British soldiers on the Italian front

Networld: preserving WWI heritage

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The British and French managed to convince Italy to join their side, and fighting on the Italian front started in May 1915. The disasterous Battle of Carpetto (Kobarid, or the 12th Battle of Isonzo) in October 1917 had pushed the Italian front back almost 60 miles from the Isonzo River to the Piave River. The Italian front was on the verge of collapse and to prevent that from happening, both the British and the USA sent troops to Italy despite the urgent need for fresh troops at the Western Front.

On the British side, five divisions were relocated to strengthen the Italian front: the 5th 7th, 23rd, 41th, and 48th. Four RAF squadrons were fighting on that front as well, to help gain air superiority.

Initially, the forces were to make sure that the Central Forces did not break through the front along the Piave river. The Central Forces tried but were not able to advance beyond the river. Their effort seriously depleted the already low number of troops on the Central side. With the British and US troops supporting the Italians, moral of the Austria-Hungarian troops came to a desastrous low, and units becgan to brake away. In particular units made up mainly from Sovenian, Hungarian, and Czech troops withdrew, hoping for independence of their countries after the war.

The 5th and 41st divisions arived at the end of 1917, but was recalled to the Western Front early 1918. The 23rd and 48th arrived in December 1917, and took place in the battles on the Asiago Plateau in June 1918 and around Vittero Veneto in October - November 2018. The 7th Division arrived in Italy early in 1918 and only saw battle aounrd Vittero Veneto, at the very end of the war.

In 1918, the Italian forces strenghtened by the other Allied forces crossed the Piave and routed the Central Forces back toward the old Isonzo lines. This broke the will of the enemy and on November 3, 1918, the Armistice of Villa Giusti ended the involvement of Austria-Hungary in WWI. This was also the first step of dismantling the Hapsburg Empire and establishing the new independent states.

The British troops stayed in Italy until early 1919, when they returned to the UK.

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© Robert Dulfer (2018)