After the recent post on General Cadorna, Tamás Deák sent some clippings from the contemporary Hungarian press as a commentary. The reports were written a hundred years ago, at the turn of 1915-1916, from the Italian front. Nice, round, even hilarious stories about the valor and humanity of the Austro-Hungarian army, the failures of the Italian army, but mostly about the ruthlesness and the embellished war reports of General Cadorna. Arguments over national characterology and why the Italian is not a good soldier. In short, all the topoi desired both by the military leadership and general readers anxious for their sons and husbands fighting on the front, and which were obviously used by the Italian press as well. As to how much they reflect reality, it would require a more complex analysis. So let us read them as the war, seen from a grassroots perspective.
The war in Italy
After the occupation of Görz [Gorizia], all the desperate efforts of the Italian troops are squandered. Their attacks are broken at the prowess of the mostly Hungarian defenders. Even if they have been driven from one attack to another for weeks, and they try to break ahead towards the Italian dream of dreams: Trieste. More than one Italian division has already been destroyed in this bloody struggle, but Count Cadorna, the Italian commander-in-chief insists with an insane stubbornness upon his plan, which has already brought so much failure to the Italian army. Most recently, the Italians suffered a severe blow on Monte Cimone. Our troops had mined this mountain, flinging it high into the air. This brilliant operation was a resounding success, and the enemy suffered heavy losses. About a hundred Italian soldiers were stranded in one of the cavities created by the explosion in Monte Cimone, and were unable to escape from their rocky prison, since the cavity was blocked by a huge boulder. The commander of our troops offered the enemy a few hours truce out of simple humanity, so they could recover the Italians holed up in the cavity hollowed out by the explosion in Monte Cinone. It is characteristic of the barbarity of Italian warfare, that they rejected the truce offered, not bothering about the fact, that thereby they had sentenced their own blood to death. Nevertheless, our troops managed to rescue the Italian soldiers, who had been left to a miserable death by their own compatriots. And this noble act will remain a glory of our weapons equal to their bloody victories. In the heaviest drum fire, in the midst of Italian grenades and a rain of shrapnel, the Hungarian medical corpsmen crept up Monte Cimone, the rocky prison of the Italians. They saved the Italians, at risk to their own lives, who were half-dead from hunger and exhaustion, from a most agonizing death. With this brilliant feat they responed thusly to the shameful barbarity of the Italian commander, inspired by hate.
The Italian veteran speaks about his “heroic deeds”.
– And then suddenly an enemy grenade comes, and tears off my left arm!
– But Giuseppe – interjects a member of the company – you still have your left arm! – Per Dio! – the Italian bouncer says indignantly. – If you are so petty, what do you say about the Cadorna reports?
The Italian war
Cadorna’s report on bad weather
The Italians were looking forward to May, the month of love, to send a hot declaration of affection to the long-desired vineyards and orchards of Trientino. However, the grapes will already be ripe when the Italian fox, languishing no more, instead covered with blood and with bloodshot eyes, will be still ramming his head against the rocks of Tirol and Carniola, against the keen-aimed bullets of the Tyrolean, Hungarian and Austrian soldiers. The Italian will never eat of the grapes of Tyrol. Beyond the rocks and abysses, a thousand deaths ares waiting for the Italian army, and the roads are dangerously undermined at every step… Italy would need at least one million men here, and with such an unprecedented waste of souls, like the Russians in the Carpathians. Even so, we have strong doubts about Italian “eroismo”, which has never figured in Italian history, not even against the half-naked Abyssinians or the poor, earthy Arabs of Tripoli.
Cadorna has repeatedly blamed the “cattivo tempo”, bad weather, for Italian public opinion. Those who know the Italian people will find this pallative somewhat understandable. The warm climate makes the Italians overly sensitive to any change of weather. In Southern Italy, winter lasts only a few weeks, and snow falls only once or twice a year. The short winter period is characterized by continuous rainfall from dawn to dusk, which encourages a truly desperate mood among this people, accustomed to smiling azure sky throughout the whole year.
The majority of Italians do not work in the winter, because the rainy weather ruins their mood, and the rest of the year they value idleness over excessive labor. The Italian soldiers fighting at Isonzo, for example, require rest on Sunday and feast days, a custom that is not observed by the soldiers of any other nation.
Therefore, the Italians are somewhat persuaded by Cadorna excuses of bad weather, although the rest of Europe just laughs at him. Had winter not intervened, the Italians would have probably entered the war much earlier for the giant payment in blood promised to them. However, they had awaited the passing of winter, knowing well the character of their own people, which is unable to wage a winter campaign – with the exception of some of the northern Italians. So far, they have sent ahead mostly these alpini, but once they are depleted, the quality of the Italian army will further sink below those in the home of the glaciers, snowy mountains and alpine storms, because the toughness of central and southern Italian people falls far short of the Lombard soldiers, especially of those that also have some German blood in their veins.
Apparently, the Matin is not bound by Italian money, so they had the courage to declare that the Italians are now exactly where they were a month before (…)
A day next to Montfalcone
(…) During lunch, a gentle serenity spreads among the officers. A telegram is brought around with the latest “weather report” of Cadorna. These communiqués are not very clever. He must report something daily, and as he cannot report on victories, so he prattles on about the weather. This time, for example:
– The bad weather, which has been going on for a few days, have repeatedly tried the endurance of our troops. Nevertheless, they resist it with unshakable tenacity. In the area of the battlefield, fog hinders the activities of our troops. On the other hand, it allows the enemy to advance with their works of fortification, which we are trying to disturb with smaller troops.
As the Italian commander in chief cannot end his report this way, he does something that can be called quite cunning. In fact, he invents Austro-Hungarian attacks against the Italian front, and he reports that “we have victoriously repelled” these attacks. In reality, these attacks never took place (…)
South Tyrolean front
How are we doing? In one year, the “valiant” Italian army only could “break forward” where our military leadership would allow them. The whole world was amused by Cadorna’s reports, which went on an on about the bad weather rather than the awaited victories. However, Cadorna’s reports have recently become more varied, because they daily report on various retreats caused no longer by “bad weather”. The Italian military leadership keeps silent only about the prisoners of war and the cannons and machine guns seized by our valiant soldiers. However, for us it is quite enough if we know about the great victories, through which our heroic soldiers have already reached the edge of the Lombard plain. Such difficulties, as shown in this map, the grim ridges of which proclaim the eternal glory of our army.
The Isonzo front
How are we doing? The fierce and desperate resilience of the Carpathian battles is being repeated on the Italian front. For nine months the Italians have been trying to break our positions on the rocky ridges of the Karsts, and the result is that they are further back than where we allowed them at the beginning of the war. That is, they are proceeding a “defensive” campaign, and Cadorna does not report on bad weather any more.
And finally, as a counterpart of the Cadorna reports, let us have here a typical Austro-Hungarian Höfer report. This report, radiating strength and positivity, fills the reader with confidence and hope. Which we also wish to all our readers for the new year.
Great Italian defeat
The battles around Görz [Gorizia], which took on an ever broader scope recently, have developed into a battle, as a result of the offensive of the 3rd Italian army. About four enemy corps\ advanced with massive artillery support against our front line, contracted from the sea to the Görz bridgehead. They were completely beaten back, and suffered terrible losses. Thanks to the bravery beyond all praise of our excellent, battle-hardened troops, especially of our valiant infantry, all military positions have remained in our possession. Our heroes faithfully and firmly guard the southwestern boundary of the Monarchy against the advances of the enemy. They can safely count on the gratitude of all the peoples of their homeland, as well as of our armies advancing from victory to victory in the north.
All quiet in the central part of Isonzo, in the Krn territory, and the other front lines. No major event has happened.
Deputy Chief of the General Staff
Deputy Chief of the General Staff