Click to enlarge: Austro-Hungarian Mountain Corps

WWI Southern Theatres...

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 instead!

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 Empire.

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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We have added a number of further pages and Picture Galleries to our website for you of The National Memorial Arboretum, the Ypres Salient, Flanders & The Menin Gate, Nord Pas de Calais, Somme, Vimy Ridge, Verdun and:



AREA17:  So that we may all remember those that served, those injured and those that fell for the peace and security of all...