Armando Diaz

Naples 1861 - Rome 1928

Armando Vittorio Diaz was born in Naples on 5 December 1861. Son of a navy officer, he was initiated very young to the military career by attending the Military Academy of Turin, from which he emerged with the rank of second lieutenant of artillery. In 1884 he entered in active duty in the 10th Artillery Regiment, and in 1890 joined the 1st Regiment with the rank of captain. In 1894 he specialized in the School of War, then started working in the secretariat of the General Alberto Pollio, future head of the Army General Staff. At the outbreak of the Italo-Turkish war was placed at the head of the 93rd Infantry Regiment, remaining slightly wounded in the battle of Zanzur.
In May 1915, at the eve Italian intervention in the Great War, Luigi Cadorna appointed him Major-General, with the responsibility for the operations Bureau of the Supreme Command. Tired of a career until then passed inside the offices of the General Staff, in 1916 Diaz asked and obtained permission to be moved to a fighter unit, being assigned to command the 49th Division (III Army) with the rank of lieutenant general. In 1917, while he was in command of the XXIII Corps, he was again wounded in the shoulder.
In the aftermath of Caporetto the Diaz troops were assigned to the III Army - commanded by Emanuele Filiberto Duke of Aosta - who managed to escape annihilation, retreating in good order. Between 2 and 3 November the Austro-German forces, after knocking the first Italian lines between Plezzo and Tolmino, forced even the Tagliamento. The troops of the III Army retreated on the Piave and Monte Grappa, where Cadorna was organizing the resistance line, whose backbone was formed precisely by the forces of the Duke of Aosta. On the morning of 9 November, while the passage of the last Italian troops was almost completed, Diaz received his appointment as Chief of Army Staff, replacing the now discredited Cadorna to the Supreme Command. He said in this regard: "I assume the post of Chief of Army Staff. On behalf of all faith and about self" then adding, concerning the conditions of the army: " The weapon we are called to challenge is checked: we must do it again soon pungent: the'll make."
In this delicate phase Diaz could field only 33 divisions ready to combat , about half of those available before Caporetto. To swell the ranks resorted to the mobilization of the 1899 class and, by February 1918, other 25 divisions had been reconstituted. With these small forces he blocked the last phase of the Austro-German offensive in the so-called Battaglia d’arresto (the Stop battle). His long experience at the General Staff permitted Diaz to acquire a certain familiarity in the organization of the troops and officers his subordinates. Behind the line of the Piave and under the guidance of Diaz, the army was so promptly reorganized and re-equipped, managing to parry the last Austrian assault between the Grappa and the sea. The so-called Battle of the Solstice, which in the view of the Austro-Hungarians commands had to deliver the final blow to the Italians, ended in a defeat for the Austro-Hungarian army. Despite the force and violence of the attack, all the Austrian bridgeheads over the Piave were reconquered by the Italian counterattacks, while the losses were so severe as to render impossible any new offensive.
After the success of the Solstice, Diaz began planning a major offensive to liquidate the now dying Austro-Hungarian army and to prevent the danger that Italy could been cut out of the victory by the Allied successes on the Western Front. The final offensive was unleashed on 24 October : despite the number of Divisions was similar, Diaz could count on a clear superiority in artillery: 7700 Italian guns against just over 6000 Austro-Hungarian pieces. The plan did not provide for frontal attacks, but a shot focused on a single point - Vittorio Veneto - to break into two enemy lines. With a diversion, Diaz attracted all Austrian reinforcements along the Piave, that the enemy believed to be the main strike point, and then unleash the offensive between 28 and 29 October, with isolated bridgeheads that quickly advanced along the center of the front, doing widen the wings in order to cover the advance of main forces. At this point the line held by the Austro-Hungarian Army - already in full moral and material crisis - broke, triggering an uncontrollable chain reaction that led to entire units to retreat, abandoning their positions. On 30 October the Italian army arrived in Vittorio Veneto, while other armies crossed the Piave reaching Trento on 3rd November. On 4 November 1918, Austria-Hungary capitulated and for the occasion, Diaz drew up the famous Victory Bulletin, then reproduced in hundreds of barracks, public buildings and monuments throughout Italy.

Diaz concluded the experience of the First World War laden with honours and prestige, so much so that in 1921 he was conferred the title of Duke of the Victory. While not aligning itself to the nascent fascist movement, in 1922 Diaz advised against a military solution to the crisis triggered by the March on Rome, opening the way to the two decades of Mussolini. Under pressure of Vittorio Emanuele III Diaz entered the first government of Mussolini with the post of Minister of War, launching the reform of the armed forces and accepting the establishment of the Voluntary Militia for National Security subject to the personal power of Mussolini. After the governmental experience, on 30 April 1924, he retired to private life. In the same year he was awarded, together with the General Cadorna, the degree of Marshal of Italy. Armando Diaz died in Rome on 29 February 1928.
The intervention of Diaz in the aftermath of Caporetto was undoubtedly important. At the time of his appointment as chief of staff, he had direct experience of the war in the trenches on the Carso and a much more realistic idea of the modern war. It was also 11 years younger than Cadorna, who had indeed understood the dimensions of the conflict but not its socio-political complexity, such as maintaining good relations with the political class and get an idea less abstract of soldiers and the terrible physical and psychological exhaustion to which they were subjected. 
Regarding the military leadership reform, Diaz strove in decentralizing many functions to subordinates, reserving to himself a monitoring role and leaning to the two sub-chiefs of staff who flanked him, the general Gaetano Giardino and, above all, Pietro Badoglio. It came out a Supreme Command far more efficient than the management of Cadorna. As stated by Giorgio Rochat, the Diaz leadership style was much closer to General Eisenhower: was not a centralizing, organized well his command, give confidence to his collaborators and maintained good relations with politicians.
Was also enhanced the Intelligence Service who became a decisive element in the planning of operations, while the Operations Office secured effective control of what was happening at the front, thanks to a network of liaison officers. Diaz and Badoglio tried, with some success, to improve the infantry training and to enhance the armament. Under Diaz the first automatic rifles were tested, British Gas masks were distributed, more efficient than Italian ones, and was enhanced aviation to achieve the air domain. It was also strengthened artillery improving training and employment techniques. It also proceeded with the reorganization and strengthening of the Arditi.
The element that mainly qualified the command Diaz was the effort to improve the living conditions of the soldiers: military justice remained severe, but were abandoned to the most rigid practices such as decimation. They were also improved the food - increased to 3,500 calories - and the emplacement were rendered more comfortable and less exposed. At the same time, the frontline shifts became shorter with frequent alternations, was improved pay and furlough were increased in frequency and duration. It was also created a free insurance of 500 lire for soldiers and 1,000 for officers. Important was the provision that the wounded and the sick discharged from military hospitals were brought within the original units, rather than being allocated wherever, thus increasing fellowship among soldiers. The units that came down from the front were secured shifts's sleep, more comfortable housing and leisure opportunities with the establishment of the Case del soldato ("Soldier houses"), the organization of shows and a network of the "Case chiuse" (Brothels).
Mindful of the real or perceived moral meltdown of Caporetto, Diaz oversaw the troops morale relying on young intellectuals in force in the army, who were concentrated in the Servizio P (Propaganda service), whose purpose was to cure the moral, entertain the armed engaged in defense of the Piave and the soldiers in the rear. Designers, illustrators and painters were commissioned to create cartoons for newspapers, propaganda posters and postcards in order to make more effective and communicative imagery of war and the events at the front. The return of the intellectuals gave birth to a widespread campaign to promote the patriotic spirit, using psychology, mass pedagogy and rhetoric. Among the tasks of the Servizio P there was also a greater "filtering" of the news through the reorganization of censorship. The news conveyed by so-called "trench newspapers", destined to the troops, were simpler and more comprehensible to the soldiers, while the sent and filtered message was reduced to issues of defense of the homeland, the land and their family. To facilitate the effectiveness of the content very often these newspapers were managed by the soldiers themselves, who published them to the regiment or brigade level.
These positive elements were undoubtedly about the management of Diaz, however, to date its image - like that of Cadorna - should be reassessed with a more objective eye, ignoring the obvious celebrations of the time. It should be noted that the contribution of Diaz on a strategic and military level was very modest. The important decision to fall back on the Piave, avoiding unnecessary defenses to the bitter end, was made by General Cadorna. Always Cadorna, with good foresight, did prepare important defensive and logistics facilities on the Monte Grappa (Italian strategic point of defense) since the times of Strafexpedition (a great road from the plains to the summit, two cableways, and a lifting system of ' water). Also it should be recognized that the numerical inferiority of the Diaz army during the Battaglia d’arresto, was well compensated by a shortening of the front line of 170 km, and by the influx on the Italian front of  eleven Allied divisions, (in total 130,000 French and 110,000 British), reinforcements that in the past had always been denied to Cadorna. Although these troops did not went into action during the battle, they acted as strategic reserve allowing Diaz to concentrate all its forces on the front line. It should also be highlighted as the best efficiency of the Italian supreme command was linked to the evolution of the war in place, thanks to a positive learning curve, which generally led the officers to learn from their mistakes. All the high command of 1917-1918 were more effective than those of two years ago, they were managed by younger officers who had direct knowledge of trench warfare and knew its complexity and requirements. Was no exception the Italian army, in which the General Cadorna, with its frequent "siluramenti", had the involuntary merit of bring out young officers, hardened from the frontline.
Nevertheless, it is established as Diaz was able to grasp, better than its predecessor, the complexity of the conflict in whose size and intensity could no longer be managed in an authoritarian and Napoleonic style from within a general staff consisting of many generals. A modern war that went beyond the only military and strategic dimension, to intersect with politics, propaganda and mass pedagogy: elements that Diaz was able to manage wisely and that proved important to seize the final victory.

 

Bibliography

Mario Isnenghi,Giorgio Rochat, La grande guerra 1914-1918, il Mulino, 2008

Luigi Gratton, Armando Diaz: duca della Vittoria: da Caporetto a Vittorio Veneto, Bastogi, 2001

Raffaele Riccio, Armando Diaz. Il generale e l'uomo, Edizioni dell'Ippogrifo, 2018