Rommel and Caporetto, John Wilks and Eileen Wilks

Rommel and Caporetto, John Wilks and Eileen Wilks

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Rommel & Caporetto, John Wilks and Eileen Wilks

Rommel & Caporetto, John Wilks and Eileen Wilks

The battle of Caporetto was one of the most dramatic break-through battles of the First World War and saw a combined Austrian and Germany army inflict a crushing defeat on the Italians on the Isonzo Front. The battle ended with Austrian and German troops within twenty miles of Venice, and forced Britain and France to rush troops to Italy to prop up their ally.

Amongst the German troops was the young Erwin Rommel, already a holder of the Iron Cross, First Class. He would win Imperial Germany's highest qualification, the Pour le Mérite (or Blue Max) for his leadership during the battle, where he advanced deep into Italian territory and captured thousands of prisoners.

This book covers two topics - first is the overall battle of Caporetto - the background on both sides, weaknesses of the Italian command and positions, the German plan and the course of the battle. Second is the role that Rommel and the small unit under his command played in the fighting. Rommel was one of many Germany officers whose efforts helped mould the victory, and there is no attempt to claim that his efforts were decisive, but they did play a part in his long-term success and helped make his name.

Both topics are interesting, and are covered well. The general narrative is clear, with a good use of material from both sides. The sections on Rommel are detailed and closely follow the actions of his small units. The result is a book that should be of interest to two markets - that on the First World War and that on the leaders of the Second World War.

1 - Austria Seeks German Help
2 - Italian Strategy and Tactics
3 - The Breakthrough at Caporetto
4 - Contributions to Disaster
5 - Rommel on the Kolovrat and Matajur
6 - The Advance to the Tagliamento
7 - From the Tagliamento to the Piave
8 - Rommel at Longarone
9 - The Last Battles of the Offensive
10 - Rommel on Grappa

Author: John Wilks and Eileen Wilks
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 224
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2012

097: May 2013

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Descrizione libro Soft Cover. Condizione: New. No Jacket. First Thus. [2001] New First Thus First Printing. 262pp. maps. The Austro-German attack at Caporetto in 1917 produced a full scale breakthrough which forced the Italian armies to retreat from near the Austrian frontier to within twenty miles of Venice. Young Lieutenant Rommel had the good fortune to be part of one of the German units which led the attack on the Italian positions. The masterly German plan carried out by some of the best German and Austrian troops immediately established a war of movement which offered fine opportunities to ambitious young officers. No one made greater use of these opportunities than Erwin Rommel.Rommel's own account of the action has been translated into English but, until now, there has been no satisfactory work in English covering the wider aspects of the Battle of Caporetto which are an essential background for an understanding of his dramatic exploits. This book, by the authors of the acclaimed The British Army in Italy 1917-1918, is based largely on official histories and documents, and the records of Rommel and his commanding officer in Italy.In addition to being a thorough and authoritative description of the overall battle, Rommel and Caporetto gives a fascinating insight into the qualities that this superb soldier was to display to such devastating effect against the Allies during the Second World War. Pictorial card covers. Clean bright tight unmarked. For full appreciation see pictures. Order with confidence - trusted seller with excellent customer feedback. *PayPal* Accepted. Codice articolo 033154

Rommel And Caporetto Rommel And Caporetto (9781848848832): Eileen . "As many Guild members will know the Austro-German attack at Caporetto in 1917 involved the young Erwin Rommel. This book uses a combination of extracts from Rommels and research taken from official histories to construct a detailed narrative of the fighting in the Caporetto region. Erwin Rommel - Wikipedia Early life and career. Rommel was born on 15 November 1891 in Southern Germany at Heidenheim, 45 kilometres (28 mi) from Ulm, in the Kingdom of Wrttemberg, then part of the German Empire.He was the third of five children of Erwin Rommel Senior (18601913), a teacher and school administrator, and his wife Helene von Lutz, whose father Karl von Luz headed the local government council. Battle of Caporetto - Wikipedia The Battle of Caporetto (also known as the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo, the Battle of Kobarid or the Battle of Karfreit) was a battle on the Italian front of World War I.The battle was fought between the Kingdom of Italy and the Central Powers and took place from 24 October to 19 November 1917, near the town of Kobarid (now in north-western Slovenia, then part of the Austrian Littoral).

Rommel And Caporetto John Wilks J Wilks Eileen Wilks

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Rommel & Caporetto Kindle Edition

Ȫs many Guild members will know the Austro-German attack at Caporetto in 1917 involved the young Erwin Rommel. This book uses a combination of extracts from Rommel's and research taken from official histories to construct a detailed narrative of the fighting in the Caporetto region. There are plenty of maps to support the text and the Rommel story is not allowed to dominate the wider historical landscape. This is an ideal introduction to the FWW Italian Front and it also explains many of the traits displayed by the Desert Fox in later years."--Despatches, Winter 2016

"This book uses a combination of extracts from Rommel's and research taken from official histories to construct a detailed narrative of the fighting in the Caporetto region. There are plenty of maps to support the text and the Rommel story is not allowed to dominate the wider historical landscape. This is an ideal introduction to the FWW Italian Front and it also explains many of the traits displayed by the Desert Fox in later years."--Guild of Battlefield Guides --This text refers to the paperback edition.

About the Author

Eileen Wilks is an author and historian.

John Wilks is an author and a historian. --This text refers to the paperback edition.

Erwin Rommel remains the best remembered enemy general from the Second World War. Yet few are aware that Rommel had fought in Italy in 1917 at the Battle of Caporetto, and by his exploits at that time established himself as one of the most notable young officers in the German Army. Indeed his performance then has been described ‘as extraordinary an example of skill and daring as can be found in the annals of modern warfare’.¹

Throughout the spring and summer of 1917 the armies of Italy, then an ally of France and Britain, had launched a series of offensives against the Austro-Hungarian forces. The Italians had made only modest advances, but by September the Austrian High Command concluded that it could not withstand a further offensive, and appealed to Germany for assistance. Seven German divisions were sent as the spearhead of an Austro-German Army to strike against the Italians on the upper Isonzo river in the Julian Alps, and on 24 October this army launched the offensive known as the Battle of Caporetto.

For the Italians, Caporetto was an unexpected and unparalleled reverse, and they were forced to withdraw from the Isonzo to the River Piave, 50 or 70 miles further back, and only 20 miles from Venice. Rommel was then a young lieutenant in a battle which in three days broke through the main Italian defences in the mountains, and then developed into a war of movement across the Venetian plain and through the mountains beyond. During the first three days, in command of only two or three infantry companies and the associated machine-gun companies, he captured some 9,000 Italian troops. Then, two weeks later, he achieved the surrender of a further 10,000.

Such successes would hardly have been possible on the Western Front, but the Battle of Caporetto arose from a combination of somewhat unusual circumstances, including inter alia the very mountainous nature of the ground, and the failure of the Italians to recognize the weaknesses of their front in the mountains until too late. This book describes how the German offensive made the most of various Italian weaknesses, and presented Rommel with opportunities, which he seized with a skill, determination and courage that few could match.

There are two official accounts of the larger aspects of the Battle of Caporetto, one from either side, which give excellent factual and critical accounts of the whole campaign, although neither is available in English. The first, published during 1926 and 1927, is the book by General Konrad Krafft von Dellmensingen, Der Durchbruch am Isonzo. General Krafft was the Chief of Staff of the Austro-German Army, and had access to the official German archives, and his book forms part of the Official German History. Shortly after its publication, General Cadorna, the former Chief of Staff of the Italian Army and virtually the Commander-in-Chief at the time of Caporetto, described it as an ‘account told with clarity and precision’,² and it is now available in an excellent translation into Italian by Pieropan.

On the Italian side, generals and others, soon after the war produced various accounts, often self-justifying, but the official Italian account of the battle was not forthcoming until the publication of the relevant volume of L’Esercito Italiano nelle Grande Guerra, the Official Italian History (IOH) published only in 1967. This impressive work, prepared under the direction of Lieutenant General Ferdinand di Lauro, provides a comprehensive and critical account of events with some 730 pages of text, 500 pages of documents, a series of excellent maps and photographs. Since its publication various studies have been made incorporating information from the IOH, particularly the books by Silvestri, Melograni and Pieropan, but the IOH remains the one essential Italian account of the Battle of Caporetto.

The above histories describe the whole battle on a very large canvas, on which Rommel’s achievements receive no more than a passing remark or footnote. However, we have first-hand and first-rate accounts of Rommel’s actions, because he eventually turned out to be ‘a born writer as well as a born fighter’.³ After the war Rommel spent four years (1929-33) as an instructor at the Infantry School at Dresden. A typical lecture on battlefield tactics would start with a first-hand account of one of his actions during the war, and be followed by an analysis of what assessments and decisions he had made during the action, and what lessons could be learnt. In 1931 the Commandant of the School wrote that his lectures were always a ‘delight to hear’ and also included ‘a lot of ideological food for thought’. A year later the senior instructor commented that he was ‘respected by his colleagues, worshipped by his cadets’.⁴

Like many other lecturers, Rommel worked his lecture notes into a book, Infanterie greift an, which was published in 1937. Military textbooks on battlefield tactics for junior officers seldom excite much public interest, but Infanterie greift an became an immediate best-seller, providing an extremely good read for the general public, an inspiration for young men thinking of a military career, and in addition ‘probably one of the best infantry manuals ever written’.⁵ A copy of the twelfth (1942) edition, in the present authors’ possession is inscribed ‘found in German defences Calais summer 1945’. This was an impressive book which still presents one not only with some appreciation of Rommel’s extraordinary stamina, moral and physical courage, and determination, but with respect for his ability to size up and analyse a situation, and to respond immediately with an imaginative solution.

In addition, there are two other first-hand accounts from the German side. The until recently unpublished diary of the German commander, General Otto von Below, is now available (in Italian) in Fadini’s book Caporetto dalla parte del vincetore. Also, Major Sproesser, the Commanding Officer of the Wurttemberg Mountain Battalion in which Rommel served, has edited and partly written a history of the battalion, Die Geschichte der Württembergischen Gebirgsschützen (The History of the Wurttemberg Mountain Troops) published in 1933, in which he deals at length with the campaign in Italy.

Finally, we note that Rommel’s descriptions of his actions in Infanterie greift an besides being a very good account, are in the nature of things almost the only account. Hence for our account of Rommel on the Kolovrat, on Matajur and at Longarone, we rely primarily, but not entirely, on Rommel’s own account. Two English translations are available. The first, made by the United States Army during the Second World War, was published, somewhat abridged, in 1944 in the American Infantry Journal, and this account was reprinted in 1990 under the title Infantry attacks. Meanwhile an unabridged edition, retranslated by J.R. Driscoll, appeared in 1979 under the title Attacks, and our references usually refer to this work. However, all direct quotations have been translated from the German edition of 1942. (As Rommel’s book is laid out clearly and chronologically with many section headings, we have not thought it necessary to give such detailed page references here as elsewhere.)

Austria seeks German help

1.1The War to October 1917

Italy declared the war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or Austria for short, in May 1915, and then for two and a half years tried to make significant inroads into Austrian territory but this turned out to be very difficult. The frontier with Austria was about 400 miles long, and except for about 20 miles lay either in mountainous or very mountainous country. It had been drawn many years previously, much to the military advantage of the Austrians, so that a short advance would take them into the Italian plain. On the other hand, if the Italians were to advance, they would find themselves going deeper and deeper into increasingly difficult mountain country. In fact the only part of the frontier not mountainous was the last twenty miles between Gorizia and the sea (Map 1). Hence the Italian plan in 1915 was to attack across the lower reaches of the River Isonzo with the aim of capturing Trieste, and then perhaps Ljubljana and Vienna.

The pre-war frontier below Gorizia, where the Isonzo emerges from the mountains, ran along the watershed five to eight miles to the west of the river, and gave only a poor line of defence to the Austrians. Therefore the Austrian command had arranged to defend this sector by withdrawing to previously prepared positions mainly, though not entirely, on the east bank of the Isonzo. The town of Gorizia which commanded the entry to the upper Isonzo valley and the road to the east leading to Ljubjana, was on the east bank, but strongly protected by positions on the surrounding hills.

Below Gorizia, the ground on the east side of the river rises to the Carso, a green but infertile limestone plateau which extends down to the coast. Although of no great altitude, the Carso formed the type of defensive barrier so eagerly sought by the warring armies on the plains of France. Moreover, the Austrians had already constructed bunkers and gun positions in the hard limestone rock (only inches below a thin layer of soil) to obtain gave good protection against attack.

Italy declared war on 24 May, at a time of her own choosing, when the Austrians were heavily engaged with the Russians, and their Italian frontier was only weakly defended. However, the Italian Armies were not yet ready for a major action, and the first stage of the war was not an Italian onslaught on the Austrians but the so-called primo balzo, essentially a readjustment of positions on both sides,¹ as the Austrians moved back to positions on their main defence line.

1. The Italian front before and after Caporetto,

The first Italian offensive opened on 23 June against the Austrian positions between Gorizia and the sea, and continued intermittently as the first four Battles of the Isonzo until 2 December. According to Cyril Falls, the Italian infantry ‘showed splendid courage in hopeless tasks’.² By the end of the year the Italians had suffered losses and casualties amounting to about 180,000, but had made virtually no progress. However, two significant gains were made higher up the Isonzo.

Two miles above Gorizia, the Isonzo is narrowly confined in a narrow valley between steep-sided hills, rising up to 600m or so, which continue for the next fifteen miles. Hard fighting had obtained a small bridgehead across the river opposite the village of Plava, at the foot of a rough road leading up to the Bainsizza, an upland plateau on the east of the river between Tolmin and Gorizia, varying in altitude between about 500 and 800 metres. The bridgehead was, however, very limited in size, and dominated by Austrian positions higher up.

The most spectacular advance was further north, between Tolmin and Bovec (formerly Flitsch or Plezzo). Italian mountain troops, the alpini, had crossed the river and occupied the high ridge on the east bank, including the highest point Monte Nero (now Krn, 2224m). This advance gave a substantial bridgehead on the far bank, but one of limited value as the mountains beyond formed a formidable obstacle to further progress to the east. Moreover, this new Italian line was not entirely satisfactory, particularly north of Tolmin where it ran across a high and steep mountain slope with the Austrian positions above the Italians.

During the winter the Italians decided to concentrate their principal effort in 1916 against Gorizia and the Carso, but this programme was soon interrupted by a full-scale Austrian offensive in the mountains between the Rivers Adige and Brenta (Map 1), which aimed to break through to the plain, and arrive behind the Italian armies on the Isonzo. On 15 May, fourteen divisions, supported by a strong force of artillery, launched the so-called Strafexpedition. Despite strong resistance the Italians were forced to give ground, and by the end of the month had been pushed to the very edge of the mountain plateau overlooking the plain of Italy. Then epic Italian resistance at many points along the line prevented any breakthrough into the plain. On 16 June the Austrians decided to break off the attack, and by 26 June had drawn back some distance to a new prepared defence line.

To meet the threat posed by the Strafexpedition, the Italian Comando Supremo, General Cadorna, had assembled a reserve 5th Army on the plain to face any Austrian forces breaking out from the mountains, and he now ordered a series of counter-attacks. But in spite of many attempts from 27 June to 24 July, and heavy losses, no great progress was made in driving the Austrians further back. The battle had worn itself out. The Italians had lost 35,000 dead, 75,000 wounded and 45,000 missing, 155,000 in all, while the Austrian losses were estimated at more than 80,000.

By the end of July Cadorna was able to return troops to the Isonzo in order to take part in the 6th Battle of the Isonzo which opened on 4 August. The main success was the capture of Gorizia. South of Gorizia the line was pushed somewhat further into the Carso, but three subsequent battles in September, October and November made little further progress, except for advances of up to three miles on the northern half of the Carso.

(The year 1916 also saw some spectacular actions on the peaks and snowfields of the Adamello group and amid the rock walls and pinnacles of the Dolomites, as each side struggled to maintain control of the high ground on either side of important road passes. The Italian mountain troops, the alpini, succeeded in pushing back their Austrian counterparts for some distance both across the glaciers and in the Dolomites, but the ground was too severe to permit anything approaching a breakthrough. Yet each side needed to be present in the mountains to prevent serious incursions by the other.)

After a pause during the winter, the war of attrition resumed again in 1917. During the 10th Battle of the Isonzo (12 May to 8 June) the Italians attacked across the river between Plava and Gorizia, and on the southern edge of the Carso against Monte Hermada (324m). The losses were very heavy and the gains very moderate, the most important being a significant enlargement of the bridgehead across the Isonzo opposite Plava, and an advance of two to three miles on the southen edge of the Bainsizza.

Cadorna now turned to the Asiago front on the Asiago plateau (Map 1), and on 10 June launched an offensive against the Austrian line running north from Asiago for about eight miles up to Monte Ortigara (2105m). Two corps were engaged, deploying 59 battalions, but made very little progress. The large stony summit area of Ortigara was occupied on 25 June but the Italians were forced back to their start line by 29 June. The Italian losses against well-constructed and ably defended Austrian positions amounted to over 23,000 in dead, wounded and missing. The specially enlarged 52nd Division suffered particularly with over 13,000 casualties out of an initial strength of about 35,000.

Finally, on 18 August the Italian 2nd and 3rd Armies launched the 11th Battle of the Isonzo involving 52 divisions, attacking both on the Carso and across the river between Plava and Gorizia. This, the last, largest and most successful of all the offensives, made some progress on the Carso, and between Plava and Gorizia advanced distances of up to five miles into the Bainsizza.

At first sight the results of two and a half years fighting on the Isonzo were very modest. The great hopes of sweeping on to Trieste and even to Ljubljana and Vienna had not been fulfilled. The Italian army had lost about 200,000 men dead, and very many more wounded, but was virtually no nearer to Trieste. Even so, the results of the 11th Battle with its casualties totalling about 26,000 dead and 96,000 wounded, compared not unfavourably with those obtained by the British Army struggling in the mud of Passchendaele at about the same time. The Italians had found themselves caught in the same tactical morass which had forced the armies of Germany, France and Britain into immobile trench warfare on the Western Front. Wars of movement had become wars of attrition in which battles with enormous casualties produced only miniscule changes of position.

Nevertheless, Italy had played a considerable role in this war of attrition, and by September 1917 the Austrian High Command feared that they might be overwhelmed by another Italian attack on the scale of the 11th Battle. In particular, they were concerned that any extension of the latest Italian gains on the Bainsizza could threaten the flank of their positions on the Carso, and they therefore appealed to Germany for help.

1.2The Austrian Appeal and the Upper Isonzo

The request for German assistance in the autumn of 1917 was not the first time that Austria had sought to attract German forces to Italy. In December 1916, the then Chief of the General Staff of the Austrian Armies, General Franz Conrad von H"tzendorff, had suggested that the best strategy for the Central Powers in 1917 would be a joint Austro-German attack on Italy. The proposal found some support at the German GHQ, and at conference on 23 January General Conrad proposed a double offensive, with the main assault from the Trentino, preceded by an attack across the Isonzo in the region of Caporetto. However, the Germans said they were unable to spare troops from their other fronts, and would not agree to any such operation.³

A further factor was the death of the old Emperor Franz Joseph on 21 November 1916, and the succession of his young nephew Karl, whose main preoccupation was to end the war before the ruin of the Austrian Empire. Hence Conrad, who had always been an ardent advocate of war with Italy, was promoted Field Marshal, invested with the high honour of The Grand Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresa, and dismissed from his post as Chief of the General Staff. General Arz, Conrad’s Chief of Staff, then took over as Chief of the General Staff, and Conrad at Karl’s insistence assumed command of the Army Group of the Tyrol in the Trentino.

The next step towards the Battle of Caporetto came during the 11th Battle of the Isonzo (18 August – 12 September) when the Austrians were hard pressed and losing ground on the Bainsizza. They then believed that a counter-offensive was necessary to regain their previous positions, otherwise they would be forced to draw back a considerable way to obtain a new defence line, and would lose their bridgehead opposite Tolmin, where their line ran on the west bank for about five miles. Therefore on 29 August General Arz’s aide, General Waldst"tten, visited the German High Command with a proposal for a joint counter-offensive against Italy.

Both sides had already found that it was very difficult to make any significant advances on either the Carso or the Bainsizza. Hence the Austrians had returned to Conrad’s earlier suggestion of an attack across the upper Isonzo, and they now proposed a joint offensive between Tolmin and Bovec. The planning and execution of the initial stages of the offensive depended very much on the topography of the thirty miles or so of the Isonzo valley from below Tolmin to above Bovec, all now in Slovenia. Map 2 shows that on both sides of the river the topography is determined by a series of mountain ridges, which are indicated schematically.

From about two miles above Gorizia to near Tolmin the Isonzo is closely confined in a narrow valley, then just short of Tolmin, the valley broadens out to give a relatively flat floor about a mile wide. Plate 3, taken from near Tolmin, shows the heavily wooded slopes on the west side of the valley, rising to the summits of Ocna and Na Gradu. Beyond Na Gradu the southern side of the valley is bounded by the long and quite broad ridge known as the Kolovrat, running from Na Gradu (1114m) to Monte Kuk (1243m). Beyond Kuk the ground falls to the village of Livek (690m), and then rises again over successive peaks to the highest point Monte Matajur (1642m) overlooking Caporetto (now known as Kobarid).

Just past Tolmin the sides of the valley close in, leaving a relatively flat floor perhaps half a mile wide. Plate 4 taken about a mile beyond Tolmin, shows the view up the valley with the lower slopes of Mrzli on the right. The north side of the valley, opposite the Kolovrat rises from Tolmin to form a long ridge (Plate 5), drawing back from the river, and rising up to the highest point, Monte Nero (Krn, 2244m) opposite Caporetto.

The village of Caporetto is situated in a wide part of the valley, and is overlooked by an Italian military cemetery, which stands in a prominent position at the foot of a high continuous ridge leading to Monte Stol (1673m) and Montemaggiore (1613m). For the first six miles or so above Caporetto the valley is narrow and vee-shaped, with the slopes of Monte Polovnik to the north falling steeply to the river (Plate 6). The valley then becomes somewhat wider, past Zaga to the village of Bovec, overlooked by Monte Canin (2587m) and Monte Rombon (2208m). For about two miles below and around Bovec the valley floor is about a mile wide until the mountains finally close in again (Plate 9).

2. Schematic view of the mountain ridges around Caporetto.

Before the war the principal line of communication in this outlying region of the Austrian Empire was the main road which ran from Trieste to Gorizia, and then along the valley of the Isonzo to Bovec, where it left the river to cross the Predil Pass to arrive at Tarvisio, on one of the main road and rail arteries between Austria and north-east Italy. Between Tolmin and Bovec there were only three side roads of any significance. From Tolmin a road, following a side valley to the east, ran to Kranj and Ljubljana in the Sava valley, about thirty miles away. From Caporetto, a road followed the narrow Natisone valley to Cividale, and from Zaga a lesser road passing through Val Uccea eventually arrived at Tarcento.

Finally we note that the topography of the south side of the Kolovrat and Matajur is very different from the forms described above. On this side the mountains descend in a series of long subsidiary ridges running down from the main ridge, like those shown in Plates 10 and 13, dotted with small hamlets and cultivated fields up to a height of seven to eight hundred metres.

The ground around Tolmin and Bovec is obviously not the ideal choice for an offensive, but the Austrians thought that the Italian defence was vulnerable because it had insufficient depth. They argued that the operation would require 13 divisions, 8 to 10 at Tolmin and about 3 at Bovec, and that 8 of the 13 divisions should come from Germany, and should include mountain troops and heavy artillery. It was also suggested that two other German divisions should be deployed very visibly in the Trentino as a decoy.

General Ludendorff, the First Quartermaster-General of the German Army, was not enthusiastic. German troops were not used to the mountains. The aim of the offensive was too limited, no more than to better the tactical positions held by the Austrians. Hence, he would have preferred to continue the offensive in Galicia on the Eastern Front, in order to occupy Moldavia which had a much greater strategic significance. However, General Waldst"tten insisted that the Austrian High Command deemed it absolutely essential for the security of their armies that some improvement be made on their positions on the Isonzo. Therefore the German Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshalvon Hindenberg, sent a senior German officer, Lieutenant General Konrad Krafft von Dellmingsen, to view the ground and report on the situation.

1.3General Krafft’s Reconnaissance

At the time of Caporetto General Krafft, a Bavarian artillery officer, was fifty-four years of age with a distinguished war record. For the first nine months of the war he had served as the Chief of Staff to Prince Ruprecht of Bavaria, commanding the 6th German Army in Lorraine. Then in early May 1915, when it appeared that Italy might enter the war, Austria became very concerned because most of her troops were on the Eastern Front, and her Italian frontier was only weakly held. Austria sought help from Germany. But almost all the border between Italy and Austria was very mountainous, and Germany had no mountain troops comparable to the Italian alpini and their Austrian counterparts. Hence after Italy’s declaration of war on 24 May Krafft (a keen mountaineer who had climbed extensively in the Dolomites) was promoted Lieutenant General, and appointed to the command of a new German division, the Alpine Corps.

The Alpine Corps was constituted of elite troops, partly of Bavarians accustomed to the mountains, but also including formations of south and north German origin, for whom the mountains were a new experience. On the one hand the Corps had a full knowledge of the conduct of war on the Western Front, but on the other hand it had yet to acquire mountain equipment, and experience of the mountains. The Corps arrived in Italy at the beginning of June, and was sent to help defend the frontier in the region of the Dolomites (even though Italy had not yet declared war on Germany!). In the event the Corps saw very little action in Italy, for its orders were to act only defensively, and the Italians launched no large attack against them.

In October 1915 the Alpine Corps left the Dolomites for Serbia to serve as part of an Austrian force under Austrian direction until February 1916 when it moved to France, and was subsequently engaged in the heavy fighting around Verdun. For six weeks in July and August Krafft acted as commander of the Ist Bavarian Corps, and on 1 September received the high military decoration, the Pour le Mérite. Then in the autumn of 1916 the Alpine Corps left France for duty in Romania where it fought successfully in the mountains of Transylvania, often in hard winter conditions. Finally in February 1917 Krafft was posted away from the Alpine Corps to become the Chief of Staff to Duke Albrecht of Wurttemberg, commanding the Army Group in Lorraine between Metz and the Swiss frontier.

After the Austro-German conference on 29 August, Krafft visited the Isonzo from 2 to 6 September, and reported on 8 September that General Waldst"tten had quite correctly drawn attention to the state of the Austrian Army. Krafft had by now considerable experience of mountain warfare and judged the proposed offensive to be no easy undertaking. Although the terrain was not truly alpine it would need mountain equipment and pack animals. Also, the substantial height differences that would be involved would demand considerable physical strength on the part of the infantry, and very thorough training.

Even given the necessary forces the task still appeared formidable. The Italians were holding apparently well-prepared positions, with strong points and gun positions. The few good sites for German guns were already dotted by numerous craters produced by Italian shells. The areas available at Tolmin and Bovec for the final concentration of troops prior to the attack were very limited, and vulnerable to enemy artillery fire. The two mediocre roads and the single-track railway through the mountain valleys leading to Tolmin were hardly adequate for bringing up the heavy artillery and vast quantities of men, equipment and ammunition that would be required.

It appeared to Krafft that the Italian positions had too little depth. Moreover, the Austrian army had considerable experience in the mountains. But would such a plan succeed? Krafft now had the responsibility of advising the German GHQ whether or not to adopt a plan which he later described as verging on ’the limits of the possible’. In fact, he believed it could be done, basing his opinion on three considerations: the offensive capacity of the German infantry, the experience and training of the officers in charge, and his opinion that the Italian defence would not be as stout and well organized as that of the French or British. Moreover, the situation of the Austrian Army demanded that some such effort be made.¹⁰

Ludendorff still had doubts about the project, and was in favour of helping Austria by some action on the Eastern Front. However, the final decision was taken by Field Marshal von Hindenberg, who decided to create a new XIVth Army to make an attack across the Isonzo. The main force would consist of 7 German divisions ‘all without exception very experienced units formed from excellent troops’,¹¹ plus 3 Austrian divisions already holding positions on the front line, and a further 2 Austrian divisions. In addition, there would be an Army reserve of another 5 Austrian divisions. The Army would be commanded by the German General Otto von Below, a successful and experienced officer on the Eastern Front and currently an Army Commander on the Western Front, with Lieutenant General Krafft as his Chief of Staff.

1.4Austro-German Preparations

The XIVth Army was to form part of the Austrian Army Group of the South-West, with the Austrian IInd and Ist Isonzo Armies on its left. The Commander of the Group, Field Marshal the Archduke Eugene, met von Below and Krafft on 15 September, when his Chief of Staff described the Austrian plans for the offensive. According to Krafft, the basic concept of the plan was an ‘improvement’ of the Austrian positions. To this end, the XIVth Army would advance from Tolmin, its right wing making towards Cividale, and its left wing down the Isonzo towards Monte Korada (Map 2). To the right of the XIVth Army, an autonomous Austrian Corps under General Krauss would advance to Monte Stol and Breginj. At the same time, to the left of the XIVth Army, the two Austrian Armies of the Isonzo would attack frontally but only after the XIVth Army had broken through the Italian line.¹²

To Krafft and von Below, the Austrian objectives were too modest to provide any substantial relief to Austria, and no doubt too modest to justify the presence of such a considerable German army. They also

Rommel And Caporetto

The Austro - German attack at Caporetto in 1917 produced a full scale breakthrough which forced the Italian armies to retreat from near the Austrian frontier to within twenty miles of Venice. Young Lieutenant Rommel had the good fortune to be part of one of the German units which led the attack on the Italian positions. The masterly German plan carried out by some of the best German and Austrian troops immediately established a war of movement which offered fine opportunities to ambitious young officers. No one made greater use of these opportunities than Erwin Rommel.Rommel's own account of the action has been translated into English but, until now, there has been no satisfactory work in English covering the wider aspects of the Battle of Caporetto which are an essential background for an understanding of his dramatic exploits. This book, by the authors of the acclaimed The British Army in Italy 1917 - 1918, is based largely on official histories and documents, and the records of Rommel and his commanding officer in Italy.In addition to being a thorough and authoritative description of the overall battle, Rommel and Caporetto gives a fascinating insight into the qualities that this superb soldier was to display to such devastating effect against the Allies during the Second World War.

Le informazioni nella sezione "Riassunto" possono far riferimento a edizioni diverse di questo titolo.


Le abbondanti e inconsuete precipitazioni nevose che si sono avute questa estate hanno purtroppo in parte compromesso il programma gite. Il 21 luglio, infatti, i numerosi soci convenuti hanno dovuto rinunciare a percorrere il sentiero attrezzato "Bepi Zac" alla Costabella per la nevicata che si era avuta la notte precedente. In molti hanno comunque raggiunto passo Le Selle e hanno visitato i dintorni. La mattina del 22 una parte dei partecipanti si è "rifatta" con un'escursione alle posizioni italiane sul Monte Castellazzo (Passo Rolle): la giornata meravigliosa ha permesso di godere anche di un panorama veramente splendido.
Ancora a causa delle nevicate, la gita del 22/23 settembre ai passi dello Zebrù Nord e Sud è stata annullata. Speriamo di poterla riproporre (con più successo!) il prossimo anno.
Sempre in tema di gite, segnaliamo che è stato sollevato il problema della copertura assicurativa dei partecipanti. E' allo studio una soluzione ma anticipiamo fin da ora cha dall'anno prossimo sarà necessario iscriversi e segnalare il proprio nominativo con un minimo anticipo di giorni e verrà fatto compilare un modulo d'iscrizione all'inizio della gita stessa.

Per informazioni contattare Luca Bertollo, email: [email protected]

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