Was World War I
an avoidable debacle ?
October 24 – November 12, 1917
Caporetto, Slovenia – Italian Front
Allies – Italy
Central Powers – German Empire
Central Powers – Austria-Hungary
The Battle of Caporetto, also known as the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo, was a combined offensive of Germany and Austria-Hungary against the Italian line to the north of the Isonzo River. General Luigi Cadorna, the Chief of Italian Staff, had led the Italian troops through a series of battles along the Isonzo River. Though Italy had suffered huge losses in these battles, the Austro-Hungarian camp was also worn out by these successive offensives. German Commander Paul von Hindenburg agreed to launch a combined offensive at Caporetto along the Isonzo in 1917.
The combined offensive was launched in the early hours of October 24, 1917, from Tolmino, and the surprise attack unnerved the Italians. The Central Powers used gas and grenades and took advantage of the chinks in the Italian lines. Over fifteen miles of Italian ground was gained by the German and Austro-Hungarian troops. The Austro-Hungarian Fifth Army, led by General Boroevic made slow progress to the south. General Otto von Below's German Fourteenth Army, however, swept across the Italian lines of defense. By November 10, 1917, the Italian troops had retreated to the Piave River, about eighteen miles from Venice. The battle resulted in one of the most decisive Central victories of World War I.
The Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo caused major losses to the Italian camp. The Italians recorded over 300,000 casualties. The defeat was reflected in the political situation of Italy. Vittorio Orlando was elected the new Prime Minister. General Cadorna was dismissed.
Following the Battle of Caporetto, the Allied nations reinforced support to the Italian troops and sent six divisions of the French Army and five divisions of the British Army to fight on the Italian Front.