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Deadly Routine On The Italian Front – The 8th Battle Of The Isonzo I THE GREAT WAR – Week 116


It’s almost monotonous, but here goes: after
the 7th Battle of the Isonzo River that front had settled into a war of attrition, kind
of like Verdun, so how do you break that? Well, if you’re Italian army Chief of Staff
Luigi Cadorna, you launch the 8th Battle of the Isonzo River. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week the Romanians attacked the Bulgarians
in Dobrogea. The Five Nation Allied Army advanced in the
Balkans, two new battles began at the Somme, and the German ambassador to The Ottoman Empire
was recalled for speaking out against the Armenian Genocide. Here’s what came this week. The Italian front roared back into life, for
starters. Now, even though we refer to the seven previous
battles of the Isonzo River as separate things, to the soldiers involved it was just one long
daily fight with constant artillery bombardments, airplanes dropping bombs, and snipers on the
prowl. Cadorna had already planned for the 8th Battle
of the Isonzo River, and it would be a two-pronged attack. The Duke of Aosta, with six divisions, would
attack on the northern Carso on a front of only 3 km, while his six other divisions would
maintain pressure on the Southern Carso. Three more divisions would attack the enemy
north of the Vipava River, south of Gorizia. The Italians, in both men and guns, far outnumbered
the Austro-Hungarians. They had bombarded the Austrians all last
week and the intensity of the artillery was so great – really concentrated on a narrow
front- that the Austrians took over 4,000 casualties, in spite of the strength of their
defenses and fortifications. Fog and rain had put a temporary end to the
bombardment, but on the 7th it began again from over 1,000 guns raining death on the
Austrian infantry for the next two days. On the 9th, the Italians ran a series of probing
infantry attacks in the afternoon, looking for weak spots. The next day, after a final barrage, the Italians
poured out of their assault trenches onto the battered enemy. By the afternoon, the Italians had made substantial
gains. South of Gorizia, the defenders were pushed
back nearly 2 km and it really looked for a minute like Cadorna’s big breakthrough
was here, but Austrian General Svetozar Borojevic von Bojna’s troops, many of them Ukrainians
and Romanians from the empire, launched counter attack after counter attack and took back
over half the ground they’d lost. In the north and center of the Carso it was
the same, but not in the south. The Battle there centered on Hill 144, and
at first it was going the same way, but was saved for Austria by First Lieutenant Theodor
Wanke, from a Czech battalion, who ordered his riflemen to charge the advancing Italians,
and at gunpoint forced a neighboring company to join in. The whole regiment soon followed his lead
and they drove back the Italians. The south Carso was saved. On the 11th, artillery and infantry action
was resumed, and it was both costly and vicious. Slowly, the Austrians regained ground. Cadorna wanted to continue the attack on the
12th, but both sides were basically too exhausted to do so. The Austrians had held on, but they couldn’t
continue to take losses at this rate. For the Battle, they had taken 38,000 casualties;
the Italians over 50,000 and possibly even 60,000. Cadorna believed he was winning the war of
attrition, which he kind of was since the Austrians were also fighting Russia and Romania
and just didn’t have too many troops to send here, and he began planning for another
battle that would come before winter set it and prevented new offensives. The Italians were actually making headway
elsewhere this week. A dispatch from Rome this week told of them
moving from Avlona, on the Salonika front, in a region with really poor communications. The reports on the 10th said they’d taken
Klisura, more than 50 km from Avlona toward Monastir and they were advancing toward Lake
Ochrida/Ohrid, where the Bulgarian right wing was. They had obviously driven back the Austrians
who had held the region. There were other allied advances there this
week, and on the 10th the British cut the Seres railway, and the Bulgarians fell back
to the hills. But the Bulgarians were advancing in Dobrogea,
the southern Romanian front. Actually, on the 8th Berlin announced that
the enemy was in retreat in both Dobrogea and Transylvania. This was kind of true except the Romanians
still held positions in the Maros Valley. German General Erich von Falkenhayn, commanding
the German forces in Transylvania, had numerical superiority and better railway access. By the 12th, he was facing the Romanians in
the Torzburg, Predeal, and Buzau passes, and forcing them back. On the 13th, however, came the best news the
Romanians had had in weeks, the Germans had been stopped and forced to retreat in both
the Predeal and Buzau Passes. Could the Romanians hold off the Germans in
the Torzburg Pass? They could not, on October 13th Falkenhayn
drove through Torzburg Pass to Ricar, 10 km within Romanian borders. But the Germans were being pushed back in
the west, at the Somme. The combined French and British attack there
the 7th was pretty big even though it was only the preliminary for British Commander
in Chief Sir Douglas Haig’s push toward the region north of Cambrai. One French and six British divisions attacked. In general, the attack was a failure. The weather had prevented the big guns from
having time to spot German trenches and batteries. The British did manage to take Le Sars, thanks
to an effective creeping barrage preventing the Germans from getting their weapons into
play. On the 8th, two Canadian divisions of the
reserves tried again to take Regina Trench, but failed, as they had back on the 1st. The German barbed wire had not been cut by
artillery in many places and the German machine guns took care of those soldiers stopped in
no mans land. On the 12th, 5 divisions attacked the Transloy
line’s outer defenses. They too failed to take their objectives,
and the commander of 30th Division said that it was pretty much because of the German practice
of scattering machine guns all over in shell holes, but not in the trenches where they
just couldn’t take them out with artillery, however for the Newfoundland soldiers advancing
at Guidencourt, they moved forward too quickly under the creeping barrage and one in ten
of them was killed by their own artillery. The grinding casualties had by this time seriously
weakened much of the British 4th army, but to General Sir Henry Rawlinson’s credit,
the attacks on the 12th finally opened his mind to a few truths. He wrote this in his diary (Somme), “There
are numerous cases of wire uncut, distant machine gun fire, and strong counter attacks,
but that fact is that the Bosch put up a better fight of it this time, and until we can reduce
his resistance further by shaking his morale we shall not, I fear, drive him out of his
present line…” Rawlinson summarized the reasons for failure,
1) absence of surprise, attacking only between noon and three PM, 2) difficulty of observation. He mentioned the poor weather, but there was
also the loss of the commanding position on the ridge as the men had moved forward into
valleys, 3) recovering enemy resistance, 4) lack of clearly defined starting trenches
to give the creeping barrage a regular starting line, and 5) distant machine gun fire. It’s good to identify the problems, finally,
but he had bigger concerns now; Haig wanted to continue the battle all winter if necessary,
until such time as they were stopped by the weather. Rawlinson told him that they didn’t have
enough men and ammunition, and even if they did the weather would screw things up. Haig was aware of these three issues, of course,
and his solution was to build better railways to get more ammo to the front, for more men
to enlist or be conscripted, and lastly, that an ordinary winter would not put a stop to
British advance. He also believed they had to keep on because
though he couldn’t say how close the Germans were to the breaking point, they were a fair
bit of the way there, so don’t give up! The attacks would continue and continue. And we reach the end of the week; slow going
at the Somme, a short but deadly battle on the Italian Front, the Germans pushing into
Romania, and the Bulgarians pulling back in the Balkans. As Rawlinson said, the Germans were putting
up a hell of a fight and without weakening their morale further they would not crack. At least he finally realized that. His superior Haig had yet to do so and would
keep pounding and pounding and pounding away at the German lines until that magic moment
happened. Or until he realized that it wouldn’t happen. Or until winter came and froze them men to
the extent that it was a moot point. Three options. For the time being, Haig chose the first one.

Stephen Childs

100 Comments

  1. +Great War please do a biographical episode about Jaroslav Hasek, writer of the Good Soldier Svejk

  2. In spite of their blatant stupidity I find myself rooting for the italians more than anyone else.
    they're trying so hard and it's finally paying off.

  3. Excellent video, just one area I picked up on is the term 'Boche'. As it was coined by the French, and became the 'derogatory' term used by Allied forces on the Western Front. Your technical team for the graphics spelt it as Bosch. I know it's nit picking and does not detract from your excellent research and hard work the team puts in each week.

  4. Indy, you have to help me! I can't for the life of me figure out why the British sometimes used burlap on their helmets. I did a little research and think it might have something to do with camouflage but I can't be sure. I also believe the Germans did something similar with their pickelhaube. I cannot sleep until I know this.

  5. "Pounding, and pounding, and pounding away…until that magical moment happens." ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

  6. Love your stuff, guys. I sort of preferred when we had Indy at the end surrounded by the Patreon Banner, suggested video and Facebook/Twitter/Amazon banners. Feels more personal but maybe that's just me. Keep on doing an awesome job! 🙂

  7. "Doing precisely what we have done eighteen times before is exactly the last thing they'll expect us to do this time!"
    – Italian Chief of Staff Luigi Cadorna, probably.

  8. My great grandfather fought with the croatians at the Isonzo under Svetozar Borojević in the Dubrovnik 37th Home Guard Regiment.

  9. It's surprising that Cadorna didn't "take two in the hat"….at some point; they Italian soldiers had a number of sufficiently accurate rifles…..!!!

  10. Dobrudzha is pronounced [Do-bru-dja) not [Do-bru-djia].
    Source: I am Bulgarian.

  11. I don't think that I've ever heard of a military campaign described as so many "battles" for a specific region–or does it simply explain the insanity of the Italian "strategy"?

  12. I hope to see a special on the tunneling efforts. May be some time in the future.

  13. That's the wrong diacritic: it's Buzău, not Buzâu.

    Â is the sound you make when you need to squeeze something on the toilet. Ă is the sound you make when you realize it's a lot smaller than you thought it would be.

  14. In 2019 do a series like this for World War Two as it is the 80 year anniversary

  15. I have not seen the whole vid, but my God the 8th battle of the Isonzo? I would have just given up and find so where else to invade from by know.

  16. I wonder if Cadorna is related to the producers of the Fast n Furious movies?

  17. Dear The Great War Team.
    I'm from Germany and I can't understand English. And many other German people are went from this channel https://www.youtube.com/user/ErsterWeltkrieg to you. But many people can't see you videos, beacause They can't understand English. So can you please make a German suptitel?!

    Please has an answer
    Fírimar.

  18. "If at first you don't succeed, try and try again" Seems to be the mantra Haig likes best.

  19. Imagine being a poor italian soldier and surviving all battles of the Isonzo…:
    "Dam it !! Ship me to Verdun but please not another battle of Isonzo !!"

  20. You should mention that the A-H Empire made sure that romanian army of the empire were not fighting against the romanian army and so with the other nationalities.

  21. we need to get Battlefield 1 to include Serbia, and other lesser known countries that fought during WW1. Glad they at least got Austria and Italy into the game.

  22. I guess at this point, Cadorna is practically just hoping the Italians are giving birth faster than the Austrians and Hungarians can build ammo ?

  23. Questions for OotT…
    1. exactly how far north did the *** Romanians advance into Transylvania, the family come a village near Cosvana, and I would be curious to know if it was occupied
    2. as an ex Infantry officer in the AustRALian army, I know more about the Western front than the eastern, on which my grandfather, an officer in the Hungarian Army served & was captured by the Russians (released 1923), can you recommend a good book that deals solely with the eastern front ?
    3. can you point those of us, whose forebears served in the axis forces , at military archives where we might get records (I would love to know where Opa was captured – if Opa were British or Aussie I could go to the IWM/AWM , no idea if there MIGHT be records in Vienna or Budapest (or even Bucharest when the *** Romanians took over Transylvania after WW1). I know my maternal Opa served in the Hamburg contingent of the Imperial German Army & would like to know moe about his service

    *** insert swear word like Opa and dad always did

  24. You can really see the Germans and Austrians losing men and not have replacements for the men

  25. My greatgrandpa was from the 8th to the 11th battle of the Isonzo as an kuk Standschütze.

  26. I'm afraid without visual aids it's difficult to follow everything that's happening. I love it, just more map visuals please 🙂

  27. my local pals battalion took Regina Trench 20 th October 1916 "The Wirral Battalion" 13 th Cheshire's, 25 Division, UK went into battle week 7 as I recall

  28. Graphics look great. Kudo's to all the people behind the scenes, you all are doing a great job.

  29. I increasingly see similarities between the effect of the US Civil War on the United States and the effect of WWI and II on Europe: I don't think europeans would ever take up arms against each other again: it would feel like an internal war, destroying the fabric of Europe once more; europe went from being the most powerful area of the world to a pawn for the USSR and the US. Now mass african and islamic immigration is changing the ethnic and political scene again, creating dangerous instabilities once more.

  30. Luigi Cadorna killed so many Italian soldiers in a useless way you sometimes wonder from which side he was playing. Maybe he had been hired by Austrians. Or maybe he was just a complete moron who thought war was still fought as ancient battles.

  31. I read that French soldiers made sheep sounds when they attacked at Nivelle offensive. Wonder if the Italians had similar humour at Isonzo.

  32. Has the use of gas stopped at this point in the war? Or is it just used locally and not part of the major offenses?

  33. I'm Italian and I know history of the WWs very Well but it didn't happen exactly like that.
    For the way you described the war seems that italians only suffered defeats after defeats.
    It's right that we lost more men in the front but anyway we Had a fought but decisive victory.

  34. It's also right that Luigi Cadorna was a complete incompetent but he wasn't the only incompetent in the entire war.
    There were many other generals in all the countries that brutally failed on the battelfield.

  35. Why the hell was Luigi "Bloodbath" Cadorna still incharge of the army wasnt their anybody better than him that could take over?

  36. When I was in school, in the UK, our teachers always made Haig out to be the worst military leader of all time. Now that I know about Cadorna, and Hotzendorf, Haig seems pretty ok.

  37. My great grandfather served in most of the battles on the Soca front (Isonza front), he was Slovene.

  38. Luigi Cadorna was the Zapp Brannigan of the first world war, "just send wave after wave of my own men at them until they get tired. "

  39. "I don't always start a battle, but when I do, it's the Battle of the Isonzo"

  40. We see it over and over in this recap of the war that the solution the commanders keep coming up with is throwing more men at the enemy over and over regardless of how many die to accomplish little usually ultimately meaningless objectives. Strategic planning? Visionary leadership? Brilliant tactical maneuvering? No, just throw more corpses at their lines until they break. When someone DOES have a visionary idea for how to proceed in the war someone in the chain of command undermines their efforts out of jealousy/spite/distrust of those ideas.

    If you're one of those soldiers you probably didn't have a choice in serving and what are you dying for? What's the point of this war? Just to move the boundaries on a map a little here or there? National Pride? You'd at least want to believe your commanders are throwing you into the buzzsaws for some noble purpose but there IS none in this war.

  41. As the 100th battle of the Isonzo continues , In Italy crowds chant "Generalissimo Generalissimo" such is the power of modern
    propoganda

  42. New game: drink every time Cadorna launches an offensive.

  43. If I skip from this video, to latest video, will we be on the 52nd battle of the Isonzo?

  44. Please pronounce the Canadian province of Newfoundland as "New-Fun-Land"
    Sincerely, a Newfie.

  45. Hey Indy, I have a question regarding captured equipment in the First World War. If say Germans captured a British soldier wearing a full uniform and helmet, what would they do with it? Would they let the soldier keep the uniform to the prison camp but melt down the helmet for their own use? And the other way around if a German soldier was captured. This is very puzzling for me and if I do somehow end up in out of the trenches, I probably won't see it for 2 months since I'm only in October 1916. Great series, keep up the great work!

  46. Drinking game anyone? Everytime we hear Isonzo take 3 shots?

  47. Just listening about Haig makes me think of Black Adder and the World War I segment. In one, the level of fantasy is so high and over the top it's hard not to laugh. In the other, we call it Black Adder.

  48. Dude… you flipped the library and the map from sides… its making me dizzy.

  49. Cadorna looks like a rat kid playing Age of Empires with a huge army: SEND THEM AND THATS ALL

  50. Stupid question but were all the battles of the asonzo called such at the time or is it something historians use to separate the different offensives in the area?

  51. This report by a Bosnian-Herzegovinian soldier stationed on the Isonzo Front describes an Austro-Hungarian raid on the Italian trenches:

    Nobody is asleep on the hill of Sveta Marija during the night. Although the Italians have not attacked for weeks, they could still try to use the cover of darkness or the thickness of fog and attack. This is why we must be careful. It was wise to get a good sleep during the day, as a special order was given by the division command: a strong scouting party would be sent to conduct reconnaissance of certain hills towards the Italian positions. The Italians are very close, some fifty steps from our Bosnians and Herzegovinians, which is why this scouting could have never been conducted before. The major was looking forward to the evening, eager to show he knew how to lead good men. He knows every man in the regiment: who is a Christian, who is a Muslim, how many children a soldier has or whether he has a girl waiting for him at home. Each night, the major would tour the trenches and talk and joke with the men as if they were his brothers.

    At noon the major summoned his officers. They synchronized their watches, and then he gave the order: “At 07.30 hours three scouting groups will leave their positions. Lieutenant M will command the party scouting the left flank, Lieutenant Commander A will cover the right flank, and I will lead the party scouting the center. After we conduct successful reconnaissance and destroy the enemy trenches, we shall return back to our positions.” After that he gave additional instructors. The lieutenant and his men would have to run 300 steps: the shortest route is the major’s one, 50 steps, as the major is an older man and cannot run as fast as the lieutenant. The supply officer would stay at their positions and take care of the provisions when the parties return from their mission.

    Darkness fell on Sveta Marija. The parties are alert. Each soldier carries a rifle on his shoulder, a hand grenade in his right hand and a Bosnian knife in his left hand. After waiting for the designated time, two men left their positions and cut the barbed wire defenses in three places, clearing the way for the three parties. The major gives the sign. In a glimpse of a second the major, the lieutenant and the lieutenant commander and their men leap out of their positions. The supply officer watched how these heroic sons of Bosnia and Herzegovina jumped out of their trenches and disappeared into the darkness. Two or three minutes passed, and then loud shots could be heard, shouts, screams, curses. The parties already reached the Italian positions.

    The lieutenant and his men were the first to reach the enemy positions: the lieutenant threw a hand grenade to clean the way through wire and bushes, then jumped into the Italian trenches. His men followed him. Some surprised Italians surrendered immediately. Others tried to run away, but the soldiers from Bosnia and Herzegovina hunted them down like game. The lieutenant spotted a cabin with a light burning inside. He opened the door and saw twelve Italian officers, pale as death. They jumped off the table, but before they could reach their weapons, the lieutenant held out a grenade and pointed his pistol towards them. All twelve were captured. He and his men then continued raiding the Italian trenches. In the meantime, Mirko Spahić and his party crawled to a machine gun position. He wanted to get a medal, so he had scouted the position earlier to determine whether there would be plunder. He brought the machine gun back to our position, capturing its crew, an officer and several soldiers. The expedition was a complete success: 17 Italian officers and 544 soldiers were captured. We had several dead and wounded. Among the fallen was the good Dedo Džavić, a Muslim from Bosnia. That afternoon he had told the major he had something to give him: a written statement in which he had left his entire property, about a thousand krone, to widows and orphans of killed soldiers. His grave lies in a little valley on Sveta Marija, marked with a red stone with the crescent and the star…
    (from the book World War I: The Italian Front by Croatian historian Danijel Tatić. The testimony was originally published in the Croatian daily newspaper Jutarnji list on 8 August 1916!)

  52. What moves a man to send so many men to their death so disastrously time and time again? Was Cadorna's 19th century mindset just so rigid? I'd love to read something he personally wrote about his time during the war. His ego must've been massive.

  53. I wonder, if the main reason for all the stupid moves we see in this war is not simply the ego of the leading generals like Cadorna or Haig.
    Too proud and too convinced of their own genius to admit to themselfes that they are out of ideas and need to question their actions and descisions.

  54. "Rawlinson summarized the reasons for failure: 1) Absence of surprise, attacking only between noon and 3pm (…)".
    Clearly, he was the smart one of the lot (being ironic here).
    No matter how much I read/see stuff about the Great War, the stupidity of the commanders of the time never ceases to amaze me. And men kept dying because of it…

  55. Well if at first you don´t succeed then try try try try try try try again

  56. When you said 8th Battle I died. I mean this Cadorna guy didnt get tired of fighting the same place over and over?

  57. And now a quote from Napoleon that does have its place on the battlefield "The only reason the Italian army exists is so the Austrian army can have victories"

  58. Cadorna attacks Isonzo… like a dog biting at a care tire, would he even know what do if he caught one?

  59. Ok if you’ve gotten to the eighth battle of x location in about a year Just stop just stop trying…..

  60. Attack the Austrians in the same way, at the same place, for the 8th time. Will be a total surprise to them, they won't suspect a thing.

  61. Cadorna wages war like someone save-scumming in a Paradox game…..except he keeps forgetting he's in Ironman mode.

  62. I live in a town on the Adriatic coast some 150 km south of Gorizia, I read stories that the people could hear the roar of cannons during the great italian offensives…

  63. how much worse would the war have been if they had mines, like east asia, nowadays…?

  64. Why italians didnt help serbia and montenegro before they were overwhelmed? Why didnt they fight austrohungarians in albania? In my point of view they had their own agenda. As everyone of course. I believe they wanted specific lands and thats all.

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