References

  1. Palazzo, Albert (2002). Seeking Victory on the Western Front. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press. p. 111. ISBN   0803287747 . Retrieved 25 September 2018.
  2. A War in Words, p.147-148, Simon & Schuster, 2003
  3. A War in Words, p.163, Simon & Schuster, 2003 ISBN   0-7432-4831-7
  4. FirstWorldWar.Com The Battles of the Isonzo, 1915-17.
  5. Petra Svoljšak, Slovenski begunci v Italiji med prvo svetovno vojno (Ljubljana 1991).
  6. Isonzo 1917, Sivestri