June 1918

Battles of the Piave

By Alessandro Chebat


The young soldiers born in 1899 had their baptism of fire. Their behaviour was magnificent. (...) They went to the front line singing. I saw them return in small numbers. They were still singing.

(Daily report signed by General Armando Diaz on 18 November 1917)

The great battle in Veneto started by the Austro-Hungarian army with the last of its forces, but also with the firm will to achieve victory, had ended with a failure very similar to a real defeat.

(Concluding remarks of the official Austrian Report on the Second Battle of the Piave River)

In reality the enemy did not neglect anything to achieve the positive outcome that was vital for him, neither momentum, tenacity or valour - which were, moreover, usual and had been witnessed in so many previous battles - were lacking.

(Concluding remarks of the official Italian Report on the Second Battle of the Piave River)

To fully understand the importance of the Second Battle of the Piave River - the battle that even more than Vittorio Veneto sanctioned the final Italian victory - we need to take a step back to the early morning hours of 24 October 1917, when Austrian and German troops broke through the Italian lines between Bovec and Tolmin and forced the Royal Italian Army into a disastrous retreat through Friuli and Veneto, where they took up positions on the Piave. The great extent of the victory was primarily astonishing to the Austrian and German commanders, who had certainly planned for a large attack but did not foresee a deep penetration and continuation of the offensive. 

On 9 November 1917, Diaz took over as the supreme commander. He found a disorganized army, whose ranks were depleted and, according to Cadorna, was greatly demoralized. It was soon discovered that the warnings about the alleged morale crisis were unfounded. Even after the traumatic defeat of Caporetto the soldiers were still capable of fighting properly, and the reports of cowardice and easy surrender were largely false, to the extent that during the days of the advance the Austro-Germans suffered about 70,000 dead and wounded. However, the troops available were too few: the front between the Stelvio and Asiago, although not engaged by the offensive, could not be left undefended, as it was under threat of attack by the Austrian 11th Army in Trentino. The new positions behind which the Italian army had entrenched - on Mount Grappa and along the Piave - could count on seven divisions of the 4th Army withdrawn from Cadore (Gen. Di Robilant) and on the eight divisions of the 3rd Army (Duke of Aosta), which had arrived from the Karst. Overall the troops were still in fairly decent fighting condition, but they had lost most of their heavy equipment (medium and heavy artillery, plus cannons) during the retreat. On the Veneto plain, on the other hand, the 2nd Army and the 5th Army were being reorganized, having been ordered to fill their ranks with stragglers from Caporetto, and there was an influx of six French and five British divisions, comprising 240,000 men in total.

Despite the lack of pre-established plans, the Austrian and German commanders were determined to continue an offensive that would lead to a new victory against the exhausted Italians. Thus it was that on 13 November 1917 Austrian troops launched an attack against the precarious lines of the Piave, Monte Grappa and the Asiago plateau: the deadlock engagement had begun. On the Piave, the Austrian and German forces, despite counting on their overwhelming superiority, were unsuccessful in their attempts to take the right bank due to stiff Italian resistance and a providential swelling of the river. In the Vidor bridges sector, attempts by the German divisions to force the Italian defences failed under heavy losses, and the Austrian offensives further south had no better luck. The battle of Mount Grappa, which raged for over a month, was longer and more uncertain. Here the Austrian and German troops achieved some initial successes, taking Mount Tomba and the Monfanera ridge overlooking the Veneto plain. However, again here the Italians firmly held the dominant positions and repulsed all attacks. The battle came to a halt in December due to the exhaustion of the Austrian and German troops and the influx of French reinforcements, which recaptured the Tomba-Monfanera ridge on the 30th of the month. Attempts made by the Austro-Hungarian forces under Conrad on the Asiago plateau, which initially managed to occupy the plateau, but failed in the attempt to reach the plain of Vicenza, ended in the same manner.

The reasons for the defensive victory on the Piave and Monte Grappa, as well as the tenacious and at times heroic resistance of the Italian troops - which only a few weeks before had been overwhelmed at Caporetto - are various. On a psychological level, there was unquestionably the (positive) effect of having to stand with one's "back against the wall" to face an enemy perceived as being unscrupulous and unmerciful, and at the same time the influx of the new recruits born in 1899 infused "new life" into the exhausted troops. As well, the rapid reorganization of the forces of the 3rd and 4th Armies and the strong defences placed on Monte Grappa from the time of the Battle of Asiago should not be overlooked. The contribution of the 11 Allied divisions, first held in reserve and then thrown into the fray when the battle was all but over, was indeed modest. If therefore the Allies' direct contribution to the engagement was of secondary importance, on the contrary, their indirect contribution proved essential, since their presence allowed Diaz to send all available Italian units into battle.

Finally, there was a series of errors and weaknesses in the Austrian and German forces that must be clearly taken into account. They were in fact dispersed over a vast front, thus lacking numerical superiority in the decisive sectors. The heavy artillery had been left behind during the advance (some of the German guns had already been redeployed to France). There were also enormous difficulties in supplying the divisions caused by the extending of the supply chain, and the high morale of the troops did not compensate for the lack of the surprise effect.  

The following months on the Italian front were essentially a stalemate. The Austro-Hungarian army, though freed from the pressures of the Eastern Front, was going through a profound crisis. The 500,000 former prisoners repatriated from Russia could not be quickly re-employed and in some cases represented a problematic critical mass that spread pacifist, Bolshevik and nationalist ideas in the quarters. On 1 February 1918, sailors at the Kotor naval base mutinied as food shortages grew worse, provoking rebellions among troops in the rear, strikes in factories and cities, as well as centrifugal independence-minded forces among an increasing number of subjects of the multi-ethnic empire. In contrast to this, on the other side of the line, the Italian army could count on a country that was for the most part solidly behind the war effort and on a constantly strengthening military apparatus, from both a morale and a material point of view.

Nevertheless, the Austro-Hungarian army deployed on the Italian front could count on substantial forces that had not yet given any sign of collapse, equipped with numerous artillery pieces abundantly supplied with ammunition. The repeated peace soundings made by Emperor Karl failed, and in light of the serious internal situation of the country, the only viable path was the one that would lead to a clear victory on the field against the centuries-old Italian foes. The new offensive on the Piave in June 1918 was planned by the Austrian high command with the imperative that it could not and must not fail. A total of 58 divisions were organized in the Tyrol Army Group under the command of Marshal Conrad and in the Piave Army Group of Marshal Borojević. As had happened in the previous deadlock battle, once again the Austro-Hungarian commanders were guilty of excessive optimism, convinced that a concentrated attack of all their forces would be sufficient to break through the Italian line. In the first place the attack was not a pinpoint one, but rather an all-out frontal attack along the front from Asiago to the sea, thus wasting the advantage of numerical superiority in crucial sectors. Another problem was that of the rations for the troops, which were too scant to maintain them through long fights. However, this element paradoxically contributed to further galvanize the soldiers, convinced that they would seize a decisive victory and a large amount of booty.

The Austrian offensive started on 13 June at the Tonale Pass and on 15 June from the Asiago plateau to the Adriatic, achieving partial and ephemeral successes. The Italian information service was perfectly aware of the offensive and the high command had already placed ample reserves in the rear and made massive use of the artillery, to such an extent that in the Asiago sector it was used effectively even before the start of the offensive. At first the Austro-Hungarian troops, full of vigour, gained possession of the so-called "three mountains" (Col del Rosso, Col d'Ecchele, and Monte Valbella) and of the sector between the Brenta river and Monte Grappa, however, by the end of June all of the positions taken had already been reconquered.

Greater concerns were caused by the operations along the Piave, where the Italian defenses were less strong. Despite having to deal with a new swelling of the river, the Austrians at first managed to cross it at multiple points, taking possession of the Montello and a strip of land between the Grave di Papadopoli and the Adriatic. However - once again - the timely use of artillery and aviation first halted the advance, and then destroyed the pontoon boats over which the Austrian troops and supplies crossed, making further advances unsustainable. The subsequent influx of Italian reserves ultimately allowed the lost ground to be regained

Despite the great valour of the Austro-Hungarian troops, which in some places seriously threatened the resistance of the front, and despite some lacks of efficiency in Diaz' supreme command, the Second Battle of the Piave ended in a clear Italian victory. Among the ranks of the Royal Italian Army there were 86,600 dead, injured and missing, compared to more than 118,000 for the Austro-Hungarians. In Italy, the victory in the Second Battle of the Piave echoed strongly, even entering into "national mythology" thanks in particular to a very popular song written by the composer E. A. Mario La leggenda del Piave. Propaganda heralded it as the sacred river of Italy, behind which to prepare the final comeback.

For the Austro-Hungarian army the defeat was burdensome - beyond the point of view of material losses - especially in light of the consequences to the morale and the unity of the troops and the home front. The upper military and political spheres of the dual-monarchy were in fact aware that they would not be able to launch a new large offensive against Italy. The Second Battle of the Piave was the last chance for the Austrians to turn the tide of the war to their advantage. Its failure at such a heavy cost, coupled with the disastrous social and economic conditions the Empire was experiencing, in fact signified the beginning of the end, which would come four months later at Vittorio Veneto. The words of General Baj-Macario illustrate this: "The Austro-Hungarians went through it all: in addition to the churning of the earth and the sky and our insistent counterattacks, they knew the torment of hunger and thirst, and the worry of the swollen river at their backs. The waters of the canals and the Piave which conveyed and dismembered the corpses were polluted, yellowish in colour and hazardous to drink. Our tents, houses, farmhouses, and shelters had been thoroughly searched in the frantic search for food. They ate unripe fruit and green corn to alleviate their hunger."

Non c'è più se non un fiume in Italia, il Piave; la vena maestra della nostra vita. Non c'è più in Italia se non quell'acqua, soltanto quell'acqua, per dissetar le nostre donne, i nostri figli, i nostri vecchi e il nostro dolore

(Gabriele D’Annunzio)

L'ultimo assalto austriaco: la battaglia del Solstizio

di Alessandro Salvador

Dopo aver sconfitto l’Italia nel corso della dodicesima battaglia dell’Isonzo, meglio nota come la disfatta di Caporetto, l’esercito austroungarico era stato bloccato su un fronte che, dall’area del Lago di Garda, si estendeva fino al massiccio del Grappa e poi ridiscendeva lungo il corso del fiume Piave fino alla sua foce sull’Adriatico.

Lo stato maggiore austriaco era convinto di poter proseguire l’offensiva e ottenere una vittoria finale sull’Italia. Questa determinazione era incarnata dal nuovo capo di stato maggiore, Arthur Arz von Straussenberg, che aveva sostituito Conrad von Hötzendorf. Quest’ultimo, assieme a Svetoyar Borojevic von Bojna, comandava uno dei due Gruppi d’Armata sul fronte italiano.

I piani per un’offensiva decisiva nei confronti dell’Italia iniziarono ad essere preparati nel febbraio del 1918, anche su pressione dello Stato Maggiore tedesco, che voleva in questo modo tentare di distogliere forze inglesi e francesi dal fronte occidentale.

L’Austria-Ungheria aveva un vantaggio temporale derivato dalla disponibilità di truppe da dispiegare dopo la chiusura del fronte orientale in seguito alla pace di Brest-Litovsk. D’altro canto, però, l’esercito austroungarico aveva carenza di materiali e munizioni e le truppe in Italia erano malnutrite da diverso tempo.

Al contrario, dopo l’opera di ammodernamento svolta dal generale Armando Diaz, l’esercito italiano si presentava meglio organizzato e ben equipaggiato, anche grazie a consistenti rifornimenti ricevuti dagli alleati dell’Intesa.

Ciononostante, lo Stato Maggiore austroungarico era deciso a lanciare un’offensiva totale, sulla quale però mancava un accordo tra i generali sul campo in merito alla strategia. Hötzendorf e Borojevic, in particolare, erano divisi da profonde divergenze personali. Il primo sosteneva che l’attacco dovesse partire dal Tirolo meridionale lungo l’altopiano di Asiago, similmente alla Strafexpedition del 1916; il secondo, dapprima riluttante all’idea stessa di un’offensiva totale, si convinse poi dell’opportunità di fare del suo settore di comando il fulcro dell’attacco, assalendo le linee lungo il Piave e puntando su Treviso.

L’incapacità e la scarsa volontà del capo di Straussenberg e dell’imperatore Carlo I di decidere a quale dei due generali dare ragione, generò un piano d’attacco a tenaglia su entrambi i settori del fronte, con la conseguenza di una frammentazione delle truppe su un fronte troppo ampio che, alla fine, si rivelerà deleteria.

Una terza direzione d’attacco, lungo il passo del Tonale e verso Brescia, fu declassata ad attacco diversivo.

Sul versante italiano del fronte, vi erano state a loro volta pressioni da parte dell’Intesa per un’offensiva contro le linee austroungariche, allo scopo di ridurre la pressione tedesca sul fronte occidentale. Tuttavia, le forze italiane, riorganizzate da Diaz dopo la disfatta di Caporetto, erano state predisposte per un sistema di difesa flessibile e non erano in grado di compiere un attacco coordinato su larga scala. La nuova dottrina di difesa prevedeva larga autonomia decisionale per le singole unità, l’abbandono del trinceramento totale e la definizione di punti chiave che sarebbero stati difesi con l’ausilio di almeno 13 divisioni di riserva autotrasportate e pronte a intervenire dove richiesto.

A pregiudicare il successo dell’offensiva austroungarica fu anche il fatto che i seervizi d’informazione italiani furono in grado di conoscere l’esatta ora di inizio della stessa, le tre del mattino del 15 giugno.

Due giorni prima di quella data venne lanciato l’attacco diversivo sul Passo del Tonale, che si risolse in un fallimento completo. Nonostante questo l’offensiva principale non fu interrotta e trovò ad attenderla l’artiglieria italiana che, con un pesante fuoco di sbarramento sulle trincee austroungariche gremite di soldati, provocò pesanti perdite.

L’assalto del Gruppo d’Armata di Hötzendorf lungo l’Altopiano di Asiago non riuscì a conseguire i risultati sperati. Dopo una prima avanzata, la resistenza italiana si rivelò troppo forte e costrinse gli attaccanti a tornare sulle posizioni di partenza. Nei giorni successivi vi furono ripetuti tentativi di assalto, che provocarono anche pesanti critiche da parte di Borojevic, senza alcun successo.

Già dal primo giorno risultò chiaro che l’offensiva si appoggiava ormai solo sul Gruppo d’Armata di Borojevic e sulla direttrice d’attacco contro il fronte del Piave. Grazie al fuoco di copertura dell’artiglieria, gli austroungarici riuscirono ad allestire dei ponti temporanei in diversi punti del fiume permettendo un’avanzata che creò una testa di ponte ampia 24 km e profonda 8 km. Nonostante questo, però, il contrattacco italiano obbligò anche queste forze alla ritirata.

Il giorno successivo l’offensiva riprese, ma l’artiglieria italiana aveva distrutto buona parte dei ponti. Le truppe imperiali riuscirono comunque a raggiungere l’altra sponda, ma il Piave, rigonfio, creò difficoltà isolò diverse unità esponendole al fuoco italiano. Circa 20.000 soldati austroungarici annegarono. La mancanza di ponti, poi, tagliò le linee di rifornimento e non consentì il consolidamento della posizione.

I combattimenti durarono diversi giorni, ma la difesa italiana diede buona prova di sé e il 20 giugno fu l’imperatore stesso ad assumere il comando delle truppe, ordinando la ritirata. Il 23 giugno l’esercito italiano aveva recuperato le posizioni perdute durante l’offensiva.

A quel punto i comandanti dell’Intesa chiesero a Diaz di proseguire l’offensiva, con la speranza di infliggere una sconfitta decisiva alle truppe imperiali. Le forze italiane, però, erano scombinate e disperse, come risultato dell’applicazione della dottrina della difesa mobile, e non potevano condurre un’offensiva massiccia. Vennero tuttavia effettuati attacchi mirati allo scopo di acquisire posizioni migliori in vista di una futura offensiva generalizzata.

L’esercito austroungarico aveva interpretato questa offensiva come un’operazione su larga scala e con l’uso di tutte le risorse disponibili. Alla fine, senza aver ottenuto risultati di rilievo, si ritrovava con ingenti perdite, un esercito sfinito e in una posizione di maggiore vulnerabilità in caso di offensive italiane.







John Gooch, The Italian Army and the First World War, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Pierluigi Romeo di Colloredo, La Battaglia del Solstizio - Giugno 1918, Associazione Culturale Italia, 2008.

Manfried Rauchensteiner, Der Tod des Doppeladlers, Österreich-Ungarn und der Erste Weltkrieg, Graz/Wien/Köln, Styria Verlag, 1993.

Mario Bernardi, Di qua e di là dal Piave, Milano, Mursia, 1989.

Peter Fiala, Die letzte Offensive Altösterreichs. Führungsprobleme und Führerverantwortlichkeit bei der österreichisch-ungarischen Offensive in Venetien, Juni 1918, Boppard am Rhein, Boldt, 1967.

Now there is only one river in Italy, the Piave; the master vein of our life. There is no more in Italy but that water, only that water, to quench our women, our children, our elderly and our pain 

(Gabriele D'Annunzio)

The last Austrian assault: the  battle of the Solstice

By Alessandro Salvador

After defeating Italy during the twelfth battle of the Isonzo, better known as the defeat of Caporetto, the Austro-Hungarian army had been blocked on a front that extended from the area of Garda Lake to the Grappa massif and descended along the river Piave up to its mouth on the Adriatic.

The Austrian general staff was convinced that he could continue the offensive and obtain a final victory over Italy. This determination was embodied by the new chief of staff, Arthur Arz von Straussenberg, who had replaced Conrad von Hötzendorf. The latter, together with Svetoyar Borojevic von Bojna, commanded one of the two Army Groups on the Italian front.

Plans for a decisive offensive against Italy began to be prepared in February 1918, also under pressure from the German General Staff, who wanted in this way to try to divert British and French forces from the Western front.

Austria-Hungary had the temporal advantage derived from the availability of troops to deploy after the closure of the eastern front following the peace of Brest-Litovsk. On the other hand, however, the Austro-Hungarian army lacked materials and ammunition and the troops in Italy had been malnourished for some time.

On the contrary, after the modernization work carried out by General Armando Diaz, the Italian army presented itself better organized and well equipped, also thanks to substantial supplies received from the Entente's allies.

Nevertheless, the Austro-Hungarian General Staff was determined to launch a total offensive on which, however, there was no agreement among generals regarding the strategy. Hötzendorf and Borojevic, in particular, were divided by profound personal differences. The first claimed that the attack should start from the southern Tyrol along the Asiago plateau, similar to the Strafexpedition of 1916; the second, initially reluctant to the idea of ​​a total offensive, then became convinced of the opportunity to make his command sector the focus of the attack, assaulting the lines along the Piave and focusing on Treviso.

The inability and unwillingness of Straussenberg and of Emperor Charles I to decide which of the two generals to agree, generated a pincer attack plan on both sectors of the front, with the result of fragmenting troops on a front too broad that, in the end, it will prove to be deleterious.

A third direction of attack, along the Tonale pass and towards Brescia, was downgraded to diversion attack.

On the Italian front, there were also pressures by the Entente for an offensive against the Austro-Hungarian lines, with the aim of reducing German pressure on the western front. However, the Italian forces, reorganized by Diaz after the defeat of Caporetto, had been set up for a flexible defense system and were not able to carry out a large-scale coordinated attack. The new defense doctrine provided for large decision-making autonomy for the single units, the abandonment of the total entrenchment and the definition of key points that would have been defended with the help of at least 13 reserve divisions and ready to intervene where required.

The success of the Austro-Hungarian offensive was immediately compromised by the fact that the Italian information services knew the exact time at which it began, 3 AM of the 15 June.

Two days before that date the diversion attack was launched on the Tonale Pass, which resulted in a complete failure. Despite this, the main offensive was not interrupted and found waiting for it the Italian artillery which, with a heavy barrage of fire on the Austro-Hungarian trenches full of soldiers, caused heavy losses.

The assault of the Hötzendorf Army Group along the Asiago plateau failed to achieve the desired results. After a first advance, the Italian resistance proved too strong and forced the attackers to return to their starting positions. In the following days there were repeated attempts to assault, which also caused heavy criticism from Borojevic, without any success.

From the very first day it became clear that the offensive was now supported only on the Borojevic Army Group and on the attack front against the Piave front. Thanks to the artillery cover fire, the Austro-Hungarians managed to set up temporary bridges at different points of the river, allowing an advance that created a 24 km wide and 8 km deep bridgehead. Despite this, however, the Italian counterattack pushed also these forces to retreat.

The next day the offensive resumed, but the Italian artillery had destroyed most of the bridges. However, the Imperial troops managed to reach the other shore, but the Piave in flood, created difficulties isolating several units and exposing them to Italian fire. About 20,000 Austro-Hungarian soldiers drowned. The lack of bridges then cut supply lines and did not allow the consolidation of the position.

The fighting lasted several days, but the Italian defense gave good proof of itself and on June 20 was the emperor himself to take command of the troops, ordering the retreat. On 23 June the Italian army had recovered its lost positions during the offensive.

At that point the commanders of the Entente asked Diaz to continue the offensive, with the hope of inflicting a decisive defeat on the imperial troops. The Italian forces, however, were messed up and scattered, as a result of the application of the mobile defense doctrine, and could not conduct a massive offensive. Targeted attacks were however carried out in order to acquire better positions in view of a future generalized offensive.

The Austro-Hungarian army had interpreted this offensive as a large-scale operation using all the latest available resources. In the end, without having obtained significant results, it found itself with huge losses, an exhausted army and in a position of greater vulnerability in case of Italian offensives.







John Gooch, The Italian Army and the First World War, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Pierluigi Romeo di Colloredo, La Battaglia del Solstizio - Giugno 1918, Associazione Culturale Italia, 2008.

Manfried Rauchensteiner, Der Tod des Doppeladlers, Österreich-Ungarn und der Erste Weltkrieg, Graz/Wien/Köln, Styria Verlag, 1993.

Mario Bernardi, Di qua e di là dal Piave, Milano, Mursia, 1989.

Peter Fiala, Die letzte Offensive Altösterreichs. Führungsprobleme und Führerverantwortlichkeit bei der österreichisch-ungarischen Offensive in Venetien, Juni 1918, Boppard am Rhein, Boldt, 1967.

Il governo fantoccio di Skoropadski in Ucraina

Di Wojciech Łysek


Secondo Josif Stalin, la rivoluzione di Paweł Skoropadski era inevitabile. Era il risultato dell'atteggiamento del Consiglio centrale ucraino. Da una parte, esso "giocò" al socialismo, dall'altra consentì l'ingresso di truppe straniere per combattere contro operai e contadini. Di conseguenza, non ebbe nessuno a difenderlo nel momento critico.


Prima del 1914, la Germania era interessata ai ricchi giacimenti di materie prime e alle grandi risorse agricole dell'Ucraina, supportando l'Unione di liberazione dell'Ucraina, costituita il 4 agosto 1914 a Leopoli. I suoi fondatori, Dmytro Doncow, Volodymyr Doroszenko e Jewhen Łewycki organizzarono il movimento indipendentista ucraino tra I prigionieri di guerra, esercitando un'azione propagandistica per l'Ucraina indipendente.

Nel 1917, la situazione interna in Ucraina favorì l'intervento tedesco. Nel terzo atto legislativo "Universale", annunciato il 20 marzo, il Consiglio centrale ucraino (un'autorità locale istituita il 17 marzo 1917) proclamò la Repubblica popolare ucraina (RPU) all'interno di una federazione con la Russia. Al volgere del 1917 e del 1918, i politici ucraini capirono che di fronte alla minaccia bolscevica, l'unica salvezza per essi era porsi sotto la protezione degli imperi centrali. Per rafforzare la propria posizione, il Consiglio centrale emanò il 25 gennaio 1918, la "Quarta Universale" (datata 22 gennaio), proclamando l'indipendenza della RPU.

Il 9 marzo 1918, i rappresentanti dell'Ucraina firmarono una pace separata con gli imperi centrali a Brest-Litovsk, che riconobbero il potere del Consiglio su nove governatorati della Transnistria e nella regione di Chełm. Inoltre, si impegnarono a unire la Galizia orientale e la Bucovina in una regione "ucraina" all'interno della monarchia asburgica. Fu inoltre garantito che l'Ucraina avrebbe ricevuto aiuti militari da Germania e Austria-Ungheria in cambio di forniture alimentari. Il trattato fu perciò chiamato la "pace del pane".

Quando gli ucraini firmarono il trattato, il 9 febbraio, l'esercito bolscevico entrò a Kiev. Dopo che la città fu occupata, i bolscevichi uccisero diverse migliaia di "nemici di classe". Tuttavia, fin dal 18 febbraio 1918, 450.000 soldati tedeschi e austriaci avevano iniziato ad occupare le terre ucraine. Il 1 marzo, Kiev fu liberata e il 7 marzo il Consiglio centrale rientrò in città. All'inizio di maggio, gli imperi centrali entrarono in Crimea e raggiunsero Rostov. L'Ucraina divenne un protettorato tedesco, tuttavia, gli operai e buona parte dei contadini appoggiavano i bolscevichi, mentre l'amministrazione locale era debole. Dal punto di vista dei tedeschi, il problema più importante era l'incapacità degli ucraini di soddisfare la loro richiesta di grano.

Alla fine di marzo del 1918, i tedeschi giunsero alla conclusione che era necessario un cambio di potere. Il candidato ideale sembrava Paweł Skoropadski, un proprietario terriero che godeva dell'appoggio dei conservatori russofili che si opponevano al nazionalismo ucraino. Uno degli antenati di Skoropadski, Ivan, era stato Atamano nel XVIII secolo. Prima del conflitto mondiale, Skoropadski aveva prestato servizio nell'esercito russo e nel 1905 lo zar Nicola II lo aveva nominato suo aiutante. Durante la Grande Guerra, Skoropadski aveva comandato una brigata della Prima Divisione di Cavalleria Guardia, venendo poi promosso al comando del XXIV corpo d'armata. Con il 1° Congresso militare ucraino (18-21 maggio 1917), divenne comandante del XXXIV corpo con il grado di Luogotenente generale. Tuttavia, le truppe sotto il suo comando furono respinte nel dicembre del 1917 dalle forze bolsceviche provenienti dalla regione di Kiev.

Il 24 aprile 1918, il capo di stato maggiore dell'esercito tedesco in Ucraina, il generale Wilhelm Groener, si incontrò segretamente con Skoropadski e offrendogli il potere. Egli accettò le condizioni tedesche e le disposizioni del trattato di Brest, convenendo sull'opportunità di sciogliere il Consiglio centrale, indire nuove elezioni, portare avanti una riforma agraria e firmare un accordo economico tedesco-ucraino a lungo termine.

Il pretesto per il colpo di stato fu offerto dall'arresto, nella notte tra il 24 e il 25 aprile, di Abraham Dobre un banchiere ucraino che aveva collaborato con la delegazione economica tedesca. L'esercito tedesco inviò una protesta al Consiglio centrale chiedendo chiarimenti e garanzie per il detenuto. Di fronte a una risposta insoddisfacente, le autorità tedeschi introdussero la legge marziale in Ucraina. Rilasciato il 25 aprile 1918, il documento vietava le riunioni pubbliche, aboliva la libertà di parola e di stampa e sottoponeva la giurisdizione dei colpevoli di disordini ai tribunali militari. Le unità militari ucraine furono disarmate e il cibo fu requisito.

Poi, il 27 aprile, diversi membri del Consiglio centrale vennero arrestati. Due giorni dopo i restanti membri approvarono la costituzione ed elessero Mykhailo Hrushevsky presidente della Repubblica popolare ucraina. Nello stesso giorno oltre seimila membri dell'Unione ucraina dei proprietari terrieri giunsero a Kiev e richiesero le dimissioni del Consiglio centrale, proclamando Skoropadski Atamano dell'Ucraina. L'accettazione ufficiale del titolo si svolse nella cattedrale di Kiev dedicata a Santa Sofia. Il 29 aprile Skoropadski promulgò la "carta dei diritti per l'intera nazione ucraina", annunciando l'acquisizione del pieno potere e proclamando l'istituzione dello Stato ucraino (Ukrajinska Derżawa), che sarebbe stato gestito dal Consiglio dei Ministri. Furono inoltre promesse nuove elezioni presidenziali e l'attuazione della riforma agraria. L'insediamento del nuovi governo avvenne senza spargimento di sangue. Skoropadski rappresentava il ritorno al potere dei funzionari, ufficiali e proprietari terrieri dell'élite pre-rivoluzionaria, ottenendo il sostegno dei circoli conservatori, i cosiddetti cosacchi liberi e i filorussi, e dell'ala destra del movimento nazionale ucraino.

Tuttavia, il nuovo governo aveva poteri limitati. I tedeschi controllavano strettamente le dimensioni dell'esercito ucraino e tutte le nomine dovevano essere approvate da essi. Allo stesso tempo, i ministeri furono riorganizzati, l'amministrazione locale degli Starost, nominata tra i proprietari terrieri e gli ex funzionari zaristi, fu soppressa. Il governo dell'etmanato abrogò tutti gli atti del Consiglio centrale (compresa l'introduzione di una giornata lavorativa di otto ore), vietò gli scioperi e ripristinò la censura.

Di fronte alla freddezza dell'intellighenzia ucraina e dei lavoratori, Skoropadski cercò il sostegno dei contadini benestanti. Tuttavia, questo strato sociale, scontento dello sfruttamento economico da parte dei tedeschi, rimase scettico riguardo all'Atamano. Nel complesso il popolo ucraino rispose con ostilità all'occupazione tedesca e al suo governo fantoccio.

Particolarmente attivo fu il Partito comunista (bolscevico) dell'Ucraina istituito all'inizio del luglio 1918. Il Partito socialista rivoluzionario collaborò strettamente con esso e nel luglio 1918 organizzò una ribellione contadina nei pressi di Kiev, coinvolgendo 30.000 persone.

Il governo di Skoropadski colse maggiori successi in politica estera, istruzione e cultura. Sotto la direzione di Dmytr Doroszenko, ministro degli affari esteri, furono stabilite relazioni diplomatiche con una dozzina di paesi, tra cui Svezia e Svizzera. A Kiev erano attive 11 missioni straniere. Inoltre furono organizzate 150 scuole superiori di lingua ucraina, mentre nelle scuole russe divenne obbligatorio lo studio della lingua, della storia, della geografia e della letteratura ucraina. Furono inoltre istituite due università a Kiev e Kamieniec Podolski e 20 istituzioni scientifiche, tra cui gli Archivi di Stato, la Biblioteca nazionale e l'Accademia delle scienze ucraina.

Intanto l'opposizione di sinistra si unì nel settembre 1918 nell'Unione nazionale ucraina, guidata da Volodymyr Wynnychchenko. Allo stesso tempo, il malcontento dei contadini per le requisizioni aumentò, impedendo ai tedeschi di sfruttare appieno l'agricoltura ucraina. Tuttavia, gli imperi centrali trasportarono dall'Ucraina, alla fine di ottobre del 1918, 9132 carri di grano, 22178 carri di altri prodotti alimentari (principalmente bovini) e 3456 carri di varie materie prime. Oltre il 90% delle merci fu consegnato alla Germania e all'Austria-Ungheria. Piccole quantità furono esportate in Bulgaria e Turchia. Contrariamente si dimostrò impossibile realizzare il piano del generale Erich von Ludendorff, che intendeva spostare una parte delle truppe sul fronte occidentale. Le forze di occupazione presenti riuscivano a malapena a frenare le attività partigiane degli ucraini. Nel maggio 1918, i combattimenti in Ucraina coinvolgevano ben 20 divisioni tedesche.

Nell'autunno del 1918, la minaccia bolscevica si intensifica così come i disordini nelle campagne. Di fronte al collasso degli imperi centrali, l'Atamano cercò il sostegno dell'Associazione nazionale ucraina, ma nonostante ciò la posizione di Skoropadski andò rapidamente peggiorando a causa dell'opposizione socialista e dal fatto che l'Intesa riconobbe l'Ucraina come uno stato alleato dei tedeschi.

Per ovviare alla situazione, Skoropadski cercò un contatto con le forze dell'Intesa il 14 novembre 1918, annunciandò la possibilità per l'Ucraina di rimanere in un'unione statale con la Russia. La notte del 14 dicembre 1918 diede vita ad un nuovo governo presieduto da Sergei Gerbel (ex governatore zarista) e composto in gran parte da filorussi.

Queste decisioni compromisero la credibilità di Skoropadski di fronte alla società ucraina accelerando la rivolta armata. Il 13 novembre 1918, l'Unione nazionale ucraina elesse un consiglio di cinque persone, il cosiddetto Direttorio, guidato da W. Wynnyczenka come presidente e Symon Petlura come il capo dell'Etmanato.

Le migliori truppe dell'esercito dell'etmanato, compresa l'unità d'élite Strzelce Sicz (fondata nel 1917 da ucraini galiziani fatti prigionieri dai russi) si unirono al Direttorio. Alla fine di novembre 1918, gli oppositori di Etmanato controllavano la maggior parte dell'Ucraina tranne Kiev. Le truppe tedesche rimasero neutrali e il 12 dicembre 1918 firmarono con il Direttorio un accordo sull'evacuazione dall'Ucraina. Anche i russi rimasero passivi. Nonostante la guerra civile in corso, tutte le parti convenivano sul fatto che non sarebbe stata creata alcuna Ucraina indipendente.

Il 14 dicembre 1918 scoppiò una rivolta di Kiev. Skoropadski dichiarò pubblicamente la sua rinuncia al potere fuggendo assieme alla moglie, travestito da soldato tedesco, in Germania. Il potere fu assunto dai membri del Direttorio W. Wynnyczenko e S. Petlura. La Repubblica popolare ucraina venne ricostituita.

È difficile valutare inequivocabilmente l'operato del governo di Skoropadski. Nonostante la dipendenza dalla Germania, lo stato ucraino colse notevoli successi in campo socio-culturale. Lo storico ucraino Jarosław Hrycak ha affermato che Skoropadski "cercò di introdurre un nuovo concetto di nazione ucraina, non più solo basato sulla conoscenza della lingua ucraina, ma sulla lealtà allo stato ucraino".



Józef Chlebowczyk, Między dyktatem, realiami a prawem samostanowienia. Prawo do samookreślenia i problem granic we wschodniej Europie Środkowej w pierwszej wojnie światowej oraz po jej zakończeniu, Warszawa, Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1988.

Dariusz Dąbrowski, Niemiecka interwencja na Ukrainie w 1918 roku, „Przegląd Zachodni” 2000, nr 4.

Janusz Pajewski, „Mitteleuropa”. Studia z dziejów imperializmu niemieckiego w dobie pierwszej wojny światowej, Poznań, Instytut Zachodni, 1959.

Jan Pisuliński, Nie tylko Petlura. Kwestia ukraińska w polskiej polityce zagranicznej w latach 1918-1923, Wrocław, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, 2004.

Serhy Yekelchyk, Ukraina. Narodziny nowoczesnego narodu, tłum. Joanna Gilewicz, Kraków, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, 2009.

The puppet government of Skoropadski in Ukraine

By Wojciech Łysek


According to Josif Stalin, the revolution of Paweł Skoropadski was inevitable. It was the result of the attitude of the Ukrainian Central Council. On the one hand, it "played" with socialism, on the other it allowed the entry of foreign troops to fight against workers and peasants. As a result, it had no one to defend its at the critical moment.


Before 1914, Germany was interested in the rich deposits of raw materials and the great agricultural resources of Ukraine, supporting the Liberation Union of Ukraine, established on 4 August 1914 in Lviv. Its founders, Dmytro Doncow, Volodymyr Doroszenko and Jewhen Łewycki organized the Ukrainian separatist movement among the prisoners of war, exerting propaganda action for independent Ukraine.

In 1917, the domestic situation in Ukraine favored German intervention. In the third "Universal" legislative act, announced on March 20, the Ukrainian Central Council (a local authority established on March 17, 1917) proclaimed the Ukrainian People's Republic (UPR) within a federation with Russia. At the turn of 1917 and 1918, Ukrainian politicians realized that in the face of the Bolshevik threat, the only salvation for them was to place themselves under the protection of the central empires. To strengthen its position, the Central Council issued 25 January 1918, the "Fourth Universal" (dated 22 January), proclaiming the independence of the UPR.

On 9 March 1918, representatives of Ukraine signed a separate peace with the central empires in Brest-Litovsk, who recognized the power of the Council over nine governorates of Transnistria and in the region of Chełm. Furthermore, they undertook to unite eastern Galicia and Bukovina in a "Ukrainian" region within the Habsburg monarchy. It was also guaranteed that Ukraine would receive military aid from Germany and Austria-Hungary in exchange for food supplies. The treaty was therefore called the "peace of bread".

When the Ukrainians signed the treaty on 9 February, the Bolshevik army entered Kiev. After the city was occupied, the Bolsheviks killed several thousand of "class enemies". However, since 18 February 1918, 450,000 German and Austrian soldiers had begun to occupy the Ukrainian lands. On 1st March, Kiev was liberated and on 7 March the Central Council returned to the city. At the beginning of May, the central empires entered in Crimea and reached Rostov. Ukraine became a German protectorate, however, the workers and most of the peasants supported the Bolsheviks, while the local administration was weak. From the point of view of the Germans, the most important problem was the inability of Ukrainians to meet their grain demand.

At the end of March 1918, the Germans came to the conclusion that a change of power was necessary. The ideal candidate seemed to be Paweł Skoropadski, a landowner who enjoyed the support of the Pro-Russian conservatives who opposed the Ukrainian nationalism. One of Skoropadski's ancestors, Ivan, had been Ataman in the 18th century. Prior to the world war, Skoropadski had served in the Russian army and in 1905 Tsar Nicholas II had named him his Aide-de-camp.

During the Great War, Skoropadski had commanded a brigade of the First Cavalry Guard Division, then being promoted to the command of the XXIV army corps. With the 1st Ukrainian Military Congress (18-21 May 1917), he became commander of the XXXIV army corps with the rank of Lieutenant General. However, the troops under his command were repelled in December 1917 by the Bolshevik forces from the Kiev region.

On 24 April 1918, the chief of general staff of the German army in Ukraine, General Wilhelm Groener, secretly met with Skoropadski and offered him power. He accepted the German conditions and the provisions of the Treaty of Brest, agreeing on the opportunity to dissolve the Central Council, calling for new elections, carry out agrarian reform and sign a long-term German-Ukrainian economic agreement.

The pretext for the coup was offered by the arrest, on the night between 24 and 25 April, by Abraham Dobre, a Ukrainian banker who had worked with the German economic delegation. The German army sent a protest to the Central Council asking for clarifications and guarantees for the detainee. Facing an unsatisfactory response, the German authorities introduced martial law in Ukraine. Released on 25 April 1918, the document banned public meetings, abolished freedom of speech and the press, and subjected the jurisdiction of those guilty of unrests to the military tribunals. Ukrainian military units were disarmed and food was requisitioned.

Then, on 27 April, several members of the Central Council were arrested. Two days later the remaining members approved the constitution and elected Mykhailo Hrushevsky as president of the Ukrainian People's Republic. On the same day over six thousand members of the Ukrainian Union of landowners arrived in Kiev and demanded the resignation of the Central Council, proclaiming Skoropadski Ataman of Ukraine. The official acceptance of the title took place in the Kiev cathedral dedicated to Saint Sophia. On 29 April, Skoropadski promulgated the "charter of rights for the entire Ukrainian nation", announcing the acquisition of full power and proclaiming the establishment of the Ukrainian state (Ukrajinska Derżawa), which would be managed by the Council of Ministers. New presidential elections and the implementation of agrarian reform were also promised. The establishment of the new government took place without bloodshed. Skoropadski represented the return to power of functionaries, officers and landowners of the pre-revolutionary élite, obtaining the support of the conservative circles, the so-called free Cossacks and the pro-Russian, and of the right wing of the Ukrainian national movement.

However, the new government had limited powers. The Germans strictly controlled the size of the Ukrainian army and all the appointments had to be approved by them. At the same time, the ministries were reorganized, the local administration of the Starost, appointed among the landowners and former tsarist officials, was suppressed. The government of the etmanate abrogated all the acts of the Central Council (including the introduction of an eight-hour working day), prohibited strikes and restored censorship.

Faced with the coldness of Ukrainian intelligentsia and workers, Skoropadski sought the support of wealthy peasants. However, this social class, dissatisfied with the economic exploitation by the Germans, remained skeptical about the Ataman government. Generally, the Ukrainian people responded with hostility to the German occupation and its puppet government.

Particularly active was the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine established in early July 1918. The Revolutionary Socialist Party collaborated closely with it and in July 1918 organized a peasant rebellion near Kiev, involving 30,000 people.

The Skoropadski government took more success in foreign policy, education and culture. Under the direction of Dmytr Doroszenko, Minister of Foreign Affairs, diplomatic relations were established with a dozen countries, including Sweden and Switzerland. In Kiev, 11 foreign missions were active. Furthermore, 150 Ukrainian high schools were organized, while in Russian schools the study of Ukrainian language, history, geography and literature became compulsory. Two universities were also established in Kiev and in Kamieniec Podolski and 20 scientific institutions, including the State Archives, the National Library and the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences.

Meanwhile, the left opposition joined in September 1918 in the Ukrainian National Union, led by Volodymyr Wynnychchenko. At the same time, the discontent of the peasants for the increased requisitions, preventing the Germans from fully exploiting the Ukrainian agriculture. However, the central empires transported from Ukraine, at the end of October 1918, 9132 wagons of wheat, 22178 wagons of other food products and 3456 wagons of various raw materials. Over 90% of the goods were delivered to Germany and Austria-Hungary. Small quantities were exported to Bulgaria and Turkey. Contrarily it proved impossible to realize the plan of General Erich von Ludendorff, who intended to move a part of the troops on the western front. The occupation forces present could barely curb the activities of the Ukrainians partisan. In May 1918, fighting in Ukraine involved as many as 20 German divisions.

In the autumn of 1918, the Bolshevik threat intensified as well as the unrest in the countryside. Faced with the collapse of the central empires, the Ataman sought the support of the Ukrainian National Association but despite this, the position of Skoropadski rapidly worsened due to the socialist opposition and the fact that the Entenete recognized Ukraine as a state ally of the Germans.

To remedy the situation, Skoropadski sought contact with the Entente forces on 14 November 1918, announcing the possibility for Ukraine to remain in a state union with Russia. On the night of December 14, 1918, he gave birth to a new government presided over by Sergei Gerbel (former Tsarist governor) and composed largely of pro-Russian.

These decisions compromised Skoropadski's credibility in the face of Ukrainian society by accelerating the armed uprising. On 13 November 1918, the Ukrainian National Union elected a council of five people, the so-called Directory, led by W. Wynnyczenka as president and Symon Petlura as the head of the Hetmanate.

The best army troops of the state, including the élite unit Strzelce Sicz (founded in 1917 by Galician Ukrainians taken prisoner by the Russians) joined the Directory. At the end of November 1918, the opponents of Hetmanate controlled most of Ukraine, except Kiev. The German troops remained neutral and on 12 December 1918, they signed an agreement on evacuation from Ukraine with the Directory. Even the Russians remained passive. Despite the ongoing civil war, all the parties agreed that no independent Ukraine would be created.

On 14 December 1918, a revolt in Kiev broke out. Skoropadski publicly declared his renunciation to the power by fleeing with his wife, disguised as a German soldier, in Germany. The power was assumed by the members of the Directorate W. Wynnyczenko and S. Petlura. The Ukrainian People's Republic was re-established.

It is difficult to evaluate unequivocally the work of the Skoropadski government. Despite the dependence on Germany, the Ukrainian state gained considerable success in the socio-cultural field. The Ukrainian historian Jarosław Hrycak said that Skoropadski "tried to introduce a new concept of Ukrainian nation, not only based on the knowledge of the Ukrainian language, but on loyalty to the Ukrainian state".



Józef Chlebowczyk, Między dyktatem, realiami a prawem samostanowienia. Prawo do samookreślenia i problem granic we wschodniej Europie Środkowej w pierwszej wojnie światowej oraz po jej zakończeniu, Warszawa, Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1988.

Dariusz Dąbrowski, Niemiecka interwencja na Ukrainie w 1918 roku, „Przegląd Zachodni” 2000, nr 4.

Janusz Pajewski, „Mitteleuropa”. Studia z dziejów imperializmu niemieckiego w dobie pierwszej wojny światowej, Poznań, Instytut Zachodni, 1959.

Jan Pisuliński, Nie tylko Petlura. Kwestia ukraińska w polskiej polityce zagranicznej w latach 1918-1923, Wrocław, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, 2004.

Serhy Yekelchyk, Ukraina. Narodziny nowoczesnego narodu, tłum. Joanna Gilewicz, Kraków, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, 2009.

Arthur Arz von Straussenburg e Svetozar Boroević von Bojna

di Joachim Bürgschwentner

La seconda battaglia del Piave combattuta tra il 15 e il 22 giugno 1918 fu l’ultimo, vano, tentativo da parte dell’Austria-Ungheria di porre fine alla guerra con una grande offensiva per sconfiggere vittoriosamente il Regno d’Italia. Due dei più importanti generali della monarchia asburgica furono impegnati in maniera decisiva nelle fasi di pianificazione ed esecuzione, il capo di stato maggiore Arthur Arz von Straussenburg e il feldmaresciallo Svetozar Boroević von Bojna.

Provenienza e carriera militare

I due comandanti dell’esercito, pressoché coetanei, provenivano entrambi dalla parte transleitana dell’Impero, pur non essendo di etnia ungherese. Svetozar Boroević von Bojna, figlio di un tenente dell’allora Frontiera militare, nacque il 13 dicembre 1856 nel borgo croato di Umetić. Arthur Arz von Straussenburg, venuto al mondo sei mesi dopo, il 16 giugno 1857, nella città di Sibiu in Transilvania, proveniva da una famiglia germanofona, il padre era membro della Camera dei  Magnati.

Dopo aver concluso gli studi liceali, Arz studiò legge due anni prima di entrare nell’esercito nel 1878. Dopo aver frequentato la Scuola di guerra (k.u.k. Kriegsschule),  nel 1888 fu assegnato allo stato maggiore nel rango di tenente, insegnò alla scuola per ufficiali dei corpi d’armata, nel 1903 fu posto a capo del bureau di direzione dello stato maggiore e nel 1913 ottenne il grado di feldmaresciallo-luogotenente nonché di capo sezione nel ministero della guerra.

Boroević frequentò l’istituto per cadetti di fanteria di Liebenau nei pressi di Graz, nel 1878 prese parte all’occupazione di Bosnia ed Erzegovina e dal 1887, nella veste di istruttore presso l’Accademia militare teresiana, operò in diverse funzioni dello stato maggiore. Ottenuto nel frattempo il titolo nobiliare, nel 1912 divenne il comandante del VI corpo a Košice e nel 1913 generale di fanteria.


Dopo lo scoppio della guerra, Boroević guidò il VI corpo della IV armata nella battaglia di Komarów. Nel settembre 1914 egli assunse il comando della III armata, con cui si distinse nella battaglia di Leopoli, nella liberazione dall’assedio di Przemyśl, nella battaglia di Limanowa-Łapanów e nella difesa dei Carpazi nell’inverno del 1914. Egli fu impegnato anche agli inizi della battaglia di sfondamento di Gorlice-Tarnów, prima di organizzare con successo la prima resistenza sull’Isonzo dopo l’entrata in guerra dell’Italia. Al comando della V armata e, a partire dal 1917, del sovraordinato Gruppo d’armate Boroević, si affermò nelle dodici battaglie dell’Isonzo, il che gli fruttò il soprannome di “Leone dell’Isonzo”. Il 1° maggio 1916 Boroević fu nominato colonnello generale. Il comandante, un uomo duro, diretto e di poche parole, era tutt’altro che amato. All’interno del Comando supremo austro-ungarico (Armeeoberkommando, AOK) gli fu rimproverato di mandare in rovina il suo esercito con il suo stile direttivo spietato. Legato al capo di stato maggiore del fronte sud-occidentale Alfred Krauß da un sentimento di esacerbata ostilità, Boroević fu più volte ripreso per la sua disubbidienza nei confronti del proprio superiore.

Nel settembre 1914 Arz fu trasferito al fronte orientale dove gli fu assegnata la XV divisione di fanteria e successivamente assunse da Boroević il comando del VI corpo. Egli combatté anche nella battaglia di Limanowa-Łapanów e prese parte allo sfondamento di Gorlice-Tarnów nella primavera del 1915 fino alla conquista di Brest-Litowsk. Nell’autunno 1916 Arz, nel frattempo promosso al rango di generale di fanteria, fu posto alla guida della I armata riorganizzata, che doveva respingere l’avanzata delle truppe romene verso la Transilvania. L’impresa riuscì in cooperazione con la IX armata tedesca guidata dal generale von Falkenhayn, il che valse ad Arz il riconoscimento dell’erede al trono, arciduca Carlo, poco tempo dopo incoronato imperatore. Il 1° marzo 1917 Carlo destituì Conrad dal ruolo di capo di stato maggiore, mettendo Arz al suo posto; precedentemente anche Boroević era stato più volte preso in considerazione come successore di Conrad. Il rapporto di Arz con il Comando supremo dell’esercito tedesco (Oberste Heeresleitung, OHL) era più armonico rispetto a quello di Conrad e portò a un maggiore supporto da parte degli Alleati. Le conseguenze furono, da un lato, i successi militari (il respingimento dell’offensiva di Kerenski, 12a battaglia dell’Isonzo), dall’altro, però, anche un influsso ancor maggiore dell’OHL sulla conduzione della guerra da parte della monarchia asburgica. Inoltre, Arz spesso non riuscì ad affermarsi nei confronti dell’imperatore Carlo, sia nelle questioni strategiche sia nell’assegnazione delle risorse necessarie all’esercito.

Boroević e Arz sul Piave

La 12a battaglia dell’Isonzo (battaglia di Caporetto), con la conquista del Veneto fino al Piave nell’autunno 1917, ricade nel periodo in cui Arz fu capo di stato maggiore. Questo successo fu dovuto in misura determinante al Gruppo d’armate Boroević, successo che fu tuttavia ridimensionato da impasse logistici. Quando, nei primi mesi del 1918, la situazione politica, sociale e materiale della monarchia si prospettava sempre più drammatica, prese piede l’opinione secondo cui solo un successo militare repentino contro l’Italia avrebbe potuto impedire la fine dell'Impero. Arz era scettico nei confronti di una battaglia decisiva assoluta, che considerava troppo rischiosa e Boroević nutriva grandi dubbi sull’efficienza bellica delle truppe austro-ungariche, motivo per cui di fatto non volle più condurre attacchi. Mentre Conrad − dalla primavera del 1917 al comando del Gruppo d’armate del Tirolo − voleva convincere il Comando supremo e l’imperatore di una grande offensiva da lui condotta nel territorio dei Sette Comuni, Arz e Boroević miravano invece a una battaglia sul Piave. Non avendo però Arz e l’AOK preso una decisione chiara, bensì essendosi divisi le forze tra Conrad e Boroević, l’operazione prevista per il giugno 1918 era condannata a priori a fallire. L’offensiva di Conrad (13-15 giugno) si risolse in un totale insuccesso, Boroević riuscì a conseguire successi locali tra il 15 e il 21 giugno, lo sfondamento perseguito fallì però per la superiorità tecnica dell’Intesa, per le postazioni italiane ben salde, cui giovarono anche le piene del Piave, nonché per l’indebolimento e le difficoltà di vettovagliamento del proprio esercito. L’ultima offensiva della monarchia austro-ungarica nella Prima guerra mondiale inflisse perdite per oltre 100.000 uomini, il che accelerò la fine della monarchia stessa. Arz si assunse la responsabilità dell’accaduto, presentando all’imperatore la propria istanza di dimissioni, che questi non accettò; tuttavia, la fiducia dell’esercito in lui era così andata perduta.

Onorificenze e periodo post-bellico

Boroević e Arz furono tra i militari della monarchia asburgica insigniti con le massime decorazioni di merito nella Prima guerra mondiale. Nell’aprile 1917 Arz fu elevato al rango nobiliare di barone ungherese e nell’agosto di quell’anno ricevette la massima onorificenza militare dell’Austria-Ungheria: la croce di commendatore dell’Ordine militare di Maria Teresa. Anche Boroević, come primo generale in assoluto era stato insignito di questa onorificenza, per cui anche a lui spettava un titolo di barone ungherese. Egli però pretese il titolo di conte, che gli fu rifiutato, sicché alla fine non ricevette nessuno dei due titoli. Sia Arz sia Boroević ricevettero il conferimento di una laurea honoris causa nonché la cittadinanza onoraria di numerose località.

Nell’ottobre 1918, dopo la partenza di molte unità slave e ungheresi, Boroević schierò i resti del suo gruppo d’armata dietro il Tagliamento per l’ultima resistenza, dove esso si sfaldò dopo l’armistizio, che Arz dovette firmare il 3 novembre. Boroević cercò invano di convincere l’imperatore Carlo a preservare la monarchia con l’ausilio delle forze militari. Successivamente tentò di mettersi al servizio del Regno dei Serbi, Croati e Sloveni (SHS), eppure questi negò all’unico feldmaresciallo dell’imperial e regio esercito austriaco che gli slavi del sud avevano mai avuto, sia il ritorno in Croazia sia una pensione. Boroević, amareggiato, ritirato e riservato, trascorse i due anni successivi a Klagenfurt, dove morì il 23 maggio 1920, nel quinto anniversario dell’intervento italiano, a 64 anni per un improvviso arresto cardiaco. Nel suo necrologio, Edmund Glaise von Horstenau scrisse che Boroević “coperto di gloria, è morto senza patria come senza patria era morto il suo esercito, fuori sul Piave”. Fu seppellito a Vienna.

Nel periodo post-bellico Arz si era stabilito a Vienna, non volendo ritornare nella sua patria, la Transilvania, che ormai faceva parte della Romania. Dal momento che l’Ungheria in un primo momento si era rifiutata di versargli la pensione, per anni visse in condizioni di incertezza finanziaria. Arz scrisse due libri sulla Prima guerra mondiale e nel 1932 si trasferì a Budapest dove, tre anni più tardi, il 1° luglio 1935, morì all’età di 78 anni. Il suo funerale si tenne con grandi onori militari, in presenza di rappresentanti di alto rango degli ex alleati.


Afflerbach, Holger: “Boroević von Bojna, Svetozar Freiherr”, in: Gerhard Hirschfeld, Gerd Krumeich, Irina Renz (ed.), Enzyklopädie Erster Weltkrieg, Paderborn: Schöningh 2009, pag. 390.

“Arz von Straussenburg, Arthur”, in: Österreichisches Biographisches Lexikon 1815-1950: vol. 1 (1954), pag. 31. Online: http://www.biographien.ac.at

“Boroević von Bojna, Svetozar”, in: Österreichisches Biographisches Lexikon 1815-1950: vol. 1 (1954), pag. 103. Online: http://www.biographien.ac.at

Glaise von Horstenau, Edmund, “Feldmarschall Boroevic†”, in: Österreichische Wehrzeitung, 29 maggio 1920, pagg. 1-2.

Glaise von Horstenau, Edmund, “In memoriam Generaloberst Arz”, in: Österreichische Wehrzeitung, 5 luglio 1935, pag. 2.

Metnitz, Gustav Adolf, “Boroëvic von Bojna, Svetozar”, in: Neue Deutsche Biographie: Vol. 2 (1955), pagg. 472-473. Online: http://www.deutschebiographie.de/pnd118796631.html

Metnitz, Gustav Adolf, “Arz von Straußenberg, Arthur”, in: Neue Deutsche Biographie: vol. 1 (1953), pagg. 405. Online: http://www.deutschebiographie.de/pnd118504592.html

Pöhlmann, Markus: “Arz von Straussenburg, Arthur Freiherr”, in: Gerhard Hirschfeld, Gerd Krumeich, Irina Renz (ed.), Enzyklopädie Erster Weltkrieg, Paderborn: Schöningh 2009, pag. 390.

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

Arthur Arz von Straussenburg and Svetozar Boroević von Bojna

by Joachim Bürgschwentner

The Second Battle of the Piave from 15 to 22 June 1918 was Austria-Hungary’s last futile attempt to end the war victoriously by launching a large-scale offensive against Italy. Two of the Habsburg Monarchy’s most important generals, Chief of the General Staff Arthur Arz von Straussenburg and Field Marshal Svetozar Boroević von Bojna, were heavily involved in its planning and execution.

Origins and Military Careers

The two almost coetaneous military leaders both originated from the Transleithanian part of the Habsburg Empire, though they were not of Hungarian ethnicity. Svetozar Boroević von Bojna (*13 December 1856) was born in Umetić in Croatia, the son of a First Lieutenant of the local Military Frontier. Half a year later, Arthur Arz von Straussenburg (*16 June 1857) was born into a German-speaking family in Sibiu, Transylvania; his father was a member of the House of Magnates.

After completing grammar school, Arz studied law for two years before joining the army in 1878. He then attended the Military Academy and in 1888 was appointed to the General Staff with the rank of First Lieutenant. He taught at the Corps Officers School, became head of the managing bureau of the General Staff in 1903 and in 1913 became Field Marshal-Lieutenant as well as Section Chief in the war ministry.

Boroević attended the cadet school in Liebenau near Graz. In 1878 he took part in the occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and from 1887 he worked as an instructor at the Theresian Military Academy and covered various staff positions. In the meantime he was created a nobleman, and in 1912 was promoted to Commander of the Sixth Corps in Kaschau and in 1913 to General of the Infantry.


After the war broke out, Boroević led the Sixth Corps within the Fourth Army at Komarow. In September 1914 he assumed command of the Third Army, with which he distinguished himself at the Battle of Lemberg, by providing relief at Przemysl, at Limanowa-Lapanow and in the defence of the Carpathians in the winter of 1914. He was also involved at the start of the breakthrough battle at Gorlice-Tarnów, then he successfully organised initial defence at the Isonzo after Italy entered the war. As Commander of the Fifth Army and from 1917 of the Army Group Boroević, he proved his worth at the Twelve Battles of the Isonzo, which earned him the nickname of “Lion of the Isonzo”. On 1st May 1916 Boroević was promoted to the rank of Colonel General. The taciturn, direct, tough army commander was however anything but popular. Within the Supreme Army Command (Armeeoberkommando - AOK) he was accused destroying his army through his reckless leadership style. Boroević engaged in bitter hostilities with the Chief of Staff of the Southwestern Front, Alfred Krauß, and was admonished several times for his insubordination towards his superior.

In September 1914 Arz was transferred to the 15th Infantry Division on the Eastern Front and then took over the Sixth Corps from Boroević. He also fought at Limanowa-Lapanow and took part in the breakthrough at Gorlice-Tarnów in the spring of 1915 and until the Brest-Litovsk Fortress was taken. In the autumn of 1916 Arz, in the meanwhile promoted to General of the Infantry, became Commander-in-Chief of the newly formed 1st Army, which was meant to repel the advance of Romanian troops into Transylvania. This Arz achieved together with the German 9th Army under General von Falkenhayn, which earned him the respect of the Archduke – and successor to the throne – and shortly thereafter Emperor, Karl I. Karl dismissed Conrad on 1st March 1917 as Chief of Staff and replaced him with Arz; Boroević had also previously been considered several times as Conrad’s successor. Arz had a more harmonious relationship with the German Supreme Command (Oberste Heeresleitung -  OHL) than Conrad had had and this led to greater support from the Allies. The consequences were on the one hand military achievements (defence of the Kerensky offensive, 12th Battle of the Isonzo) but on the other hand an even stronger interference of the OHL in the Habsburg Monarchy’s conduct of the war. Moreover, Arz was often not able to assert himself against Emperor Karl, either regarding strategy or the allocation of the resources that the army needed.

Boroević and Arz on the Piave

In Arz‘ time as Chief of the General Staff the 12th Battle of the Isonzo (Battle of Caporetto/Karfreit/Kobarid) took place with the Veneto being conquered as far as the River Piave in the autumn of 1917. The Army Group Boroević made a significant contribution to this success, which however was diminished due to logistical bottlenecks. As the Empire’s political, social and materiel situation became increasingly dramatic in the first months of 1918, the opinion began to prevail that only a quick military victory against Italy would be able to prevent its demise. Arz was sceptical about an outright decisive battle, which he judged as being too risky and Boroević had grave doubts about the fighting strength of the Austro-Hungarian troops, which is why he did not want to conduct any more attacks. While Conrad, Commander-in-Chief of the South Tyrolean Army Group since the spring of 1917, tried to convince the AOK and the Emperor to carry out a large-scale offensive led by him in the area of the Asiago Plateau (Seven Communities), Arz and Boroević instead were working on a battle on the River Piave. Since Arz and the AOK were unable to make a clear-cut decision and divided the forces between Conrad and Boroević, the operation planned for June 1918 was doomed to fail from the start. Conrad’s offensive (13th/15th June) was a complete failure, Boroević between 15th and 21th June was able to achieve some local victories. The envisaged breakthrough however failed to materialise due to the technical superiority of the Entente, the well-fortified Italian positions, which also benefited from high water on the River Piave, and exhaustion amongst Austro-Hungarian soldiers as well as shortages in supplies from their army. The last offensive of the Danube Monarchy in World War I led to over 100,000 men being lost; and it now staggered even more quickly towards its downfall. Arz took responsibility and tendered his resignation to the Emperor, who refused to accept it; the army however had lost confidence in him by then.

Honours and Post War Years

Boroević and Arz were amongst the most highly decorated military figures of the Habsburg Monarchy during the First World War. Arz was made a Baron of Hungary in April 1917 and received in August of that year the highest military honour of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – the Commander’s Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresa. Boroević also received the same award in June, the first general ever to be granted this honour, and as a consequence was entitled to the Hungarian title of Baron. He claimed however the title of Count, which was refused, and so ended up with neither title. Both Arz and Boroević were awarded an honorary doctorate and honorary citizenship of many places.

In October 1918 after a large number of Slavic and Hungarian troops had left, Boroević ordered the rest of his army group to fall back as a last stand behind the Tagliamento, where it dispersed after Arz was forced to sign the ceasefire on 3rd November. Boroević attempted unsuccessfully to convince Emperor Karl to preserve the Monarchy with the help of the military. Subsequently he tried to put himself at the service of the SHS State (State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs), yet the only Austro-Hungarian Field Marshal that the Southern Slavs had ever produced was refused not only this but also his return to Croatia and a pension. Boroević lived an embittered, withdrawn and modest existence for the next two years in Klagenfurt. He died there suddenly on 23 May 1920 of a heart attack, aged 64, on the fifth anniversary of the Italian intervention. In his obituary Edmund Glaise von Horstenau wrote that Boroević „died as a glorified dignitary without a homeland, just like out there on the Piave his army had died without a homeland.“ He was buried in Vienna.

Arz settled in Vienna after the end of the war because he did not want to return to his home in Transylvania, which now belonged to Romania. As Hungary initially refused to pay him a pension, he lived for several years in precarious financial circumstances. Arz published two books on the First World War and in 1932 moved to Budapest, where he died three years later, on 1st July 1935, at the age of 78. He was buried with great military honours in the presence of high-ranking representatives of the former allies.


Afflerbach, Holger: „Boroević von Bojna, Svetozar Freiherr“, in: Gerhard Hirschfeld, Gerd Krumeich, Irina Renz (eds.), Enzyklopädie Erster Weltkrieg, Paderborn: Schöningh 2009, p. 390.

„Arz von Straussenburg, Arthur“, in: Österreichisches Biographisches Lexikon 1815-1950:Vol. 1 (1954), p. 31. Online: http://www.biographien.ac.at

„Boroević von Bojna, Svetozar“, in: Österreichisches Biographisches Lexikon1815-1950:Vol. 1 (1954), p. 103. Online: http://www.biographien.ac.at

Glaise von Horstenau, Edmund, „Feldmarschall Boroevic†“, in: Österreichische Wehrzeitung, 29. May 1920, p. 1-2.

Glaise von Horstenau, Edmund, „In memoriam Generaloberst Arz“, in: Österreichische Wehrzeitung, 5. July 1935, p. 2.

Metnitz, Gustav Adolf, „Boroëvic von Bojna, Svetozar“, in: Neue DeutscheBiographie: Vol. 2 (1955), p. 472-473. Online: http://www.deutschebiographie.de/pnd118796631.html

Metnitz, Gustav Adolf, „Arz von Straußenberg, Arthur“, in: Neue DeutscheBiographie: Vol. 1 (1953), p. 405. Online: http://www.deutschebiographie.de/pnd118504592.html

Pöhlmann, Markus: „Arz von Straussenburg, Artur Freiherr“, in: Gerhard Hirschfeld, Gerd Krumeich, Irina Renz (eds.), Enzyklopädie Erster Weltkrieg, Paderborn: Schöningh 2009, p. 390.

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


The "feat" of Premuda

The appointment of Admiral Nicholas Horthy to Commander-in-Chief of the Austro-Hungarian Navy, an officer who on several occasions had requested a more aggressive approach to the naval war in the Adriatic, increased the likelihood of a large-scale... Read all


Luigi Rizzo

Luigi was born in Milazzo son of Giacomo and Maria Giuseppa Greco. Fifth of six children, he grew up in a family with a strong maritime and patriotic tradition: he was in fact a nephew, son and brother of sailors and at the age of eight he... Read all