October 1918

The battle of Vittorio Veneto

By Francesco Frizzera

"The war against Austria-Hungary which, under the high command of HM the King, supreme leader, the Italian Army, inferior in the number of men and vehicles, began on 24 May 1915 and with unwavering faith and tenacious valour conducted continuously and fiercely for 41 months, has been won. The gigantic battle which began on the 24th of October, and in which fifty-one Italian divisions, three British, two French, one Czechoslovak, and an American regiment took part, against seventy-three Austro-Hungarian divisions, is over. [...] The Austro-Hungarian Army has been annihilated: it suffered enormous losses during the fierce fighting of the first days and, during the chase, lost enormous quantities of material of all sorts and almost the entirety of its warehouses and supplies. So far, some three hundred thousand prisoners have fallen into our hands, along with entire general staffs, and no less than five thousand cannon. The remnant of what was once one of the most powerful armies in the world is now in disarray and hopelessly retreating back up the valleys that it once descended down with proud confidence."

Armando Diaz, Supreme Command, 4 November 1918, 12:00 pm

The Victory Proclamation, issued by Armando Diaz, Chief of Staff of the Italian Army on 4 November 1918, is an integral part of the legend of the Battle of Vittorio Veneto. The importance of the final episode of the war fought on the Italian-Austrian front is, in fact, not limited to military events, but also intricately intertwined with the story of the war and, by means of this recounting of events, has entered the collective imagination of the Italian war. 

Diaz's Proclamation describes in grandiose language a large-scale military victory against an enemy stronger in terms of number of vehicles and by tradition. The uncritical acceptance of this perspective would for a long time become a constant in the narration of the Italian war, both in the media and in historiography. In reality, the text hides numerous inaccuracies and omits relevant details. There were in fact 58 Austrian divisions that faced the Italian army (and not 73), part of which were undermanned. Furthermore, the nutritional and physical condition of the Austro-Hungarian soldiers bordered on basic survival. If this were not enough, the home front in Austria-Hungary was rocked by extremely strong national tensions, which affected the morale of the troops stationed in the rear.

Historiography on the topic certainly does not help to clarify the event. Some analysts stress the simultaneous collapse of the Habsburg monarchy and describe this battle as an unsurprising victory; moreover, they see the breaching of the Balkan front in September-October 1918  such as to make the Italian contribution to the collapse negligible. Other authors even decline to refer to the advance on Vittorio Veneto as a battle. In this view, the Italian Army simply exploited a spontaneous withdrawal. On the contrary, Italian historiography has, until recently, assessed this battle as the turning point of the Italian war: the victory of Vittorio Veneto counterbalanced the defeat of Caporetto and restored the honour of the army. Many of these assessments represent a strictly national point of view. In reality the dynamics of the battle are much more complex and cannot be understood by any monocausal explanations. 

Beginning in September 1918, the political and food conditions of the Habsburg monarchy worsened, although this apparently had no negative impact on the Austro-Hungarian armies deployed along the south-western front. The Italian government and Ferdinand Foch repeatedly requested that Armando Diaz organize an autumn offensive between Monte Pasubio and Asiago to exploit Austria's internal difficulties. According to the Italian Chief of Staff, such an attack would not have brought any strategic changes, as the Italian army did not have enough divisions to carry out an offensive in the mountains. In fact, the Royal Army could count on fifty-seven divisions (including three English, two French, and one Czechoslovak) and 8,900 pieces of artillery, against fifty-eight Austro-Hungarian divisions and 7,000 pieces of artillery. Diaz's doubts were also linked to general assessments: among the allied general staffs there were few who thought that a victory could be achieved before 1919 and, in the Italian Supreme Command it was believed that an offensive could at best lead to a retaking of the provinces lost in 1917.

Opinions such as that of Colonel Tullio Marchetti, head of the information office of the 1st Army, according to whom the Austro-Hungarian army was now "like a pudding with a hard crust of almonds and filled with cream", were isolated in the Italian military. These impressions by contrast were very clear to the Austro-Hungarian generals: Ernst Horsetsky, commander of the XXVI Army Corps that presided over the strategic sector of Monte Grappa, like his colleagues had confidence in the ability of the frontline troops to resist, but deemed it necessary to begin peace negotiations as soon as the imminent Italian attack would have been repulsed, as he considered it impossible to resist to the bitter end.

Under pressure from the other Allies, and amid news of the progressive breakdown of the Austrian home front, Diaz consequently planned an offensive in September-October along the Piave River, where it was much more advantageous to place troops. In fact, between Vidor and Grave di Papadopoli, it was possible to deploy twenty Italian divisions and 4,130 pieces of artillery against twelve Austro-Hungarian divisions and 1,000 pieces of artillery. Moreover, a successful attack in this area would allow the Italian army to cut off the supply lines of the sixth Austrian army and the Belluno Army Group. Bad weather conditions forced the Supreme Command to postpone the offensive until 24 October. On the other side of the front, Svetozar Boroević von Bojna (1856-1920), field marshal at the head of the troops who controlled the area from the Piave to the sea, despite being worried by the news coming from within the Empire, believed that the troops deployed on the front line were reliable and capable of putting up resistance: although the soldiers were exhausted due to the lack of food, the spirit of the Frontkämpfer seemed good. In any case, he could count on ten reserve divisions stationed behind the front line. These troops, however, unlike the soldiers on the front, were affected by the reports coming from the hinterland. 

Since the flooding of the Piave River gave no indication of abating, on 24 October, Diaz ordered the 4th Army to attack the Austro-Hungarian lines on Monte Grappa. After two days of hard fighting that achieved only marginal gains, the Austro-Hungarians counterattacked, demonstrating a good capacity for resistance. Consequently, Diaz ordered the start of the offensive on the Piave, where the ratio of forces was more favourable: the objective of the 12th, 8th and 10th Army was to create three bridgeheads on the eastern bank of the river near Valdobbiadene, Sernaglia and Grave di Papadopoli. Except for the Honvéd 11th Cavalry division near Sernaglia, which refused to fight, the other Austro-Hungarian troops maintained their discipline and halted the Italian advance just across the river. It was only below Grave di Papadopoli that the 10th Italian Army - composed of two English and two Italian divisions - was able to create a small but significant breakthrough in the Austrian lines.

The turning point of the battle came with the decision taken on the evening of 27 October by Enrico Caviglia to exploit this small bridgehead, moving two divisions from the 8th to the 10th Army, in order to cut the communication lines between the Austrian 6th Army and Boroević's Isonzo Army. Meanwhile, Boroević tried to move the reserve divisions up to the front, but the unreliability of these troops prevented him from stopping the advance of the Italian 10th Army: most of the Hungarian, Czech, Slovenian and Croatian soldiers of the reserve troops refused to obey orders. Thus, after the failure of the counterattack on 28 October, the Austrian defensive situation worsened and other reserve units decided to abandon the front, while the units on the front line, exhausted and short of supplies, began to yield. 

In the end, the Austro-Hungarian high command ordered a general retreat and organized an armistice committee, which contacted the Italian Army on 29 October. Meanwhile, the 8th Italian army took advantage of the bridgehead created by the 10th Army and advanced in the direction of Vittorio Veneto, reaching the city on 30 October. At that point the Austro-Hungarian army was divided in two and in retreat and the Italian Supreme Command then ordered a frontal attack along other sectors of the front, to exploit the withdrawal. On the afternoon of 3 November, Italian troops reached Trento and Trieste and, at 3:20 pm, at Villa Giusti, the armistice was signed, which would take effect twenty-four hours later, at 3:00 pm on 4 November 1918.

In conclusion, the battle of Vittorio Veneto cannot be described as a spontaneous withdrawal of the Austrian army, at least until 30 October. The Austro-Hungarian troops deployed along the front line had fought fiercely, especially on Mount Grappa, where Italians deaths numbered 28,000 in six days. Moreover, the Italian and Austrian generals did not expect a collapse of the Austrian army before the battle and the response of the Habsburg troops in the first days of fighting shows that the confidence placed in the morale of the front line soldiers was generally well deserved, although there were issues of ethnic loyalty to the Habsburgs.

Nevertheless, the exaggerated emphasis the Victory Proclamation placed on the differences in terms of potential between the two armies and the military dimensions of the victory conceals other considerations. The Austrian reserve units experienced the effects of the internal situation in the Austrian state and in many cases refused to obey orders, preventing a successful counterattack at Grave di Papadopoli. This factor proved decisive in allowing the 8th Italian Army to reach Vittorio Veneto and split the Austrian army in two. Additionally, the fierce resistance of the Habsburg army troops was destined to wane rapidly due to the lack of supplies, insufficient food and the lack of fresh troops. Despite the absence of large-scale defections or mutiny among the Austro-Hungarian front-line units, the defensive ability of these troops was already limited at the outset.

In conclusion, the battle of Vittorio Veneto was the final result of a war of attrition and was significantly affected by the internal tensions that ravaged the Empire and the breakdown of the Balkan front. The order of battle was well planned, but the key element that allowed the Italian Army to transform a local advance into a strategic advance may also be found in the reluctance of the Austro-Hungarian soldiers - in particular the reserve divisions - to sacrifice their lives for a cause that they no longer perceived as their own.

La k.u.k. Armee a Vittorio Veneto

di Alessandro Salvador

A Vittorio Veneto, l’Austria non perse una battaglia, ma perse la guerra e se stessa […]”

Generale Erich Ludendorff

“Ognuno ormai combatte isolatamente la sua lotta contro la fame e la spossatezza. Che cosa mai tiene unita questa gente? Senso di fedeltà, di cameratismo e di paura. Paura di rimanere soli e di scomparire come isolati…”

Fritz Weber

Ad un anno di distanza dalla grande vittoria nella dodicesima battaglia dell’Isonzo, o battaglia di Caporetto, le forze austroungariche subirono la definitiva sconfitta sul fronte del Piave. Un’autentica rotta che rispecchiava quella compiuta dagli italiani l’anno precedente e che diede il colpo di grazia all’impero austroungarico a poco più di 50 anni dalla sua nascita.

Nel tempo trascorso tra la vittoria del 1917 e il rovesciamento delle parti del 1918, l’imperial-regio esercito non fu mai in grado di trarre profitto dalla sua posizione di vantaggio. Questo può attribuirsi in buona parte alla capacità italiana di rinnovare le proprie forze armate, per opera del generale Armando Diaz, ma non vanno sottovalutati gli errori strategici dello stato maggiore austroungarico, nonché la situazione di profonda crisi in cui piombò l’impero.

L’ultimo tentativo di imporre un diverso decorso al conflitto avvenne all’inizio dell’estate, nell’offensiva nota come la battaglia del Solstizio; la sottovalutazione del nemico e l’incapacità dei generali al fronte di avere una posizione comune sulla condotta dell’attacco pregiudicarono del tutto la riuscita di questo. Emerse, inoltre, la debolezza dell’imperatore, Carlo I, incapace di imporre ai militari il superamento delle loro divisioni interne che, alla fine, indebolirono la portata generale dell’offensiva.

La battaglia del Solstizio fece emergere la debolezza politica ed economica dell’Impero danubiano. L’esercito era malnutrito e male equipaggiato e mancavano foraggio e carburante indispensabili per garantire la mobilità delle truppe.

Il fronte interno era logorato dalla carenza di materie prime e beni alimentari. La popolazione, stremata, non sosteneva più lo sforzo bellico; i nazionalismi riemergevano, minacciando la doppia monarchia nelle sue fondamenta. Non solo croati, sloveni e cechi, notoriamente potenzialmente ostili alla doppia corona, ma anche gli ungheresi iniziavano ad esercitare pressioni separatiste. L’insuccesso militare era legato a doppio filo ad una crisi politica e sociale profonda.

A dispetto di tutto, però, lo stato maggiore austroungarico mostrava ancora ottimismo e pianificava una nuova offensiva da condursi entro il 1918. Gli artefici avrebbero dovuto essere il nuovo comandante del gruppo d’armate del Tirolo, l’Arciduca Giuseppe, che succedette al destituito Conrad, il generale Svetozar Boroevic von Bojna, comandante del gruppo d’armate del Piave, e il generale Ferdinand von Goglia, a cui fu affidato un neocostituito gruppo d’armate “Belluno”.

Boroevic, che aveva la responsabilità sulla parte più consistente e più minacciata del fronte, non condivideva l’ottimismo dei suoi superiori. Apparentemente era l’unico generale sul campo ad avere piena coscienza della situazione difficile in cui versavano le forze armate e ad averne fatto spesso oggetto di lamentela. Tuttavia, egli era anche convinto che sarebbe stato in grado di fermare un’eventuale offensiva italiana, da cui era stato messo in guardia già a settembre.

Il suo piano poggiava, tuttavia, su fondamenta fragili: la convinzione che le truppe al fronte non fossero influenzate dagli avvenimenti politici in patria e la fiducia nelle truppe della riserva, stazionate nelle retrovie.

Entrambi i fattori di questa equazione si rivelarono fallaci. Le truppe nelle retrovie erano largamente esposte alle notizie che provenivano dal fronte interno e, essendo costituite in larga maggioranza da reparti sloveni, croati, cechi e ungheresi, erano anche le più propense a farsi influenzare dalla crisi politica.

Un ulteriore errore di calcolo fu la convinzione che le piogge torrenziali e le piene del Piave, nella seconda metà di ottobre, avrebbero impedito agli italiani di lanciare proprio in quei giorni la loro offensiva.

A dispetto della situazione, infatti, nella notte del 24 ottobre, le forze armate italiane iniziarono le operazioni offensive con un attacco diversivo sull’Altopiano di Asiago e a sud del Montello, il cui scopo era anche quello di tagliare le comunicazioni tra i diversi gruppi austroungarici.

Le avverse condizioni meteorologiche, comunque, convinsero gli italiani a posporre l’attacco sul Piave e la resistenza del gruppo d’armate “Belluno”, nonostante la defezione di due reparti ungheresi, diedero un vantaggio ai difensori.

Il 26 ottobre gli austroungarici valutarono la situazione con ottimismo: gli attacchi erano stati respinti e le perdite italiane consistenti. Tuttavia, in quello stesso giorno la piena del Piave iniziò ad esaurirsi, permettendo al nemico di riprendere le operazioni per consentire l’attraversamento delle truppe. Il lento disgregamento delle truppe imperiali proseguì con ulteriori atti di insubordinazione nel gruppo d’armate “Tirolo”.

Questo non danneggiò, inizialmente i difensori: le posizioni di attraversamento stabilite dalle truppe italiane, coadiuvate da francesi e britannici, si rivelarono troppo deboli e le loro teste di ponte poterono essere isolate e messe in stallo. Il 28 ottobre gli austroungarici passarono alla controffensiva, ma non riuscirono a impedire che alcuni reparti nemici riuscissero a tagliare le loro linee.

L’avanzata della X Armata italiana, dei reparti britannici e del XVIII Corpo costrinsero alla ritirata la V e VI Armata austroungariche.

Tra il 28 e il 29 ottobre Boroevic comunicò ai suoi superiori che la situazione si stava aggravando e propose di abbandonare il Veneto. Le riserve, su cui aveva fatto affidamento, si ammutinarono e rifiutarono di essere impiegate. Quando il Capo di Stato Maggiore Arz von Straussenberg ordinò la ritirata, la situazione era ormai pregiudicata e l’unica via percorribile era quella della richiesta di un immediato armistizio, rifiutata però dalle autorità italiane.

Il 30 ottobre la ritirata austroungarica inizia, incalzata dall’avanzata delle truppe italiane che, in alcuni punti, tentarono di tagliare le vie di fuga del nemico. Nei giorni successivi le operazioni si sarebbero limitate a sporadici scontri tra le forze armate italiane e le retroguardie austroungariche. Le delegazioni austroungarica e italiana firmarono l’armistizio il 3 novembre 1918. I combattimenti cessarono 24 ore dopo.

Con essi si concludeva la parabola dell’impero austroungarico. La battaglia di Vittorio Veneto, prima che una sconfitta militare, segnò la sconfitta di un disegno politico e sociale logorato dal tempo e collassato dopo anni di guerra e di privazioni.









Balla, Tibor / Cadeddu, Lorenzo / Pozzato, Paolo (a cura di), La battaglia di Vittorio Veneto. Gli aspetti militari, Udine, Gaspari, 2005.

Audoin-Rouzeau, Stéphane / Becker, Jean-Jacques / Gibelli, Antonio (a cura di), La prima guerra mondiale, volume 2, Torino, Einaudi, 2007.

Stevenson, David, With our backs on the wall. Victory and defeat in 1918, Cambridge (MA), Harvard University Press, 2011.

Rauchensteiner, Manfried, Der Tod des Doppladlers. Österreich-Ungarn und der Erste Weltkrieg, Wien/Köln/Weimar/Bonn, Böhlau Verlag, 2014.

Cervone, Pier Paolo, Vittorio Veneto. L’ultima battaglia, Milano, Mursia, 1994.

The k.u.k. Armee at Vittorio Veneto

by Alessandro Salvador

"At Vittorio Veneto, Austria did not lost a battle, but lost the war and itself [...]"

General Erich Ludendorff

"Everyone now fights in isolation his fight against hunger and exhaustion. What never keeps these people together? Sense of loyalty, camaraderie and fear. Fear of being alone and disappearing in isolation ... "

Fritz Weber

One year after the great victory in the twelfth battle of the Isonzo (the battle of Caporetto), the Austro-Hungarian forces suffered the definitive defeat on the Piave front. An authentic route that resembled the Italian defeat of the previous year and which gave the coup de grace to the Austro-Hungarian empire, a little more than 50 years after its birth.

In the time between the 1917 victory and the overthrow of the 1918 parts, the imperial-royal army was never able to profit from its advantageous position. This can be attributed largely to the Italian ability to renew its armed forces, by the work of General Armando Diaz, but should not underestimate the strategic errors of the Austro-Hungarian General Staff, as well as the situation of deep crisis in which the empire fell.

The last attempt to impose a different course of the conflict occurred at the beginning of the summer, in the offensive known as the battle of the Solstice; the underestimation of the enemy and the incapacity of the generals on the front to have a common position on the conduct of the attack completely undermined the success of this. Moreover, the weakness of the emperor, Charles I, emerged, incapable of imposing on the military the overcoming of their internal divisions which, in the end, weakened the general scope of the offensive.

The battle of the Solstice brought out the political and economic weakness of the Danube Empire. The army was malnourished and ill-equipped and lacked fodder and fuel essential to ensure the mobility of the troops.

The internal front was worn down by the lack of raw materials and foodstuffs. The exhausted population no longer supported the war effort; nationalisms re-emerged, threatening the double monarchy in its foundations. Not only Croats, Slovenes and Czechs, notoriously potentially hostile to the double crown, but also the Hungarians began to exert separatist pressures. The military failure was linked to a deep political and social crisis.

In spite of everything, the Austro-Hungarian General Staff still showed optimism and planned a new offensive to be conducted by 1918. At the planning there should have been the new commander of the Army Group of Tyrol, Archduke Joseph, who succeeded the dismissed Conrad, General Svetozar Boroevic von Bojna, commander of the Army Group of the Piave, and General Ferdinand von Goglia, who was entrusted with a newly created Army Group "Belluno".

Boroevic, who was responsible for the most substantial and most threatened part of the front, did not share the optimism of his superiors. Apparently he was the only general in field who was fully aware of the plight of the armed forces and often complained about them. However, he was also convinced that he would be able to stop a possible Italian offensive, from which he had been warned as early as September.

His plan, however, was based on fragile foundations: the belief that troops at the front were not influenced by political events at home and confidence in the troops of the reserve, stationed in the rear.

Both factors of this equation proved to be fallacious. The troops in the rear were largely exposed to the news coming from the internal front and, being made up largely of Slovenian, Croatian, Czech and Hungarian Units, they were also the most likely to be influenced by the political crisis.

A further miscalculation was the belief that the torrential rains and floods of the Piave, in the second half of October, would have prevented the Italians from launching their offensive in those days.

In spite of the situation, in fact, on the night of 24 October, the Italian armed forces began offensive operations with a diversion attack on the Asiago plateau and south of the Montello, whose purpose was also to cut the communications between the various Austro-Hungarian groups .

The adverse weather conditions, however, convinced the Italians to postpone the attack on the Piave and the resistance of the group of armies "Belluno", despite the defection of two Hungarian departments, gave an advantage to the defenders.

On 26 October the Austro-Hungarians evaluated the situation with optimism: the attacks were rejected and the Italian losses were substantial. However, on that same day the flood of the Piave began to run out, allowing the enemy to resume operations to allow the troops to cross. The slow disintegration of the imperial troops continued with further acts of insubordination in the "Tirolo" Army Group.

Initially, this did not damage the defenders: the crossing positions established by the Italian troops, assisted by the French and the British, proved too weak and their bridgeheads could be isolated and stalled. On 28 October, the Austro-Hungarians went to the counter-offensive, but failed to prevent some enemy units from cutting their lines.

The advance of the X Italian Army, of the British departments and of the XVIII Corps forced the V and VI Austro-Hungarian armies to retreat.

Between 28 and 29 October, Boroevic informed his superiors that the situation was worsening and he proposed leaving the Veneto. The reserves, on which he had counted, mutinied and refused to be employed. When the Chief of Staff Arz von Straussenberg ordered the retreat, the situation was now undermined and the only way forward was that of the request for an immediate armistice, refused, however, by the Italian authorities.

On 30 October the Austro-Hungarian retreat began, prompted by the advance of the Italian troops who, in some points, tried to cut off the enemy's escape routes. In the following days the operations would have been limited to sporadic clashes between the Italian armed forces and the Austro-Hungarian rearguards. The Austro-Hungarian and Italian delegations signed the armistice on 3 November 1918. The fighting ceased 24 hours later.

The parable of the Austro-Hungarian empire was concluded with them. The battle of Vittorio Veneto, before a military defeat, marked the defeat of a political and social design worn down by time and collapsed after years of war and deprivation.









Balla, Tibor / Cadeddu, Lorenzo / Pozzato, Paolo (a cura di), La battaglia di Vittorio Veneto. Gli aspetti militari, Udine, Gaspari, 2005.

Audoin-Rouzeau, Stéphane / Becker, Jean-Jacques / Gibelli, Antonio (a cura di), La prima guerra mondiale, volume 2, Torino, Einaudi, 2007.

Stevenson, David, With our backs on the wall. Victory and defeat in 1918, Cambridge (MA), Harvard University Press, 2011.

Rauchensteiner, Manfried, Der Tod des Doppladlers. Österreich-Ungarn und der Erste Weltkrieg, Wien/Köln/Weimar/Bonn, Böhlau Verlag, 2014.

Cervone, Pier Paolo, Vittorio Veneto. L’ultima battaglia, Milano, Mursia, 1994.

Verso la fine della monarchia. L’armata austro-ungarica prima di Vittorio Veneto

di Joachim Bürgschwentner

Con l’offensiva di giugno sul Piave l’ultimo tentativo da parte dell’Austria-Ungheria di salvarsi dall’imminente fine con una vittoria militare era finito in catastrofe. Nell’estate 1918 la monarchia asburgica era così andata incontro alla sconfitta ormai inevitabile. L’armata era irreversibilmente sfiduciata e scoraggiata, i soldati e gli ufficiali del fronte risentivano di forti carenze di vettovagliamento ed equipaggiamento e infine l’esercito come pure la monarchia si sfaldarono nelle loro singole componenti etniche.

Anziché concretizzare la speranza di svincolarsi in qualche modo, attraverso un successo militare sull’Italia, dalla drammatica situazione politica, economica e militare, il fallimento dell’offensiva di giugno, come ha espresso Manfried Rauchensteiner, assunse “le proporzioni di una catastrofe nella misura in cui era stato inferto il colpo mortale all’ultimo strumento di potere, intatto, della monarchia asburgica” ovvero l’armata.

La seconda battaglia del Piave aveva ancora una volta evidenziato come l’armata imperiale e regia giunta fosse allo stremo: pur con grandissimi sforzi, le truppe potevano essere alimentate, equipaggiate e armate solo in modo del tutto insufficiente. L’offensiva doveva autoalimentarsi; l’avanzata avrebbe portato alle truppe (come già accaduto nella dodicesima battaglia dell’Isonzo) viveri, equipaggiamento e armi. Il suo fallimento comportò, invece, l’esaurimento delle ultime riserve. I soldati erano denutriti e senza forze e, quindi, estremamente esposti al rischio di malattie che, nell’estate 1918, provocarono perdite maggiori delle stesse operazioni belliche. Nel suo diario, il bersagliere Karl Mayr annotava come molti soldati avessero un aspetto “emaciato, imbarbarito”, “con le uniformi che cadevano lungo il corpo ormai a brandelli e le scarpe che avevano qua e là buchi oltre i quali facevano capolino i diti nudi” (cit. in Brandauer 388).

L’industria degli armamenti soffriva di una serie di problemi. Ad esempio, le scorte di ottone, nonostante la fusione delle campane delle chiese e persino la raccolta delle maniglie di porte e finestre, erano praticamente esaurite. Dove erano presenti materie prime, spesso mancava il carbone per lavorarle o per trasportare su rotaia i prodotti finiti al fronte. A ciò si aggiunsero gli scioperi e le rivolte degli operai. Ne conseguì che sia la quantità sia la qualità dei rifornimenti di armi diminuirono sempre più. Aerei e cannoni erano soggetti a guasti a causa di difetti dei materiali. Rispetto all’Intesa, la monarchia versava pertanto sempre più in una condizione di inferiorità tecnica. Nella battaglia di Vittorio Veneto, l’Austria-Ungheria schierò 30 aerei, contro i 600 dell’Intesa. Anche le munizioni erano scarse: secondo un corrispondente di guerra ucraino, i colpi sparati dall’Italia e dall’Austria-Ungheria erano nel rapporto di 150 a 1. Nella battaglia di Vittorio Veneto, il Gruppo Belluno riferì di avere munizioni ancora solo per un giorno. Eppure, prima portò avanti un riuscito contrattacco, mentre in seguito, giunto ormai alla fine della sua potenza di fuoco, non gli rimase altro che attendere la stipula di un armistizio.

Il fallimento dell’offensiva di giugno era dovuto anche a gravi errori strategici, al disordine e a un comando miserabile. La conoscenza di questi errori era ampiamente diffusa e andò a minare la fiducia all’interno dell’armata a tutti i livelli: dai soldati semplici, alle cariche di grado intermedio fino ai vertici del comando dell’armata. La volontà di resistere e di continuare a combattere aveva subito forti lacerazioni. Se prima i soldati avevano già sfruttato licenze e malattie per rimanere per più tempo possibile lontani dal fronte, nell’estate 1918 le defezioni si trasformarono in un fenomeno di massa. Spinti dalla fame e dallo sconforto, i soldati si consegnavano al nemico o si imboscavano nell’entroterra. Persino ufficiali di alto rango disertarono. In singoli casi si verificarono violenti ammutinamenti, molto più spesso, però, episodi di disobbedienza, in cui i comandi venivano semplicemente ignorati. Nell’ottobre 1918 diverse unità si rifiutarono di essere trasferite al fronte di combattimento, ad esempio il Reggimento Landsturm (milizia territoriale) sloveno-tedesco n. 27, che avrebbe dovuto essere distaccato in Serbia.

Sfiducia, defezione e rifiuto di obbedienza erano strettamente connessi alla disgregazione etnico-politica dell’impero multietnico: il clima tra le varie nazionalità era inevitabilmente compromesso. Sul fronte, tale mancanza di coesione si manifestò, ad esempio, in reciproche accuse di inaffidabilità, disparità di trattamento e sabotaggio dei propri sforzi bellici. L’imperatore Carlo intraprese un ultimo disperato tentativo di salvare il proprio impero, prospettando una ristrutturazione della duplice monarchia in uno stato federale. Il suo proclama del 16 ottobre, che era inteso come un piano di riordino post-bellico oltre che come un invito a resistere, fu tuttavia interpretato come un segnale della fine della monarchia. Ciò a sua volta rafforzò la resistenza opposta dai soldati al proseguimento dei combattimenti.

Gli Stati che ora stavano per formarsi invitarono i “loro” soldati a difendere la diretta madrepatria ponendo gli uomini, soprattutto gli ufficiali, di fronte a conflitti di lealtà. Cosa contava di più: il giuramento all’imperatore o l’obbligo assunto nei confronti della propria terra di origine? Con l’avanzare del crollo della monarchia, quest’ultima opzione acquisì un peso sempre maggiore. Con la caduta della monarchia, per molti soldati il fronte divenne privo di significato e prese piede una “mentalità del ciascuno per sé”. Unità slovene, croate e ceche si rifiutarono di essere trasferite in zone di combattimento. Il 23 ottobre, gli Ungheresi e gli Slavi del sud del gruppo d’armata Boroević dichiararono la loro intenzione di non voler continuare a combattere. Il giorno successivo, all’inizio della battaglia di Vittorio Veneto, l’Ungheria richiamò in patria i suoi cittadini arruolati per proteggere il suo confine meridionale minacciato in seguito alla capitolazione bulgara e al cedimento del fronte balcanico. Nei giorni successivi, reparti cechi, moravi, sloveni, croati e polacchi manifestarono la loro contrarietà a combattere e imboccarono la via del ritorno a casa. Nel momento in cui soldati e unità dei territori alpini austriaci come i Kaiserjäger e i Kaiserschützen furono chiamati a coprire tali ammanchi, anch’essi si ribellarono.

Tale essendo la situazione, quasi sorprende come il 24 ottobre l’esercito imperiale e regio fosse ancora in grado di opporre resistenza alle truppe dell’Intesa attaccanti. Ciò è da ricondursi al fatto che, da un lato, il mondo militare, considerato il fronte vicino al collasso e il futuro incerto, perlomeno offriva ancora un ultimo baluardo di sicurezza e, dall’altro, che i soldati non combattevano più per l’Impero nel suo complesso, ma, molto probabilmente, per la loro stessa sopravvivenza. Parallelamente al declino politico della monarchia asburgica, nell’ottobre 1918 si assistette in brevissimo tempo al collasso anche della sua armata e del fronte.



Brandauer, Isabelle: Kriegserfahrungen. Soldaten im Gebirgskrieg, in: Hermann Kuprian, Oswald Überegger eds.), Katastrophenjahre. Der Erste Weltkrieg und Tirol, Innsbruck: Universitätsverlag Wagner 2014, S. 385-400.

Rauchensteiner Manfried, The First World War and the End of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1914-1918, Vienna/Cologne/Weimar: Böhlau 2014.

Schubert, Peter, Piave 1918. Österreich-Ungarns letzte Schlacht, Klagenfurt/Wien: Hermagoras/Mohorjeva 2000.

Heading towards demise. Austria-Hungary’s armed forces prior to Vittorio Veneto

by Joachim Bürgschwentner

The June offensive (the Second Battle of the Piave River), Austria-Hungary’s last attempt to secure a military victory and save itself from imminent demise failed catastrophically. Therefore by the summer of 1918 defeat for the Habsburg Monarchy had become inevitable. Trust and confidence within the armed forces were irreversibly shaken. Soldiers and officers on the front suffered from acute shortages of supplies and eventually the Army, just like the Monarchy, disintegrated into its individual ethnic groups.

Rather than fulfilling the hope of still being able to free itself in some way from the dramatic political, economic and social situation by securing a military victory over Italy, the failed June offensive had as Manfried Rauchensteiner put it “thus turned into a catastrophe, the last remaining instrument of power of the Habsburg Monarchy “ – namely the Army – „had been dealt a deadly blow“.

The Second Battle of the Piave River showed once more that the Austro-Hungarian army was exhausted. Even with the greatest of efforts, the troops only received inadequate supplies of food, equipment and weaponry. The offensive had been intended to be self-supporting; the advance had meant to bring the troops food, equipment and weaponry (as it had in the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo). Its failure meant however exhausting the last reserves. The soldiers were undernourished and weak, and therefore highly susceptible to disease, which claimed more victims in the summer of 1918 than did combat operations. The Standschütze Karl Mayr noted in his diary that many soldiers resembled „haggard, savage figures“ “whose uniforms hung from their bodies in shreds and whose shoes had holes here and there with bare toes peeping through“ (quote n. Brandauer 388).

The armament industry suffered from a series of problems. For instance, brass stocks were practically exhausted despite the fact that church bells had been smelted and even door and window handles requisitioned. Where raw materials were available, there was in many cases no coal to process them or transport the finished products by train to the front. Moreover, there were strikes and mutinies of workers. As a result, both the quantity and quality of weapons supplies declined more and more. Aircraft and guns were prone to defects due to the faulty materials. The Monarchy therefore fell increasingly behind in technology in comparison with the Allies. In the Battle of Vittorio Veneto 30 Austro-Hungarian aircraft were deployed against the Allies’ 600. Ammunition was also in short supply. According to a Ukrainian war correspondent, the Italians fired 150 shots to every one that Austria-Hungary fired! In the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, the Army group Belluno reported that they only had ammunition for one more day. Nevertheless they managed to launch a successful counter-attack, then when their firepower ran out, all they could do was wait for a ceasefire to be established.

The June offensive also failed because of major strategic errors, chaos and poor leadership. Awareness of these failures was widespread and eroded confidence within the army at all levels, from the ordinary soldiers, through the middle ranks up as far as the top levels of command of military leadership. The will to resist and continue fighting had started to crumble. After soldiers had used up their leaves of absence or sick leave in order to stay away from the front as long as possible, in the summer of 1918 desertion became a mass phenomenon. Driven by hunger and despair, soldiers handed themselves over to the enemy or they vanished in the hinterland. Even a number of high-ranking officers deserted. Occasionally there were violent mutinies, far more often however simply cases of disobedience for ignoring commands. In October 1918 several units refused to be transferred to the battlefront, such as the Slovenian-German Landsturm regiment No. 27, which should have been sent to Serbia.

Loss of confidence, desertion and insubordination were closely tied with the ethnic and political disintegration of the multi-racial Empire. The sentiment between the various nationalities was deeply poisoned. This became apparent on the front for example in the reciprocal recriminations of unreliability, unequal treatment and sabotage of their own war efforts. Emperor Karl made a final desperate attempt to save his Reich by raising the prospect of reorganising the Dual Monarchy into a federal state. His proclamation of 16 October, which was intended as a plan for a post-war order and an appeal to resist, was however interpreted as a sign that the Monarchy had come to an end. This in turn encouraged the soldiers to desist from further fighting.

The now newly emerging states called on “their own“ soldiers to defend their immediate homeland causing the men, especially the officers, to be faced with a conflict of loyalties. What was more important: the oath they swore to the Emperor or their duty towards their own people and home country? With the progressive break-up of the Monarchy, the latter increasingly prevailed. With the collapse of the Monarchy the front for a great number of soldiers had lost its significance, an “every man for himself” mentality became rife. Slovene, Croatian and Czech units refused to be transferred to combat zones. On 23 October Hungary and South Slavs in the army group Boroević declared that they would no longer fight. The next day, when the Battle of Vittorio Veneto began, Hungary ordered its citizens-in-arms to return home to protect its southern border, which was under threat as a result of the surrender of Bulgaria and the collapse of the Balkan front. Over the following days Czech, Moravian, Slovene, Croatian and Polish formations refused to continue fighting and started out on their way home. When soldiers and units from Austria’s Alpine regions, such as the Kaiserjäger and Kaiserschützen, were called up to fill the gaps, these also rebelled.

Under these circumstances it is quite astonishing that the Austro-Hungarian armed forces were in any position at all on 24 October to resist the attacking Allied troops. This might be explained on the one hand by the fact that in the light of the collapsing front and uncertain future, at least the armed forces still offered a last remnant of security, and on the other, that the soldiers were indeed no longer fighting for the empire in its entirety but actually for their very own survival. Parallel to the political break-up of the Habsburg monarchy in October 1918, within a very short time its Army and front also collapsed.



Brandauer, Isabelle: Kriegserfahrungen. Soldaten im Gebirgskrieg, in: Hermann Kuprian, Oswald Überegger eds.), Katastrophenjahre. Der Erste Weltkrieg und Tirol, Innsbruck: Universitätsverlag Wagner 2014, S. 385-400.

Rauchensteiner Manfried, The First World War and the End of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1914-1918, Vienna/Cologne/Weimar: Böhlau 2014.

Schubert, Peter, Piave 1918. Österreich-Ungarns letzte Schlacht, Klagenfurt/Wien: Hermagoras/Mohorjeva 2000.



Armando Diaz

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... Read all