Thursday, May 31, 2012
After such a catastrophe there was no longer any doubt that General Cadorna had to go and on November 8, 1917 Diaz received a royal decree from King Vittorio Emanuele III appointed him Chief of Staff of the army. It was General Diaz who would have to pick up the pieces of Caporetto, reorganize, reform and reinvigorate the army to lead it to final victory over the Austro-German forces. General Diaz was determined not to use the army as a “blunt instrument” but to make more surgical strikes when necessary. Overall, however, to strengthen and rebuild the army and improve morale, General Diaz abandoned the offensive strategy of General Cadorna in favor of a defensive strategy that would save lives and test the strength of the enemy. As expected, the Austrians soon launched another offensive and the Italian forces repelled them, inflicting heavy losses on the Austrians of 60,000 dead, 90,000 wounded and 25,000 taken prisoner. Diaz had learned of the impending Austrian offensive and opened a massive artillery barrage on the enemy trenches just as they were packed with soldiers about to launch the attack. Because of this, some units of the Austro-Hungarian army retreated while others charged forward. It was a disaster for Austria-Hungary and a morale-boosting victory for Italy.
As bad as Caporetto had been for Italy, Vittorio Veneto was worse for the Austrians. Diaz sent troops forward to divert attention away from the main area of attack and to sever the communications between the main enemy forces. When the main offensive was launched the Austro-Hungarian forces were split and their army basically came apart. As Italian troops surged forward Austrian commanders tried to organize counter-attacks but their troops simply refused to obey orders, dropped their weapons and gave up. During the offensive Hungary broke away from Austria and ordered the Hungarian troops on the Italian front to stop fighting. Czechoslovakia declared independence as did the Yugoslavs a day later. As many as 500,000 Austro-Hungarian troops were taken prisoner in what was probably the most complete victory ever won by the Kingdom of Italy with much of the credit naturally going to General Armando Diaz. In the following years General Diaz was made a Senator by the King and given the title of Duke of Victory. That same year, 1921, he became the first Italian general to be honored with a tickertape parade in New York City when he visited the United States along with the other Allied commanders. The visit was to attend the groundbreaking of the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
è ne de Beauharnais. His job was to suppress republicanism (which the first French revolutionaries who overran Italy tried to force on the people) and to manage Italian affairs in accordance with the best interests of the French Empire. And this was, by the European standards of the time, no minor satellite. After the battle of Austerlitz, the Austrians ceded part of Venezia, Istria and Dalmatia to Italy and in 1808 after the partition of the Papal States the border of the Kingdom of Italy was extended all the way to the frontier of the Kingdom of Naples.
é on becoming the law of the land. This was not always to the detriment of Italy, in some ways it was an improvement over the patchwork system that preceded it, however, the Kingdom of Italy suffered greatly because of the ‘continental system’ imposed on all the states under Napoleonic influence to strangle trade with Great Britain. The effects on the British were rather negligible but it had a terrible effect on the Italian peninsula (as well as many other regions in Europe). As with all things Napoleonic, Italy also established a very stylish and highly effective army. Their cockade was in the national colors of red, white and green and was outfitted much the same as the French army but with dark green rather than dark blue being the dominant uniform color. There was a Royal Guard, seven line regiments, two dragoon regiments, a horse artillery regiment and an engineer battalion along with the usual auxiliary and support personnel. The Italian troops the Viceroy led into battle alongside his stepfather proved themselves exceptionally courageous and served with particular distinction at Maloyaroslavets.
è ne (considered by many to be the most talented of Napoleone’s relatives) fought desperately to maintain his piece of Europe but he had never been truly accepted and never had the time to become so. When Lord William Bentinck landed at Leghorn on March 8, 1814 it was only a matter of time and on April 14 at Mantua the Viceroy signed an armistice and the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy was no more. Yet, the ultimate historical impact was significant.
Friday, May 25, 2012
World War I, and all the horrors and ugliness associated with it, may also have helped instill in Princess Marie-Jose a greater love for the opposite; for beauty, beautiful art, beautiful music, for a more liberal world and a total aversion to conflict and bloodshed. With the course of her life set before her, she looked toward the future hoping for the best. The Prince of Piedmont was already known as one of the most handsome young royals in Europe and as Princess Marie Jose grew up she developed a rather unrealistic expectation of the Savoy heir as the perfect prince charming, an image encouraged by those around her. In fact, the two had vastly different backgrounds and upbringings. Princess Marie Jose loved to play with her father as a child and, particularly through the influence of her mother, was given a very liberal education, an appreciation for simplicity, tolerance and new ideas. Prince Umberto, on the other hand, was raised to be a soldier, given a military education, had the glorious family history of the House of Savoy stressed upon him and his duty to carry on that illustrious legacy. Interactions with family were kind but correct and it had not be so long ago that royal children were still required to bow in the presence of their father the King and address him by his royal title. Things were not quite that formal for Umberto but undoubtedly the history, forms and grandeur of the monarchy were stressed much more heavily in Rome than in Brussels. The princess was an informal girl who very much ‘marched to the beat of a different drummer’. When thinking of Italy she most likely envisioned the romantic aspects; the art, the music and the way the ordinary people loved life. She was probably not quite so prepared for the orderly, regimented court and elaborate ceremony of the Savoy monarchy.
When Italy was divided between the Allied occupation in the south and the Nazi-backed Fascist puppet state in the north, Princess Marie Jose took her children and escaped over the border but continued to support the fight against the Nazis by smuggling weapons and supplies to the partisans (which included communist and also non-communist anti-Fascist groups). One partisan group even wanted to name her their “commander” but she declined the offer. When her husband succeeded to the throne on May 9, 1946 as King Umberto II, the couple reunited in Rome where she briefly reigned as Queen consort of Italy. Although there was really no romance at all between the two anymore, both were people of duty and were committed to putting their own problems aside for the good of the country. However, from the very start the new King and Queen faced a combined opposition made up of the communists on one side and the ambivalent Allies on the other. The communists attacked the King Umberto II and Queen Marie Jose by often using the propaganda first dreamed up by the Fascists. Again, some of this has gained acceptance in the popular portrayal of the “May Queen”. Some, for example, have come to believe that she was an extremely reluctant Queen consort, very gloomy and resigned to the total collapse of the Kingdom of Italy. However, the truth was quite the contrary. Queen Marie Jose was under no illusions about the difficulties Italy faced but she envisioned something much better, lifting the people out of the ruins of the war and restoring the glory, beauty and creativity, artistic and scientific of the Renaissance period.
She had not had an easy life, although much of it looked very glamorous. Her childhood was dominated by war, her marriage was not a very happy one, another war ruined her hopes for the future and she was forced to leave her adopted country. Relations with her children were not always the best afterwards and she was often lonely. However, she endured it all as simply part of the duty that accompanies royalty. Her mother had given her curiosity, compassion and an open mind. Her father had given her courage, devotion to duty and a ‘never quit’ attitude. She was a great lady and would have undoubtedly been a great Queen. It is to the detriment of Italy that she was not given a chance to fully prove herself in that role.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
When the “First Offensive Bound” was launched in 1915, General Cadorna had high hopes of a rapid advance against the Austrians, seizing key positions that would allow Italian troops to threaten vital cities and, perhaps, even Vienna itself. Allied observers were greatly impressed by the bravery of the Italian troops but also noted that their commanders often presented them with vague orders and impossible goals. As the Italian forces charged the Austrian lines, dug in on commanding heights with many machine guns and excellent artillery, their ranks were blasted to pieces. Still, they fought on and captured several key mountain passes and advanced the Italian lines considerably. The first battle of the Isonzo was an Italian victory. The cost, however, was extremely high; nearly 15,000 men compared to less than 10,000 for the Austrians and the advance had not reached nearly as far as had been hoped. Nonetheless, General Cadorna stuck to his original strategy and conducted the entire front like a massive siege operation. Many more battles were to follow, often with similar results.
As 1916 opened Italy won some important victories over the Senussi rebels as Libyans in the coastal areas rallied to the Italian side. In March, the fifth battle of the Isonzo was fought, Italian troops advancing a short distance at the cost of many lives. Questions became more common about the conduct of the war, but any who voice disagreement found themselves promptly dismissed or even imprisoned by General Cadorna. One of those to suffer the wrath of the chief of staff was General Giulio Douhet, the prophet of air warfare, who was sent to prison for opposing the costly strategy of Cadorna. Still, the overall strategy was not changed. In May, the war clouds began to gather in East Africa as the “Mad Mullah” of Somalia allied with the Ethiopian Emperor Lij Jasu in support of the Ottoman Turks. Lij Jasu was soon overthrown but had enough support to continue the war. Italy sent reinforcements to Eritrea as French, British and Italian positions in the region all come under attack. That same month, disaster struck the primary front as the Austrians launched a major counter-offensive that saw Austria take Arsiero and Asiago. Austrian forces also recaptured the northern end of Lake Garda. However, there was better news from the south. At the same time, Italian reinforcements landed in Libya, retaking al-Bardi and Zuwarah while a combined British-Italian force destroyed a Senussi encampment near Darnah. Soon, the Senussi agreed to negotiations.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Saturday, May 19, 2012
ò Republic of which Mussolini was the willing figurehead. Putting politics aside, the military reputation of General Graziani has been rather unjustly tarnished over the years, perhaps because of his politics. All too often General Graziani is portrayed as an ineffective and incompetent commander when, in reality, his record was one of almost total success with his poor reputation mostly being derived from a single failed campaign. It is also worth noting that it was a campaign Graziani opposed and expected to fail. In any event, he was a more complex figure than most realize and a far more talented military commander than he is often given credit for. The record should be set straight.
|Graziani in World War I|
In the chaotic aftermath of World War I, Graziani was marked for death by the communists and he decided to retire to Parma until the political situation settled down. Going into private business, he became a merchant dealing in goods from the Far East but was not successful. He was recalled to service due to the worsening attacks by Muslim rebels on Italian farms and businesses in Libya. His colonial experience and knowledge of the Arabs recommended him for such an assignment and on January 11, 1930 he was chosen personally by Mussolini to be Governor of Cyrenaica. For the next two years he came to hold the primary command of the Italian forces fighting against the Senussi Muslim rebels under the guerilla leader Omar Mukhtar. Knowing that speed and mobility were the primary advantages of the Bedouin cavalry, Graziani worked to match them in these areas. He used light, fast-moving columns, made use of aircraft and, long before anyone had ever heard of such names as Rommel or Montgomery, he became the first to use tanks in the desert.
When World War II broke out, Marshal Graziani was Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Army General Staff but, when Air Marshal Italo Balbo was accidentally killed Graziani was named to replace him as Governor-General of Libya. In that position, he commanded all Italian forces in North Africa and after British raids into the colony, Mussolini ordered him to launch an immediate invasion of Egypt to seize Alexandria and, it was hoped, break the back of the British position in the Mediterranean. Graziani had grave misgivings about such an invasion, knowing that his largely infantry force would be almost impossible to move across the desert. He had the British greatly outnumbered in terms of manpower, but the British had more and better of everything that mattered most in desert warfare, specifically tanks, trucks and artillery. Nonetheless, Mussolini was adamant that Graziani attack, regardless of the cost in human life. He had seen Graziani triumph in Libya and Abyssinia and was certain he could do the same again if he would only make the effort. However, the Marshal realized that the highly mechanized British imperial forces were nothing at all like the armies of Arab guerillas and Ethiopian tribesmen he had faced before. He had had all the tools he needed to defeat those enemies but against the British he needed weapons and transportation he did not have.
The failed invasion of Egypt was the biggest defeat in Graziani’s career and it is the campaign that has most marred his military record. The famous German Africa Corps was rushed in and quickly turned the situation around, driving the British out of Libya and back into Egypt. This has often led to unfavorable comparisons between Marshal Graziani and German Marshal Rommel. Graziani certainly made mistakes in the placement of his men after halting the offensive and he can be faulted for surrendering the initiative to the enemy. However, even if he had pushed forward, in all likelihood the 10th Army would have been defeated anyway. The German and Italian forces which Rommel later led to a number of stunning victories were much better equipped and much better supplied than the force Graziani had at his disposal. If Mussolini had given him the support he later gave to his successors, it is at least possible that Graziani could have taken Egypt and brought the war in North Africa to an early conclusion.
Friday, May 18, 2012
Thursday, May 17, 2012
|Cadorna with his staff officers|
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
The Prince served for a time as Captain-General of the army before succeeding to the throne as King Ferdinando II on November 8, 1830. At first, the hopes of the liberals soared when he dismissed the conservative ministers of his father, cut government spending, granted an amnesty to political prisoners, allowed exiles to return and even allowed men back in government in Naples who had served under the French-imposed regime of Marshal Murat. Even when there was an assassination attempt against him, he did not harshly punish the perpetrators. There was also great public celebrations at his marriage in 1832 to Princess Maria Cristina of Savoy, fourth daughter of King Vittorio Emanuele I of Piedmont-Sardinia. She was very pious, very religious woman who the people adored and soon came to regard as a living saint. Nor were religious issues ever very far from the mind of King Ferdinando II. He saw himself as occupying a unique position in Europe and wished to be free to lightly tip the balance in any conflict toward those he favored. For that reason he had expelled the Austrians who had been occupying parts of southern Italy since the war with France and he tried to maintain good relations with Great Britain.
In 1836 tragedy struck when the devout Queen Maria Cristina of Savoy died giving birth to her son, the future Francesco II, last King of the Two Sicilies. She was only 23-years-old and had never felt very ‘at home’ in the court at Naples. Her shy and modest demeanor was inadvertently annoying to her very strong-willed and outgoing husband. Still, her devotion was respected by all and she was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1872 after a great deal of religious campaigning by her son. The next year King Ferdinando II married Maria Theresa of Austria, a strict and private woman who disliked royal pomp and public ceremony and who could always be counted on to advise her husband toward taking firm measures against any enemies. She certainly did her duty though, giving Ferdinando II nine children during their years together. That same year, for instance, there was a huge popular demonstration in Sicily calling for a constitutional monarchy and King Ferdinando II took swift and firm steps to see them dispersed and also set up a special police force to remain ever alert to potential revolutionary threats.
After all this turmoil, King Ferdinando II decided he had no alternative but to be severe in suppressing all dissent. The jails were filled, many went into exile and, of course, these people did all they could to spread the blackest image possible of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Naturally, the images painted of the kingdom were not entirely true. Because of the riots and rebellions there was repression but the country was not the primitive backwater many portrayed it as. During his reign Ferdinando II had linked Naples and Sicily be telegraph, launched the first Italian steamship and built the first railroad on the Italian peninsula. However, because of his alienation of the British, they helped spread the negative image of the Bourbon monarchy and after tensions increased France and Britain each broke off diplomatic relations with the increasingly beleaguered state in 1856.