"The Italian Alpine group varies in strength and composition. It usually has the local Alpine battalions reenforced by the mountaineers of Piedmont, and completed, when necessary, by line infantry, who usually act in the lower valleys, leaving the high peaks to the mountaineers. Artillery is added according to needs—mountain, field, and heavy—while there are engineers in plenty, and the mule transport is very good.
"The Alpini wear a good hobnailed boot for ordinary service, but for work on the ice the heel of the boot is taken off, and an iron clamp with ice nails substituted. For mountaineering feats they often use scarpe da gatto, or cat shoes, made of string soles with felt uppers, which are more lasting than the Pyrenean straw sandals. The Gavetta, or mess tin of the Alpini, is very practical. It is of the same shape as ours, but a little deeper, and has a reserve of spirit at the base and a spirit lamp, enabling the Alpini to make coffee or heat their wine. They use racquets or skis on the snow, and carry either the alpenstock or the ice ax.
"I did not realize before coming here that trench warfare, and the close proximity of hostile trenches, had become as usual in the mountains as in the plains. The defenses are, of course, not continuous over such a long, and in parts, impassable line, but tend to concentrate at the passes and other points of tactical importance. But here the adversaries draw together, and one often finds lines only separated by twenty yards.
"The Alpini are usually as much deprived of the power of maneuvering as their comrades in the plains, and all that is left for them is to act by surprise. They have a system of attacking by infiltration forward, not so very dissimilar from Boer methods, and they have a number of devices and surprises which repay study.
"Their enemy is worthy of them, for the chamois hunters, the foresters, the cragsmen of the Austrian Alps are no mean antagonists, as all of us know who have shot and climbed with them. Very fine men, they shoot quick and straight, and when an officer of Alpini tells us not to dally to admire the scenery, because we are within view of an Austrian post within easy range, we recall old days and make no difficulty about complying.
"The Germans trained their Alpine corps here before it went to Serbia, and the Italians made many prisoners from it—Bavarians, Westphalians, and East Prussians. So at least I am told by officers of Alpini who fought with it, and it is certainly proved beyond all doubt that German artillery has been, and is now, cooperating with the Austrians on the Italian front.
"The Alpini hold their positions winter and summer on the highest peaks and have made a great name for themselves. They have lost heavily, and the avalanches have also taken a serious toll of them. One parts with them with regret, for they are indeed very fine fellows, and the war they wage is very hard.
"One point more. Pasubio is not one of the highest peaks in Italian hands, but snow fell there in the end of May and will fall again at the end of August. The time allowed for big things in the Alps by big armies is strictly limited. Also we must remember that there are winter defenses to be made in the snow, and summer defenses to be made in the earth and rock. The Austrians were clever in attacking the other day, just as the snow defenses had crumbled and the summer defenses had not been completed. The barbed-wire chevaux-de-frise are often covered by snow in a night and have to be renewed. When the snow thaws, all this jumble of obstacles reappears tangled together.
"Other ghastly sights also reappear, like the 600 Austrian corpses on Monte Nero—almost awe-inspiring of heights. They had fallen in the snow which had covered them. In the summer they reappeared one morning in strange attitudes, frozen hard and lifelike, and gave the Italian garrison their first fright."
On April 11, 1916, in the Monte Adamello zone, while a heavy storm was raging, Italian detachments attacked the Austrian positions on the rocky crags of the Lobbia Alta and the Doss di Genova, jutting out from the glaciers at an altitude of 3,300 meters, (10,918 feet). On the evening of April 12, 1916, they completely carried the positions, fortifying themselves in them and taking thirty-one prisoners, including one officer and one machine gun.
The next day, April 13, 1916, saw some severe fighting in the Sugana Valley in the Dolomites, where Italian troops carried with the bayonet, a position at Santosvaldo, west of the Sarganagna torrent, taking seventy-four prisoners, including five officers.
Three days later, April 17, 1916, Italian Alpine troops in the Monte Adamello zone, occupied and strengthened the Monte Val di Fumo Pass, at an altitude of 3,402 meters (11,161 feet).
During the night of April 18, 1916, one of the most spectacular and important exploits of this period was executed. In the upper Cordevole zone Italian troops, after successful mining operations, attacked Austrian positions on the Col di Lana and occupied the western ridge of Monte Ancora. The Austrian detachment occupying the trenches was mostly killed. The Italians took as prisoners 164 Kaiserjaegers, including nine officers.
This successful operation of the Italians was of exceptional importance. The Col di Lana is a mountain 4,815 feet high, which forms a natural barrier in the valley of Livinallengo and protects the road of the Dolomites from Falzarego to the Pordoi Pass and dominates the road to Caprile. The Italians had already occupied Col di Lana, but could not drive the Austrians from its western peak, where an entire battalion of Alpine troops, Kaiserjaegers, was strongly intrenched and protected by semipermanent fortifications with field and machine guns.
It was impossible for the Italians to attack the enemy's positions, within range of the Austrian artillery on Mount Sief, which is nearly on the same level, so the entire western margin of Col di Lana was carefully and patiently mined, an undertaking which probably took months of hard work, and several tons of high explosives were distributed in such a way as to destroy the whole side of the mountain above which the enemy was intrenched.
The explosion that followed was terrific. The earth shook as if rocked by an earthquake, and the havoc wrought was so great that out of the 1,000 Austrians who held the position, only 164 survived.
Of course, the Austrians launched many counterattacks against this new strong position of the Italians. But the latter had fortified it so well that all attempts of their opponents to dislodge them failed.
Considerable further fighting also occurred during the second half of April, 1916, and the first half of May, 1916, in the Adamello zone, adjoining the Camonica Valley, especially in the region of the Tonale Pass. The same was true of the Tofana sector on the upper Boite. But though spectacular, the results were of comparatively small importance.
THE AUSTRIAN MAY DRIVE IN THE TRENTINO
About May 15, 1916, the Italians were at the gates of Rovereto, less than twelve miles south of Trent and seriously threatening that city. East of Rovereto the Italian lines ran along the crest of Doss di Somme to the Monte Maggio beyond Val Terragnolo and then northward to Soglio d'Aspio. The Austrian forts of Folgaria and Lavarone compelled the Italians to follow the frontier as far as Val Sugana, where they occupied good strategical positions on Austrian territory and held Ronsegno, on the railroad between Borgo and Trent. Further north the Italians held dominating positions in front of the Austrian forts at Fabonti and Monte Cola.
During the preceding months the Austrian forces along the Italian front had gradually been increased, until they now numbered about thirty-eight divisions. Of these, it was estimated that sixteen divisions, or over 300,000 men had been massed by May 15, 1916, between the Adige and Brenta Rivers. Artillery, too, in comparatively great quantity and of as heavy caliber as the country permitted, had been assembled.
Suddenly on May 15, 1916, the Austrians along the Trentino front followed up an intense bombardment which had lasted throughout May 14, 1916, with an attack by large masses of infantry against the Italian positions between the Adige and the upper Astico. Although the Italians valiantly resisted the first onrush they had finally to give way, losing some 2,500 men and sixty-five officers. Austrian troops have occupied Italian positions on Armentara Ridge, south of the Sugana Valley, on the Folgarone Plateau, north of Cagnolo Valley and south of Rovereto. On the Oberdo Plateau they entered trenches east of Monfalcone, capturing five officers and 150 soldiers belonging to five different Italian cavalry regiments.
The following vivid picture of the vehemence of the Austrian attack is given in the "Comere della Sera":
"The Austrians have opened a breach in the wall of defense which we have won by heavy sacrifices beyond our frontier. They have beaten with a hurricane of fire upon our Alpine line at its most delicate point, striving with desperate fury to penetrate into Italian territory. This is the hardest moment of our war; it is also one of the most bitter and violent assaults of the whole European war.
"The battle rages furiously. The Austrian attack is being made with colossal forces in the narrow zone between the Adige and the Val Sugana. The enemy had assembled fourteen divisions of his best troops. An Austrian officer who was taken prisoner said:
"'You are not far from the truth in reckoning that there are three hundred thousand men against you. These comprise the armies of Dankl, Koevess, and the Boroevic, and these armies are served by unlimited artillery. More than two thousand pieces are raining on a twenty-five-mile front projectiles of all calibers.'"
"On Sunday morning, May 14, 1916, three shadows approached the Italian trenches. As they advanced they were recognized as Austrian Slav deserters. They said:
"'The attack has been ordered for to-morrow. The bombardment will last from dawn to 6 p. m., when the infantry will attack.'
"The information was exact. A bombardment of incredible violence began. Aeroplanes regulated the fire of a 15-inch naval gun, which sent five projectiles on the town of Asiago. After the bombardment had ceased the first infantry attack came. The troops attacked en masse, and at the same time attacks were made from the Adige to the Val Sugana. Four onslaughts were made on Zugna Torta. Our machine guns cut down the blue masses of men; the wire entanglements were heaped with dead. The bombardment had destroyed all the first-line trenches. The infantry then hurled itself against the advance posts of the Val Terragnolo. The Alpini, deafened by twelve hours of bombardment, defended every foot of the ground, fighting always in snow. Three terrible bayonet counterattacks lacerated the Austrian lines, but the assailants were innumerable, and no help could come, as the entire front was in action. The Alpini who remained, so few in number, threw themselves on the enemy again, permitting the retirement of the main body to the line running from Malga Milegna to Soglio d'Aspio. Even here there was one avalanche of fire. The enemy artillery had been pouring explosives on these positions for ten hours. The enemy infantry here attacking were annihilated and the enemy dead filled the valleys, but fresh troops swarmed up from all parts.
"Night fell on the first day's slaughter."
The following day, May 16, 1916, the Austrians attacked again the Italian positions on the northern slopes of the Zugna Torta in the Lagarina Valley in five assaults. In the zone between the Val Terragnolo and the upper Astico a violent concentrated fire from the Austrian artillery of all calibers forced the Italians to abandon their advanced positions. In the Asiago sector persistent attacks were repulsed. In the Sugana Valley the Austrians vigorously attacked between the Val Maggio bridgehead and Monte Collo. The prisoners taken by the Austrians were increased to forty-one officers and 6,200 men, and the booty to seventeen machine guns and thirteen guns. Along the whole remaining front there was artillery fire. Sporadic infantry attacks were made in the San Pellegrino Valley, the upper But, at Monte Nero, Mrzli, the Tolmino zone, the northern slopes of Monte San Michele, the region east of Selz, and Monfalcone.
Austrian aeroplanes shelled Castel Tesino, Capedaletto, Montebelluna, and the stations at Carnia and Gemona. Italian aeroplanes shelled Dellach and Kotsschach in the Gail Valley.
The shelling of Zugna Torta was renewed on May 17, 1916, when five attacks against the Italian positions were repulsed with heavy losses.
Meanwhile artillery fire continued against the Italian positions between Val Terragnolo and the upper Astico. After three days of intense and uninterrupted artillery fire the Italians abandoned their positions on Zugna Torta on May 18, 1916, but repulsed two attacks against their positions further south. The Italians also abandoned their line of resistance between Monte Soglio d'Aspio and retired upon other prepared positions.
Zugna Torta, the ridge running down upon Rovereto, between Val Lagarina and Vallarsa, was a dangerously exposed salient. The western slopes were commanded by the fire of the Austrian artillery positions at Biaena, north of More, on the western side of Val Lagarina, and the rest of the position lay open to Ghello and Fenocchio, east of Rovereto. The Italians had never been able to push forward their lines on either side of this salient. Biaena blocked the way on the west, and the advance east of Vallarsa was held up by the formidable group of fortifications on the Folgaria Plateau. When the Austrians attacked Zugna Torta, under cover of a converging artillery fire, the position quickly became untenable.
On the same day the Austrians, for the first time since the beginning of hostilities between Italy and Austria, crossed the Italian frontier in the Lago di Garda region and established themselves on the Costabella, a ridge of the Monte Baldo, between the lake and the Lagarina Valley. At this point, where the Austrian offensive met with the greatest success, the Italians were driven back four miles from the positions on Austrian soil which they occupied at the opening of the attack and which they had held early in the war.
The Austrian advance was well maintained on the following day, May 19, 1916, when the Italians were driven from their positions on the Col Santo, almost directly to the west of Monte Maggio captured the day before, between the Val di Terragnolo and the Vallarsa.
By that time the number of Italians taken prisoners by the Austrians since May 15, 1916, had increased to 257 officers and 13,000 men and the booty to 109 guns, including twelve howitzers, and sixty-eight machine guns.
An Austrian dispatch forwarded at that time from Trent tells of the violent fighting which was in progress in the zone of Monte Adamello and the Tonale Pass and gives a description of the capture by the Austrians of an unarmed mountain in this region.
The preparatory bombardment was begun at three o'clock in the afternoon, the Italian guns making only a desultory reply. The bombardment was continued until after sunset, when the Austrian infantry began to move forward from the direction of Fort Strino, on the Noce River, northeast of the Tonale Pass, guided by searchlights and star shells.
The seasoned Austrian troops encountered an extremely heavy machine-gun and rifle fire as they climbed the slope, using their bayonets to give them support on the slippery ground, but continued the advance, and near the summit engaged the Italian defenders in a hand-to-hand combat, and after an hour of bayonet fighting drove the Italians from their positions. Both sides engaging in the encounter lost heavily, according to the dispatch.
According to Rome dispatches the Austrian troops were under the command of the Austrian heir-apparent, Archduke Charles Francis Joseph, as well as Field Marshal Count von Hoetbendorff, chief of the Austrian General Staff. General Cadorna, the Italian commander in chief, was also said to have established his headquarters on the Trentino front to take personal command of the defense.
The special correspondent of the London "Times" describes the fighting in the Trentino at this period as follows:
"It is the fifth day of the Austrian offensive. 'We have an action in progress,' says the colonel. The night is clear and mild. A moon, full red, is rising on the horizon. Headquarters are located in an ancient Austrian feudal castle, which crowns a hilltop. At our feet the valley spreads out, and the mountain-chains to the right and left seem to meet at an angle in the west. Here a blackened mountain mass dominates the valley. It is the Panarotta, the stronghold of the enemy.
"'The eye of the Austrians,' a young officer exclaims, as from the crest a beam of light breaks forth, flaring with great intensity on the Italian positions lower down. Immediately an Italian light endeavors to shine directly in the path of the Austrian light and blind its rays. Another Austrian light darts forth from across the valley. Promptly an Italian searchlight gives battle. Thus for more than an hour the opposing searchlights endeavor to intercept one another. To-night the Austrians are on the offensive. Their lights sweep the hill crests, pursued by Italian rays.
"The moon is now high in the heavens, the snow-clad peaks, the shadowy ravines, the villages within Italian lines, as well as those beyond the invisible ring of steel, are bathed in a silvery light. We are standing less than four miles from the advanced enemy positions. The stage is set, the battle is about to begin. Information brought in during the day tells of fresh units of the enemy, massed in second line. Deserters, surrendering to Italian patrols, report that an important action is impending. The general commanding bids us good night.
"We make our way on foot through quiet country lanes. Through the trees, the glimmer of the searchlights' flashes comes and goes like giant fireflies. The clear notes of a nightingale ring out in the stillness of the night. Nestling in the valley lies a large town, which only a fortnight ago was filled with civilians, 'redeemed Italians,' who had enjoyed eight months of prosperity and liberty under Italian rule. Now these have been evacuated and scattered in the four corners of Italy, and the deserted houses and empty streets add to the unreality of the scene. The whirring of the field-telephone wires which hang low, hastily looped over the branches of olive and mulberry trees, alone indicates any activity of man. There are no troops in sight, save a patrol which stops us and examines our papers. It seems difficult to realize that a great battle is impending. No scene could be more peaceful. In the marshes, frogs are croaking in loud unison. The scent of new-mown hay is wafted across the valley.
"The minutes hang heavily. A half hour passes. An hour seems interminable. This afternoon, beyond the mountains, in the next valley, not more than nine miles away as the crow flies, a bloody action was fought. Not a sound of the cannonade reached us; what had happened there we did not know, for the Austrians are attacking from a single base, and their battle line is not more than fifteen miles long, pivoting on a central position, whereas the Italian forces in this same sector are compelled, by the configuration of the mountains and the intersecting valleys, to fight separate actions which can only be coordinated with utmost difficulty.
"Shortly before one o'clock in the morning the Austrian batteries open fire. From the west, the north, the east, the hail of shell and shrapnel tears open the crest of the hill, the Monte Collo, against which the attack is directed. So intense an artillery fire has not hitherto been witnessed on the Italian front; 380's, 305's, 240's, 149's, 105's rain upon the short line of Italian intrenchments.
"For more than three hours the bombardment continues. The Italian guns apparently refrain from answering. But every battery is in readiness, every Italian gun is trained on the spot where the enemy must pass. Every man is at his post, waiting, waiting. It is just before dawn. The air of this Alpine Valley is cold and raw. A bleak wind blows through the trees. The cannonade slackens. From our position we cannot see the enemy advancing, but the black, broad strip of newly-upturned soil on the crest of the Monte Collo shows the effect of the bombardment. Split wide open like a yawning crater, the hilltop has been plowed up in every direction. Barbed wire, parapets, and trench lines have disappeared, buried under the tangled earth clumps.
"A minute, perhaps five or ten! 'They are coming,' is whispered in the observation post. A thunder of Italian artillery greets the attacking forces. On they come. Instinctively one can discern a shadowy mass moving forward. Huddled together, they crouch low. Shells are falling and then cease, and the 'click,' 'click,' of the machine gun's enfilading fire is heard. The enemy reaches the Italian advance trenches. The first streaks of light, gray and cold, show new attacking forces coming up over the hill. They penetrate deep into the plowed soil. They seem to hold the hill. Stumbling through the cratered terrain the Austrians advance toward the Italian positions. Then from out of the tawny earth an Italian battalion springs up. One can almost imagine that one hears their hoarse battle cry, 'Avanti, Savoia! Avanti!' as they fall upon their enemies.
"We learn later that the losses have been heavy. The Italian possessions have been badly damaged and have been temporarily evacuated. Both sides have taken prisoners, and what was the battle ground is now a neutral zone. Some hours later I again look across to the Monte Collo. The hill crest is deserted. Below the summit fresh Italian troops are occupying new and stronger positions, while an endless stream of pack-mules is winding slowly up the mountainside."
On May 20, 1916, the battles in southern Tyrol, on the Lavarone Plateau, increased in violence as the result of Italian attacks. The Austrians reached the summit of the Armentara Ridge and on the Lavarone Plateau penetrated the first hostile position.
The troops of Archduke Charles Francis Joseph also added to their successes. They captured the Cima dei Laghi and the Cima di Nesole. The Italians also were driven from the Borgola Pass toward the south and lost three more twenty-eight centimeter howitzers and 3,000 men, 84 officers, 25 guns and 8 machine guns.
Austrian aeroplanes dropped bombs on Vicenza.
Although the Italian line still held in the main, it could not deny Austrian advances at certain important points. Slowly the Austro-Hungarians pushed on everywhere toward the Italian frontier. On May 21, 1916, an attack of the Graz Corps on Lavarone Plateau was attended with complete success. The Italians were driven from their entire position. Other Austrian troops captured Fima, Mandriolo and the height immediately west of the frontier from the summit as far as the Astico Valley.
The troops of Archduke Charles Francis Joseph reached the Monte Tormino Majo line.
Between the Astico and Brenta, in the Sugana Valley, the Austrian attacks likewise continued, supported by powerful artillery, against advanced lines in the west valleys of Terra Astico, Doss Maggio and Campelle.
Since the beginning of the offensive 23,883 Italians, among whom are 482 officers, had now been captured and the number of cannon taken had been increased to 172.
Between Lake Garda and the Adige large Austrian forces were massed on May 22, 1916, in the Riva zone. There was also considerable aerial activity on that day on Monte Baldo (the mountain ridge to the east of the lake). From the Adige to the Astico there were only reconnoiterings. Between the Astico and the Brenta Rivers in the Sugana Valley, the Italians were again forced to fall back gradually on their main lines after repulsing heavy attacks throughout the day. The retreat, however, was orderly and spontaneous.
Besides accomplishing their advance in the Val Sugana, the Austrians continued the reduction of the forts protecting Arsiero, well across the Italian frontier on the way toward Vicenza. Arsiero is the terminus of a railway leading down into the Vicenza plain and the city of Vicenza. Through the capture of the Spitz Tonezza and Monte Melignone the Austrians now held the entire line across the frontier as far as Forni on the Astico. They also pushed their advance toward the ridge north of the Val dei Laghi, and toward Monte Tormino and Monte Cremone, all three outlying defenses of Arsiero. Meanwhile the right wing of the Austrian army, after storming Col Santo, had moved toward Monte Pasubio, and the left wing had stormed the Sasso Alto, commanding the Armentara Ridge, enabling the Austrians to advance into the Sugana Valley and to take Roncegno.
In order to appreciate the difficulties connected with all of this fighting, it must be remembered that the fighting is going on in the mountains, on ground varying in altitude as much as 5,000 feet per mile. The mountains were still partly covered with snow and the transportation of supplies, therefore, was exceedingly difficult.
As the month of May drew to its end, the Austrian advance spread steadily. By May 23, 1916, the Austrians had occupied north of the Sugana Valley the ridge from Salubio to Borgo. On the frontier ridge south of the valley the Italians were driven from Pompeii Mountain. Further south the Italians successfully defended the heights east of the Val d'Assa and the fortified district Asiago and Arsiero. The armored work of Campolono, however, fell into Austro-Hungarian hands. The Austro-Hungarian troops approached more closely the Val d'Assa and Posina Valley.
Orderly as the Italian retreat was, it was nevertheless a hasty one. For the official Italian report for May 23, 1916, admits that artillery "that could not be removed" was destroyed.
Both the violence and unexpectedness of the Austrian attacks are testified to by articles published at this time in Italian newspapers. A writer in the "Giornale d'Italia" of Rome says that "the Austrian offensive came as a surprise to the Italian command and the taking of Monte Maggio and other important positions was possible, because the Italians were not looking for so heavy an attack."
A correspondent of the "Corriere della Sera" of Milan, writing of the extensive preparations made by the Austrians for the present offensive, says "that the Austrians massed 2,000 guns, mostly of large caliber, on the twenty-four-mile front attacked."
Though it was now scarcely more than a week since the beginning of the Austrian offensive, 24,400 Italians had been made prisoners, among them 524 officers, and 251 cannon; 101 machine guns had been taken.
The Italians, of course, appreciated fully the deeper meaning of this Austrian offensive. They understood that the Austrian objective was not simply to reduce the Italian pressure on Trent or to drive the Italians out of southern Tyrol, but to advance themselves into Italy. At the same time, Italy also knew that, though such an advance was not an impossibility, its successful accomplishment for any great distance or duration would be seriously handicapped by the fact that the preponderance of numbers was unquestionably on the Italian and not the Austrian side. This confidence found expression in an order of the day issued at this junction by King Victor Emmanuel in which he says:
"Soldiers of land and sea: Responding with enthusiasm to the appeal of the country a year ago, you hastened to fight, in conjunction with our brave allies, our hereditary enemy and assure the realization of our national claims.
"After having surmounted difficulties of every nature, you have fought in a hundred combats and won, for you have the ideal of Italy in your heart. But the country again asks of you new efforts and more sacrifices.
"I do not doubt that you will know how to give new proofs of bravery and force of mind. The country, proud and grateful, sustains you in your arduous task by its fervent affections, its calm demeanor and its admirable confidence.
"I sincerely hope that fortune will accompany us in future battles, as you accompany my constant thoughts."
Still further Austrian successes were reported on May 24, 1916. In the Sugana Valley they occupied the Salubio Ridge and drove the Italians from Kempel Mountain.
In the Lagarina Valley, after an intense night bombardment, Austrian forces attacked twice toward Serravalle and Col di Buole, but were vigorously repulsed. Next morning the attack on Col di Buole was renewed with fresh troops, but again repulsed with heavy loss. Italian troops followed up this repulse and reoccupied the height of Darmeson, southeast of Col di Buole.
Between the Val d'Assa and Posina the Austrians, after having kept Italian positions at Pasubio under violent bombardment, launched a night attack with strong columns of infantry, which were mowed down by Italian fire and thrown back in disorder. Between Posina and the Astico the Austrians unmasked their heavy artillery along the Monte Maggio-Toraro line, but Italian guns replied effectively.
On May 25, 1916, the Austro-Hungarians occupied the Cima Cista, crossed the Maso rivulet and entered Strigno in the Val Sugana, four miles northeast of Borgo and a little less than that distance southeast of Salubio, with the Maso stream between. They also captured the Corno di Campo Verde to the east of Grigno, on the Italian border and occupied Chiesa on the Vallarsa Plateau, southwest of Pasubio.
THE RISE AND FAILURE OF THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN DRIVE
By May 26, 1916, the center of the Austro-Hungarian army was sweeping down toward Arsiero, while another strong force further west was within ten miles of the Italian city of Schio. Both of these points are terminals of the railroad system of which Vicenza is the center. That day some of the armored works of Arsiero and some strongly fortified positions southwest of Bacarola were captured and Monte Mochicce was occupied. Another Austrian success was the capture of the entire mountain range from Corno di Campo Verde to Montemeata (in the Val d'Assa). The Italians suffered sanguinary losses and also lost more than 2,500 prisoners, four guns, four machine guns, 300 bicycles and much other material.
In the Monte Nero zone on the night of May 26, 1916, the Austro-Hungarians attacked Italian trenches near Vrsic and succeeded in gaining a temporary foothold. When reenforcements arrived, after a violent counterattack, the Italians drove out the enemy, taking some prisoners and machine guns.
The natural difficulties in the way of the Austro-Hungarian invaders were so manifold and severe that it appeared at times as if the offensive had come to a standstill. However, this was not the case. Slowly but surely it progressed and as it progressed it even spread out. Thus on May 27, 1916, the Austrians not only captured a fortification at Coronolo, west of Arsiero, and also a barricade in the Assa Valley, southwest of Monte Interrotto, but also carried their offensive further toward the west until it included the northern end of Lake Garda.
Again on May 28, 1916, the Italians had to give way. The Austrians crossed the Assa Valley near Roana, four and a half miles southwest of Asiago. They also repulsed Italian attacks near Canove, between Asiago and Schio, and occupied the southern slopes and captured the fortifications on the Monte Ingrotto heights, north of Asiago, after having taken Monte Cebio, Monte Sieglarella and the Corno di Campo Bianco. In the upper Posina Valley the Italians were driven out of their positions west and south of Webalen.
With renewed vigor the Austrians attacked on May 29, 1916. As a result the armored work of Punta Gorda fell into their hands, and west of Arsiero they forced the crossing of the Posina Brook and occupied the heights on the southern bank in the face of determined Italian resistance.
The next day, May 30, 1916, Austrian troops, northeast of Asiago, drove the Italians from Gallio and stormed positions on the heights northward. Monte Baldo and Monte Fiara fell into their hands. West of Asiago the Austrian line south of the Assa Valley was advanced to the conquered Italian position of Punta Gorda. The troops which had crossed the day before the Posina took Monte Priafora.
This brought the Austrians so near to Asiago that the Italians deemed it wise to evacuate this town, holding, however, the hills to the east. In spite of the gradual advance of the Austrian center, the Italian wings held and severely punished the attacking Austrians. This was made possible by the admirable Italian motor transports which enabled the Italian command to bring up great reenforcements and stop the gap made in the first line. The most serious loss which they suffered was that of the big guns the Italians were obliged to abandon on the Monte Maggio-Spitz Tonezza line.
The Austrian offensive was now in its second week. So far it had yielded in prisoners 30,388 Italians, including 694 officers and 299 cannon.
Reviewing the Austro-Hungarian offensive up to this point, the military critic of the Berlin "Tageblatt" says:
"The Austro-Hungarian advance is in progress on a front of thirty-one miles between the Adige and the Brenta. This is about the same distance as the front between Gorlice and Tarnow, in Galicia, over which the offensive against the Russians was conducted thirteen months ago.
"The general direction of the advance is toward the Italian line running through Asiago, Arsiero, and Schio, which up to the present time had been protected by advanced positions. This line represents the third and last fortified defensive position, the strategic object of which is to prevent an invasion of the Venetian plain.
"The Austro-Hungarian troops already have disposed of the loftiest heights, which presents a situation favorable to them. When the heavy artillery has been brought into place there will be visible evidence of this.
"The total Italian casualties thus far are not less than 80,000 men. The loss of more than 200 cannon is exceedingly serious for the Italians, since they cannot be replaced during the war."
In spite of the fact that on May 30, 1916, the Austrians had forced their way across the Posina torrent between Posina and Arsiero and succeeded in partly enveloping the latter, a force which attempted to take Sant' Ubaldo, immediately southeast of Arsiero, on May 31, 1916, was driven back by the Italians beyond the Posina, thus relieving the strongest pressure on the town. A little further west another Austrian force attacked the Italian positions on Monte Spin, southeast of Posina. The Italian lines held on the mountain slopes and the Austrian advance here was checked. West of Posina an Austrian assault on Monte Forni Alti was repulsed. On the Sette Comuni Plateau, where the Austrians were advancing against Asiago, they began operations against the Italian positions on Monte Cengio and Campo Niulo.
On June 1, 1916, however, the Austro-Hungarians in the Arsiero region captured Monte Barro and gained a firm footing on the south bank of the Posina torrent. Repeated night attacks along the Posina front against the northern slopes of Monte Forni Alti and in the direction of Quaro, southwest of Arsiero, were repulsed.
All day long an intense uninterrupted bombardment by Austrian batteries of all calibers was maintained against the Italian lines in the Col di Xomo-Rochette sector (southwest of Posina).
On the left wing the Austrians, leaving massed heavy forces between Posina and Fusine (in the Posina Valley, east of Posina), made numerous efforts to advance toward Monte Spin.
On the right wing strong Austro-Hungarian columns in the afternoon launched a violent attack against Segheschiri. These were completely repulsed after a fierce engagement.
In the uplands of the Sette Comuni there was an intense and obstinate struggle along the positions south of the Assa Valley as far as Asiago. Italian troops holding the Monte Cengio Plateau determinedly withstood powerful infantry attacks supported by a most violent bombardment.
On the front parallel with the Asiago-Guglio-Valle road near Campo Mullo the Italians gained ground by a violent counteroffensive in spite of the strong Austrian resistance.
Intense artillery and infantry fighting along the Trentino front continued unabated on June 2, 1916, and according to the official Italian statement the Austrian offensive in some places was checked. The Austrian infantry on Zugna Torta was scattered by the fierce Italian infantry fire.
Around Asiero and on the Asiago Plateau in Italy, the Italians repulsed Austrian infantry. The Belmonte position northeast of Monte Cengio, where the struggle was fiercest and which was repeatedly taken and lost, was finally definitely occupied by the Italians.
Several Italian towns, including Vicenza and Verona, were attacked by Austrian aeroplanes, while Italian air squadrons in a raid on objects of military importance in the lower Astico Valley, dropped 100 bombs on various enemy camps and munition depots.
The next day, June 3, 1916, the Austrian attack once more found fresh impetus. In spite of desperate Italian resistance on the ridge south of the Posina Valley and before Monte Cengio, on the Asiago front, south of Monte Cengio, considerable ground was won and the town of Cesuna was captured. Italian counterattacks were repulsed.
During this one day 5,600 prisoners, including seventy-eight officers, were taken and three cannon, eleven machine guns and 126 horses were captured.
In the region west of the Astico Valley fighting activity was generally less pronounced on June 4, 1916, than it had been during the preceding days. South of Posina Austrian troops took a strong point of support and repulsed several Italian counterattacks.
East of the Astico Valley, Austrian groups situated on the heights east of Arsiero stormed Monte Panoccio (east of Monte Barco) and thereby gained command of the Canaglio Valley.
Considerable fighting occurred on June 5, 1916, without, however, resulting in any important changes. Austro-Hungarian attacks, preceded by intensive artillery fire, were launched all along the Trentino front, but were met everywhere with determined Italian resistance. Italian aeroplanes attacked the railway stations of San Bona di Piava, Livenca and Lati Sana, while Austrian airmen bombed the stations of Verona, Ala and Vicenza.
Since June 1, 1916, 9,700 Italians, including 184 officers, had been captured, as well as thirteen machine guns and five cannons.
On June 6, 1916, activities were restricted to artillery duels, although the Austrians southwest of Asiago continued the attack near Cesuna and captured Monte del Busiballo, southwest of Cesuna.
More and more it became evident now that the force of the Austrian offensive had been spent. The pressure on the Italian center in the Trentino front gradually diminished as a result of the determined Italian resistance, which had made impossible an equal progress of the Austrian wings. Possibly, too, the great Russian offensive on the southeastern front made itself felt even now. At any rate, there was a decided slowing down of infantry attacks. At one point, however, on the Sette Comuni Plateau, the battle raged along the whole front. On the evening of June 6, 1916, after an intense artillery preparation, the Austro-Hungarians made repeated attacks against Italian positions south and southwest of Asiago. The action, raging fiercely throughout the night of June 6-7, ended in the morning of June 7th with the defeat of the Austrian columns. During the afternoon the Austrians renewed their violent efforts against the center and right wing of the Italian positions. Preceded by the usual intense bombardment, dense infantry masses repeatedly launched assaults against positions south of Asiago, east of the Campo Mulo Valley, but were always repulsed with heavy losses.
Concerning the Austro-Hungarian troops who had carried this offensive into Italy, the special correspondent of the London "Times" says:
"Trench warfare, for the time being, has been abandoned here. Trench lines no longer count.
"Great troop masses are maneuvering in the open, through the valleys and gorges, swarming over the summits of these mountains. The Austrians dare advance only as far as the long arm of their guns will reach, and are bending all their energy to bring up these guns. It is a gigantic task, and the skill of the enemy commander in holding together and coordinating his attacks, now that his troops have entered these defiles, must be acknowledged.
"It is sledge-hammer tactics, so dear to the Prussians, that the Austrian commanders have adopted, and from the general aspect of their plans, it would appear that these were prepared and matured in Berlin rather than in Vienna.
"How long can it last? How long before the Austrian effort will have spent itself?" are the questions that are being asked here as the second week of this great battle is drawing to a close. For, unlike Verdun, it is not a fortress that is being assaulted, but a great drive, carried on by siege methods. Not converging on a single center, but radiating, like sticks of a fan, from a central base.
"So much has been written regarding the exhaustion of the resources of the Dual Monarchy, not only of materials, but of men. In how far is this true?
"To deal first with the question of ordnance. The Austrians, it is estimated by competent experts, have well over 2,000 pieces of artillery in action along this battle line. These include a great number of heavy-caliber guns. Naval guns, with an extreme length of range, are being used with great skill throughout the engagement. Kept in reserve, and silent, though posted close up to the firing line, they have had a disconcerting effect, in that their fire has reached far behind the Italian lines at intervals between the attacks, firing shots at random which did little actual damage, but gave the impression of continued advance. With the front of this battle line extending now to a length of twenty-two miles, the artillery of the enemy works out at nearly 100 pieces to the mile, or one gun every twenty yards.
"The shells fired by this artillery are of excellent workmanship. I have on my table as I write a fragment of a 10-inch shell which I picked up here. It is rent in deep fissures, which would prove, according to competent authority, that the explosive materials used are good. 'The Austrians fired away all their bad shells during preliminary actions,' was the comment of a young staff officer who is in the habit of recording the efficiency of enemy shells. But it is quantity as well as quality which the enemy is relying upon.
"'Twenty thousand shells were fired against my position the first two days of the engagement,' an Alpini major, commanding a small knoll, remarked to me. Using this as a basis, it would not be far from the truth to assert that over 1,000,000 shells have been fired by the enemy in the present battle, and there is as yet no slackening of effort.
"And the troops? This morning a group of some 250 Austrians, taken during the action last night, are in this village. They are divided in squads of twenty-five, each in charge of an Austrian noncommissioned officer. The men had had six hours' rest before I saw them. These prisoners are Rumanians from Transylvania. They are young, well-set-up troops. They are naturally glad to be prisoners, though their captors tell me that they fought valiantly. The equipment of these men is new, and I was struck by the excellent quality of their boots; high, new leather, thick mountain boots. In fact, all their leather accouterments are new, and of good leather. Their uniforms are in many cases of heavy cotton twill, very tough, and resisting the hard mountain fighting better than the usual cloth uniform. Nearly every man has an overcoat, which is of stout new cloth. Only five or six of the men are without caps. None have helmets of any kind, but all wear the soft cap with ear flaps tied back. According to answers given to the interpreter, they are of the class of 1915, and have seen fighting in Galicia.
"Asked about their food, they replied that they did not get enough to eat, but their looks belied their statements. Whatever may be the truth in regard to the meatless and fatless days in the Hapsburg Empire, the armies in the field are not suffering in this respect, and, though the civilians at home are now put on strict rations, their soldiers' rations, in this sector at least, have not been cut down. I was shown small tins of meat, taken from the knapsack of a prisoner, and several carried 3-ounce tins of a good quality of butter. In another sector I saw Bosnian prisoners wearing a gray fez, and looking much like Turkish troops. They also impressed me as very fit men; in fact, all the prisoners taken recently would seem to be of strong fiber, and far better equipped than Austrian troops which I have seen elsewhere.
"It is evident that the Austrian commanders have assembled the picked troops of the Dual Monarchy for the storming of these Trentino heights. Everything would point to the fact that they are making a supreme and final effort to win the war. Prisoners confirm this by stating that the war cannot go on much longer.
"Are the last good reserves being used up in this battle? Yesterday morning an Italian patrol coming in from the night's tour of inspection of their positions bring in a prisoner. He is a burly, thick-lipped peasant boy of twenty, dressed in a Russian uniform. On his loose-fitting blouselike tunic, torn in many places, is pinned a black and yellow ribbon, and hanging from a thin remaining strand shines the silver medal of St. George. An Italian subaltern takes charge of the prisoner.
"'A Russian refugee,' the officer remarks, in answer to my look of surprise at the sight of a Russian prisoner being brought in by an Italian patrol on the Trentino front. The Russian smiles good-naturedly, as he feels secure, now that he is among friends. In due time he will be repatriated, or perhaps join the Russian corps in France. We leave him busy over a big bowl of macaroni.
"'There are close to 20,000 Russian prisoners of war employed by the Austrians along our front, repairing roads, making trenches, and engaged on other 'noncombatant military duties,' the officer informed me. 'A few manage to escape into our lines nearly every day, but many more Russian dead lie in the silent crevasses of our high mountains who have lost their lives while attempting to escape.
"'You see, they need the men,' he concluded, as we watched an endless stream of fresh Italian troops winding their way up from the valley."
THE ITALIAN COUNTEROFFENSIVE IN THE TRENTINO
Hardly had the Austro-Hungarian offensive shown signs of weakening when the Italians themselves began to attack the invaders. The first indication of this change was gleaned from the wording of the official statements, covering military operations on the Italian front for June 9, 1916. No longer is there any mention of Austro-Hungarian advances, but on the contrary this term appears now in the reports concerning the military operations of the Italian troops, who are also reported as "making attacks." Of course, this turn in affairs developed slowly in the beginning.
Thus, although on June 9, 1916, the Italian troops attacked at many points along the entire front between the Adige and Brenta Rivers, most of these attacks were repulsed by the Austro-Hungarians, who were still able to claim the capture of some 1,600 prisoners. At the same time Italian forces began to push back the invaders at some points and were able to advance in the upper Arsa Valley in the Monte Novegno region, between the Posina and Val d'Astico, as well as on the western slopes of Monte Cengio. Artillery duels were maintained along the entire balance of the front to the sea. Austrian aeroplanes dropped bombs on various localities in the Venetian plain, while an Italian squadron shelled Austro-Hungarian positions in the Arsa Valley and the Val d'Astico.
Much the same was the result of the fighting on June 10 and 11, 1916. On the former day the Austro-Hungarians concentrated their efforts still more and restricted themselves to an attack against a small portion of the Italian front southeast of Asiago. After an intense bombardment strong forces numbering about one division repeatedly attacked the Monte Lemerle positions. They were repulsed with very heavy losses by counterattacks.
From the Adige to the Brenta the Italian offensive action was increasing. Infantry, effectively supported by artillery, made fresh progress along the Vallarsa height, south of the Posina, in the Astico Valley, at the Frenzela Valley bridgehead, on the Asiago Plateau, and to the left of the Maso torrent.
During the following day Austro-Hungarian artillery intensely bombarded the Italian positions near Conizugna in the Lagarina Valley. In the Arsa Valley, in the Pasubio sector, on the Posina, and on the Astico line Italian infantry advance continued despite violent artillery fire and a snowstorm.
Two Austrian counterattacks toward Forni Alti and Campigliazione were repulsed with very heavy losses. In the plateau of the Sette Comuni, southwest of Asiago, Italian advanced detachments, after passing the Canaglia Valley, progressed toward the southeastern slopes of Monte Cengio, Monte Barco, and Monte Busibello. In the Sugana Valley detachments progressed toward the Masso torrent, repulsing two Austrian counterattacks near Sucrelle. Along the remainder of the front there were artillery duels and bomb-throwing activity by small detachments. Austrian aeroplanes dropped bombs on Vicenza, hitting the military hospital, and also attacked Thiene, Venice, and Mestre, causing slight damage.
Still further ground was gained by the Italian forces on June 12, 1916, in spite of the most obstinate resistance.
In the Lagarina Valley, by a strong attack after artillery preparation, the Italians carried the strongly fortified line from Parmesan, east of the Cima Mezzana, to Rio Romini. The Austro-Hungarians immediately launched violent counterattacks, but were always repulsed.
Along the Posina-Astico front there was an intense bombardment by both sides. Austrian infantry, which succeeded in penetrating Molisini, was driven out by gunfire, pursued and dispersed.
In the Sugana Valley on the night of June 12, 1916, and the following morning, Austrian detachments attempting to advance east of the Maso torrent were repulsed with very heavy losses.
Once more the Austro-Hungarians attempted to wrest the initiative from their opponents, without, however, succeeding to any extent. On the Posina front on the evening of June 12, 1916, after violent artillery preparation, they attacked Monte Forni Alti, the Campiglia (both southwest of Posina), Monte Ciove and Monte Brazonne (both south of Arsiero), but were everywhere repulsed with heavy losses.
During the day they bombarded with numerous batteries of all calibers the Italian positions along the whole front from the Adige to the Brenta, especially in the Monte Novegno zone. The Italian troops firmly withstood the violent fire and repelled infantry detachments which attempted to advance.
Austro-Hungarian hydroaeroplanes attacked the station and military establishments at San Giorgio di Nogaro, as well as the inner harbor at Grado.
More and more it became evident that the Austro-Hungarian drive in the Trentino region had definitely been stopped or abandoned. From time to time, it is true, the Austrians returned to the offensive. But this was always of local importance only and restricted in strength and extent. The Italians, on the other hand, not only maintained their new offensive movement, but even extended gradually its sphere.
Two attempted attacks by the Austro-Hungarian forces in the region of Monte Novegno, made in the direction of Monte Ciove and Monte Brazonne, were repulsed. But on Monte Lemerle, against which the Austrians had launched without success a very violent attack only a few days before, they now surprised a hostile detachment near the summit and captured the mountain completely, taking 500 prisoners.
Italian activity was renewed again on the Isonzo front. After intense artillery preparation a Naples brigade, supported by dismounted cavalry detachments, in a surprise attack, penetrated Austrian lines east of Monfalcone. The trenches remained in Italian possession after a severe struggle, during which 10 officers, 488 men, and 7 machine guns were captured.
Italian squadrons of aeroplanes bombarded the railway station at Mattarello, in the Lagarina Valley, and encampments at the junction of the Nos and Campomulo Valleys on the Asiago Plateau, while Austrian aeroplanes dropped bombs on Padova, Giorgio di Nogaro, and Porto Rosega.
The Italian advance was steadily maintained from now on, not without, however, finding everywhere the stiffest kind of resistance, which at times made it even possible for the Austro-Hungarians to gain slight local successes. These, however, were not extensive or frequent enough to change the general picture of military operations on the Austro-Italian front. The Austrians, though still on Italian territory in a number of localities, were on the defensive with the Italians, though making only very slow and painful progress, unquestionably on the offensive.
On June 16, 1916, the Italians advanced northeast of Asiago, between the Frenzela Valley and Marcesina. Notwithstanding the difficult and intricate nature of the terrain and the stubborn resistance of the Austrians, intrenched and supported by numerous batteries, the Italian troops made progress at the head of the Frenzela Valley, on the heights of Monte Fior and Monte Castel Gomberto and west of Marcesina. The best results were attained on the right wing, where Alpine troops carried the positions of Malga Fossetta and Monte Magari, inflicting heavy losses on the Austrians and taking 203 prisoners, a battery of 6 guns, 4 machine guns, and much material.
During the next few days the most fierce fighting occurred on the plateau of Sette Comuni. All Austrian attempts to resume the offensive and continue their advance failed. The Italian advance was scarcely more successful; fighting had to be done in the most difficult territory; strong Austrian resistance developed everywhere. Thunderstorms frequently added to the difficulties already existent. Yet slowly the Italian forces pushed back the invader.
On June 18, 1916, Alpine troops carried with the bayonet Cima di Sidoro, north of the Frenzela Valley. Fighting developed in the Boite sector, where the Italians had made some slight gains during the previous days, which the Austrians tried to dispute. Heavy Italian artillery bombarded the railway station at Toblach and the Landro road in the Rienz Valley. Artillery and aeroplane activity was extremely lively during this period. Not a day passed without artillery duels at many scattered points along the entire front from the Swiss border down to the Adriatic. Aeroplane squadrons of considerable force paid continuously visits to the opposing lines, dropping bombs on lines of communication and railway stations.
Alpine troops captured a strong position for the Italians on June 20, 1916, at the head of the Posina Valley, southwest of Monte Purche. On the 22d the Italians pushed their advance beyond Romini in the Arsa Valley, east of the Mezzana Peak, and on the Lora Spur, west of Monte Pasubio.
On the same day the Austrians counterattacked with extreme violence at Malga Fossetta and Castel Gomberto, but were repulsed with heavy losses. On the 21st a further Austrian attack at Cucco di Mandrielle resulted in a rout. On the 22d the Italians, while holding all the Austrian first-line approaches under heavy fire to prevent the bringing up of reserves, attacked on the entire front, but still encountered a strong resistance. During the night of the 24th the remaining peak of Malga Fossetta, held by the Austrians, Fontana Mosciar, and the extremely important Mandrielle were taken by storm, while the Alpini on the right made themselves masters of the Cima Zucadini by the 22d.
Henceforth retreat was inevitable, and during the night of the 25th the Italians on Monte Fior, seeing that the Austrian resistance had greatly diminished, pushed their offensive vigorously. Shortly after the advance was begun along the whole right. Monte Cengio, which had received an infernal bombardment for three days and nights, fell at last, and the advance proceeded apace.
On June 26, 1916, Italian troops in the Arsa Valley carried strong trenches at Mattassone and Naghebeni, completing the occupation of Monte Lemerle. Along the Posina front, after driving out the last Austrian detachments from the southern slopes of the mountain, the Italians crossed the torrent and occupied Posina and Arsiero, advancing toward the northern slopes of the valley.
On the Sette Comuni Plateau Italian infantry, preceded by cavalry patrols, reached a line running through Punta Corbin, Fresche, Concafondi, Cesuna, southwest of Asiago, and passing northeast of the Nosi Valley, and occupied Monte Fiara, Monte Lavarle, Spitzkaserle and Cimasaette.
On the right wing Alpine troops, after a fierce combat, carried Grolla Caldiera Peak and Campanella Peak.
The inside workings of the Italian armies engaged in this offensive movement are interestingly pictured in the following account from the pen of the special correspondent of the London "Times," who, of course, had special opportunities for observation:
"Thanks to the courtesy of the Italian Government and higher command, I have been allowed to go everywhere, to see a great deal on the chief sectors of a 400-mile Alpine border, and to study the administrative services on the lines of communication.
"I have visited the wild hills of the upper Isonzo, have inspected the strange Carso region on the left bank of the river, and have continued my investigations on the Isonzo front as far as Aquileia and the sea. I have threaded beautiful and rugged Carnia nearly as far west as Monte Croce, have ascended the valley of the But to Mount Timau, where the Austrians, as elsewhere, are in close touch, and, passing on to wonderful Cadore, have visited the haunts of the Alpini above the sources of the Tagliamento and Piave.
"Coming then to the Trentino sector, I have traversed the Sugana Valley as far as was practicable, accompanied the army in its reconquest of Asiago Plateau, and concluded an instructive tour by ascending the mountains which dominate Val Lagarina to the point of contact between the contending armies.
"The rest of the front, from the Lago di Garda to the Stelvio and the frontier of Switzerland, is not at present the scene of important operations, so I contented myself by ascertaining at second hand how matters stand between the Valtellina and the Chiese.
"I have had the honor of a private audience with his Majesty the King of Italy, and have seen and talked to nearly all the leading soldiers. Nothing could exceed the kindness with which I have been received, and my grateful thanks are due especially to Colonels Count Barbarich and Claricetti, who were placed at my disposal by General Cadorna and accompanied me during my tour.
"It is necessary for those who wish to have a clear understanding of Italy's share in the war to look back and realize the situation of our Italian friends when, at the most critical moment for the cause, they threw the weight of their sword into the scales.
"Italy, like England, had lost the habit of considering policy in military terms. Home politics ruled all decisions. The army had been much neglected, and the campaign in Libya had left the war material at a very low ebb. United Italy had not yet fought a great modern campaign, and neither the army nor the navy possessed in the same measure as other powers those great traditions which are the outcome of many recent hard-fought wars. Italy was without our coal and our great metallurgic industries. She did not possess the accumulation of resources which we were able to turn to warlike uses; nor could she find in her oversea possessions, as we did, the strength and vitality of self-governing younger people of her own race. The old Sardinian army had given in the past fine proofs of valor, but it was not known how the southern Italians would fight, and it was at first uncertain whether the whole country would throw itself heart and soul into the war.
"These impediments to rapid decisions and the extreme difficulty of breaking with an old alliance explain the apparent hesitation of Italy to enter the war.
"On the other hand, there were compensations. The heart of Italy was always with the Allies, and the hatred of Austria was very deep. There was every hope that the long-prevailing system of amalgamating the various races of Italy in the common army would at last bear fruit, and that this amalgamation, combined with the moral and material progress of Italy in recent years, and the pride of the country in its past history, would enable Italy to play an honorable and notable part in the war by land and sea, and to wrest from her hereditary enemy those portions of unredeemed Italy which still remained in Austrian hands.
"These hopes have either been fulfilled or are in course of fulfillment. United Italy is unitedly in the war, and, except among a few political busybodies, who intrigue after the manner of their kind, there are not two opinions about the war. There are many cases of mothers compelling their sons to volunteer and other cases of fathers insisting upon being taken because their sons are at the front. The prefect of Friuli told me that nearly all the 24,000 men in his province who were absent abroad when the war broke out returned home to fight before they were recalled. The south and the island areas warm for war as the north, and the regiments of Naples and of Sicily have done very well indeed in the field. Some people think that Piedmont is not quite so enthusiastic as other parts of Italy, because she flags her streets rather less, but I do not think that there is any real difference of feeling. In all the capitals of the Allies the political climate has been a trifle unhealthy, and of Rome it has been said that the old families of the Blacks have not taken a leading part in the campaign. My inquiries make me doubt the accuracy of this statement, and I think on the whole it will be found that, despite the old and persistent divergence of opinion on certain topics, all ranks and all classes are heartily for the war, and that an enemy who counts on assistance from within Italy will be grievously disappointed.
"Italy is fortunate in having at her head, at this critical hour of her destinies, a king who is a soldier born and bred.
"It is a common saying here that the King of Italy is homesick when he is absent from the army, and it is certain that his majesty spends every hour that he can spare from state affairs with his troops. He wears on his breast the medal ribbon, only given to those who have been at the front for a year, and, though he deprecates any allusion to the fact, it is true that he is constantly in the firing line, has had many narrow escapes, and is personally known to the whole army, who love to see him in their midst.
"I have not found any officer of his army who has a better, a more intimate, or a more accurate knowledge of his troops than the king. His attention to the wants of the army is absolutely untiring, and I fancy that his cool judgment and large experience must often be of great service to his ministers and his generals.
"I do not know whether the field headquarters of the King of Italy or of King Albert of Belgium is the most unpretentious, but certainly both monarchs live in circumstances of extreme simplicity. My recollection is that when I last had the honor of visiting King Albert's headquarters, the bell in what I must call the parlor did not ring, and the queen of the Belgians had to get up and fetch the tea herself.
"When I had the honor of being received by the King of Italy I found his majesty in a little villa which only held four people, and the king was working in a room of which the only furniture which I can recall consisted of a camp bed close to the ground and of exiguous breadth, a small table, and two chairs of uncompromising hardness. The only ornament in the room was the base of the last Austrian shell which had burst just above the king's head and has been mounted as a souvenir by the queen.
"When a prince of the House of Savoy lives in the traditions of his family, and shares all the hardships of his troops, it needs must that his people follow him. And so they do.
"The hardy Alpini from the frontiers, the stout soldiers of Piedmont, the well-to-do peasantry of Venetia, the Sardinians, who are ever to the front when there is fighting to be enjoyed, the Tuscans, Calabrians, and those Sicilians once so famous amongst the legionaries, are all here or at the depots training for war. Mobilization must have affected two and a half million Italians at least. There have been fairly heavy losses, and fighting of one kind or another is going on in every sector that I have visited, and every day, despite the great hardships of fighting on the Alpine frontier, the moral of the army remains good, the men are in splendid health, and Italy as a whole remains gay and confident, less affected on the whole by the war than any other member of the grand alliance.
"There are certainly more able-bodied men of military age out of uniform in Italy than there are in France, or than there are now with us. Except volunteers, no men under twenty are at the front. There are large reserves still available upon which to draw. The army has been more than doubled since the war began.
"The Italian regular officers, and the officers of reserve, are quite excellent. The spirit of good comradeship which prevails in the army is most admirable, and the corps of officers reminds me of a large family which is proverbially a happy one. Those foreign observers who have seen much of the Italian officers under fire tell me that they have always led their men with superb valor and determination, while, though Italy has not such a professional body of N. C. O.'s as Germany, I believe that most of these men are capable of leading when their officers fall.
"But there are not enough of good professional officers and N. C. O.'s to admit for the moment of a considerable further expansion of the army. Existing formations can be, and are being, well maintained, and this is what matters most for the moment.
"The peasant in certain parts of Italy rarely eats meat. In the army he gets 300 to 350 grams a day, according to the season, not to speak of a kilogram of good bread and plenty of vegetables, besides wine and tobacco. He is having the time of his life, and if, as cynics say, peace will break up many happy homes in England, peace in Italy will certainly make some peasants less joyful than before."
CONTINUATION OF THE ITALIAN COUNTEROFFENSIVE
Between the Adige and the Brenta the retreating Austro-Hungarian forces had now reached strongly fortified and commanding positions which considerably increased their power of resistance. The Italians, however, continued, even if at reduced speed, to make progress. On June 27, 1916, they shelled Austrian positions on Monte Trappola and Monte Testo and took trenches near Malga Zugna. Between the Posina and the Astico they took Austrian positions on Monte Gamonda, north of Fusine, and Monte Caviojo. Cavalry detachments reached Pedescala (in the Astico Valley, about three miles north of Arsiero).
On the Asiago Plateau other Italian forces occupied the southern side of the Assa Valley and reached the slopes of Monte Rasta, Monte Interrotto and Monte Mosciagh, which were held strongly by the Austrian rear guards. Further north, after carrying Monte Colombara, Italian troops began to approach Calamara Valley.
On June 28, 1916, the Vallarsa Alpine troops stormed the fort of Mattassone, and detachments of infantry carried the ridge of Monte Trappola. On the Pasubio sector Italian troops took some trenches near Malga Comagnon. Along the Posina line their advance was delayed by the fire of heavy batteries from the Borcola.
In the Astico Valley they occupied Pedescala. On the Sette Comuni Plateau the Austrians strengthened the northern side of the Assa Valley Heights on the left bank of the Galmarara to the Agnella Pass. The Italians established themselves on the southern side of the Assa Valley and gained possession of trenches near Zebio and Zingarella.
The following day, June 29, 1916, the Italian line in the region between the Val Lagarina and the Val Sugana was pushed forward still further until it reached the main Austrian line of resistance. The Italians occupied the Valmorbia line, in the Vallarsa, the southern slopes of Monte Spil, and began an offensive to the northwest of Pasubio, in the Cosmagnon region.
Farther east on the line of the Posina Valley, the Italians took Monte Maggio, the town of Griso, northwest of Monte Maggio; positions in the Zara Valley and Monte Scatolari and Sogliblanchi. Monte Civaron and the Zellonkofel, in the Sugana Valley, fell into the hands of the Italians.
The Italians continued their advance along the Posina front on June 30, 1916, despite the violent fire of numerous Austro-Hungarian batteries dominating Borcola Pass, and also Monte Maggio and Monte Toraro. Italian infantry occupied Zarolli in the Vallarsa, north of Mattassone. On the left wing, overcoming stubborn resistance, Italian troops scaled the crest of Monte Cosmagnon, whose northerly ridges they shelled to drive out the enemy hidden among the rocks. On the Sette Comuni Plateau they kept in close contact with Austrian positions. Conflicts in the densely wooded and rocky ground were carried on chiefly by hand grenades.
Between the Adige and the Brenta the Italians continued their offensive vigorously on July 1, 1916. In the Vallarsa infantry began an attack on the lines strongly held by the Austrians between Zugna Torta and Foppiano.
Italian artillery shelled Fort Pozzacchio. On Monte Pasubio the Austrians were offering stubborn resistance from their fortified positions between Monte Spil and Monte Cosmagnon.
Along the Posina-Astico line Italian forces completed the conquest of Monte Maggio and occupied the southern side of Monte Seluggio. On the Asiago Plateau there were skirmishes on the northern side of the Assa Valley.
On July 2, 1916, in the region of the Adige Valley, the Austrians directed a heavy bombardment against the Italian positions from Serravalle, north of Coni Zugna to Monte Pasubio. Some shells fell on Ala. Italian artillery replied effectively. The infantry fighting on the northern slopes of Pasubio was continued with great violence. In the Posina Valley Italian troops occupied the spur to the northwest of Monte Pruche, Molino, in the Zara Valley (northwest of Laghi), and Scatolari, in the Rio Freddo Valley. The operations against Corno del Coston, Monte Seluggio, and Monte Cimono (northwest and north of Arsiero), the main points of Austrian resistance, were continued.
On the Asiago Plateau Italian detachments were pushed forward beyond the northern edge of Assa Valley. On the remainder of this sector there was a lull in the fighting, preparatory to further attacks on the difficult ground. In the Brenta Valley small encounters took place on the slopes of Monte Civaron north of Caldiera.
Monte Calgari, in the Posina Valley, was occupied by the Italians on July 3, 1916, while other detachments completed the occupation of the northern edge of the Assa Valley on the Asiago Plateau.
Between the Adige and the Brenta the Austrians on July 4, 1916, contested with great determination the Italian advance and attempted to counterattack at various points.
After several attempts, Alpine troops reached the summit of Monte Corno, northwest of the Pasubio.
In the upper Astico Basin they captured the crest of Monte Seluggio and advanced toward Rio Freddo.
Between the Lagarina and Sugana Valleys the Italian offensive was continued on July 5, 1916. In the Adige Valley and in the upper Astico Basin pressure compelled the Austrians to withdraw, uncovering new batteries on commanding positions previously prepared by them.
On the Asiago Plateau Italian artillery bombarded the Austrian lines actively. In the Campelle Valley the Austrians evacuated the positions they still held on the Prima Lunetta, abandoning arms, ammunitions and supplies.
The following day brought some new successes to the Italians on the Sette Comuni Plateau. With the support of their artillery they renewed their attack on the strongly fortified line of the Austrians from Monte Interrotto to Monte Campigoletto and captured two important points of the Austrian defenses, near Casera, Zebio and Malga Pozza, taking 359 prisoners, including 5 officers and 3 machine guns. Between the Adige and the Astico, north of the Posino and along the Rio Freddo and Astico Valleys there was intense artillery activity, especially in the region of Monte Maggio and Monte Camone. The same condition continued throughout July 7, 1916.
On July 8, 1916, Italian infantry advanced on the upper Astico in the Molino Basin and toward Forni. Dense mist prevented all activity of artillery on the Sette Comuni Plateau. In the northern sector the Italians stormed some trenches north of Monte Chiesa, and occupied Agnella Pass.
A great deal of the fighting, both during the Austro-Hungarian offensive in the Trentino and the Italian counteroffensive, took place in territory abounding with lofty mountain peaks. Though it was now midsummer, these were, of course, covered with eternal snow and ice. Austrians and Italians alike faced difficulties and hardships, the solution and endurance of which would have seemed utterly impossible a few years ago until the Great War swept away many long-established military and engineering maxims. An intimate picture of this new mode of warfare was given by a special correspondent of the London "Daily Mail" who, in part, says:
"The villages in the lower ground behind the front have been aroused from their accustomed appearance of sleepy comfort. In their streets are swarms of soldiers on their way to the front or back from it for a holiday. Thousands are camping out in the neighborhood of the villages or billeted on the inhabitants. Constant streams of motor vehicles rumble through the villages on their way up the steep road, bearing ammunition, food and supplies of all sorts, to the batteries, trenches and dugouts on the peaks.
"The road over which these vehicles travel was before the war a mere hill path—now the military engineers have transformed it into a modern road, graded, metaled and carried by cunningly devised spirals and turns three-quarters of the way up the mountains.
"It is a notable piece of military engineering, but it is not merely that. It will serve as an artery of commerce when it is no longer needed for the passage of guns and army service wagons. There is nothing temporary or makeshift about it. Rocks have been blasted to leave a passage for it and solid bridges of stone and steel thrown across rivers.
"Because the Austrians started with the weather gauge in their favor, being on the upper side of the great ridges, it was necessary for the Italians to get their guns as high as they could. The means by which they accomplished this task was described to me. They would seem incredible if one had not ocular demonstration of the actual presence of the cannon among these inaccessible crags.
"There are some of them on the ice ledges of the Ortler nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, in places which it is by way of an achievement for the amateur climber to reach with guides and ropes and porters, and nothing to take care of but his own skin. But here the Alpini and Frontier Guides had to bring up the heavy pieces, hauling them over the snow slopes and swinging them in midair across chasms and up knife-edged precipices, by ropes passed over timbers wedged somehow into the rocks. I was shown a photograph of a party of these pioneers working in these snowy solitudes last winter. They might have been a group of Scott's or Shackleton's men toiling in the Antarctic wilderness.
"By means of a suspension railway made of wire rope with sliding baskets stretched across chasms of great depth, oil, meat, bread and wine are sent up, for the soldier must not only be fed, but must be fed with particular food to keep the blood circulating in his body in the cold air and chilling breezes of the snow-clad peaks. Kerosene stoves in great numbers have been sent aloft to make the life of the mountaineer soldiers more comfortable."
On July 9, 1916, there was bitter fighting between the Brenta and the Adige. Strong Alpine forces repeatedly attacked the Austrian lines southeast of Cima Dieci, but were repulsed with heavy losses. Shells set fire to Pedescala and other places in the upper Astico Valley. An attempt by the Austrians to make attacks on Monte Seluggio was checked promptly.
In the Adige Valley another intense artillery duel was staged on July 10, 1916. On the Pasubio front the Italians captured positions north of Monte Corno, but the Austrians succeeded in obtaining partial repossession of them by a violent counterattack. On the Asiago Plateau Alpine detachments successfully renewed the attack on the Austrian positions in the Monte Chiesa region.
The next day, July 11, 1916, the Italians again made some progress in the Adige Valley, north of Serravalle and in the region of Malga Zugna, and reoccupied partially some of the positions lost on the northern slopes of Monte Pasubio on the previous day. Heavy artillery duels took place in the Asiago Basin and on the Sette Comuni Plateau.
The Austrians promptly responded on July 12, 1916, by attacking in the Adige Valley, after artillery preparation on an immense scale, the new Italian positions north of Malga Zugna. They were driven back in disorder, with heavy loss, by the prompt and effective concentration of the Italian gunfire.
Fighting in the Adige Valley and on the Sette Comuni Plateau continued without cessation during the next few days without yielding any very definite results. In that period there also developed extremely severe fighting at the head of the Posina Valley. During the night of July 13, 1916, the Italians succeeded in carrying very strong Austrian positions south of Corno del Coston and east of the Borcola Pass, notwithstanding the strong resistance of the Austrians and the difficulty presented by the roughness of the ground. During the night the Austrians launched several violent but unsuccessful counterattacks in which they lost heavily.
In spite of violent thunderstorms, seriously interfering with artillery activity, fighting continued in this sector on July 14 and 15, 1916. Italian troops made some progress on the southern slopes of Sogli Bianchi, south of Borcola and the Corno di Coston and in the Boin Valley, where they occupied Vanzi on the northern slopes of Monte Hellugio.
Austrian reenforcements arrived at this time, and as a result a series of heavy attacks was delivered in the upper Posina area in an attempt to stop the Italian advance between Monte Santo and Monte Toraro. Italian counterattacks, however, were launched promptly and enabled the Italian forces to maintain and extend their lines. Throughout the balance of July, 1916, the Italian troops succeeded in continuing their advance, although the Austro-Hungarian resistance showed no noticeable abatement and frequently was strong enough to permit not only very effective defensive work, but rather considerable counterattacks. However, all in all, the Italians had decidedly the better of it. Step by step they pushed their way back into the territory from which the Austro-Hungarian offensive of a few weeks ago had driven them.
On July 18, 1916, the Italians gained some new positions on the rocky slopes of the Corno del Coston in the upper Posina Valley. Four days later, July 22, 1916, they captured some trenches on Monte Zebio on the Sette Comuni Plateau. The next day, July 23, 1916, between Cismon and Aviso they completed the occupation of the upper Trevignolo and St. Pellegrino Valleys, taking the summit of Monte Stradone and new positions on the slopes of Cima di Bocche.
On the Posina-Astico line at daybreak of July 24, 1916, after a fierce attack by night, they captured Monte Cimone, for the possession of which violent fighting had been in progress for days.
Further north, Alpine troops renewed their efforts against the steep rock barrier rising to more than 2,000 yards between the peaks of Monte Chiesa and Monte Campigoletto. Under heavy fire from the Austrian machine guns they crossed three lines of wire and succeeded in establishing themselves just below the crest.
Again and again the Austrians launched attacks against the Italian positions on these various mountains without, however, accomplishing more than retarding the further advance of General Cadorna's forces.
The second anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War, August 1, 1916, found the Italians on the Trentino front still strongly on the offensive and well on their way toward regaining all of the ground which they had lost in June and July, 1916, before the Austro-Hungarian offensive had been brought to a standstill, while the Austrians were yielding only under the force of the greatest pressure which their opponents could bring to bear on them.
MINOR OPERATIONS ON THE AUSTRO-ITALIAN FRONT IN TRENTINO OFFENSIVE
Just as soon as the Austro-Hungarian forces began to concentrate their activities in the latter part of May, 1916, on their drive in the Trentino, military operations in the other sectors of the Austro-Italian front lost in importance and strength. During the greatest part of both the Austro-Hungarian drive and the Italian counteroffensive in the Trentino—May to July, 1916—operations along the rest of the Austro-Italian fronts—on the northwestern frontier of Tyrol, along the Boite River in the northeastern Dolomites, in the Carnic and Julian Alps, and on the Isonzo front—were practically restricted to artillery duels. Only occasional, and then but very local infantry engagements took place, none of which had any particular influence on general conditions in these various sectors. However, as the Italian counteroffensive in the Trentino progressed, there developed from time to time minor operations along the other parts of the front. Quite a number of these were initiated by the Austro-Hungarians, undoubtedly in the hopes that they might thereby reduce the Italian pressure on their newly gained successes in the Trentino. Others found their origin on the Italian side, which at all times attempted to avail itself of every opportunity to extend and strengthen its positions anywhere along the front. And as the Austrian resistance against the Italian counteroffensive stiffened and showed no signs of abatement, General Cadorna, in undertaking operations in other sectors of the front than the Trentino, was undoubtedly influenced by motives similar to those guiding his opponents. He, too, hoped to impress his adversary sufficiently by minor operations in sectors unconnected with the Trentino, to reduce their strength there.