Armando Diaz, from Caporetto to the victory

In November 1917, during the First World War, when all seemed lost for Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III appointed General Armando Diaz Chief commander of the army to replace General Cadorna; in one year Diaz led Italy to victory from defeat at Caporetto.

The entry into war of Italy, which adhered to the Triple Alliance with Austria and Germany, was determined by the breaking of covenants by the Austrians who unilaterally declared war on Serbia, not inform the Italian Government, contrary to the agreements alliance.

Therefore Italy turned to the opposite front of the nations of France, Britain and Russia that at first did not agree for not having to make territorial concessions to Italy after the war, but they were later forced to accept the alliance for the fundamental help that Italy could give engaging Austria and the German army on the front Trentino-Veneto-Friuli, easing the Franco-Belgian front.

Linea offensiva Isonzo (blu), linea difensiva Piave (rossa), cuneo di Vittorio V. (nero)
Linea offensiva Isonzo (blu), linea difensiva Piave (rosso), cuneo di Vittorio V. (nero) Google Maps

The command of the Italian armed forces was entrusted to General Luigi Cadorna, borned in Verbania (Piemonte) in 1859, son of General Raffaele Cadorna famous for the conquest of the Papal States, and for the fall of Rome through the breach of Porta Pia at September 20, 1870.

Luigi Cadorna had some shortages in military strategy and tactics and a rigidity of character in human relations; the general was conscious to be supported by unprepared officers to modern weapons systems that were used in this war; most of them had been formed to a type of war carried out by methods napoleonic.

After the declaration of war on 24 May 1915 against the Austrian Empire, Cadorna intended to position the defensively troops in Trentino, where he thought that the Alps barrier allowed the Alpin corps to stop the advance of Austria, and to position offensively on the line of the Isonzo, where he hoped for a speedy conquest of territories, even by virtue of the avaiable maneuvering space and the particular shape of the Eastern Alps, which allowed easier movement of Infantry, Artillery and Cavalry troops. In fact the passage of Caporetto had always been considered the crossroads to easily cross the Alps to come to the plains of Veneto or, to the contrary, to reach the south of Austria.

After fighting began with the partial conquests, the completion of the deployment of the army in the fire line took place between June and December 1915; Cadorna ordered four violent offensive against the Austrians but the territorial conquests resulted insignificant despite the enormous loss of life among the troops; same result occurred on the “white” front, the Dolomites, where the clashes took place above 2,000 meters of altitude. At the beginning of 1916, the Austrian army responded to these violent attacks with a counter-offensive in the highlands (called “Strafexpedition” punitive expedition) who put in serious difficulty the Italian troops, however they managed to contain the enemy.

Fiat2000
Carro armato Fiat 2000

In August 1916, during the sixth Isonzo battle the troops of Cadorna launched yet another attack managing to win over Austria, conquering Gorizia; the Italian offensive continued unabated throughout 1916 and the beginning of 1917 but it did not obtain significant results, if not big loss of life in combat units.

This deadlock undermined the morale of the troops; the behavior of Cadorna, who had dismissed more than half of his officers for inadequacies in control, created a serious climate of uncertainty among junior officers, the malcontent of the troops were also because Cadorna used the military code of war without hesitation, shooting soldiers for smaller faults, not excluded shootings of whole departments who had not obeyed to the orders.

On October 24, the Austrian counteroffensive snapped in collaboration with fresh troops of the German army; this attack managed to break through the lines and the Austro-German troops infiltrated behind the Italian lines. The detachments of the front line, attacked on two sides, were overcome in the field of Caporetto. They began a disorderly retreat; laboriously she attempted to form a line of resistance on the Tagliamento river, but they failed. Italian troops retreated to the Piave river where they testified in a defensive position, behind now there was only the vast expanse of the indefensible Po plain. It was a complete disaster with 12,000 deaths and more than twice wounded, a human tide in disarray in the lower Veneto.

The fate of Italy turned for the worst, and it seemed that everything collapsed with the defeat of Caporetto. The bulwark of the Piave was the last beach; lost Piave only the yeld would remain to the Austrians and the Germans.

Vittorio Emanuele III, took note of the very serious situation and the grave responsibility of General Cadorna, deposed him from command, appointing in his place Armando Diaz on 9 November 1917. Vittorio Emanuele, king soldier, knew the front and the men who frequented it since he was often on the scene of operations. He had appreciated the moral strength and organizational skills and human resources of General Diaz from acute observer. He estimated that those qualities in an not professional army were the most important to regroup detachments and rebuild the morale of the men in the moment of defeat.

Armando Diaz was born in Naples on Dec. 5, 1861, his father Luigi was a naval officer who belonged to a military family and lawyers with distant origins in Spain, his mother Irene of barons Cecconi was a housewife; he lived in his youth with his family in Via Francesco Correra, he had studies in commerce high shool, then entered the Military Academy of Artillery in Turin. In 1884 he joined the army as an artillery officer, making a steady career that took him to the higher grades; in 1912, promoted to colonel, he took part in the Italo-Turkish war in command of a regiment of infantry, during a battle in Libya was wounded.

In 1915, with the outbreak of World War, he was promoted to Major General and had a job in the Corps of Staff. In 1916 he asked to be transferred to the troops of the front line. In this period, as a lieutenant general, he was given command of the 49th Division of the Third Army, he suffered a shoulder injury in combat and was decorated with a silver medal for military valor.

Trento_3_novembre_1918
Bersaglieri entrano a Trento 3 novembre 1918

Diaz, that had among its strengths the organization, appointed Chief Commander of the Armed Forces, began a thorough reconstruction of the command cadres and the combat units, with primary emphasis on human relations with the officers and with the soldiers, avoiding punishment for minor offenses, that had a negative impact on the morale of the troops, reserving judgment of military courts of the war more serious offenses.

They were improved the living conditions of the men with food rations of better quality and with regular shifts among the fighting troops and those of the second line. The objectives, that the high command laid, were shared with the officers and soldiers, making the same aware of their military actions.

On 15 June 1918 the Austrians with the help of German units gave start to the battle of the solstice, but they failed to break through the Italian lines and on 22 June the Austro-German troops were forced to retreat behind their lines of defense.

Diaz did not seem to be in a hurry, aware that the time was playing for Italy because the things were turning at best to the French, supported by British and American units on the Franco-Belgian front, so that Germany was forced to use all his men on this side weakening the Italian front.

He continued the reorganization of troops, while the defense industries of the country did get to the front of most modern weapons. the first Italian tank “Fiat 2000” saw the work that was never used in combat for its heaviness, the hand grenades and machine guns “Villar Perosa” came to the front, as well as transport troops vehicles and transport artillery vehicles.

On October 28, 1915 Diaz launched an offensive focused on a single point, Vittorio Veneto, preceded by a diversion that made the enemy believe that the attack would take place on the Piave. The hammer blow was successfull and Italian troops supported by some detachments French and British formed a bridgehead as far as to Vittorio Veneto that was occupied by Italians.

Gradually expanding the troops within the enemy defenses, the Italians had the upper hand on the opposing forces. On November 3, the Austro-Hungarian troops withdrew tired and demoralized while the Italian troops entered victorious in Trento and Trieste. On Nov. 4, 1915 The Austro-Hungarian Empire signed the armistice that closed hostilities on the Italian front. On the same day Armando Diaz issued the “Bulletin of Victory” that informed the nation of the positive outcome of hostilities.

Armando Diaz was appointed senator and held the title of Duke of Victory; in 1922, at the insistence of the king who wanted a trusted person as minister of war, he became part of the first Mussolini government. In 1924 he resigned as minister retired to private life. In the same year he was awarded the honorary title of Marshal of Italy. He died in Rome on February 29, 1928.

(Top photo: Armando Diaz (1921) Photo by Harris & Ewing, Washington, D.C – Lombardi Historical Collection)