Italy Breaks Through – Cadorna’s Triumph I THE GREAT WAR Week 107

Italy had not fared especially well during the war. The front line with Austria-Hungary had been a stalemate most of the time, and the Italians had had a real scare two months ago, when Austria launched an offensive that seemed for a while as if it could defeat Italy. But all that changes this week: this week Italy breaks through. I’m Indy Neidell, welcome to the Great War. Last week, the carnage continued at the Somme, now over a month old. And at Verdun, now over five months old, and British high command began to wonder if the casualties at the Somme were really worth the gains. On the Eastern Front, the Brusilov Offensive continued rolling to Russian victory after victory as Austrian morale plummeted, but German reinforcements and German command were beginning to make a difference. Here’s what followed: The Russians continued their advance for starters, pretty much all week-long on their southwest front. On the 6th, they took the heights on the right bank of the Sireth and Groberka rivers. The next day they advanced throughout the region, captured Tlumacz and took a total of 4,000 prisoners. The day after that, they took Tysmienica and 7,400 prisoners. And on the 10th, as the Austro-German forces evacuated it, they took Stanislau and yet another 8,500 prisoners. However despite the advance, they were not threatening Hungary, Poland or even Western Galicia this week. And though German general Erich Ludendorff did said the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian army seemed imminently possible, German reinforcements were brought up from further north, and though the Austrian Second Army in the center of the line had taken truly horrible casualties, Vladimir Sakharov’s Russian 11th Army, the men pressing them again and again, were finally spent and the center of the front went quiet as everyone regrouped. But to the south, one front was anything but quiet: the Italian Front. Now, even as Austria-Hungary’s Trentino Offensive against Italy was concluding in June, Italian Army Chief of Staff Luigi Cadorna was already thinking again about the Isonzo River front. But he now had more modest plans for how to proceed. He told the duke of Aosta that a new offensive there would take place soon and it was to capture the threshold of Gorizia. The idea being to get set up for a future attack on the city itself and on Monte San Michele and to prevent the Austrians from breaking out of the city. And now for the first time, he planned to concentrate artillery on a very narrow space, not a whole wide front. It would be the region between Podgora Hill and the city. The duke told Cadorna that the attack actually should include Monte San Michele, which in tactical terms was the southern edge of the whole Gorizia area. Cadorna agreed and figured that the Austrians would in no way be expecting a major operation so soon after Trentino. Now, that in itself was interesting because Cadorna had always scorned the element of surprise, so it seems like he actually learned something. So the duke made sure the three divisions that would attack Monte San Michele had good artillery support and lots of reserves. The actual task of getting a foothold on the strip of land between the river and the city went to the Sixth Corps under General Luigi Capello, whose orders echoed those of Cadorna: To capture a small bridgehead that could be defended by a few men with machine guns. Monte Sabatino also came under his command and this was a good thing. Since the winter, its western slope had seen an intricate network of trenches, tunnels and even caverns excavated and blasted in the limestone. So they were eventually close enough to the frontlines to give a good chance of success when an attack to take the peak, which dominated Gorizia, was launched. The divisions that had gone to Trentino in May and June were recalled. And by this time, there were over 200,000 Italians ready to go into action against Gorizia and Monte San Michele. The heavy guns were placed in front of the city, with amounts of shells never before available and with four times as many mortars as a year ago. On August 6, 1916 the bombardment began and Cadorna’s guns were shockingly effective. Austrian communications were wrecked. Their command centers knocked out ot action, and General Svetozar Boroević von Bojna wired Austrian high command immediately for reserves and heavy artillery. See, Cadorna had concealed his buildup pretty well, even making highly visible trips to Trentino to allay suspicion. And the Austrian high command was stretched to crisis against Russia, and didn’t have anything to spare for the Italian Front. So Boroević had to make do with what he had, which was 102,000 men along the river but only 18,000 of them deployed around Gorizia. He was also outgunned on the front 3 to 1 and near the city up to 12 to 1. Cadorna kept the artillery bombardment short and at 4 PM on the 6th, the first wave of infantry went over the top from Mount Sabatino’s upper trenches. They had large white disks tied to their backs and because of them, the Italian battery commanders coordinated their fire with the assault for the first time. The men stormed the summit and took it in just 38 minutes. This was pretty much the best news the Italians had had since they joined the war. But it was just for starters. The attack on Monte San Michele had begun at 3:30 and after heavy fighting, the Italians took the summit there. The entire sector fell to the Italians the next day. You know what? The taking of Monte San Michele over fourteen months had cost 110,000 casualties. The sector was just 8 km long. The Austrian lines around Gorizia crumbled. Podgora Hill was overrun. The Austrian artillery was out of shells and reinforcements would take days to arrive, too late to save the city. As night fell on the 7th, the Austrians retreated to their second line behind the city. Only 5,000 of them made it. By the afternoon of the 8th, Gorizia was in Italian hands, a major triumph, and they had taken over 20,000 prisoners. And to the southeast, some other Italians were gearing up for another offensive. From Salonika, where 5,000 Russians and 11,000 Italians had by now landed to join the Serbian, British and French troops already there. Salonika was part of Greece and earlier in the summer, neutral Greece had given the Bulgarians Fort Rupel on the Struma River. The Allies thought that this was treachery since Greece was neutral. But the Greeks said they had agreed with the Allies to neither help nor hinder the Central Powers, and this was a neutral act. They probably also again pointed out that having tens of thousands of Allied troops at Salonika was, in fact, a violation of that neutrality. There was even more action in that part of the world this week. On the 8th, Ottoman forces under Mustafa Kemal occupied Mus and Bitlis. This was big setback for Russia, since taking and holding Bitlis could open the door to Mesopotamia. Now let’s look at the Western Front to end the week. At the Somme, the British advanced 400 meters near Guillemont, but the attack lacked artillery preparation and they were mauled by machine gun fire. The French had some success there, advancing north of Hem Wood and taking German trenches south of Maurepas. At Verdun the main fighting was at Thiaumont, which the Germans gained, lost and regained during the week. And that was the week. The Russians finally exhausting themselves against the Austrians, and losing in Anatolia. The Balkans getting ready to heat up again, and the Italians surprising everybody, including themselves, with a great victory. The story at the Somme and Verdun was depressingly familiar. One thing that happened a few weeks ago at the Somme that I haven’t mentioned but which I find interesting was a charge of the Indian “Secunderabad” cavalry with lances. They managed to impale 16 German soldiers. By now at the Somme, thousands of men were leaving the battlefield with their nerves shattered. This was shell shock, but it wasn’t cut and dried for the military authorities. “To explain to a man that his symptoms were the result of disordered emotional conditions due to his rough experience in the line, and not, as he imagined, to some serious disturbance of his nervous system produced by bursting shells, became the most frequent and successful form of psychotherapy.” But it was at the Somme that special centers for shell shock were open in each army area. But still, men were “in no case to be evacuated to base unless his condition warrants such a procedure.” Whatever that means. Just imagine: There were millions. I’ll say it again. Millions of artillery shells fired at the Somme. Can you even…conceive of the noise and the terror? It’s not surprising that many of the men got shell shocked. What is surprising is that all of them didn’t. If you want to find out more about the symptoms of shell shock, their treatment and its social perception, you should check out our special episode. For that you can click here. Or here if you’re watching on your mobile. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Melissa Kenfield. Please consider supporting us on Patreon to keep this show running. To stay up to date with announcements from our team, like us on Facebook or subscribe to our sub-reddit.

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. 9th Secunderabad Cavalry Brigade
    In 1916, the brigade took part in the Battle of the Somme, notably the Battle of Bazentin and the Battle of Flers–Courcelette. In 1917, the brigade took part in the Battle of Cambrai.

    Lieutenant Frank de Pass of the 34th Prince Albert Victor's Own Poona Horse (Now 17 Poona Horse) won the Victoria Cross at Festubert

    In March 1918, the brigade was broken up in France. The British units Dragoon Guards and N Battery, Royal Horse Artillery remained in France and the Indian elements were sent to Egypt. On 24 April 1918, these were merged with the 7th Mounted Brigade and joined the new 2nd Mounted Division.

  2. Battle of Bazentin Ridge, 14–15 JulyBois des Foureaux (now Bois des Fourcaux)Battle of BazentinSquadron of Deccan Horse under the command of a Lt Pope killed 16 Germans and took 32 prisoners

  3. Over one million Indian troops served overseas, of whom 62,000 died and another 67,000 were wounded. In total at least 74,187 Indian soldiers died during the war. ALL OF THEM VOLUNTEERS. They held about a third of British lines on the western front.
    Yet their only prominent mention till now is a mutiny and a surrender. how nice

  4. You guys should really do a special on Greece in the First World War, what a strange and unique situation it was in during the war!

  5. Hi Indy
    The Russian troops came to Greece and France via siberia indian ocean and suez and others came via archangle

  6. "Whatever that means." Yup, that's about all you can say about a statement like that. so typical of officialdom.

  7. Luigi: "Hey guys, hey guys! I actually did something! 20,000 prisoners! I tell you, Austria-Hungary is about to fall!
    Haig: Ummmm, Brusilov over their just captured around 450,000 prisoners with their latest offensive.
    Luigi:…. Dammit! Perhaps we just need to thrown more men that the lines. Hmmmmm. Yeah, more men attacking heavily fortified positions. Be right back guys with more land for the allies!
    Luigi sprints off
    Joffre: Why is he even here?
    Everyone shrugs in admittance of not knowing and get back to their planning

  8. A question/story for out of the trenches. Apparently during the war motorcycle dispatch riders from Britain and Germany would meet secretly in no man's land to exchange parts as the British had very good tyres and poor electrics and the Germans vice versa. Apparently you can now see British bikes from the First World War with all British components but German alternators. In you research have you ever come across this? As per, keep up the great work.

  9. Hi Indy,
    big fan the show.
    I have a question for out of the trenches: What was the political system of the German empire prior to the war like exactly, particularly in comparison to the other great powers of Europe? How democratic was the German Empire? How democratic were France and Great Britain by today's standards? Were there ever voices for/tendencies of democratization in the German Empire?
    Looking forward to your wisdom and knowledge!

  10. i think that as summary of the austro-hungarian's conduct in the war and possibly that of every major power would be welcome, especially since the empire's role after the death of franz josef is rarely made clear.

  11. Hey, Indy and team! Fantastic work as always. Buck up! I had a bit of a request: could you please shed a bit of light on regimental traditions, especially those of the British Army? I ask because I saw a special on the regimental traditions of the British Army, and quite a lot of them were extravagant, especially considering the conditions of the trenches, where they would have been impossible. Also, Indy, could you please say, "Taha Mubashir, Hassan Aziz and Aetazaz Ikraam are all wrong."
    Thanks from a very devoted follower!

  12. Here is the biggest question about WW1 – even with the benefit of hindsight, is there any strategy or tactic that could have ensured a quicker end to the war?

  13. "San Michele" in italian is pronounced " San Mikele" with the final e pronounced, and the tonic accent on the second syllab. Very good show.

  14. Indy, i think you missed something important that happened in the Italian army in the last months: just a starting point: unfortunately the english article is quite lacking…

  15. Believe it or not, it's actually not that surprising that not everyone coming out of that harrowing experience suffered from PTSD. We are actually amazingly resilient, and a very small percentage of people actually develop pathological issues following exposure to trauma. Physiologically, there are many coping mechanisms in place to mitigate that sort of thing. Nonetheless, there's no doubt that everyone lost something of themselves and changed for the worse in some way after their experiences.

  16. Isn't "Cadorna's Triumph" an oxymoron? Kind of like "intelligent moron", "tall dwarf" or "freezing heat"?

  17. I retract my statement that Cadorna's good at wool pulling only over his eyes, he did it on someone else this week. But he may yet still be good at pulling over his eyes.

  18. What was Persia's involvement in the war? They always seem to mention it in episodes but never really give more details.

  19. Excellent work as always, Team The Great War! You've had me hooked from episode one. Also, could we please have a special episode on the Indian troops that fought in Britain's campaigns?

  20. Indie, can you do a special about the armies of the smaller German states within the empire? Like Bavaria, Baden, and Hannover, etc. I know they all retained some degree of Independence from the German Imperial Army, and on at least, Bavaria was completely autonomous. Thanks!

  21. the italian army conquered Gorizia only for eating gianni's ljubljanska. a single portion could feed an army. anyone from friuli and veneto orientale knows it

  22. Hello Indy and staff. I like your show a lot, thank you for making it, I have learened a lot about WWI since I watch it. However, it´s been two years since the beginning of the war but I do not remember any episode of Austria-Hungary yet. It is not even explained why is it called Austria-Hungary and not simply Austria or Habsburg Empire. I believe that country, their leading politicians would deserve also some sort of introduction.

  23. Q&A Question: If you could fight for one side in the war, who would it be for? For Me i would for anyone who would help the lithuanians

  24. Once, I counted with my brother some 100 explosions in just one minute in our neighborhood… In the scope of Syrian bombardment vs Lebanese counter strikes in 1989. This is modern war as you always say. We were in a shelter of course, listening to the hell bursting outside, but we were confident in God & the thick walls that protected us. Even today, I am annoyed by the sound of shutting doors in halls (with echo) because it reminds me of the sudden bursting impact of a shell.

  25. What exactly constitutes a "casualty"? Did all countries use the same criteria? I haven't been able to find any definitive answers, did a twisted ankle count? A paper cut? Anything for which the soldier sought or received medical attention? It's always been my understanding that this is a little bit of an unknown and probably changed throughout the course of the war, but I wondered if you guys had any insight.

  26. hi, really good show, until which part are you going to cover? Versailles and Fiume will be covered?

    I ask because in the comments there are the classic downplaying/stereotype of italian effort ( and in part of its results), nothing wrong, almost all knowledge start by a stereotype but covering Fiume will show who this attitude brought over ( and in consequence the guy that will imitate him in the north).

  27. Could you upload the english subtitles, please ! It would help us in translation, especially for unusual names of places. Thanks !

  28. Music seems a bit quiet in this one. At least at the part when he describes Italy's successes, usually the music becomes louder and much clearer during those bits.

  29. You know what would be a great sitcom? Cadorna and Hotz a show about two neighbors Luigi Cadorna and Conrad Von Hotzendorf and the wacky misadventures they get themselves into.

  30. at 9:25 of this video ( and many other episodes) there is some delay in the cut and moving to another take. There is 1 second of silence between those two takes with nothing but Indy looking at us. It introduces a discontinuity and should be reduced. I've seen this in many episode in the last minute of so in the show.

  31. I'm sorry for asking but why did you stop writing english subtitles?, they were very helpful to understand some city names or to clarify.

  32. I like the word "shell shock". Short, blunt, no bullshit, two syllables, everything you need to know in two short words. "Posttraumatic stress disorder" (PTSD) or "battlefield fatigue" just sound too nice for something so awful. I don't want to know what happens when your nerves just collapse and you're nothing but a jittery wreck, incapable of moving or controlling the twitching body.

  33. Picture at 6:22 in Gorizia, here today 🙂 :,13.6195996,3a,75y,19.2h,92.74t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1spOIs3XD1eA_Z1Mm8gpRbtA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!6m1!1e1

  34. It truly is hard to fathom the sheer quantity of artillery shells fired. If only we had some audio of a barrage to get a small sense of the clamor.

  35. Have been binge watching your videos for two days now since I found your channel. So informative and in depth, I love your videos! Keep em coming! Better than TV!

  36. about Italian front: Archangel Michael is the only angel that fight. You may, indeed, remember him painted with the sword in hand. During past centuries, Monte San Michele (sorry I use Italian name) was so called because if you want to capture Gorizia, you need to fight and conquer that hill. Infact, hill and town have fallen together.

    I love this channel! Keep going!
    I'd like to see in the future and episode dedicated to the peoples that lived on the borders of the nations in war before and during the conflict. For exampe in the "italian" part of Austria, people were divided, and even entire families disgregated (eg: the father enlisted with Empire, the son ran over the border to volunteer for Italy)! Then, the civilians: who left, went living on immigrant camps and sometimes they were even discriminated for their nationality; and who stayed and suffered the pains of war or, even far from the front, arrested and jailed sometimes exhecuted due to false accuse of spying (all the priests were considered spies).

  37. There is something I've been curious about for some time. How common was
    hearing loss among soldiers in the trenches? I can imagine that such an
    ammount of noise would be enough to cause permanent hearing problems,
    and even direct eardrum injuries. Did soldiers use any kind of ear

  38. 3:06 it seems that the most expensive education is the lessons the General learn on the cost of hundreds of thousands of men.

  39. It occurs to me that Germany should have at least considered the importance of the Italian front earlier. Had a break through the mountains happened going south it is conceivable that the Axis might have come up on France from the south completely going around the trench lines. I concede that the mountainous terrain of Northern Italy may have still been too much of an obstacle to overcome before France could make prepare defenses and reinforce the Italians. It would require a mobility that WW1 was not known for even on the eastern front……….

  40. My grandfather, Enzo, was a lieutenant in the Italian mountain artillery who lived with frostbite and hunger while winching field guns up sheer cliffs. Many years later in the 1950's while in a tailor shop in San Francisco, the tailor, an Austrian, mentioned that he was in the mountains in WWI. Turns out that they were both exactly opposite one another, dodging each others' barrages. They could laugh about it then, but during the war it was hell. My great uncle Mario was a captain in the Asongo battles, lived on rats and horse meat when they could get it and went a little crazy and a little gay. Never married and was eccentric due to battlefield trauma, though a successful lawyer in SF later funneling money to Mussolini in the 20's and 30's. Apparently man-man encounters were not rare at the front, but were kept very secret. Meanwhile, Enzo's wife, Olympia, was able to visit him at the front on at least one occasion. There are some great, recently discovered videos of the Italian Alpine troops on YouTube. Enzo told of a mission to field HQ where he witnessed the severe anti-desertion protocols where the prisoner was sat backwards in a chair with a blindfold and pistol shot in the back of the head.

  41. Italian episodes are gonna be exciting once we hit 1917-1918
    We're gonna be in for naval battles,frogmen raids and some other more traditional fighting

  42. Where are the English subtitles (the good ones, I mean. Not the automatic ones, which are especially bad for numbers, city and person names) ? We need them!

  43. Bulgaria invaded Northern Greece in 1916 and Greece didn't resist because they knew Bulgarian army was strong and much bigger than theirs at the time. However when Bulgarian moral plummeted to the lowest levels and were surrounded by ENTENTE armies everywhere in 1918, the Greeks jumped to attack Bulgaria too. Cheap try to make yourself look Greater in the eyes of your Allies. Why didn't you attack early ? SO this neutrality was a trickery to avoid invasion to Athens.

  44. This show really made me like Germany! They had to do everything themselves, Austrians and ottomans were almost useless! Britain is such a dick for putting naval blockade!

  45. What a disgusting thing war really is. Even when you know it in your mind, hearing about it just drives home the point so much more poignantly.

    Thousands upon thousands dead for tiny gains only to be lost the next day at the cost of thousands.

    Everyone who ever takes a country to war, may they burn in hell.

  46. Luigi would've been a good nickname for the Italians.. like Fritz is for the Germans and Tommy is to British.

  47. So this was the first episode I watched as it was released. Around late March I began watching the series from Episode 1, and slowly I've finally come full circle. Thanks for the ride. I'm going to keep rewatching until I reach the current episodes again.

  48. By the end of the series it'll just be Indy with a razor and Lincoln park playing in the background while he just says "this is modern war" over and over again.

  49. "Italy had not fared especially well during the war"
    Can I remind you that, in Aug. 1916 the Italian front was THE ONLY ONE where the war was fought in Central Power's territory? The others fared that well that the western front was in France and the eastern one in Russia and the Balcanic one somewere in Serbia and Greece.

  50. Nice… Due the fact that I am half Italian, I was in that region and saw some of those tunnels… Interesting to know more about that!

  51. Allies : You're neutral ! You can't give forts to other warring nations!
    Greece Looks at tens of thousands of foreign allied troops they had neither asked for, requested or wanted to stay in their territory
    Allies : What ? What's that look supposed to mean?

  52. @8:10 the guy in the far right of this photo looks like his face was horribly mutilated. Am I just looking at it wrong or is it just a illusion caused by shadows?

  53. Every photo of the italian front shown here looks like a black and white horror movie.
    Indeed the event itself must have been terrifying for those involved

  54. Luigi could launch the 10000000000000000 battle of isonzo river and still think the next one would work. Just like the last. Exactly like the way the last ones failed.

  55. You pronounce Monte (mon-te) San (san') Michele like the French "Mont (mon) Saint (sãn) Michel", which is far more famous, in Normandy, France…I would however love if Italians could help it wrestle back to its rightful owner, the Duchy of Brittany! Gwenn ha du!

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