Military history of Italy during World War I

Aspect of Italian history / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Although a member of the Triple Alliance, Italy did not join the Central Powers – Germany and Austria-Hungary – when the war started with Austria-Hungary's declaration of war on Serbia on 28 July 1914. In fact, the two Central Powers had taken the offensive while the Triple Alliance was supposed to be a defensive alliance. Moreover the Triple Alliance recognized that both Italy and Austria-Hungary were interested in the Balkans and required both to consult each other before changing the status quo and to provide compensation for whatever advantage in that area: Austria-Hungary did consult Germany but not Italy before issuing the ultimatum to Serbia, and refused any compensation before the end of the war.

Almost a year after the war's commencement, after secret parallel negotiations with both sides (with the Allies in which Italy negotiated for territory if victorious, and with the Central Powers to gain territory if neutral) Italy entered the war on the side of the Allied Powers. Italy began to fight against Austria-Hungary along the northern border, including high up in the now-Italian Alps with very cold winters and along the Isonzo river. The Italian army repeatedly attacked and, despite winning a majority of the battles, suffered heavy losses and made little progress as the mountainous terrain favoured the defender. Italy was then forced to retreat in 1917 by a German-Austrian counteroffensive at the Battle of Caporetto after Russia left the war, allowing the Central Powers to move reinforcements to the Italian Front from the Eastern Front.

The offensive of the Central Powers was stopped by Italy at the Battle of Monte Grappa in November 1917 and the Battle of the Piave River in May 1918. Italy took part in the Second Battle of the Marne and the subsequent Hundred Days Offensive in the Western Front. On 24 October 1918 the Italians, despite being outnumbered, breached the Austrian line in Vittorio Veneto and caused the collapse of the centuries-old Habsburg Empire. Italy recovered the territory lost after the fighting at Caporetto in November the previous year and moved into Trento and South Tyrol. Fighting ended on 4 November 1918. Italian armed forces were also involved in the African theatre, the Balkan theatre, the Middle Eastern theatre and then took part in the Occupation of Constantinople. At the end of World War I, Italy was recognized with a permanent seat in the League of Nations' executive council along with Britain, France and Japan.

Roy Pryce summarized the bitter experience:

The government's hope was that the war would be the culmination of Italy's struggle for national independence. Her new allies promised her the "natural frontiers" which she had so long sought-the Trentino and Trieste-and something more. At the end of hostilities she did indeed extend her territory, but she came away from the peace conference dissatisfied with her reward for three and a half years' bitter warfare, having lost half a million of her noblest youth, with her economy impoverished and internal divisions more bitter than ever. That strife could not be resolved within the framework of the old parliamentary regime. The war that was to have been the climax of the Risorgimento produced the Fascist dictatorship. Something, somewhere, had gone wrong.[1]

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