August 1916

The sixth battle of the Isonzo

By Giuliano Casagrande

“While death is strolling around Gorizia, meadows and trees bloom everywhere with overwhelming exuberance. It’s like being in the dressing room of a prima donna. However, the women, who are back in the kitchen and help to clean, smile embarrassed, “We are just doing our duty”.  Sure, they forgot to add “For heaven's sake! Don’t mention the war!” ”

(Alice Schalek, Viennese journalist and writer, war correspondent)

 

“Oh Gorizia, you're cursed,” says the famous refrain of an anti-war song. Its anonymous author could not have condemned the war more clearly than by cursing one of Irredentism’s objectives. Four major offensives, and a minor one, preceded the sixth battle of the Isonzo, the only battle that led to immediate concrete results: the taking of Gorizia. Soldiers in the trenches, singing that refrain, cursed a symbol more than a city, rejecting a value system that supported the monarchy and the ongoing conflict. 

Fear of execution could not suffice to launch an assault against machine guns, however. On 6th August 1916, when the Italian artillery opened fire on the Austrian positions, the infantry launched their attack "with fixed bayonets shouting Savoia", recounts Cecchino Ronconi, an Italian soldier who took part in the offensive, in his diary. He recalls how, when the attack was announced, some wept and others remained silent as if already resigned to their fate. Fatalism and obedience pervaded the minds of the soldiers so they could face such a terrible ordeal, but a sense of duty was not enough. It was in those days that Enrico Toti, in Monfalcone, launched an attack by throwing his crutch against the enemy. A railway worker who lost his leg in an accident at work, he had never given up, travelling long distances by bicycle, even as far as Sudan. When war broke out he wanted to join the rifle regiment despite being exonerated as an invalid. Apart from the private reasons of the hero, the resulting myth exalted by fascism and today’s interpretations, the fact remains that a mutilated man launched an attack against the enemy.

Not only the requirements of propaganda, but the need for victories, a great destiny in a secondary and regional front, meant that every success and sacrifice became legendary and men lived this story intensely, interpreting it to the last gesture. Indeed, until Caporetto, the war was fought by a compact Royal Italian Army, even though the aim was not to defend soldiers’ houses and families but, instead, to pursue rhetorical results. And even if the victory of Gorizia, with 51,000 fallen, wounded and missing on the Italian side, produced this song, as well as doubts in the infantry, the Italian army faced five more battles with the same commitment before giving in at the twelfth. The soldiers, in a new community in the trench, experienced the “collective tragedy” in the spirit of their time, maybe hating Gorizia, but fighting.

 The success of the sixth battle, however, was based not on the soldiers’ “moral superiority” as Cadorna would have preferred to believe, but on the experience gained in fifteen months of war and an artillery which was finally adequate (about 1200 guns) which allowed the Royal Army to achieve the success which previously had been impossible. Moreover, after Strafexpedition, the Austro-Hungarians were convinced the Italians could not set up a new offensive in the summer. The meticulous preparations, conducted in secret, together with those abruptly interrupted to respond to the Austrian attack, took 300,000 soldiers to the gates of Gorizia in just one week. The artillery objectives were established carefully and new trenches were built nearer and nearer to the Austro-Hungarian positions. It was the Bombard, a rudimentary weapon compared to the new concept cannons, which finally opened the way for the infantry removing cheval de frise and wire fencing. The Austrians controlled a bridgehead at Gorizia, making the Italian attack doubly difficult: once past the first defenses the infantry would have to cross the Isonzo River. Preparation and surprise were the main factors that allowed the Royal Army to defeat the Austrians. Supported by a vital supply of ammunition, the Italian artillery opened fire on the enemy trenches on 6th August.

 When the bombardment ceased the Austrians responded immediately with their guns believing an attack was imminent, but this was not the case. The Italians, by delaying the attack half an hour, made the Austrians waste their spare ammunition. The attacking infantry achieved remarkable results such as the capture of Mount Sabotino, where countless attempts had failed, in just 38 minutes and under the command of Colonel Badoglio. Moreover, the Empire, after Strafexpedition and the Brusilov offensive, had few troops to launch into battle. 

The Italian divisions broke through the Austrian bridgehead in several places, finding a fierce, but poorly coordinated, resistance. The Italian troops repulsed the Austro-Hungarian sectoral counterattacks after severe clashes and reciprocal bayonet assaults. In the early hours of 8th August, Field Marshal Boroevic gave the order to retreat to the left bank of the Isonzo. Of the 18,000 Austro-Hungarian soldiers who controlled the bridgehead only 5,000 were able to retreat. Almost immediately some Italian contingents forded the river. The attack succeeded because the Austrians had moved their artillery back for fear they would be captured by the Italians. While the Austro-Hungarian command believed that a further breach was imminent in the Gorizia sector, Cadorna planned a pincer attack convinced that the enemy wanted to resist near the city. As in other situations the assumptions of the opposite commands were incorrect, creating a paradoxical situation in which the city was a no man's land before being captured by some Italian contingents. The Italian advance ended on 10th August although operations continued until 16th August. The capture of Gorizia meant the achievement of some concrete goals, but especially represented a moral victory, the first real Italian success. Nevertheless, this success did not turn the tide of the conflict which immediately, again, became a war of attrition.

 

Nicole-Melanie Goll

Godwin von Brumowski

Der “österreichische“ Rote Baron

 

Godwin Brumowski, am 26. Juli 1889 zu Wadowice in Galizien als Sohn des Berufsoffiziers und späteren Bundessekretärs der Österreichischen Gesellschaft des Roten Kreuzes, Albin Brumowski, geboren, war der gemessen an der Zahl seiner Abschüsse erfolgreichste Jagdflieger Österreich-Ungarns im Ersten Weltkrieg. Nach dem Besuch der Militärunterrealschule in Fischau und der Militäroberrealschule in Mährisch-Weißkirchen, absolvierte er die k.u.k. Technische Militärakademie in Mödling und wurde am 18. August 1910 als Leutnant zur Batterie Nr. 3 des Feldkanonenregiments Nr. 29 in Jaroslau/Jarosław ausgemustert. Zu Beginn des Ersten Weltkrieges diente Brumowski als Regimentsadjutant der Reitenden Artilleriedivision Nr. 6 (später 8) an der Ostfront. Im Juli 1915 meldete er sich freiwillig als Beobachter zur kurz vor dem Ersten Weltkrieg in Österreich-Ungarn aufgebauten Fliegertruppe. Bei der der Armeegruppe Pflanzer-Baltin zugeteilten und in Kolomea stationierten k.u.k. Fliegerkompanie 1 war Brumowski als Beobachter-Offizier mit der Luftaufklärung und der Unterstützung der Artillerie beschäftigt. Nach seiner Ausbildung zum Flieger im Felde erfolgte am 4. Juli 1916 seine offizielle Ernennung zum Feldpiloten. Im November 1916 wurde Brumowski schließlich an die Isonzofront versetzt. Hier im Südwesten war mit dem Kriegseinritt Italiens 1915 eine Front entstanden, die das Kernland Österreich-Ungarns unmittelbar bedrohte und für die nun Kräfte von anderen Kriegsschauplätzen abgezogen werden mussten. In den erbittert geführten Isonzoschlachten sollte dem Luftraum und damit dem Einsatz von Flugzeugen erhöhte Bedeutung zukommen. Brumowski wurde hier der in Wippach/Vipava stationierten Fliegerkompanie 12 zugeteilt. Im März 1917 wurde er für kurze Zeit an die deutsche Westfront versetzt, um dort die von Oswald Boelcke entwickelte Luftkampftaktik aus erster Hand zu erlernen und diese schließlich in die Kampfweise der Fliegerkompanien der österreichisch-ungarischen Luftfahrtruppe aufzunehmen. Hier kam er vermutlich auch mit dem „Roten Baron“, dem deutschen „Fliegerass“ Manfred von Richthofen, in Berührung, der zu diesem Zeitpunkt bereits den Pour le Mérite, die höchste militärische Auszeichnung des Deutschen Kaiserreiches, verliehen bekommen hatte. Dieser war bereits von der Propaganda instrumentalisiert und ein auf Ritterlichkeit und Fairness basierender Heldenkult – entgegen der tatsächlichen Realität des Luftkrieges – aufgebaut worden. Nach seiner Rückkehr übernahm Brumowski im März 1917 das Kommando über die erste Jagdstaffel der österreichisch-ungarischen Fliegerkräfte, die Fliegerkompanie 41(J). Zu diesem Zeitpunkt nahm auch das Kampfgeschehen in der Luft eine neue Intensität an, die auch an der Zahl der Abschüsse sichtbar wurde. Nun häuften sich auch die „Luftsiege“ Brumowskis. Er führte nun die Liste der erfolgreichsten Flieger der österreichisch-ungarischen Armee an. Diese Stellung bzw. ein damit verbundenes Selbstbild drückten sich auch durch sein Flugzeug aus: So flog er etwa ab Oktober/November 1917 eine – in Anlehnung an den „Roten Baron“ – rot bemalte Albatros D III-Maschine, die er zusätzlich mit einer bestimmten Symbolik versah: einem weißen Totenkopf auf schwarzem Grund. Wie Richthofen auch, verzichteten Brumowski auf eine Tarnung, die eigentlich im Luftkrieg essenziell war. Ab Mai/August 1917 bis Kriegsende sollten die Luftsiege Brumowskis weiter zunehmen: gerade im Zuge der letzten Isonzoschlacht, der Durchbruchsschlacht im Raum Flitsch-Tolmein bzw. in den Kämpfen am Piave bzw. am Montello erreichte der Krieg in der Luft eine neue Intensität. 30 der 35 bestätigten Luftsiege sollte Brumowski in diesem Zeitraum erkämpfen. Am 11. Oktober 1918 wurde er zum Kommandanten des Jagdgeschwaders der Isonzoarmee, in dem alle Jagdfliegerverbände zusammengefasst wurden, ernannt. Einige Wochen später suchte die k.u.k. Armee um Waffenstillstand an, der „Große Krieg“ fand ein Ende.

Brumowskis Leistungen als Jagdflieger wurden zwar militärisch wahrgenommen, wie etwa die Verleihung zahlreicher Orden wie etwa der Goldenen Tapferkeits-Medaille für Offiziere beweist (der Maria-Theresien-Orden sollte ihm allerdings verwehrt bleiben), doch wurde sein enormer Propagandawert für Österreich-Ungarn nicht erkannt. Als Folge wurde er nie entsprechend instrumentalisiert, erreichte so nie jenen Bekanntheitsgrad, den etwa Manfred von Richthofen, der am 21. April 1918 den „Heldentod fürs Vaterland“ gestorben war, erlangt hatte und geriet nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg rasch in Vergessenheit.

Nach 1918 in den Ruhestand versetzt, versuchte er sich einige Zeit als Landwirt in Siebenbürgen, scheiterte jedoch. Nach seiner Rückkehr nach Wien wurde er Fluglehrer des Österreichischen Aero-Clubs und nahm an einigen Flugwettbewerben teil. Während der Februarkämpfe 1934 (Österreichischer Bürgerkrieg) flog Brumowski als Teil einer von Heimatschutz und Polizei gebildeten Flugstaffel Luftangriffe auf den Goethehof in Wien. Am 3. Juni 1936 starb Brumowki im 47. Lebensjahr bei einem zivilen Flugzeugunglück in Amsterdam/Schiphol. Er wurde am Wiener Zentralfriedhof mit militärischen Ehren beigesetzt. 1967 wurde der Fliegerhorst des Österreichischen Bundesheeres in Langenlebarn nach ihm benannt.

 

Readings:

Martin O'Connor, Air Aces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire 1914-1918, Flying Machines Press 1986

Franks Norman, Dog-Fight. Aerial Tactics of the Aces of World War I, London 2003

Peter Ernst, Die k.u.k. Luftschiffer- und Fliegertruppe 1794-1919, Stuttgart, Motorbuch Verlag, 1981.

Goll Nicole-Melanie, „…Nobel und ritterlich im Kampf, war er gleich einer Gestalt aus der Zeit des Minnesanges und der Turniere …“. Zur Konstruktion des Kriegshelden in der k.u.k. Monarchie am Beispiel von Godwin von Brumowski, Gottfried von Banfield und Egon Lerch, Graz phil.Diss 2014.

Nicole-Melanie Goll

Godwin von Brumowski

The “Austrian” Red Baron      

                                                                                         

Godwin Brumowski was born on 26 July 1889 in Wadowice, Galicia, the son of Albin Brumowski, a regular officer and later Federal Secretary of the Austrian Red Cross Society. Brumowski became Austria-Hungary’s most successful fighter pilot during World War I on account of the number of air victories he scored. After attending the military secondary schools in Fischau and Mährisch-Weißkirchen [today Hranice, Czech Republic]), he graduated from the Austro-Hungarian Technical Military Academy in Mödling and on 18 August 1910 was promoted to lieutenant in the third battery of the 29th Field Artillery Regiment in Jaroslaw/Jarosław. At the outbreak of World War I Brumowski was serving as a Regimental Adjutant in the 6th (later 8th) Horse Artillery Division on the Eastern front. In July 1915 he volunteered for transfer as an observer to the Austro-Hungarian Aviation Troops, which had been formed shortly before the First World War. Brumowski was assigned to the Pflanzer-Baltin army group in Fliegerkompanie 1 (Flik 1) stationed in Kolomea [today Kolomya] as an Observer Officer to carry out air reconnaissance and provide artillery support. After his military pilot training, he was officially appointed a pilot in the Flik on 4 July 1916. In November 1916 Brumowski was posted to the Isonzo front. The south-west front created here when Italy joined the war in 1915 was a direct threat to Austria-Hungary’s heartland, so forces had to be transferred here from other theatres of war. Air space and the deployment of aeroplanes were to play a significant role in the battles fought bitterly along the Isonzo river. Brumowski was posted to Fliegerkompanie 12 stationed in Wippach/Vipava. In March 1917 he was sent to the German Western front so he could gain first-hand experience of the German fighter tactics developed by Oswald Boelcke and apply these to the methods of combat used by the Austro-Hungarian aviation troops. Here he allegedly met the “Red Baron”, Manfred von Richthofen, the German fighter ace who at that time had already been awarded the Pour le Mérite, the highest military decoration of the German Empire. Von Richthofen was already being exploited by propaganda and a hero cult based on chivalry and fairness  – which clashed with the true reality of aerial warfare – was created around him. After his return in March 1917 Brumowski assumed command over the Austro-Hungarian Air Force’s first dedicated fighter squadron, Fliegerkompanie 41(J). By this time aerial combat had increased in pace, which was also apparent from the number of air victories. Brumowski was also amassing “air victories” at an increasing rate and was now top of the list of the Austro-Hungarian army’s fighter pilots. This status and the self-image that went with this were also reflected through his plane: from around October/November 1917 – in emulation of the “Red Baron” – he flew a red painted Albatros D III, to which he added a particular symbol: a white skull against a black background. Just like Richthofen, Brumowski also dispensed with camouflage, which in fact was essential in air warfare. From May/August 1917 until the end of the war Brumowski continued to amass air victories. Aerial combat was intensified to new levels during the last battle of the Isonzo, the breakthrough battle in the Plezzo - Tolmino areas and in the Battle of the Piave and those fought over Montello. Brumowski fought 30 of his confirmed 35 air victories in this period. On 11 October 1918 he was appointed to command the Austro-Hungarian fighter squadrons on the Isonzo front, which grouped together all the fighter pilot units. A few weeks later the Austro-Hungarian army called for a ceasefire, the “Great War” had come to an end.

Although Brumowski’s achievements as a fighter pilot were recognised from a military point of view, as proven by his being decorated with the Golden Bravery Medal for Officers and numerous other orders (though he never received the Knight’s Cross of the Military Order of Maria-Theresa), his enormous value in terms of propaganda for Austria-Hungary was never acknowledged. As a result he was never exploited in the same way and so never achieved the degree of fame that for example Manfred von Richthofen, who on 21 April 1918 had died a “hero’s death for his fatherland”, had achieved and after the First World War quickly faded into oblivion.

After 1918 he retired from service and attempted to make a living by farming in Siebenbürgen but did not make a success of it. He returned to Vienna where he became an Austrian Flying Club flying instructor and took part in a number of flying competitions. During the February Uprising (Austrian Civil War) in 1934 Brumowski took part in the air raids on the Goethe-Hof in Vienna carried out by homeland security and a police trained fighter squadron. On 3 June 1936 Brumowski died in his 47th year in a civil plane crash in Schiphol, Amsterdam. He was buried in the central cemetery in Vienna with military honours. In 1967 the Austrian Federal Army Air Base in Langenlebarn was named after him.

 

Readings:

Martin O'Connor, Air Aces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire 1914-1918, Flying Machines Press 1986

Franks Norman, Dog-Fight. Aerial Tactics of the Aces of World War I, London 2003

Peter Ernst, Die k.u.k. Luftschiffer- und Fliegertruppe 1794-1919, Stuttgart, Motorbuch Verlag, 1981.

Goll Nicole-Melanie, „…Nobel und ritterlich im Kampf, war er gleich einer Gestalt aus der Zeit des Minnesanges und der Turniere …“. Zur Konstruktion des Kriegshelden in der k.u.k. Monarchie am Beispiel von Godwin von Brumowski, Gottfried von Banfield und Egon Lerch, Graz phil.Diss 2014.

Nicole-Melanie Goll

Godwin von Brumowski: 

Il Barone Rosso austriaco

 

Godwin Brumowski nacque il 26 luglio 1889 a Wadowice, Galizia, figlio di Albin Brumowski, un ufficiale e in seguito segretario federale della Sezione austriaca della croce rossa. Brumowski divennne il migliore pilota da caccia dell'aviazione austro-ungarica durante la prima guerra mondiale con un alto numero di vittorie aeree confermate. Dopo aver frequentato le scuole militari in Fischau e Mährisch-Weißkirchen [oggi Hranice, Repubblica Ceca]), si è laureato presso la Technische Militärakademie a Mödling e il 18 agosto 1910 venne promosso tenente nella terza batteria da campagna nel 29° Reggimento Artiglieria di Jaroslaw. Allo scoppio della prima guerra mondiale trovò Brumowski in servizio come aiutante di reggimento nel 6° (poi 8°) Division d’artiglieria a cavallo sul fronte orientale. Nel luglio 1915 si offrì volontario come osservatore nelle corpo di aviazione austro-ungarico, formato poco prima dello scoppio della guerra. Brumowski fu assegnato al gruppo d’armate Pflanzer-Baltin, nella Fliegerkompanie 1 (Flik 1) di stanza a Kolomea [oggi Kolomya] come ufficiale osservatore nella ricognizione aerea fornendo supporto all‘artiglieria. Dopo un corso di addestramento al volo, fu ufficialmente nominato un pilota da caccia il 4 luglio 1916. Nel novembre 1916 Brumowski giunse sul fronte dell'Isonzo. Questo fronte sud-occidentale era una minaccia diretta al cuore dell'Austria-Ungheria, così numerose forze dovettero essere qui trasferite da altri teatri di guerra. Anche gli aerei furono chiamati a svolgere un ruolo significativo nelle battaglie combattute aspramente lungo l’Isonzo. Brumowski fu assegnato alla Fliegerkompanie 12 di stanza in Wippach/Vipava.

Nel marzo del 1917 si recò sul fronte occidentale in modo da poter acquisire esperienza diretta delle nuove tattiche da caccia tedesche sviluppate da Oswald Boelcke e applicare queste nell‘aviazione austro-ungarica. Qui egli incontrò il "Barone Rosso", Manfred von Richthofen, l'asso della caccia tedesca che a quel tempo era già stato decorato con la medaglia Pour le Mérite, la più alta decorazione militare dell'Impero tedesco. La figura di von Richthofen - già ampiamente sfruttata dalla propaganda, che aveva dato vita ad un culto dell'eroe basato sulla cavalleria e l‘equità - si scontrava con una ben più cruda realtà della guerra aerea.

Dopo il suo ritorno nel marzo 1917 Brumowski assunse il comando della prima squadriglia da caccia dell‘aviazione austro-ungarica, la Fliegerkompanie 41 (J). A questo punto della guerra i combattimenti aerei erano all’ordine del giorno, facendo crescere in generale il numero di vittorie aeree. Brumowski accumulò vittorie a un ritmo crescente giungendo in cima alla lista dei piloti da caccia dell'esercito austro-ungarico. Questo status e l'immagine di sé che andò assumendo si riflettevano anche attraverso il suo aereo: a partire da ottobre/novembre 1917 - in emulazione del "Barone Rosso" - volò con un Albatros D III dipinto di rosso, a cui aggiunse un simbolo particolare: un teschio bianco su sfondo nero. Proprio come Richthofen, Brumowski fece a meno della livrea mimetica, che in realtà era ormai un elemento essenziale nella guerra aerea. Da maggio/Agosto 1917 fino alla fine della guerra Brumowski continuò ad accumulare vittorie. Il combattimento aereo si intensificataò a nuovi livelli durante l'ultima battaglia dell'Isonzo, tra Plezzo - Tolmino aree, nella battaglia del Piave e in quella del Montello. Brumowski conseguì 30 delle sue 35 vittorie confermate in questo periodo. L'11 ottobre 1918 è fu nominato al comando delle squadriglie da caccia austro-ungariche sul fronte dell'Isonzo, che raggruppava tutte le unità di pilota di caccia. Poche settimane dopo l'esercito austro-ungarico chiese il cessate il fuoco, la "Grande Guerra" era giunta al termine.

Anche se i risultati di Brumowski come un pilota di caccia sono stati riconosciuti da un punto di vista militare, come dimostrato dal suo essere decorato con la Goldenen Tapferkeits-Medaille e numerose altre decorazione (anche se non ricevette mai la Croce dell'Ordine Militare di Maria Teresa), il suo enorme valore in termini di propaganda per l'Austria-Ungheria non fu mai stato riconosciuto. Di conseguenza non fu mai stato sfruttato nello stesso modo di Manfred von Richthofen né raggiunse mai il suo livello di fama. Quando il 21 Aprile 1918 il Barone Rosso morì in combattimento l’episodio fu ricordato come "la morte di un grande protagonista per la sua patria", mentre l’immagine di Brumowsky dopo la prima guerra mondiale cadde rapidamente nel dimenticatoio.

Dopo il 1918 si ritirò dal servizio e tentò di aprire, senza successo, un’azienda agricola a Siebenbürgen. Tornò a Vienna dove divenne istruttore di volo nell’Aero Club austriaco partecipando a numerose competizioni aviatorie. Durante la Rivolta di febbraio (la guerra civile austriaca) nel 1934, Brumowski partecipò ai raid aerei sul Goethe-Hof a Vienna condotto dalle sicurezza nazionale composto da forze polizia addestrate nelle squadriglia da caccia. Il 3 giugno 1936 Brumowski morì all’età di 47 anni in un incidente aereo a Schiphol, Amsterdam. Fu sepolto nel cimitero centrale di Vienna con gli onori militari. Nel 1967 la base aerea di Langenlebarn (sede del corpo aereo austriaco) fu nominata in suo onore.

Letture:

Martin O'Connor, Air Aces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire 1914-1918, Flying Machines Press 1986

Franks Norman, Dog-Fight. Aerial Tactics of the Aces of World War I, London 2003

Peter Ernst, Die k.u.k. Luftschiffer- und Fliegertruppe 1794-1919, Stuttgart, Motorbuch Verlag, 1981.

Goll Nicole-Melanie, „…Nobel und ritterlich im Kampf, war er gleich einer Gestalt aus der Zeit des Minnesanges und der Turniere …“. Zur Konstruktion des Kriegshelden in der k.u.k. Monarchie am Beispiel von Godwin von Brumowski, Gottfried von Banfield und Egon Lerch, Graz phil.Diss 2014.

Testimony

Testimonies of the conquest of Gorizia, August 1916

Lyrics of O Gorizia tu sei maledetta (In english “Oh Gorizia you are cursed), folk song of anonymous author, referring to the battle that led to the Italian conquest of the city, between 7 and 10 August 1916. The song is... Read all

Biographies

Pietro Badoglio

August 6, 1916, at 7 am, the Italian artillery opened a violent barrage from Tolmin to the sea. The Sixth Battle of the Isonzo had begun and would have ended with the conquest of Gorizia, representing the first Italian victory after more than... Read all