July 1916

The Battle of the Somme

By Alessandro Salvador

"I can never describe that faint, sickening, horrible smell which several times nearly knocked me up altogether.

(Captain Leeham British Army, talking about the first day of the Battle of the Somme)

 

The Battle of the Somme, which began in July 1916, was the direct result of a joint strategy of the Entente forces decided during a summit in Chantilly in December 1915. On that occasion joint offensives were planned against the Central Powers. The project’s main promoter was the Chief of the French General Staff, Joseph Joffre, and the objective was to engage the enemy on all fronts and to stretch Germany's capacity to manage a war on several fronts to the limit.

On the western front, the strategy required a comprehensive and coordinated attack, the bulk of which would depend on the French forces, to expel the Germans from the north of Belgium and reduce their control over the coast in order to lessen, at the same time, the presence of submarines in the Channel. The German offensive at Verdun in February 1916 caused extensive losses on the French side and forced the Entente powers to change their plans entrusting much of the responsibility for the offensive to the commander of the British Expeditionary Force Douglas Haig. The centre of the offensive was moved further south, starting from the point where the British and French lines joined up.

On 24th June the artillery batteries began a preparatory bombardment, using almost 3,000 pieces. The intense bombardment lasted for nine days and Haig was convinced that the troops had only to advance and take control of the enemy trenches. His calculation proved wrong, because the artillery had not achieved the desired results. On 1st July the offensive started on a front of 30 km along the river Somme with the French Sixth Army on the right flank and the British Fourth on the left. The German 2nd Army was waiting for them on the other side.

For the troops of the British Expeditionary Force it was almost a baptism of fire. Even though they had been at the front for a long time, it was the first mass offensive in which their presence had a decisive influence. It was also an important occasion on which to assess whether the reform of the armed forces ordered by Lord Kitchener had been effective. Britain, which at the beginning of the conflict only had a small professional army, had later encouraged the enlistment of volunteers to integrate their ranks. These soldiers were motivated but they did not have the training and skills of their German counterparts.

The debut of this new model army was disastrous from the point of view of the number of casualties. On the first day of fighting, 1st July, the British established a record of losses in a single day, with almost sixty thousand dead or wounded. The first phase of the offensive ended, however, in favour of the British and the French, and the German 2nd Army suffered major losses and had to retreat.

The attack, as ordered by Joffre, went on intermittently for months. In September, British troops used tanks in combat for the first time. 50 tanks were deployed, backed by artillery companies. However, due to technical and mechanical problems, only 24 tanks were actually used. Despite having the effect of surprising the enemy and disrupting their defences, the armoured vehicles proved unreliable and their use was considered premature. The different phases of the offensive, therefore, lasted until 13th November when British troops occupied the fortress of Beaumont Hamel, concluding the most intense phase of the battle of the Somme. Fighting then continued, with much less intensity, until the following spring. All things considered, the battle was one of the most tragic of the whole war with total losses, including both sides, of over a million lives. In terms of practical results, the Entente gained twelve kilometres of front. Nevertheless, the real meaning of the Battle of the Somme is to be found at a strategic and at a moral level. The British Expeditionary Force had the opportunity to demonstrate that they had acquired the tactics and skills to deal with a war on the continent. The Germans, whilst withstanding the assaults on several fronts, finally seemed vulnerable.

 

Helena Trnkova

La battaglia della Somme – la prospettiva francese

La battaglia della Somme - scatenata nell’ambito della grande offensiva alleata il 1° luglio e protrattasi sino a novembre - fu una delle grandi battaglie di materiali del 1916. Essa segnò una svolta nel modo di fare e pensare la guerra. Assieme a Verdun, è diventata una delle battaglie simbolo della guerra sul fronte occidentale.

In seguito alla conferenza alleata nel dicembre 1915, il Generalissimo Joffre così come i sui omologhi britannici, i generali Haig e Rawlinson, concordarono sulla necessità di passare all'offensiva. Il settore della Somme sembrava offrire due grandi vantaggi: l'operazione poteva fungere da anello di giunzione tra le armate francesi e inglesi accrescendo il loro coordinamento e cooperazione, mentre la vicinanza alle principali vie di comunicazione e siti produttivi avrebbe facilitato la logistica. Anticipati dai tedeschi, che avevano lanciato la loro offensiva sulla Mosa in febbraio, gli alleati furono costretti a rinviare i loro piani diverse volte. I francesi ritirarono le loro truppe per difendere Verdun indebolendo la propria forza d’urto per le operazioni in altri settori del fronte. Nel settore della Somme rimaneva solo la IV° Armata. Toccò quindi alle forze britanniche sopportare lo sforzo principale, motivo per il quale la battaglia acquisì un valore speciale nella memoria collettiva d’oltre Manica.

Nel 1916, gli alleati avevano appreso le nuove sfide poste dalla guerra moderna, tra cui il ruolo cruciale dell’artiglieria. Il 24 giugno, essi diedero inizio ad una preparazione di artiglieria senza precedenti, raggiungendo una cadenza di tiro complessiva di 3500 colpi al minuto. Originariamente previsto per cinque giorni, il fuoco di preparazione fu esteso a sette. L'offensiva iniziò il 1° Luglio 1916 alle 7:30 del mattino su un fronte di circa 20 km. I britannici attaccarono a nord della Somme e i francesi a sud. Il loro obiettivo era di stabilire una nuova linea sulle alture tenute dai tedeschi, compiendo un importante passo avanti. L'offensiva fu condotta in gran parte da reggimenti britannici. Un consistente numero di unità schierate sulla Somme erano parte del "New Army" formato dietro la spinta di Lord Kitchener, il Segretario di Stato per la guerra. Per molte di queste reclute appena arruolate fu il primo vero assaggio della guerra moderna e il loro battesimo del fuoco in generale. Nonostante l’incredibile e impressionante forza, la preparazione di artiglieria non colse l'effetto desiderato. Le artiglierie disponibili erano certamente moderne, tuttavia il tiro dei pezzi di grosso calibro rimase molto impreciso. In secondo luogo l'attrezzatura disponibile si dimostrò inefficace contro il sistema di linee difensive tedesche che consisteva in rifugi sotterranei di alta qualità, situati in profondità nel suolo. I danni agli uomini e alle attrezzature tedesche furono limitati, preannunciando un rapido fallimento dei progressi. Quando la fanteria alleata balzò fuori dalle trincee e cercò di attraversare la terra di nessuno, si trovò ad affrontare le mitragliatrici e l'artiglieria tedesche, divenendo un facile preda. I risultati del primo giorno dell’offensiva alleati furono disastrosi, cogliendo un fallimento totale a nord. Risultati più favorevoli furono ottenuti nel sud, dove gli inglesi presero Mametz e Montauban e francese compirono una discreta avanzata. Tuttavia il disastro totale fu soprattutto sul piano delle perdite umane. Il primo giorno dell'offensiva si registrarono quasi 20.000 caduti, tra cui 1.000 ufficiali. Il totale perdite raggiunse 58.000 morti, feriti e dispersi. Il 1 Luglio 1916 avrebbe rappresentato un giorno nero nella memoria collettiva della Grande Guerra.

Come per i tedeschi a Verdun, gli alleati non riuscirono a cogliere una rapida vittoria e i combattimenti si impantanarono, trascinandosi senza grandi risultati fino a novembre 1916. Le offensive e gli attacchi settoriali si ripeterono per diversi mesi trasformando il campo di battaglia in un paesaggio desolato disseminato di crateri colmi di fango. Il 14 luglio, i britannici lanciarono il loro secondo grande attacco contro la seconda linea tedesca: unità sudafricane avanzarono sulla foresta di Delville. Dalla metà di luglio, gli obiettivi alleati divennero più modesti. Gli sforzi furono concentrati su un fronte più ridotto, a nord della Somme. Come a Verdun, lo slancio offensivo stava svanendo, lasciando il posto a una lunga guerra di logoramento caratterizzata da una moltitudine di attacchi settoriali che miravano al massimo a “rosicchiare” le posizioni nemiche. Il 25 luglio, dopo due giorni di attacco, gli australiani presero Pozières. Dopo una lunga pausa ad agosto, gli alleati lanciarono un nuovo attacco generale il 3 settembre dal fiume Ancre verso Chilly. Gli inglesi riuscirono ad occupare Guillemont e i francesi Soyécourt. I giorni seguenti, altri attacchi furono condotti da unità canadesi e irlandesi. Il 15 settembre, la terza grande spinta alleata nei settori di Flers e Courcelette vide il primo impiego dei carri armati sul campo di battaglia. Questi mezzi lenti, ingombranti e mastodontici, lungi dall'essere perfetti, sortirono sui tedeschi più un effetto spettacolare che un’efficacia vera e propria. Il 26 settembre fu lanciata una nuove offensiva congiunta franco-britannica che permise agli Alleati di prendere Thiepval e Combles.

L'ultima grande offensiva generale iniziò il 7 ottobre tra Courcelette e Bouchavesnes. Di fronte all’impossibilità di cogliere un grande successo, le operazioni sulla Somme vennero formalmente arrestate il ​​18 novembre. Il bilancio era tragico. Tra inglesi, francesi e tedeschi, le perdite complessive raggiunsero l’enorme cifra di 1,2 milioni di morti, dispersi e feriti, facendo della Somme una delle battaglie più letali della guerra 1914-1918.

Links:

http://www.historial.org/Champs-de-bataille-de-la-Somme/Histoire-de-la-B...

http://www.cheminsdememoire-nordpasdecalais.fr/lhistoire/batailles/la-ba...

Bibliografia:

Loez, André, Les 100 mots de la Grande Guerre, Paris, PUF, 2013.

John Keegan, Il volto della battaglia, Milano, Il Saggiatore, 2005

La bataille de la Somme dans la Grande Guerre: colloque du 80e anniversaire : actes du colloque international du 1er, 2, 3, 4 juillet 1996, Péronne, France, Péronne, Centre de recherche de l'Historial de la Grande Guerre, 1996.

Helena Trnkova

The Battle of the Somme – the French standpoint

The Battle of the Somme triggered by the Allied offensive on 1st July and waged until November of the same year, was one of the great battles of materiel of 1916 that marked a decisive turning point in the way war was envisioned and conducted. Along with the Battle of Verdun, it became the symbol of modern warfare on the western front. 

During the Allied Conference in December 1915, Generalissimo Joffre like his British counterparts, Generals Haig and Rawlinson, agreed on the need to launch an offensive. The Somme sector seemed to combine two great advantages: conducting operations at the junction point between the French and British armies would improve their coordination and cooperation and its proximity to the major communication routes and production sites would facilitate logistical organisation. Outpaced by the Germans, who launched their offensive on the Meuse already in February, the Allies postponed their plans several times. The French withdrew troops in order to defend Verdun thus weakening the manpower available for operations along other sectors of the front. Only the 6th Army actually engaged on the Somme. It was consequently the British who had to support the principle effort. This also explains why for the Allies across the Channel the battle assumed a special value in their collective memory.

In 1916, the Allies were aware of the challenges involved modern warfare, in particular the crucial role played by artillery. On 24 June they set about preparing an unprecedented deployment of artillery achieving a rate of 3 500 grenades a minute. Envisaged to last five days, preparation drew out to seven. The actual offensive commenced on 1st July 1916 at 7.30 am along an approximately 20-kilometre long front. The British attacked to the north and the French to the south of the Somme. Their objective was to establish a new position on the heights held by the Germans, then achieve a major breakthrough. The offensive was conducted mainly by British regiments. Many of the units deployed on the Somme were part of the New Army, formed after Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, had called for recruits. For many of these, it was their first real encounter with modern warfare and generally their first experience of being under fire. Despite its unprecedented firepower, which was impressive to say the least, artillery preparation did not achieve the desired effects. The artillery guns available were indeed sophisticated, but the firing accuracy of the large calibres was still imperfect. Moreover, the materiel available proved to be ineffective against the German system of defence lines made up of high quality underground shelters, which disappeared into the depths of the ground. The damage inflicted to German manpower and materiel was therefore limited, which portended the failure of a rapid advance. When the Allied infantry soldiers emerged from their trenches and attempted to cross no man's land, they were exposed to the German machine guns and artillery and represented an easy, defenceless prey. The balance of the first day was tragic. The Allies to the north suffered a total defeat. The outcome was more positive to the south where the British took Mametz and Montauban and the French advanced marginally. In terms of the human cost, it was a total disaster. The first day of the offensive alone cost the lives of close to 20 000 men, 1 000 of whom were officers. The total number of casualties reached 58 000 men. The 1st July 1916 since then has been firmly established as a dark day in the collective memories of the Great War.

With no rapid victory in sight, as in Verdun, fighting dragged on and continued until November 1916. Partial assaults and attacks went on for several months transforming the battlefield into a desolate landscape, pocked with shell craters and drowned in mud. On 14 July, the British launched their second major attack, which targeted the German second line of defence: the South-African units advanced to Delville Wood. From mid July, the Allies’ downscaled their objectives. Efforts by now were concentrated on a reduced front, to the north of the Somme. As at Verdun, the momentum created by the Allied offensives dwindled leaving in its wake a never-ending war of attrition comprised of a multitude of partial assaults in an effort at the most to  “nibble away“ at the enemy positions. On 25 July, after two days of attacks, the Australians took Pozières. After a considerable lull in the month of August, the Allies launched a new general attack on 3 September from the Ancre River towards Chilly. The British managed to occupy Guillemont, the French Soyécourt. On the following days, further operations were conducted by Canadian and Irish units. On 15 September, the third major Allied thrust towards Flers and Courcelette was marked by tanks being implemented for the first time on the battlefield. These cumbersome machines far from being perfected turned out to be more spectacular than effective. During the following general Franco-British offensive, on 26 September, the Allies seized Thiepval and Combles. The last major offensive commenced on 7 October, from Courcelette to Bouchavesnes. Faced with the dire realisation that it was not possible to achieve any large-scale success, the operations on the Somme officially came to an end on 18 November. The outcome was tragic. With casualties reaching the enormous proportions of 1 200 000 killed, missing and wounded in total for the three belligerent countries, the Battle of the Somme was one of the bloodiest operations of the 1914-1918 war.

Links:

http://www.historial.org/Champs-de-bataille-de-la-Somme/Histoire-de-la-B...

http://www.cheminsdememoire-nordpasdecalais.fr/lhistoire/batailles/la-ba...

Bibliography:

Loez, André, Les 100 mots de la Grande Guerre, Paris, PUF, 2013.

John Keegan, The Face of Battle, London, Jonathan Cape, 1976

La bataille de la Somme dans la Grande Guerre : colloque du 80e anniversaire : actes du colloque international du 1er, 2, 3, 4 juillet 1996, Péronne, France, Péronne, Centre de recherche de l'Historial de la Grande Guerre, 1996.

Helena Trnkova

La bataille de la Somme – point de vue français

La Bataille de la Somme, déclenchée par l'offensive alliée le 1er juillet et poursuivie jusqu'en novembre de la même année, fut une des grandes batailles du matériel de l'année 1916 qui ont marqué un tournant décisif dans la façon d'envisager et de mener la guerre. Avec celle de Verdun, elle devint l'opération emblématique de la guerre moderne sur le front occidental.  

Depuis la conférence interalliée de décembre 1915, le généralissime Joffre comme ses homologues britanniques, les généraux Haig et Rawlinson, s'accordent sur la nécessité de passer à l'offensive. Le secteur de la Somme semble alors réunir deux grands avantages : mener l'opération au point de jonction entre les armées française et britannique améliorerait leurs coordination et coopération et sa proximité des grands axes de communication et de sites de production faciliterait l'organisation logistique. Devancés par les Allemands, qui lancent leur offensive sur la Meuse dès février, les Alliés reportent leur projet à plusieurs reprises. Les Français retirent des troupes pour défendre Verdun ce qui affaiblit leurs effectifs disponibles pour les opérations dans d'autres secteurs du front. Seule la 6e armée s'engage sur la Somme. Ce sont par conséquent les Britanniques qui doivent supporter l'effort majeur. C'est aussi pour les alliés d'Outre-Manche que la bataille acquière une valeur particulière dans la mémoire collective.

En 1916, les Alliés comprennent les enjeux de la guerre moderne, notamment le rôle crucial de l'artillerie. Le 24 juin, ils déclenchent une préparation d'artillerie sans précédant atteignant la cadence de 3 500 obus à la minute. Prévue pour cinq jours, elle est prolongée à sept. L'offensive elle-même débute le 1er juillet 1916 à 7h 30 sur un front de 20 kilomètres environ. Les Britanniques attaquent au Nord et les Français au Sud de la Somme. Leur objectif est d'établir une nouvelle position sur les hauteurs tenues par les Allemands, puis réaliser une percée majeure. L'offensive est menée en majorité par les régiments britanniques. Une partie substantielles des unités déployées sur la Somme sont les unités de la « Nouvelle armée » formée à l'incitation de Lord Kitchener, secrétaire d’État à la guerre. Pour beaucoup de ces recrues de fraîche date, c'est la première véritable rencontre avec la guerre moderne et la première expérience sous le feu en général. Malgré sa force inouïe et pour le moins impressionnante, la préparation d'artillerie n'atteint pas les effets escomptés. Les pièces d'artillerie disponibles sont certes perfectionnées, mais la précision de tir des grands calibres reste imparfaite. De plus, le matériel disponible s'avère inefficace contre le système des lignes défensives allemandes composées d'abris souterrains de grande qualité, enfuis dans les profondeurs du sol. Les dommages infligés aux hommes comme au matériel allemand sont ainsi limités, ce qui présage l'échec d'une avancée rapide. Lorsque les fantassins alliés sortent de leurs tranchées et tentent de traverser le no man's land, ils s'exposent aux mitrailleuses et à l'artillerie allemande telle une proie facile sans défense. Le bilan de la première journée est sinistre. Les Alliés essuient un échec total au Nord. Le résultat est plus favorable au Sud où les Britanniques prennent Mametz et Montauban et les Français progresses légèrement. Sur la plan humain, c'est un désastre total. A elle seule, la première journée de l'offensive a coûté la vie à près de 20 000 hommes, dont 1 000 officiers. Le nombre total des pertes atteigne 58 000 hommes. Le 1er juillet 1916 s'inscrit alors durablement comme une journée noire dans les mémoires collectives de la Grande Guerre.

Faute de victoire rapide, comme à Verdun, les combats s'enlisent et perdurent jusqu'en novembre 1916. Les assauts et les attaques partiels sont réitérés plusieurs mois durant transformant le champ de bataille en un paysage désolé, parsemé de cratères d'obus et noyé dans la boue. Le 14 juillet, les Britanniques lancent leurs seconde grande attaque qui vise la seconde ligne allemande : les unités Sud-Africains avancent sur le Bois Delville. Dès la moitié du mois de juillet, les objectifs des Alliés sont revus à la baisse. Les efforts sont désormais concentrés sur un front réduit, au nord de la Somme. Comme à Verdun, l'élan offensif s'étiole pour laisser place à une guerre d'usure interminable composée d'une multitude d'attaques partielles qui visent à tout au plus à « grignoter » les positions ennemies. Le 25 juillet, après deux jours d'attaque, les Australiens prennent Pozières. Après une accalmie sensible au mois d'août, les Alliés lancent une nouvelle attaques générale le 3 septembre depuis la rivière Ancre vers Chilly. Les Britanniques parviennent à occuper Guillemont, les Français Soyécourt. Les jours suivants, d'autres opérations sont menées par les unités canadiennes et irlandaises. Le 15 septembre, la troisième grande poussée alliée à Flers et à Courcelette est marquée par la première mise en application des chars sur le champ de bataille. Ces engins encombrants, loin de la perfection, sont plus spectaculaires qu'efficaces. Lors de l'offensive générale franco-britannique suivante, le 26 septembre, les Alliés s'emparent de Thiepval et de Combles. La dernière grande offensive démarre le 7 octobre, de Courcelette à Bouchavesnes. Face au constat sobre qu'aucune réussite d'envergure n'est possible, les opérations sur la Somme sont officiellement arrêtées le 18 novembre. Le bilan est tragique. Avec les pertes atteignant les proportions gigantesques de 1 200 000 morts, disparus et blessés au total pour les trois belligérants, la bataille de la Somme se range parmi les opérations les plus meurtrières de la 1914-1918.

Links:

http://www.historial.org/Champs-de-bataille-de-la-Somme/Histoire-de-la-B...

http://www.cheminsdememoire-nordpasdecalais.fr/lhistoire/batailles/la-ba...

Bibliographie:

Loez, André, Les 100 mots de la Grande Guerre, Paris, PUF, 2013.

Keegan, John, Anatomie de la bataille : Azincourt 1415, Waterloo 1815, la Somme 1916, Paris, Robert Laffont, 1993.

La bataille de la Somme dans la Grande Guerre : colloque du 80e anniversaire : actes du colloque international du 1er, 2, 3, 4 juillet 1996, Péronne, France, Péronne, Centre de recherche de l'Historial de la Grande Guerre, 1996.

Matthias Egger

Conte Viktor von Dankl Kraśnik

Udine 1854 - Innsbruck 1941

Viktor Dankl nacque il 18 settembre 1854 a Udine, che a quel tempo era una delle tante città-fortezza della monarchia asburgica, figlio del capitano dell’esercito austroungarico Ignaz Dankl. Dopo aver completato la sua formazione presso l'Accademia Militare Teresiana a Wiener Neustadt (1870-1874) e la Scuola di Guerra di Vienna (1877-1879), avanzò rapidamente attraverso i ranghi. All'età di 42 anni era già Capo di Stato Maggiore della XIII Corpo d’armata austroungarico a Agram (oggi Zagabria), a 49 Generale Comandante della 66° brigata di fanteria in Komárom, a 53 tenente Feldmaresciallo e Comandante della 36° divisione di fanteria in Agram e 58 fu infine elevato al rango di Generale di Cavalleria e comandante del XIV Corpo d’armata a Innsbruck.

Dankl ricevette la notizia della mobilitazione generale in Austria-Ungheria il 31 luglio 1914, affermando "Grazie a Dio, la grande guerra è qui!", tuttavia sperando che il conflitto si concludesse rapidamente con la vittoria dell'esercito austro-ungarico. "Spero di tornare vittorioso e sano e salvo entro novembre al più tardi", annotò sul suo diario personale.

Il 1 agosto 1914 Dankl fu nominato comandante della I Armata austro-ungarica, destinata al fronte nord-orientale. Riuscì a ottenere una vittoria contro la IV armata russa nella battaglia di Kraśnik (23-25 ​​agosto 1914). "Niente di spettacolare, ma almeno qualcosa che contribuisca a dimenticare la sconfitta riportata dalle nostre armate nei Balcani solo qualche giorno prima", come ha scritto Manfried Rauchensteiner. Questo è stato probabilmente il motivo per cui la "vittoria di Kraśnik" è stata esaltata dal comando dell'esercito austro-ungarico e dalla propaganda con Dankl che fu salutato come un eroe di guerra. Questo successo fu però pagato a caro prezzo - il fatto che "un certo numero di reggimenti [nella battaglia aveva] perso oltre il 40 per cento delle proprie forze" - fu nascosto al pubblico.

Nonostante le sconfitte devastanti che le forze austro-ungariche subirono nell'autunno del 1914 sul fronte orientale, Dankl - a differenza di molti altri generali - fu in grado di mantenere il suo posto come comandante dell'esercito, anche ai buoni rapporti con il capo della lo Stato Maggiore, Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf. Dankl non ebbe il comando della I Armata fino a quando l'Italia entrò in guerra, venendo nominato Comandante in Capo per la difesa del Tirolo il 23 maggio 1915. Due giorni dopo arrivò a Bressanone, dove insediò il proprio quartier generale a Innsbruck (Albergo Arlbergerhof).

Dal punto di vista militare, Dankl riuscì a realizzare il suo obiettivo in Tirolo; gestì "con le forze del tutto inadeguate per respingere tutti gli attacchi italiani." I suoi successi nella difesa del Tirolo furono tuttavia oscurati oscurato dal crescente conflitto tra il comando centrale di difesa nazionale e le autorità politiche locali. Questa disputa, che si trasformò in un grave problema, fu innescata dal modo in cui gli ufficiali regolari trattavano gli Standschützen (le milizie locali tirolesi), spesso oggetto di insulti, scherno e abusi. Nei suoi rapporti con i membri del parlamento locale, Dankl dimostrò una mancanza di tatto e poca attenzione per lei loro frequenti legittime richieste. Alla fine l'imperatore stesso fu costretto ad intervenire. “Francesco Giuseppe", richiamò Dankl senza mezzi termini, ma in ultima stanza, tuttavia, prese le parti del comandante della difesa nazionale, nella speranza che gli animi si sbollissero e le cose nuovamente quietate."

Nel marzo 1916 Dankl consegnò il comando generale della difesa nazionale al barone Josef Roth von Limanowa-Lapanów (1859-1927) e assunse la guida della nuova XI armata, radunata per l'imminente offensiva in Sud Tirolo. Il suo rifiuto di eseguire gli ordini del comando supremo dell’esercito di inseguire le truppe italiane in ritiraa attraverso le valli e sulla pianura veneta - senza perdere tempo nel riposizionare l'artiglieria e conslidare le posizioni - contribuì in modo significativo al fallimento della "spedizione punitiva".

Il 17 giugno 1916 l’arciduca Eugenio (1863-1954), sollevò Dankl dal comando della XI Armata (insieme al suo Capo di Stato Maggiore Cletus von Pichler) con l'accusa di "insubordinazione". Pur avendo ignorato gli ordini, Dankl ricevette numerosi riconoscimenti nel corso degli ultimi due anni di guerra. L'imperatore Carlo gli concesse il titolo di Freiherr (Barone) nella primavera del 1917 e nell'autunno del 1918 fu elevato a Conte. Nell'estate del 1917 fu anche decorato con la più alta onorificenza militare della monarchia. Il Cancelliere dello Maria Teresa Militare Ordine gli ha conferito la Croce di Comandante per la "vittoria a Kraśnik". Egli non ha tuttavia ricevuto alcuna ulteriore comando e il 1 ° dicembre 1918 si ritirò per sempre.

Nel periodo tra le due guerre mondiali Dankl divenne una "figura pubblica chiave" tra gli ex ufficiali dell'esercito di orientamento conservatore e monarchico, in Austria e in Tirolo in particolare. Nel 1925 divenne presidente della "Reichsbund der Österreicher" - un'associazione di monarchici e legittimisti. Divennne anche un noto e ascoltato oratore in occasione delle riunioni dei veterani e prese decisa posizione contro le interpretazioni dei nazionalisti tedeschi della storia della prima guerra mondiale, alla maniera di Edmund Glaise-Horstenau.

Il Conte Viktor Dankl morì a Innsbruck l’8 gennaio 1941.

Bibliografia:

Eisterer, Klaus. "‘Der Heldentod muß würdig geschildert werden.‘ Der Umgang mit der Vergangenheit am Beispiel Kaiserjäger und Kaiserjägertradition." In Tirol und der Erste Weltkrieg, published by Klaus Eisterer and Rolf Steininger, Innsbrucker Forschungen zur Zeitgeschichte Bd.12, 105-138. Innsbruck: Österreichischer Studienverlag, 1995.

Kuprian, Hermann J. W. und Oswald Überegger, ed. Katastrophenjahre. Der Erste Weltkrieg und Tirol. Innsbruck: Universitätsverlag Wagner, 2014.

Pastor, Ludwig von. Conrad von Hötzendorf. Ein Lebensbild nach originalen Quellen und persönlichen Erinnerungen. Wien, Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder Verlag, 1916.

Pircher, Gerd. Militär, Verwaltung und Politik in Tirol im Ersten Weltkrieg. Published by Richard Schober and Rolf Steininger, Tirol im Ersten Weltkrieg. Innsbruck: Universitätsverlag Wagner, 1995.

Rauchensteiner, Manfried. Der Erste Weltkrieg und das Ende der Habsburgermonarchie. Wien, Köln, Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 2013.

Überegger, Oswald. Erinnerungskriege. Der Erste Weltkrieg, Österreich und die Tiroler Kriegserinnerung in der Zwischenkriegszeit. Published by Richard Schober, Tirol im Ersten Weltkrieg. Politik, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. Innsbruck: Universitätsverlag Wagner, 2011.

Matthias Egger

Count Viktor Dankl von Kraśnik

Udine 1854 – Innsbruck 1941

Viktor Dankl was born on 18 September 1854 in Udine, which at that time was one of the many garrison towns of the Habsburg monarchy, son of Captain of the Austro-Hungarian Army Ignaz Dankl. After completing his training at the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt (1870–74) and the War School in Vienna (1877–79), he quickly rose up through the ranks. At the age of 42 he was already Chief of Staff of the Austro-Hungarian Thirteenth Corps in Agram (today Zagreb), at 49 General Major and Commanding Officer of the 66th Infantry Brigade in Komárom, at 53 Lieutenant Field Marshal and Commanding Officer of the 36th Infantry Troops Division in Agram and aged 58 he was finally elevated to the rank of General of Cavalry and Commander of the Fourteenth Corps at Innsbruck.

Dankl received news of the General Mobilisation in Austria-Hungary on 31st July 1914 with the words “thank God, the great war is here!” He was however hoping it would soon lead to victory for the Austro-Hungarian army. “Hopefully we will be returning victorious and safe and sound by November at the latest”, he noted in his diary at the time.

On 1st August 1914 Dankl was appointed Commander of the Austro-Hungarian First Army, which was to march to the northeast theatre of war. He managed to gain a victory against the Russian Fourth Army in the battle of Kraśnik (23 - 25 August 1914). “Nothing really spectacular, but at least something that helped forget the defeat of the Armies in the Balcans reported just a few days earlier”, as Manfried Rauchensteiner wrote. This was probably why the “Victory at Kraśnik“ was exalted by the Austro-Hungarian army command and propaganda and Dankl was hailed as a war hero. This success however came at a price – the fact that “a number of regiments [in the battle had] lost over 40 per cent of their forces” – was concealed from the public.

Despite the devastating defeats that the Austro-Hungarian military forces suffered in the autumn of 1914 on the northeast front, Dankl – unlike many other generals– was able to keep his post as an army commander, also due to his good relationship with the Chief of the General Staff, Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf. Dankl did not give up his command over the First Army until Italy had entered the war, when he was made Commander-in-Chief for the Defence of Tyrol on 23rd May 1915. Two days later he arrived in Brixen, where he decided after a brief orientation period to set up national defence headquarters in Innsbruck (Hotel Arlbergerhof). 

            From the military point of view, Dankl succeeded in accomplishing his objective in Tyrol; he managed “with totally inadequate forces to fend off all the Italian attacks.“ His successful defence however was overshadowed by the increasing conflict between the national defence headquarters and political authorities. This dispute, which turned into a major issue, had been sparked off by the way regular officers treated the Standschützen (Tyrolean local militia), who had repeatedly become a target for insults, derision and abuse. In his dealings with members of the local parliament, Dankl showed a lack of tact and little sympathy for their frequent legitimate demands. In the end the Emperor himself was forced to intervene. Franz Joseph “indeed warned Dankl in no uncertain terms, but in the end nevertheless took the side of the national defence commander in the hope that tempers would cool off and things would quieten down again.”

In March 1916 Dankl handed over command of the national defence to General of the Infantry Baron Josef Roth von Limanowa-Lapanów (1859–1927) and took over the newly formed Eleventh Army, which he was to command during the impending South Tyrol Offensive. His refusal to carry out the orders of the army group command to pursue the retreating Italian troops through the valleys and onto the Venetian plain – without losing time to prepare artillery and secure the flanks – contributed significantly to the failure of the “punitive expedition“.

On 17 June 1916 Archduke Eugen (1863–1954) finally relieved Dankl from his command of the Eleventh Army (along with his Chief of Staff Lieutenant Field Marshal Major General Cletus von Pichler) on the charge of “insubordination”. Despite having ignored orders, Dankl was awarded numerous honours during the last two years of the war. Emperor Charles I granted him the title of Freiherr (Baron) in the spring of 1917 and in the autumn of 1918 he was made a Count. In the summer of 1917 he was also decorated with the highest military distinction of the Monarchy. The Chancellor of the Military Maria Theresa Order awarded him the Commander’s Cross for the “Victory at Kraśnik“. He did not however receive any further command and on 1st December 1918 he retired for good.

In the inter-war period Dankl went on to become a “key public figure“ amongst conservative monarchy-oriented ex Army Officers in Austria and in Tyrol in particular. In 1925 he became President of the “Reichsbund der Österreicher” – an association of monarchists and legitimists. He also became a public speaker at veterans’ meetings and took a vehement stance against German nationalistic interpretations of the history of the First World War, in the manner of Edmund Glaise-Horstenau.

Count Viktor Dankl died in Innsbruck on 8th January 1941.

Bibliography:

Eisterer, Klaus. "‘Der Heldentod muß würdig geschildert werden.‘ Der Umgang mit der Vergangenheit am Beispiel Kaiserjäger und Kaiserjägertradition." In Tirol und der Erste Weltkrieg, published by Klaus Eisterer and Rolf Steininger, Innsbrucker Forschungen zur Zeitgeschichte Bd.12, 105-138. Innsbruck: Österreichischer Studienverlag, 1995.

Kuprian, Hermann J. W. und Oswald Überegger, ed. Katastrophenjahre. Der Erste Weltkrieg und Tirol. Innsbruck: Universitätsverlag Wagner, 2014.

Pastor, Ludwig von. Conrad von Hötzendorf. Ein Lebensbild nach originalen Quellen und persönlichen Erinnerungen. Wien, Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder Verlag, 1916.

Pircher, Gerd. Militär, Verwaltung und Politik in Tirol im Ersten Weltkrieg. Published by Richard Schober and Rolf Steininger, Tirol im Ersten Weltkrieg. Innsbruck: Universitätsverlag Wagner, 1995.

Rauchensteiner, Manfried. Der Erste Weltkrieg und das Ende der Habsburgermonarchie. Wien, Köln, Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 2013.

Überegger, Oswald. Erinnerungskriege. Der Erste Weltkrieg, Österreich und die Tiroler Kriegserinnerung in der Zwischenkriegszeit. Published by Richard Schober, Tirol im Ersten Weltkrieg. Politik, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. Innsbruck: Universitätsverlag Wagner, 2011.

Matthias Egger

Viktor Graf Dankl von Kraśnik

Udine 1854 – Innsbruck 1941

Viktor Dankl kam am 18. September 1854 in Udine, das zu jener Zeit eine der zahlreichen Garnisonstädte der Habsburgermonarchie war, als Sohn des k. k. Hauptmannes Ignaz Dankl zur Welt. Nach der Absolvierung der Theresianischen Militärakademie in Wiener Neustadt (1870–74) und der Kriegsschule in Wien (1877–79) machte er rasch Karriere. Mit 42 Jahren war er bereits Generalstabschef des k. u. k. XIII. Korps in Agram (heute: Zagreb), mit 49 Generalmajor und Kommandant der 66. Infanterie-Brigade in Komárom, mit 53 Feldmarschallleutnant und Kommandant der 36. Infanterie-Truppen-Division in Agram und mit 58 avancierte er schließlich zum General der Kavallerie und Kommandanten des k. u. k. XIV. Korps in Innsbruck.

Die Bekanntgabe der Allgemeinen Mobilmachung Österreich-Ungarns am 31. Juli 1914 quittierte Dankl mit den Worten: „Gott sei Dank, das ist der große Krieg!“. Gleichzeitig hoffte er auf einen raschen Sieg der k. u. k. Armee: „Hoffentlich kehren wir längstens November erfolgreich und glücklich wieder zurück“, notierte er in jenen Tagen in sein Tagebuch.

Am 1. August 1914 wurde Dankl zum Kommandanten der k. u. k. 1. Armee ernannt, die am nordöstlichen Kriegsschauplatz aufmarschieren sollte. In der Schlacht bei Kraśnik (23. bis 25. August 1914) gelang es ihm, gegen die russische 4. Armee einen Erfolg zu erringen. „Nichts wirklich Spektakuläres, aber doch etwas, das sich recht gut verwenden ließ, um die wenige Tage zuvor gemeldete Niederlage der k. u. k. Armeen auf dem Balkan vergessen zu machen“, wie Manfried Rauchensteiner schreibt. Wohl aus diesem Grund wurde der „Sieg bei Kraśnik“ von der österreichisch-ungarischen Heeresführung und den Propagandastellen aufgebauscht und Dankl zum Kriegshelden stilisiert. Wie teuer aber dieser Erfolg erkauft war – „einzelne Regimenter [hatten in der Schlacht] über 40 Prozent ihres Standes verloren“ – wurde der Öffentlichkeit verschwiegen.

Trotz der verheerenden Niederlagen, die die österreichisch-ungarischen Streitkräfte im Herbst 1914 an der Nordostfront erleiden sollten, konnte sich Dankl – im Unterschied zu vielen anderen Generälen – auf seinem Posten als Armeekommandant halten, wozu wohl auch sein gutes Verhältnis zum k. u. k. Generalstabschef Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf beitrug. Erst der Kriegseintritt Italiens führte dazu, dass Dankl sein Kommando über die 1. Armee abgeben musste, da er am 23. Mai 1915 zum Landesverteidigungskommandanten von Tirol ernannt wurde. Zwei Tage später traf er in Brixen ein, wo er nach kurzer Orientierung entschied, das Landesverteidigungskommando in Innsbruck (Hotel Arlbergerhof) zu etablieren.  

            Aus militärischer Sicht konnte Dankl seine Aufgabe in Tirol lösen; es gelang ihm „mit seinen völlig unzureichenden Kräften alle Vorstöße der Italiener abzuwehren.“ Überschattet wurden diese Abwehrerfolge durch den sich intensivierenden Konflikt zwischen dem Landesverteidigungskommando und den lokalen politischen Autoritäten. Diese Auseinandersetzung hatte sich an der Behandlung der Standschützen, die wiederholt zur Zielscheibe von Beleidigungen, Herabsetzungen und Misshandlungen von Seiten der Berufsoffiziere geworden waren, entzündet und verschärfte sich zusehends. Dankl bewies im Umgang mit den Landtagsabgeordneten wenig Fingerspitzengefühl und zeigte für deren vielfach berechtigte Forderungen kaum Verständnis. Schließlich musste sogar der Kaiser intervenieren. Franz Joseph „ermahnte Dankl zwar unmissverständlich, stellte sich am Ende aber doch stärkend hinter den Landesverteidigungskommandanten, in der Hoffnung, dass sich die Gemüter wieder abkühlen und beruhigen würden.“

Im März 1916 übergab Dankl das Landesverteidigungskommando an den General der Infanterie Josef Freiherr Roth von Limanowa-Lapanów (1859–1927) und übernahm die neu gebildete k. u. k. 11. Armee, die er der während der bevorstehenden Südtirol-Offensive befehligen sollte. Mit seiner Weigerung die Befehle des Heeresgruppenkommandos, die ihn aufforderten die zurückweichenden italienischen Truppen – ohne zeitraubende Artillerievorbereitung und Flankensicherung – durch die Täler in die Venezianische Ebene zu verfolgen, auszuführen, trug er wesentlich zum Scheitern der „Strafexpedition“ bei.

Am 17. Juni 1916 enthob Erzherzog Eugen (1863–1954) schließlich Dankl (und mit ihm dessen Stabschef Feldmarschallleutnant Cletus von Pichler) wegen „Unbotmäßigkeit“ vom Kommando der 11. Armee. Trotz seiner Befehlsverweigerung wurde Dankl in den letzten beiden Kriegsjahren zahlreiche Ehrungen zuteil. Kaiser Karl erhob ihn im Frühjahr 1917 in den Freiherrn- und im Herbst 1918 in den Grafenstand. Auch bekam er im Sommer 1917 die höchste militärische Auszeichnung der Monarchie; das Ordenskapitel des Militär-Maria-Theresien-Ordens verlieh ihm für den „Sieg bei Kraśnik“ das Kommandeurskreuz. Ein Kommando erhielt er jedoch nicht mehr und mit 1. Dezember 1918 wurde er endgültig pensioniert.

In der Zwischenkriegszeit avancierte Dankl dann zu einer „zentralen öffentlichen Figur“ der konservativ-monarchistisch gesinnten ehemaligen k. u. k. Offiziere in Österreich und besonders in Tirol. Er war seit 1925 Präsident des “Reichsbund der Österreicher” – einer monarchistisch-legitimistischen Vereinigung –, trat bei Veteranentreffen als Redner in Erscheinung und bezog vehement Stellung gegen deutschnationale Geschichtsinterpretationen des Ersten Weltkriegs à la Edmund Glaise-Horstenau.

Am 8. Januar 1941 starb Viktor Graf Dankl in Innsbruck.
Literatur:

Eisterer, Klaus. "‘Der Heldentod muß würdig geschildert werden.‘ Der Umgang mit der Vergangenheit am Beispiel Kaiserjäger und Kaiserjägertradition." In Tirol und der Erste Weltkrieg, herausgegeben von Klaus Eisterer und Rolf Steinninger, Innsbrucker Forschungen zur Zeitgeschichte Bd.12, 105-138. Innsbruck: Österreichischer Studienverlag, 1995.

Kuprian, Hermann J. W. und Oswald Überegger, Hrsg. Katastrophenjahre. Der Erste Weltkrieg und Tirol. Innsbruck: Universitätsverlag Wagner, 2014.

Pastor, Ludwig von. Conrad von Hötzendorf. Ein Lebensbild nach originalen Quellen und persönlichen Erinnerungen. Wien, Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder Verlag, 1916.

Pircher, Gerd. Militär, Verwaltung und Politik in Tirol im Ersten Weltkrieg. herausgegeben von Richard Schober und Rolf Steininger, Tirol im Ersten Weltkrieg. Innsbruck: Universitätsverlag Wagner, 1995.

Rauchensteiner, Manfried. Der Erste Weltkrieg und das Ende der Habsburgermonarchie. Wien, Köln, Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 2013.

Überegger, Oswald. Erinnerungskriege. Der Erste Weltkrieg, Österreich und die Tiroler Kriegserinnerung in der Zwischenkriegszeit. herausgegeben von Richard Schober, Tirol im Ersten Weltkrieg. Politik, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. Innsbruck: Universitätsverlag Wagner, 2011.

 

 

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