No Turkeys 5 2010 Aprile pag - 1
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also called the Strafexpedition May 15 June 24 1916
In Trentino, during 1915, the Italian troops ac-tually had pushed themselves in the valley of Chiese and in val of Ledro, up to few kilometers from Riva del Garda. Were also occupied the Altissimo, besides Val Lagarina, the Vallarsa, Borgo Valsugana and, more east, Cortina and the Tofanes. This was the real situation to the eve of the Austro-hungarian offensive launched in the Trentino (May 15th 1916) and historically know as the Strafexpedition, punitive expedition, for the supposed Italian betrayal vs the former allied: Austria-Hungary. After a notable concentration of men and a materials, Austria at-tacked between the rivers Adige and Brenta, with the objective to go ahead, down in the lowlands, through the valleys of the Vicenzas territory, in order to cut off the Italian troops displayed in Cadore and along the Isonzo front. A month later, however, Austria will be forced to abandon the attacks without having reached the hoped results. Actually they surely made a stra-tegic retreat, but the Austro-hungarian failure was also determined by a tough and, moreover, surprising Italian resistance. That operation, maybe the most important mountain warfare example (it involved three armies) not only of the Great War, but also ex-clusive in the history of war, had very low out-comes among the anglosaxon historical re-searchers; they had only one word for WW1 It-aly, Caporetto. The Strafexpedition was a serious Austro-hungarian attempt to inflict a deadly hit to their adversaries and at the same time an hard test for the defensive skills of the young Italian army. Above all it was a clash of exceptional intensity with a lot of losses among both the parts.
The Italians Situation and the Hellfire
The Italian frontline was somehow weak. Italian Commands had tried, with a lot of confused orders, to reinforce the first lines, directly close to the enemy, in order to launch some attacks towards Trento. Their Second Line (Advanced Defense Line) was not ready and trenches almost covered with snow. Here they deployed their artillery, some old guns and howitzers, since the better pieces were in the Isonzo front. The main frontline originated (in the Italian left) in front of the town of Rovereto and went along
the Val Terragnolo, going there uphill till the higher Serrada and Folgaria plateaus. There was the center of the whole sector. From there the line went down inside the deep Val dAstico and it went up again along a steep slant toward Luserna and the highlands of Vez-zena. Here Austria-Hungary had six strong ar-mored fortresses, which were the pivot point of their local defense. X-hour of the attack struck at 6 PM of May 15. Weather was fine when 369 pieces, with many heavy mortars, begun their destructive bom-bardment. The local Austro-Hungarian com-mander (XX Corps) was the Archduke Charles, the future Emperor, observed the violent car-pet bombing in a nearby peak. After three hours of intensive fire, at 9 AM, the artillery bombardment raised at its top into what was called the annihilating fire. The effects were terrifying. In addition to the large amount of pieces firing, the mountains echo amplified the fearful noise forcing the Italians to squat inside their holes. A true grenades Hell for the defenders, a con-centration of shells on and over 6 km of front-line, with few caverns and recover positions. Fired all the 250 pieces of the Archdukes XX Corps together with the 119 pieces of the III Corps (in Lavarone), which attack had been de-layed. 33 mortars and heavy howitzers were hammer of very large caliber; from 305 mm till 420. The snow gave some help to the Italians and many shells did not explode, slipping on the icy ground like cobblestones launched on the water. In every case it was a memorable bombardment; from then, the May 15th, it will be the Celebra-tion Day of the Austro-Hungarian artillery.
The attacks against the peaks
The Austro-hunngarian troops launched their
attacks from 10 AM with the storming swarms systems (Jagdstaffeln), a kind of mountain war-fare which they knew well. The high peaks of the Italian Second Lines (Zugna, Pasubio, Cos-ton, Maggio) fell one after the other in 4 days of tough fights. The Austro-Hungarians kept a very advanced position, rather a breakthrough, flank-ing the Italian positions of the colese Asiago pla-teau. There, the Imperial Commands managed to open their second front, intervening with the IIIrd Army.
May 20, 1916 Asiago Battle
On May 20, at 5 AM began the intensive artillery fire against the Italian lineas of the Vezzena highlands. The Austro-hungarian attack was frontal but met the initial strong Italian defense. Otherwise a long column of the 3rd regiment Landwehr (Austrian national infantry) ran along the high crest over the deep Val Sugana, overran the Italian outpost and seized the main Italian artillery location at Porta Manazzo. In two days the whole defensive system col-lapsed and the Italians began to retreat towards their (supposed) third lines. The weather was now very bad, cold with an icy rainstorm. So the Italian were unable to defend the high peaks of their thirs line (Linea di Difesa ad Oltranza or Final Defensive Line). Their Commands simply had no more Reserve to employ in battle. The first units sent to support the battle, were (al-
No Turkeys 5 2010 Aprile pag - 2 most all) taken prisoners by the enemies. The important peaks (and fortresses) remained un-watched and fell in the Austro-hungarian hands: mount Verena, Campolongo and finally the high crest of Portule called the fortress of the Pla-teau. The imperial soldiers now managed to advance artilleries: first breakthrough was com-plete.
On May 28 the main local town, Asiago, went down in flames, the mountains too were aflame! Having reorganized their Commands, the Ital-ians, had formed a new Reserve army down in the plains between Padua and Vicenza. They began to send reinforcement up to the new frontline, which was a line on the maps, however, lacking of trenches, repairs and blockhaus. The first resistance was deciden to be fulfilled in the Cengio sector, west of Asiago. For this, the Italians, em-ployed their elite regiments the Sardegna Grenadiers, come from Isonzo. After a sharp struggle, on May 30 and June 1,2,3a nd 4, also the Grenadiers brigade dissolved itself, the largest part of its men taken prisoners after a brave fighting. Now the situation was very risky for the Italian Army. The Austro-Hungarian advanced patrols were close to the slopes which led directly into the
plains, where Italians had no line to be de-fended. Their new lines, south of Asiago, were into the pinewoods, on some woody hills like Lmerle, Ma-gnaboschi and Kaberlaba or in
open lawns like on the Zovetto. East of Asiago they did some resistance on the high peaks of the Melette mountains, but in a very weak posi-tion.
Evenmore the Italians withstood, in the first ten days of June, sacrificing themselves on the pre-carious new lines dug in lawns and woods. Blo-ody battles were fought on the Zovetto, on the Lmerle, on the Melette, which didn't allow the Imperials to spread themselves ahead and in the lowlands. The Russian Brussilovs Offensive in Galicia gave an hard beat to the Austro-hungarian logistic reserves of materials and, so, the Chieff of General Staff, general Conrad, gave
the order to stop the offensive in Trentino. On June 24, Austro-Hungarians abandoned their lines to reach a safer frontline, on the moun-
tains, and to maintain that new front till the winter: the so called Winterstellung. This retreat surprised the Italian Commands, which launched their patrols too late in pursuit.
The now advancing Regio Esercito had to stop in front of the new, strong, higher Austro-hungarian lines. All the Junes end and the first half of July were dedicated to repeated counter-offensive attempts. This, however, caused the Italians to suffer massive losses, without any gain or progression. In the same way went all the other counteroffensive attacks of the Italians in the other sectors of the new front.
Aftermath of the Austro-Hungarian Offensive
As per the Official Austro-Hungarian Staff Re-ports (Glaise-Horstenau Edmund ed. by-, -sterreichs-Ungarns Letzter Krieg 1914-1918, band IV, Das Kriegsjahr 1916, Wien 1930) the Imperial army losses were, on June 18, 5000 dead, 23000 wounded, 14000 not fit to duty and 2000 prisoners in the Italian hands: a total of 44000 men out of combat. The Austro-hungarians told they had captured around 43.000 Italians during the Offensive, so balacing their own losses. On July 31, 1916, Austria-Hungary will lose o-
ther 52.815 men, for a final total of 96.815 men out of combat in two months of attacks (12000 dead and 7000 prisoners made by Italians). The Italian Army Official Reports (Ufficio Storico, L'Esercito Itali-ano nella Gran-
de Guerra (1915-1918), vol.III, Le operazioni del 1916, Roma 1936) on June 18 Italians lost 9769 dead, 24043 wounded (almost all troop-ers) and 41000 missing (among whose the pris-oners made by Austro-hungarians); a total of 74812 men out of combat. This was an exag-geration while considering that, in mountain warfare attacks, the odds between the attacker losses and those of the defender were com-monly 2 or 3 to 1. At the Julys end, Italians had around 150.000 men lost, among whom many were the wound-ed during Counteroffensive. A Report of the Ital-ian Marshal count Guglielmo Pecori Giraldi, commander of the 1st Army, gave more detailed data on the Italian losses (see table above). Italians lost a total of 147.921 men, of whom half during the first phase, before