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SPRING OF 1916 ON THE
URING the early part of the spring 1916, a large number
of engagements took place at many scattered points along the entire Austro-Italian front. Neither side apparently had determined as yet upon any definite plan of operations, or, if they had, they took special pains to avoid a premature disclosure. To a certain extent the fighting which occurred was little more than of a reconnoitering nature. Each side attempted with all the facilities at its command to improve its positions, even if only in a small way, and to find out weak spots in the lines of its adversary. It was only natural that during the process of this type of warfare, fortune should smile one day on one side and turn its back promptly the next day.
During the first week of April, 1916, there was little to report anywhere along the front. On the 6th, however, considerable artillery activity developed along the Isonzo front, where the Italians shelled once more the city of Goritz. This activity gradually increased in vehemence. At the end of about two weeks it decreased slightly for a few days, only to be taken up again with renewed vigor and to be maintained with hardly a break during the balance of April, 1916.
Coincident with this artillery duel there developed a series of violent engagements on the Carso plateau to the east of the lower Isonzo. The first of these occurred on April 12, 1916, when Italian advance detachments approached Austrian trenches between Monte San Michelo and San Martino, wrecking them with hand grenades and bombs. Another engagement of somewhat greater importance occurred on April 22, 1916, east of Selz. Italian infantry, supported by artillery, despite obstinate resistance occupied strong trenches 350 meters long. The Austrians receiving reenforcements, violently counterattacked twice during the night, the second time succeeding in retaking part of the lost trenches. After a deadly hand-to-hand struggle in which the Austrians suffered severely, the Italians drove them out, capturing 133, including six officers, two machine guns, 200 rifles, several flame throwers, and numerous cases of ammunition and bombs.
The following day, April 23, 1916, Austrian artillery of all calibers violently shelled the trenches occupied east of Selz, obliging the Italians to evacuate a small section north of the Selz Valley, which was especially exposed to the Austrian fire. Another strong attack, supported by a very destructive gunfire was launched by the Austrians against these trenches on April 25, 1916, and enabled them to reoccupy some of the ground previously lost.
Two days later the Italians attempted to regain these positions. At first they succeeded in entering the Austrian trenches on a larger front than they had held originally, but when they manifested an intention to continue the attack, the Austro-Hungarians, by counterattacks drove them into their former positions and even ejected them from these in bitter hand-to-hand fighting, thereby regaining all their former positions.
During the balance of April, and up to May 15, 1916, military operations on the entire Isonzo front were restricted to artillery bombardments, which, however, at various times, became extremely violent, especially so with respect to Goritz and the surrounding positions.
In the next sector, the Doberdo Plateau, much the same condition was prevalent. From the 1st of April, until the middle of May, 1916, there was always more or less artillery activity. Occasionally infantry engagements of varying importance and extent would occur. On April 7, 1916, the Italians were driven back from some advanced saps. South of Mrzlivrh, AustroHungarian troops conquered Italian positions, taking fortythree prisoners and one machine gun.
Again on the 9th, hand-to-hand fighting, preceded by bomb throwing, was reported on the Mrzlivrh front. Another attack, launched early in the morning of April 13, 1916, by the Austrians, lasted throughout the day, with varying fortune, but finally resulted in a success for the Italians. On April 14, 1916, the Austro-Hungarians captured an Italian position at Mrzlivrh and repulsed several counterattacks. The Italians suffered heavy losses. Artillery vigorously shelled the Italian positions at Flitsch and Hontebra.
Other violent engagements took place on the Doberdo Plateau on April 27, May 9, 10, 12, and 13, without, however, having any influence on the general situation.
In all the other sectors very much the same conditions prevailed. Artillery fire was maintained on both sides almost constantly. Infantry attacks were launched wherever and whenever the slightest opportunity offered itself. Scarcely any of these, however, resulted in any noticeable advantage to either side, especially in view of the fact that whenever one side would register a slight gain, the other side immediately would respond by counterattack and frequently nullify all previous successes. Comparatively unimportant and restricted, though, as most of this fighting was, it was so only because it exerted practically no influence on the general situation. On the other hand, it was carried on with the greatest display of valor and persistence that can be imagined and, because of the very nature of the ground on which it occurred, it forms one of the most spectacular periods of the war on the Austro-Italian front.
Of these many local operations there were only a few which developed to such an extent that they need to be mentioned spe cifically.
One of these was a series of engagements in the Ledro Valley, southwest of Riva and west of Lake Garda. There the Italians on April 11, 1916, by systematic offensive actions, pushed their occupation of the heights north of Rio Tonale, between Concei Valley and Lake Garda. Efficaciously supported by their artillery, their infantry carried with the bayonet a strong line of intrenchments and redoubts along the southern slopes of Monte Pari Cimadoro and the crags of Monte Sperone. On the following day, however, April 12, 1916, the Austro-Hungarians, by violent surprise attacks, succeeded in rushing a part of the trenches taken by the Italians at Monte Sperone. In the evening, after an intense preparation by artillery, Italian infantry counterattacked, reoccupying the lost positions, after a deadly hand-to-hand struggle and extending their occupation to the slopes of Monte Sperone. This was followed by a still further extension on April 16, 1916.
Much of the fighting involved positions on mountain peaks of great height, creating difficulties for both the attacker and the defender, which at first glance appeared to be almost insurmountable. Of this type of warfare in the high mountains, the special correspondent of the London "Times" gives the following vivid description:
“The Italian dispositions are very complete, and it is at this point necessary to say a few words upon Alpini warfare, which the Italians have brought to such a pitch of perfection. They are not the only mountaineers in the world, nor the only people to possess warriors famous on the hillside, but they were the first people in Europe, except the Swiss, to organize mountain warfare scientifically, and in their Alpine groups they possess a force unrivaled for combat in the higher mountains. The Alpini are individualists who think and act for themselves and so can fight for themselves. They are the cream of the army.
“Locally recruited, they know every track and cranny of the bills, which have no terrors for them at any season, and their self-contained groups, which are practically the equivalent of divisions, contain very tough fighters and have achieved remarkable results during the war. Their equipment, clothing, artillery, and transport are all well adapted to mountain warfare, and as the whole frontier has been accurately surveyed, and well studied from every point of view, the Italians are at a great advantage in the hills.
“There is nothing new about these troops, whose turnout and tactics have been a subject of admiration for many years, but in this war much has changed, in the Alps as elsewhere, and the use of the heaviest artillery in the mountains is one of the most striking of these changes. One finds oneself under the fire of twelve-inch howitzers from the other side of mountains 10,000 feet high, and it is no extraordinary experience to find Italian