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Battles of the Isonzo

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Isonzo front
Part of Italian Front (World War I)
Kämpfe auf dem Doberdo.JPG

Depiction of the Battle of Doberdò.
Date23 May 1915 – 27 October 1917
(2 years, 5 months and 4 days)
  • Five Italian victories
  • Three inconclusive
  • Three Austro-Hungarian victories and final Central Powers victory[1]
 Kingdom of Italy  Austria-Hungary
 German Empire
Units involved
2nd Army
3rd Army
5th Army
Casualties and losses
Northeast Italy, farthest Italian advance against Austria-Hungary
Northeast Italy, farthest Italian advance against Austria-Hungary
The plain at the confluence of the Soča and Vipava rivers around Gorizia is the main passage from Northern Italy to Eastern Europe.
The plain at the confluence of the Soča and Vipava rivers around Gorizia is the main passage from Northern Italy to Eastern Europe.

The Battles of the Isonzo (known as the Isonzo Front by historians, Slovene: soška fronta) were a series of 12 battles between the Austro-Hungarian and Italian armies in World War I mostly on the territory of present-day Slovenia, and the remainder in Italy along the Isonzo River on the eastern sector of the Italian Front between June 1915 and November 1917.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ Battle of the Isonzo - Discord Among The Central Powers I THE GREAT WAR Week 86
  • ✪ Life On The Isonzo Front I THE GREAT WAR On The Road
  • ✪ Tenth Battle of The Isonzo River - Trotsky Arrives in Petrograd I THE GREAT WAR Week 147
  • ✪ The Fall of Riga - 11th Battle of the Isonzo River I THE GREAT WAR Week 163
  • ✪ Deadly Routine On The Italian Front - The 8th Battle Of The Isonzo I THE GREAT WAR - Week 116


Germany had lifted restrictions on its submarines at the beginning of March, and now we see the result. This week, the torpedoes strike in force. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week Germany declared war on Portugal, on the Western Front the slaughter at Verdun continued unabated, in the Middle East British relief forces were unable to break the Ottoman siege at Kut and free the men trapped there, and the Russians advanced in both Anatolia and Persia. Any more British relief expeditions that may try to reach Kut will have their work cut out for them, because starting in mid March on the Tigris come the floods. Up in the Armenian highlands, from where the river flows, the snow begins to melt and the banks of the Tigris cannot handle the overflow. Since there are no jetties or anything, huge areas of land are submerged or become swamps, and military operations are basically impossible. A side note here- I read a report of a South African officer in the Cape Times that the flooded river also has sharks as far up as Qurna. So the British relief forces really had their work cut out for them and things looked grimmer than ever for the men trapped at Kut. There was a British breakout that was successful this week, though, on the Libyan front. The Turks had been supplying Senussi tribesmen to tie down British and Indian troops there. Those troops had set up the Western Desert Force, based in Alexandria, to protect Egypt. This week they sent out an armored car division under the Duke of Westminster, and this- together with the South African Scottish Brigade- went to find the Turko-Senussi division, 7,000 strong. One main priority, though, was to liberate 92 prisoners of war held by the Senussi after the Germans torpedoed their boat, the Tara, in the Mediterranean Sea. On March 17th, the cars reached Bir Hakeim, where the men were being held. The prisoners were apparently so shocked to see their relief that they just stood there gaping. Most had dysentery and they had been living on desert snails and roots. To prevent word of the liberation getting out too quickly, the Duke had all of the Senussi guards executed. There was plenty more unexpected death this week, much of it at sea. On March 16th, the Dutch liner Tubantia was torpedoed without warning off Harwich. This was a Holland-Lloyd passenger steamer and 80 passengers and around 300 crewmen reached shore. Public outrage in the Netherlands reached fever pitch and there were threats of war with Germany. Germany denied that it had been a submarine that did it, though officers from the liner swore out affidavits that it was. This cost Germany a lot of friends in the Netherlands. And two days later, the Dutch steamer Palembang was definitely torpedoed and went down. Three torpedoes struck it. The Hague sent a strong protest to Berlin, who suggested that it was torpedoed by the British to try and bring Holland into the war- the Dutch people instantly rejected this claim. Sinkings like this were the result of Germany getting rid of restrictions on whom U-boats could and could not sink. On March 11th a German memorandum was sent to the US about U-Boats. Germany says it was forced to adopt this form of warfare by Britain’s refusal to ratify the Declaration of London. Britain had rejected the American proposal to allow free passage of food ships for non-combatants and was trying to starve Germany; British merchantmen were armed for offense, not defense, the Germans claimed. The British blockade was illegal- mails were interfered with, neutrals oppressed, and so forth, therefore Germany was unable to use subs only as directed by Declaration of London. So the war at sea was going to get more and more eventful. But one place things were winding down for the moment was the Balkans. The last six months in the Balkans had been seriously eventful, but by now all major military operations were over. The British and French were at Salonika in neutral Greece and the Italians were at Avlona, but the Austro-Hungarian, German, and Bulgarian forces had cleared the whole Balkan Peninsula south of the Danube down to Greece of enemies and were in total possession. Direct communications via rail from Berlin to Constantinople were in place, but what then? Well, the Bulgarian situation is quite interesting. They didn’t push further over the Greek border, for example, even into a part of Macedonia with a large Bulgarian population. One big reason is that, of course, this would likely have drawn Greece into the war on the Allies side, but another reason is that the Bulgarian communication network was really poorly organized, and there were also only a few roads through Macedonia then, most of which weren’t much good for automobile traffic. Bulgarian prisoners that the British and French had taken showed that much of the Bulgarian army was poorly supplied and in some cases the troops were hungry to the point of exhaustion. The Allies, on the other hand, were all close to their base at Salonika with short, good lines of communication, and a Bulgarian attack on them would’ve been costly, if victory was even possible. On the other side, it was bluntly obvious that the Allies were not going to be in any position to attack the Bulgarians for quite some time. The Germans certainly knew this since they withdrew their forces in huge numbers, but now here comes something interesting; the Bulgarians did not assist their German allies on other fronts. Obviously, it was in Bulgarian interests that the Central Powers win the war, so you’d think that they’d help out in, say, Galicia. That this was not done sort of shows you that alliance with Germany and Austria was not popular among the general Bulgarian population. They fought on territory that they considered their own rightful territory, but they didn’t go up against the Russians or put their troops at the disposal of the Germans, or anything like that. They could have even helped the Austrians on the Italian front, which came back to life this week with the beginning and the ending of the Fifth Battle of the Isonzo River. Now, a few weeks ago, French Commander in Chief Joseph Joffre had urgently asked for the Italians and Russians to begin their own offensives to try and relieve some of the pressure at Verdun, but both said they had to wait until the weather improved. Italian army Chief of Staff Luigi Cadorna did, however, bring forward his planned offensive to March while also getting promises of French artillery support, and on March 11th, 1916, 1,300 heavy guns began a two-day bombardment of the Austro-Hungarian positions. When you think that the Germans used fewer guns to kick of the hell of Verdun, you might think the Italians were doing serious damage. However, at Verdun, the German bombardment was on a front of only 20 kilometers, while the Italian bombardment was- as it had b een in all the other Battles of the Isonzo- along the whole front, from Mount Rombon to the Corso River. It was intense but wasn’t focused on specific targets, so the Austrian casualties were actually lower than they had been in the earlier battles with a weaker bombardment. To be fair, the rain and the snow of the past month had made observation really difficult, and defensive positions do look different under tons of snow, but still. On the 13th, the Italian infantry attacked, but snow and ice in the Julian Alps to the north made progress nearly impossible, and fog further south reduced visibility to a few meters. Everywhere the Austrian defenses remained intact. The Italians did gain 100 meters on Mount Sabotino, which was a real achievement, but that was it. Cadorna called off the battle after 13,000 Italian casualties. He decided he needed more heavy artillery in future. His opposite number, Austrian Chief of Staff Conrad von Hotzendorf, decided the time was drawing near to turn the tables on the Italians and quit playing defense, but his repeated requests for additional forces from German Army Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn were falling on deaf ears. At least so far. And, speaking of Falkenhayn, I’ll briefly mention the French defense at Verdun to round out the week since the Battle of Verdun was Falkenhayn’s baby. On the 11th a German attack o n Fort Vaux was repulsed, and on the 15th- five successive attacks on the Fort failed. And just FYI, in the first five weeks of Verdun, German soldiers were killed at the rate of one every 45 seconds. French deaths were higher (Gilbert). So the week ends, action in Libya and at sea, more carnage at Verdun, and the Italian front flaring into action. It’s interesting to see that at this point many nations seem to be heading for an “every man for himself” scenario. The Bulgarians not really interested in helping their Allies in the field, Conrad demanding men from German Chief of Staff Falkenhayn for action in Italy, and Falkenhayn barely acknowledging Conrad while obsessing with his own plans at Verdun. The Allies did seem a bit more coherent with the helping each other out thing this winter, at least until the pressure of Verdun on the French could maybe be relieved. We’ll see what that cooperation will bring. Well, other than tens of thousands of corpses. That’s 100% guaranteed. Erich von Falkenhayn’s character clashed a few times already even within his own staff. Find out what happened when he and Paul von Hindenburg couldn’t decide the next move right here. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Yolanda Unzueta. If you want to support us financially, you can also check out our Amazon store or buy our official merch. Don’t forget to subscribe. See you next time.


Italian military plans

In April 1915, in the secret Treaty of London, Italy was promised by the Allies some of the territories of Austro-Hungarian Empire which were mainly inhabited by ethnic Slovenes.

Italian Field Marshal Luigi Cadorna, a staunch proponent of the frontal assault, initially planned breaking onto the Slovenian plateau, taking Ljubljana and threatening Vienna.[citation needed] The area between the northernmost part of the Adriatic Sea and the sources of the Isonzo River thus became the scene of twelve successive battles.[citation needed]

As a result, the Austro-Hungarians were forced to move some of their forces from the Eastern Front and a war in the mountains around the Isonzo River began.[2]


Remains of Kluže, an Austro-Hungarian fortification between Bovec and Log pod Mangrtom
Remains of Kluže, an Austro-Hungarian fortification between Bovec and Log pod Mangrtom

The sixty-mile long Soča River at the time ran entirely inside Austria-Hungary in parallel to the border with Italy, from the Vršič and Predil passes in the Julian Alps to the Adriatic Sea, widening dramatically a few kilometers north of Gorizia, thus opening a narrow corridor between Northern Italy and Central Europe, which goes through the Vipava Valley and the relatively low north-eastern edge of the Karst Plateau to Inner Carniola and Ljubljana. The corridor is also known as the "Ljubljana Gate".

By the autumn of 1915 one mile had been won by Italian troops, and by October 1917 a few Austrian mountains and some square miles of land had changed hands several times. Italian troops did not reach the port of Trieste, the Italian General Luigi Cadorna's initial target, until after the Armistice.[3]

Primary sector for Italian operations

With the rest of the mountainous 400-mile length of the Front being almost everywhere dominated by Austro-Hungarian forces, the Soča (Isonzo) was the only practical area for Italian military operations during the war. The Austrians had fortified the mountains[citation needed] ahead of the Italians' entry into the war on 23 May 1915.

Italian Chief of Staff Luigi Cadorna judged that Italian gains (from Gorizia to Trieste) were most feasible at the coastal plain east of the lower end of the Soča (Isonzo). However he also believed that the Italian army could strike further north and bypass the mountains either side of the river so as to come at the Austro-Hungarian forces in the rear.

Cadorna had not expected operations in the Isonzo sector to be easy. He was well aware that the river was prone to flooding – and indeed there were record rainfalls during 1914–18.

Further, when attacking further north the Italian army was faced with something of a dilemma: in order to cross the Isonzo safely it needed to neutralise the Austro-Hungarian defenders on the mountains above; yet to neutralise these forces the Italian forces needed first to cross the river – an obstacle that the Italians never succeeded in overcoming.

In the south (along the coastal zone) geographic peculiarities, including an array of ridges and valleys, also gave an advantage to the Austro-Hungarian defenders.


Austrian troops crossing the Isonzo, November 1917
Austrian troops crossing the Isonzo, November 1917

Despite the huge effort and resources poured into the continuing Isonzo struggle the results were invariably disappointing and without real tactical merit, particularly given the geographical difficulties that were inherent in the campaign.

Cumulative casualties of the numerous battles of the Isonzo were enormous. Half of the entire Italian war death total – some 300,000 of 600,000 – were suffered along the Soča (Isonzo). Austro-Hungarian losses, while by no means as numerous were nevertheless high at around 200,000 (of an overall total of around 1.2 million casualties).[citation needed]

More than 30,000 casualties were ethnic Slovenes, majority of them being drafted in the Austro-Hungarian Army, while Slovene civil inhabitants from the Gorizia and Gradisca region also suffered in many thousands because they were resettled in refugee camps where Slovene refugees were treated as state enemies by Italians and some thousands died of malnutrition in Italian refugee camps.[4]

Number of battles

Austro-Hungarian supply line over the Vršič Pass. October 1917
Austro-Hungarian supply line over the Vršič Pass. October 1917

With almost continuous combat in the area, the precise number of battles forming the Isonzo campaign is debatable. Some historians have assigned distinct names to a couple of the Isonzo struggles, most notably at Kobarid (Caporetto) in October 1917, which would otherwise form the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo.

The fact that the battles were always named after the Isonzo River, even in Italy, was considered by some a propaganda success for Austria-Hungary: it highlighted the repeated Italian failure to breach this landmark frontier of the Empire.[5]

The Isonzo campaign comprised the following battles:

Brief summary of Isonzo battles
Battle Dates Italian casualties Austro-Hungarian casualties Outcome
First Battle of the Isonzo 23 June – 7 July 1915 15,000 10,000 Austro-Hungarian victory
Second Battle of the Isonzo 18 July - 3 August 1915 41,800 46,600 Italian victory
Third Battle of the Isonzo 18 October – 3 November 1915 66,998 41,847 Austro-Hungarian victory
Fourth Battle of the Isonzo 10 November – 2 December 1915 49,500 32,100 Austro-Hungarian victory
Fifth Battle of the Isonzo 9–15 March 1916 1,882 1,985 Inconclusive
Sixth Battle of the Isonzo 6 August – 17 August 1916 51,000 42,000 Italian victory
Seventh Battle of the Isonzo 14 September – 18 September 1916 17,000 15,000 Inconclusive
Eighth Battle of the Isonzo 10 October 1916 – 12 October 1916 55,000 38,000 Inconclusive
Ninth Battle of the Isonzo 31 October – 4 November 1916 39,000 33,000 Italian victory
Tenth Battle of the Isonzo 10 May – 8 June 1917 150,000 75,000 Limited Italian Advance
Eleventh Battle of the Isonzo 18 August – 12 September 1917 158,000 115,000 Italian victory
Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo 24 October – 19 November 1917 305,000 70,000 Decisive Austro-Hungarian victory; end of the Isonzo Campaign
Total casualties June 1915 – November 1917 950,151 520,532 Central Powers victory, counteroffensives on the Piave.  

In literature


  1. ^ Palazzo, Albert (2002). Seeking Victory on the Western Front. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press. p. 111. Retrieved 25 September 2018.
  2. ^ A War in Words, p.147-148, Simon & Schuster, 2003
  3. ^ A War in Words, p.163, Simon & Schuster, 2003 ISBN 0-7432-4831-7
  4. ^ Petra Svoljšak, Slovenski begunci v Italiji med prvo svetovno vojno (Ljubljana 1991).
  5. ^ Isonzo 1917, Sivestri

External links

This page was last edited on 18 March 2019, at 16:17
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