Luigi Capello

Intra 1859 - Rome 1941

Luigi Capello was born in Intra on 14 April 1859. Cadet at the Military Academy in 1875, second lieutenant of infantry in 1878, he began his military career in the 46th Infantry Regiment. Promoted lieutenant in 1881, he served in the Alpini Corps and reached the rank of captain in 1885.

A nonconformist military – he did not hide his opposition to the spirit of caste of officers, collaborated with Nitti and D'Annunzio and harbored sympathies for the socialist cause (note his friendship with Leonida Bissolati) - soon attracted the antipathy of many professional officers, as to be transferred to Cuneo for punishment. However, his career was not compromised and in 1898 became colonel in command of the 50th infantry. In these years he came into Freemasonry with responsibility positions, tightening relations with political personalities. He became Major General, participated in the campaign in Libya at the head of an infantry brigade stationed in Derna. Here he showed energy and decision, distinguished by aggressive spirit, severity and for his devotion to the attack to excess.

At the aftermath of Italian intervention in the Great War, Capello commanded the XXV division stationed in Cagliari, then assigned to the Third Army. After the unfortunate first offensives on the Carso, on 28 September 1915 he was promoted lieutenant general, to the command of VI Corps, which faced the Austro-Hungarian bridgehead Gorizia. Took the reins of command, Capello was finally able to put into practice his theories, throwing a regiment after another in bloody and fruitless attacks on Gorizia, the heights of the Sabotino and Podgora, without affecting in any way the enemy resistance line. The prestige of Capello, however, was not shaken by these failures, because the kingdom of Italy, as aggressor state, was forced to lead an offensive war for political, strategic and moral reason, despite the lack of equipment that could grasp concrete successes both strategic and tactical.

The strengthening of the army during the 1915/1916 winter break, allowed Capello to set on new bases the conquest of Gorizia bridgehead, now being able to count on 1,176 guns, of which 463 medium and large caliber. With the VI battle of the Isonzo, on 9 August, the Capello's troops occupied Gorizia and conquered almost without losses Sabotin, earning first clear success of the Italian war. Capello's popularity grew so quickly that it put into collision with Cadorna. Opponents of the Generalissimo saw in Capello a possible successor, which could give a new dynamism to the Italian offensive war and to establish closer relations between the country, the army and the political class.

Cadorna so decided to hit the potential rival, and, since he could not remove him after the victory of Gorizia, in September 1916 he entrusted him to the command of the much less significant XXII Corps on the Plateau. However the exile from the Isonzo Front did not last long, for both Capello's appointment as Grand Officer of the Order of Savoy military and because Cadorna, despite political and character differences, regarded him as the best of his generals. Capello was recalled on the Isonzo front, and took the command of the Gorizia area in March 1917.

In the 1917 war plans, Capello's area of responsibility assumed decisive importance in the economy of the Italian war, however Cadorna, become sceptical about the attack to excess, intended to move the center of gravity of the offensive more south, against the mount Hermada, conducted by the III Army of the Duke of Aosta. Despite the superiority of forces and careful preparation, the attack took only the conquest of Mount Kuk. However, Capello, building on its prestige, was allowed to continue his efforts and at the price of heavy losses managed to occupy the Vodice. In this case, retaining for himself the artillery intended for the Duke of Aosta, Capello decreed the failure of the III Army attacks to Mount Hermada. Despite the partiality of Capello success, he was promoted to command of the II Army.

In the aftermath of the XI Battle of the Isonzo, the Capello's army was intended to invest the Bainsizza plateau; however, he obtained to extend the attack to the Austro-Hungarian bridgehead of Tolmino, trusting in the exceptional concentration of forces: 51 divisions with 5,200 artillery pieces. The offensive of the II Army gained quick success on Bainsizza but fouls towards Tolmin, despite Capello launched into this area all his reserves. Despite the surge in losses, Capello decided to prolong the battle with a series of bloody attacks on the San Gabriele, also ignoring Cadorna orders to block the offensive when it became too expensive for casualties and ammunition consumption. The result was a painful attrition of troops already tried, which were unable to conquer any of the Austrian positions. However, the tactical successes of Kuk, the Vodice and Bainsizza - paid dearly - increased the reputation of Capello, despite all his behaviour appeared negative, like the open disobedience to the Comando Supremo and the repetition of the attacks towards Tolmino and San Gabriel, all failed.  As for Cadorna - not being able to expect support from the government that had often harshly attacked - suffered a crisis of authority, covering the Capello's disobedience to save his command position.

With the XI battle, the rate of losses had risen to the terrible record of 160,000 dead, injured or missing in just two weeks. Despite the optimism of the generals and the good results obtained, especially when compared to what happened on the Western Front, the Royal Army was going through a profound moral and material crisis. The lack of human reserves, the exhaustion of the troops - weakened by the attacks and by the long shifts in trenches placed on exposed positions and hardly defensible - the commanders blind confidence in the attack to excess, and the lack of preparation to fight a defensive battle, made of the Italian army an easy prey for a German-Austrian concentrated attack, despite the numerical and material superiority.

Therefore, the Caporetto’s night arrived, with the terrible defeat of Italian arms, and the fall of Capello. In the aftermath of the 24 October 1917 he completely ignored the Cadorna orders to place themselves on the defensive (in reality random orders of which was not controlled the actual execution) keeping its troops poised to attack. He did not predispose to efficient field reserves and ultimately underestimated until the last the news on the attack in preparation. This liability can be explained by the Capello desire to not give up his role as a supporter of the attack to excess. Moreover, a severe form of nephritis prejudiced the ability to keep the command with the necessary continuity. Considered among the main causes of the defeat, he followed the fate of Cadorna, effectively ending his military career.

After the war was among the first to join the Fascist movement, and in 1922 took part in the March on Rome. In February 1923, he resigned from the PNF by the vote of the Grand Council that declared incompatible adherence to Fascism and to Freemasonry. Marginalized by the Regime - which perhaps would not accept the reactionary drift - and completely removed from the celebration that fascism bestowed to the generals of the Great War (in 1926 Cadorna and Diaz were named Marshals of Italy), Capello took part in the organization of the failed attempt on Mussolini (1925), organized by the Socialist deputy Tito Zaniboni. Sentenced to thirty years of prison in 1927, he was released in 1936, ding forgotten in Rome in 1941.

Tough and energetic commander to his officers, but able to arouse enthusiasm in those who approached him, Capello did not neglect the training of troops and their moral preparation, but submitted them in bloody efforts with no hesitation. Although it is a common wear to all the units of the Royal Army, it was even worse in the II Army because, on it, had fallen the brunt of the battles of 1917. Capello was also an officer always interested in all the technical innovations that they could lead to the success of operations, facilitating the introduction of the trench mortar and the creation of Arditi Corp. However, on the strategic plan, he never abandoned his offensive convictions and was not interested in alternative tactics to the sterile and bloody frontal assaults. As regards relations with Cadorna, they maintained good enough: between the two men was undoubtedly a relationship of respect, but not friendship or understanding, with the result that Cadorna - which was never able to control his subordinated - left too much leeway to the ambitious and independent commander of the II Army. A lack of coordination that was fatal to both, and brought to the Caporetto disaster.

 

Bibliography:

Dario Ascolano, Luigi Capello: biografia militare e politica, Longo, 1999

Angelo Mangone, Luigi Capello: da Gorizia alla Bainsizza, da Caporetto al carcere, Mursia 1994

Mario SIlvestri, Isonzo 1917, Rizzoli, 2014