Battle of Caporetto

The Battle of Caporetto in 1917 (also known as the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo, the Battle of Kobarid or the Battle of Karfreit as it was known by the Central Powers), took place from 24 October to 19 November 1917, near the town of Kobarid (now in north-western Slovenia, then part of the Austrian Littoral), on the Austro-Italian front of World War I. The battle was named after the Italian name of the town (also known as Karfreit in German).

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Map of the Italian Front, (Source: Wikipedia)

In August 1917 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 was opposed to this but was overruled. In September three experts from the Imperial General Staff, led by the chemist Otto Hahn, went to the Isonzo front to find a site suitable for a gas attack. 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 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.

Foul weather delayed the attack for two days but on 24 October there was no wind and the front was misted over. At 02:00, 894 metal tubes dug into a reverse slope similar to Livens projectors (Gaswurfminen), 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. 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. 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 and the Kolovrat Range, playing out their telephone lines as they advanced to maintain contact with their artillery. They made good use of the new German model 08/15 Maxim light machine gun, light trench mortars, mountain guns, flamethrowers and hand grenades.

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 and Monte Grappe, where the last push of the German and Austro-Hungarian forces was met by Italian forces at the First Battle of Monte Grappa.

(Edited from Wikipedia)

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Operation Hush!

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Operation Hush and the Yser front in 1917 (Source: Wikipedia)

Operation Hush was a British plan to make amphibious landings on the Belgian coast in 1917 during World War I, supported by an attack from Nieuport and the Yser bridgehead, which were a legacy of the Battle of the Yser (1914). Several plans were considered in 1915 and 1916, then shelved due to operations elsewhere. Operation Hush was intended to begin when the main offensive at Ypres had advanced to Roulers and Thourout, linked by advances by the French and Belgian armies in between. Operation Strandfest was a German spoiling attack, conducted on 10 July by Marinekorps-Flandern, in anticipation of an Allied coastal operation.

The Germans used mustard gas for the first time, supported by a mass of heavy artillery, which captured part of the bridgehead over the Yser and annihilated two British battalions. After several postponements, Operation Hush was cancelled on 14 October 1917, as the advance during the Third Battle of Ypres did not meet the objectives required to begin the attack. In April 1918, the Dover Patrol raided Zeebrugge, to sink block ships in the canal entrance to trap U-Boats, which closed the canal for a short time. From September–October 1918, the Belgian coast was occupied by the Allies, in the Fifth Battle of Ypres.

(Edited from Wikipedia)

The Eleventh Battle of 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.

The attack was carried forth from a front from Tolmin (in the upper Isonzo valley) to the Adriatic Sea. The Italians crossed the river at several points on temporary bridges, but the main effort was exerted on the Banjšice Plateau, whose capture was to further the offensive and break the Austro-Hungarian lines in two segments, isolating the strongholds of Mount Saint Gabriel and Mount Hermada.

After fierce and deadly fightings, the Italian Second Army, led by General Capello, pushed back Boroević’s Isonzo Armee, conquering the Bainsizza and Mount Santo. Other positions were taken by the Duke of Aosta’s Third Army.

However, Mount Saint Gabriel and Mount Hermada turned out to be impregnable, and the offensive wore out.

After the battle, the Austro-Hungarians were exhausted, and could not have withstood another attack. Fortunately for them (and unfortunately for their opponents), so were the Italians, who could not find the resources necessary for another assault, even though it might have been the decisive one. So the final result of the battle was an inconclusive bloodbath. Moreover, the end of the battle left the Italian Second Army (until then the most successful of the Italian Armies) split in two parts across the Soča (Isonzo), a weak point that proved to be decisive in the subsequent Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo.

(Edited from Wikipedia)

Corfu Declaration and the birth of Yugoslavia

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Corfu Declaration (Source: Wikipedia)

In 1916, the Serbian Parliament in exile decided the creation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia at a meeting inside the Municipal Theatre of Corfu, Greece. The declaration was signed near the end of World War I on the island of Corfu on 20 July 1917, by the Yugoslav Committee of politicians in exile, that represented Slovenes, Croats and Serbs living in Austria-Hungary and the representatives of the Kingdom of Serbia, with political sponsorship of Great Britain and France, under their avowed principles of national self-determination.

The Declaration as the first step toward building the new State of Yugoslavia envisaged a parliamentary monarchy under the Karađorđević dynasty, with indivisible territory and unitary power, with the three national denominations and the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets equal before the law, religious freedom and universal suffrage. It provided for a Constituent Assembly to establish a Constitution that would be the origin of all powers.

“This State will be a guarantee of their national independence and of their general national progress and civilization, and a powerful rampart against the pressure of the Germans”, the Declaration concluded.

The two chiefly responsible for devising the wording of the Corfu Declaration were the Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Pašić and the Croatian exile Ante Trumbić, who worked to overcome official Serbian resistance. Pašić and the Serbian Court Party had remained intent upon the simple expansion of a Greater Serbia by means of unilateral territorial gains to be derived from a beaten Austro-Hungarian Empire. The outbreak of the February Revolution in Russia had withdrawn Serbia’s Major Power champion from the diplomatic table. Pašić compromised, signed the Declaration and began to work behind the scenes in an attempt to discredit the Yugoslav Committee, lest the Allied Powers regard the Committee as the rightful government-in-exile at the coming Armistice.

As a consequence, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was created on December 1, 1918. Trumbić was named Foreign Minister, and Pašić found himself temporarily out of power.

(Edited from Wikipedia)

Kerensky Offensive

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Eastern Front 1917 (Source: Wikipedia)

The Kerensky Offensive (Russian: Наступление Керенского), also called the July Offensive (Russian: Июльское наступление), was the last Russian offensive in World War I, taking place in July 1917. In the offensive, the Russian army was aided by the Kingdom of Romania.

The offensive was ordered by Alexander Kerensky, Minister of War in the Russian provisional government, and led by General Brusilov. Such a decision was ill-timed, because, following the February Revolution, there were strong popular demands for peace, especially within the army, whose fighting capabilities were quickly deteriorating.

Discipline within the Russian Army had reached a point of crisis since the Tsar’s abdication. The Petrograd Soviet’s Order No. 1 tremendously weakened the power of officers, giving an overriding mandate to “soldier committees”. The abolition of the death penalty was another contributing factor, as was the high presence of revolutionary agitators at the front including Bolshevik agitators, who promoted a defeatist agenda (and whom Kerensky tolerated considerably more than conservative agitators).

Riots and mutineering at the front became common and officers were often the victims of soldier harassment and even murder. Furthermore, the policy of the new government towards the war effort was one of fulfilling obligations towards Russia’s allies, as opposed to fighting for the sake of total victory, thus giving soldiers a less credible motivation to fight.

However, Kerensky hoped that an important Russian victory would gain popular favour and restore the soldiers’ morale, thus strengthening the weak provisional government and proving the effectiveness of “the most democratic army in the world”, as he referred to it.

Starting on July 1, 1917 the Russian troops attacked the Austro-Hungarian and German forces in Galicia, pushing toward Lviv. The operations involved the Russian 11th, 7th and 8th Armies against the Austro-Hungarian/German South Army (General Felix Graf von Bothmer) and the Austro-Hungarian 7th and 3rd Armies.

Initial Russian success was the result of powerful bombardment, such as the enemy never witnessed before on the Russian front. At first, the Austrians did not prove capable of resisting this bombardment, and the broad gap in the enemy lines allowed the Russians to make some progress, especially against the Austro-Hungarian 3rd army. But the German forces proved to be much harder to root out, and their stubborn resistance resulted in heavy casualties amongst the attacking Russians.

As Russian losses mounted, demoralization of infantry soon begin to tell, and the further successes were only due to the work of cavalry, artillery and special “shock” battalions, which General Kornilov had formed. The other troops, for the most part, refused to obey orders. Soldiers’ committees discussed whether the officers should be followed or not. Even when a division did not flatly refuse to fight, no orders were obeyed without preliminary discussion by the divisional committee, and even when the latter decided to obey orders it was usually too late to be of any use.

The Russian advance collapsed altogether by July 16. On July 19, the Germans and Austro-Hungarians counterattacked, meeting little resistance and advancing through Galicia and Ukraine as far as the Zbruch River. The Russian lines were broken on July 20 and by July 23, the Russians had retreated about 240 kilometres (150 mi) (Vinny). “The only limit to the German advance was the lack of the logistical means to occupy more territory”.

The Russian provisional government was greatly weakened by this military catastrophe, and the possibility of a Bolshevik coup d’état became increasingly real. Far from strengthening Russian army morale, this offensive proved that Russian army morale no longer existed. No Russian general could now count on the soldiers under his command actually doing what they were ordered to do.

This offensive helped the start of the July Days, and also affected the situation in Romania. Russo-Romanian forces, which first broke the Austro-Hungarian front at Mărăşti in support of the Kerensky Offensive, were stopped.

One further fight took place between the Germans and the Russians in 1917. On September 1, 1917 the Germans attacked and captured Riga. The Russian soldiers defending the town refused to fight and fled from the advancing German troops.

(Edited from Wikipedia)

Greece declares war on the central powers after the abdication of King Constantine I

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Eleftherios Venizelos, Prime Minister of Greece (Source: Wikipedia)

Greece had signed a defense treaty with the Kingdom of Serbia in 1913 that obliged Greece to come to Serbia’s aid if it were attacked from the Kingdom of Bulgaria. When Bulgaria began mobilization against Serbia in 1914, the Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos believed that he could get Greece to join the war on the side of the Allies if they landed 150,000 troops in Salonika.

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A portrait of Constantine I of Greece circa 1921 (Source: Wikipedia)

Venizelos failed to bring Greece into the war on the Allied side. His explanation that this was because King Constantine I was a “German sympathiser”. The king and the anti-Venizelists (opponents of the prime minister) were opposed to joining the war and argued that the Serbo-Greek Treaty was void if one of the great powers fought alongside Bulgaria. However, British, Australian and New Zealand ships and troops were allowed to use the island of Lemnos as a base from which their attack on Gallipoli was mounted in 1915. Venizelos was unconstitutionally removed from office by the king on 5 October 1915, only to return to the political scene in October 1916.

Venizelos invited a joint Franco-British (and later also Russian) expeditionary force, formed in part by withdrawals from Gallipoli, transforming Salonika into an Allied military base. (Keegan 253) Forces began to arrive on 3 October 1915. In the early summer of 1916, the Athens government under King Constantine handed over Fort Rupel to the Germans, believing it a neutral act, though claimed as a betrayal by the Venizelists. Nonetheless, the Allies still tried to swing the official Athens government to their side. From their positions in Greece, Allied forces (British, French, Russian, Italian, and Serb troops) fought the war from Greek territory, engaging Bulgarian forces when they invaded Greece in August 1916 in the Battle of Struma.

In August 1916, Venizelist officials staged a coup d’état that prompted Venizelos to leave Athens. He returned in October 1916 and set up a rival government in Thessaloniki, the so-called Provisional Government of National Defence. Entente and Venizelist efforts to persuade the “official” royal government in Athens to abandon its neutrality and join them failed, and relations irreparably broke down during the Noemvriana, when Entente and Venizelist troops clashed with royalists in the streets of the Greek capital. The royalist officers of the Greek Army were cashiered, and troops were conscripted to fight under Venizelist officers, as was the case with the Greek Navy.

Still, King Constantine, who enjoyed the protection of the Russian Tsar as a relative and fellow monarch, could not be removed until after the February Revolution in Russia removed the Russian monarchy from the picture. In June 1917, King Constantine abdicated from the throne, and his second son, Alexander, assumed the throne as king (despite the wishes of most Venizelists to declare a Republic).

Venizelos assumed control of the entire country, while royalists and other political opponents of Venizelos were exiled or imprisoned. Greece, by now united under a single government, officially declared war against the Central Powers on 30 June 1917 and would eventually raise ten divisions for the Entente effort, alongside the Royal Hellenic Navy.

(Edited from Wikipedia)

London bombed

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Contemporary illustration of a Gotha crew in action (Source: Wikipedia)

The best-known German strategic bombing campaign during World War I was the campaign against England, although strategic bombing raids were carried out or attempted on other fronts. The main campaign against England started in January 1915 using airships. From then until the end of World War I the German Navy and Army Luftstreitkräfte mounted over 50 bombing raids on the United Kingdom. These were generally referred to as “Zeppelin raids”: although both Zeppelin and Schütte-Lanz airships were used, the Zeppelin company was much better known and was responsible for producing the majority of the airships used. Weather conditions and night flying conditions made airship navigation and maintaining bombing accuracy difficult. Bombs were often dropped miles off target (one raid on London actually bombed Hull) and accurate targeting of military installations was impossible. The civilian casualties made the Zeppelins an object of hatred, and they were dubbed “baby-killers”. With the development of effective defensive measures the airship raids became increasingly hazardous, and in 1917 the airships were largely replaced by aeroplanes.

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Gotha G.IV in flight, the same model of plane used to bomb London in 1917 (Source: Wikipedia)

On 25 May, the German air force commenced Operation Turkenkreuz, sending 23 Gothas to bomb London. Two were forced to turn back over the North Sea due to mechanical difficulties and cloud over London caused the remaining bombers to divert to secondary targets at the Channel port of Folkestone and the nearby Shorncliffe Army Camp. The raid resulted in 95 deaths and 195 injuries, mostly in Folkestone. In Shorncliffe, 18 soldiers (16 Canadian and two British) were killed and 90 were wounded. Nine Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) Sopwith Pups engaged the bombers near the Belgian coast as they returned, shooting one down.

A second attack on 5 June was diverted to Sheerness in Kent but a third raid on 13 June, was the first daylight raid on London, causing 162 deaths and 432 injuries. Among the dead were 18 children, killed by a bomb falling on a primary school in Poplar. This was the deadliest air raid of the war and no Gothas were lost.

News of the raid was received enthusiastically in Germany and Brandenburg was summoned to Berlin to be awarded the Pour le Mérite, Germany’s highest military honour. On taking off for the return journey, the engine of his aircraft failed, Brandenburg was severely injured and his pilot, Oberleutnant Freiherr von Trotha, was killed.

The reason for the relatively large numbers of casualties seems to have been ignorance as to the threat posed by aerial bombardment of a city in daylight. Lt. Charles Chabot, a Royal Flying Corps (RFC) pilot on leave recorded that: “…Raids hadn’t become a very serious thing and everybody crowded out into the street to watch. They didn’t take cover or dodge”.

As there had been little planning, early attempts to intercept the Gothas were ineffective. Large numbers of British aircraft were put into the air but were unable to climb high enough to engage the bombers. Captain James McCudden was part of the engaging force of 92 aircraft but due to the limited performance of his machine, had no success in intercepting the bombers.

Further attacks by both Airships and the new Gotha heavy bombers continued on English shores.

(Edited from Wikipedia)