Battle of Caporetto

Battle of Caporetto
Italian troops retreat along the Udine-Codroipo Road in north-east Italy after being soundly defeated by Austro-Hungarian and German forces at Caporetto (Kobarid in Slovenia) in the Isonzo Valley.

(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

 

This battle took place near the town of Kobarid, located in today’s Slovenia, between 24 October and 19 November 1917, when Austro-Hungarian Army Units, reinforced by German detachments, attacked the Italian front line.

The forces were equally matched – the Italians fielded a force of 400,000 soldiers compared to the enemy’s 350,000 men, with both sides packing around 2,300 artillery pieces each.

The Austro-Hungarian and German armies attacked with a mass fusillade of gas shells, covering the Italian area with a blanket of chlorine and phosgene gas, killing some 500 troops, and putting thousands more to flight. Then the artillery was set loose, followed soon after by charging infantry, some equipped with flame-throwers, and they soon smashed through the Italian defences.

For the next five days the Italians were in full flight, being rolled back quickly by the rapidly advancing Austro-Hungarian and German forces. Finally the Italians were forced to retreat in the direction of Venice to the Piave River, nearly 100km from their original line. Here the rapid success of the Austrians and Germans finally caught up with them as their supply lines became overstretched and their troops exhausted.

The Italians were then able to establish an effective defensive line along the river by mid November and successfully defend further thrusts from the enemy.

The losses incurred by the Italian forces were catastrophic – 10,000 killed 30,000 wounded and 265,000 taken prisoner. This total casualty list represented close to 75% of the total Italian force on the battlefield.

The Italian commander, Marshal Luigi Cadorna, already highly unpopular amongst his men, became even more unpopular with the Italian Prime Minister after the debacle and was ordered to resign. 

He was replaced by General Armando Diaz, a far more effective officer, who successfully led his troops at the Battle of the Piave River in June 1918 and halted an Austrian offensive.