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.