« AnteriorContinuar »
on the Folgaria Plateau. When the Austrians attacked Zugna Torta, under cover of a converging artillery fire, the position quickly became untenable.
On the same day the Austrians, for the first time since the beginning of hostilities between Italy and Austria, crossed the Italian frontier in the Lago di Garda region and established themselves on the Costabella, a ridge of the Monte Baldo, between the lake and the Lagarina Valley. At this point, where the Austrian offensive met with the greatest success, the Italians were driven back four miles from the positions on Austrian soil which they occupied at the opening of the attack and which they had held early in the war.
The Austrian advance was well maintained on the following day, May 19, 1916, when the Italians were driven from their positions on the Col Santo, almost directly to the west of Monte Maggio captured the day before, between the Val di Terragnolo and the Vallarsa.
By that time the number of Italians taken prisoners by the Austrians since May 15, 1916, had increased to 257 officers and 13,000 men and the booty to 109 guns, including twelve howitzers, and sixty-eight machine guns.
An Austrian dispatch forwarded at that time from Trent tells of the violent fighting which was in progress in the zone of Monte Adamello and the Tonale Pass and gives a description of the capture by the Austrians of an unarmed mountain in this region.
The preparatory bombardment was begun at three o'clock in the afternoon, the Italian guns making only a desultory reply. The bombardment was continued until after sunset, when the Austrian infantry began to move forward from the direction of Fort Strino, on the Noce River, northeast of the Tonale Pass, guided by searchlights and star shells.
The seasoned Austrian troops encountered an extremely heavy machine-gun and rifle fire as they climbed the slope, using their bayonets to give them support on the slippery ground, but continued the advance, and near the summit engaged the Italian defenders in a hand-to-hand combat, and after an hour of bayonet fighting drove the Italians from their positions. Both sides engaging in the encounter lost heavily, according to the dispatch.
According to Rome dispatches the Austrian troops were under the command of the Austrian heir-apparent, Archduke Charles Francis Joseph, as well as Field Marshal Count von Hoetbendorff, chief of the Austrian General Staff. General Cadorna, the Italian commander in chief, was also said to have established his headquarters on the Trentino front to take personal command of the defense.
The special correspondent of the London “Times" describes the fighting in the Trentino at this period as follows:
"It is the fifth day of the Austrian offensive. 'We have an action in progress,' says the colonel. The night is clear and mild. A moon, full red, is rising on the horizon. Headquarters are located in an ancient Austrian feudal castle, which crowns a hilltop. At our feet the valley spreads out, and the mountainchains to the right and left seem to meet at an angle in the west. Here a blackened mountain mass dominates the valley. It is the Panarotta, the stronghold of the enemy.
“ 'The eye of the Austrians,' a young officer exclaims, as from the crest a beam of light breaks forth, flaring with great intensity on the Italian positions lower down. Immediately an Italian light endeavors to shine directly in the path of the Austrian light and blind its rays. Another Austrian light darts forth from across the valley. Promptly an Italian searchlight gives battle. Thus for more than an hour the opposing searchlights endeavor to intercept one another. To-night the Austrians are on the offensive. Their lights sweep the hillcrests, pursued by Italian Tays.
"The moon is now high in the heavens, the snow-clad peaks, the shadowy ravines, the villages within Italian lines, as well as those beyond the invisible ring of steel, are bathed in a silvery light. We are standing less than four miles from the advanced enemy positions. The stage is set, the battle is about to begin. Information brought in during the day tells of fresh units of the enemy, massed in second line. Deserters, surrendering to Italian
patrols, report that an important action is impending. The general commanding bids us good night.
“We make our way on foot through quiet country lanes. Through the trees, the glimmer of the searchlights' flashes comes and goes like giant fireflies. The clear notes of a nightingale ring out in the stillness of the night. Nestling in the valley lies a large town, which only a fortnight ago was filied with civilians, ‘redeemed Italians,' who had enjoyed eight months of prosperity and liberty under Italian rule. Now these have been evacuated and scattered in the four corners of Italy, and the deserted houses and empty streets add to the unreality of the scene. The whirring of the field-telephone wires which hang low, hastily looped over the branches of olive and mulberry trees, alone indicates any activity of man. There are no troops in sight, save a patrol which stops us and examines our papers. It seems difficult to realize that a great battle is impending. No scene could be more peaceful. In the marshes, frogs are croaking in loud unison. The scent of new-mown hay is wafted across the valley.
"The minutes hang heavily. A half hour passes. An hour seems interminable. This afternoon, beyond the mountains, in the next valley, not more than nine miles away as the crow flies, a bloody action was fought. Not a sound of the cannonade reached us; what had happend there we did not know, for the Austrians are attacking from a single base, and their battle line is not more than fifteen miles long, pivoting on a central position, whereas the Italian forces in this same sector are compelled, by the configuration of the mountains and the intersecting valleys, to fight separate actions which can only be coordinated with utmost difficulty.
"Shortly before one o'clock in the morning the Austrian batteries open fire. From the west, the north, the east, the hail of shell and shrapnel tears open the crest of the hill, the Monte Collo, against which the attack is directed. So intense an artillery fire has not hitherto been witnessed on the Italian front; 380's, 305's, 240's, 149's, 105's rain upon the short line of Italian intrenchments.
“For more than three hours the bombardment continues. The Italian guns apparently refrain from answering. But every battery is in readiness, every Italian gun is trained on the spot where the enemy must pass. Every man is at his post, waiting, waiting. It is just before dawn. The air of this Alpine Valley is cold and raw. A bleak wind blows through the trees. The cannonade slackens. From our position we cannot see the enemy advancing, but the black, broad strip of newly-upturned soil on the crest of the Monte Collo shows the effect of the bombardment. Split wide open like a yawning crater, the hilltop has been plowed up in every direction. Barbed wire, parapets, and trench lines have disappeared, buried under the tangled earth clumps.
"A minute, perhaps five or ten! “They are coming,' is whispered in the observation post. A thunder of Italian artillery greets the attacking forces. On they come. Instinctively one can discern a shadowy mass moving forward. Huddled together, they crouch low. Shells are falling and then cease, and the 'click,' ‘click,' of the machine gun's enfilading fire is heard. The enemy reaches the Italian advance trenches. The first streaks of light, gray and cold, show new attacking forces coming up over the hill. They penetrate deep into the plowed soil. They seem to hold the hill. Stumbling through the cratered terrain the Austrians advance toward the Italian positions. Then from out of the tawny earth an Italian battalion springs up. One can almost imagine that one hears their hoarse battle cry, 'Avanti, Savoia! Avanti!' as they fall upon their enemies.
"We learn later that the losses have been heavy. The Italian possessions have been badly damaged and have been temporarily evacuated. Both sides have taken prisoners, and what was the battle ground is now a neutral zone. Some hours later I again look across to the Monte Collo. The hill crest is deserted. Below the summit fresh Italian troops are occupying new and stronger positions, while an endless stream of pack-mules is winding slowly up the mountainside.”
On May 20, 1916, the battles in southern Tyrol, on the Lavarone Plateau, increased in violence as the result of Italian attacks. The Austrians reached the summit of the Armentara Ridge and on the Lavarone Plateau penetrated the first hostile position.
The troops of Archduke Charles Francis Joseph also added to their successes. They captured the Cima dei Laghi and the Cima di Nesole. The Italians also were driven from the Borgola Pass toward the south and lost three more twenty-eight centimeter howitzers and 3,000 men, 84 officers, 25 guns and & machine guns.
Austrian aeroplanes dropped bombs on Vicenza.
Although the Italian line still held in the main, it could not deny Austrian advances at certain important points. Slowly the Austro-Hungarians pushed on everywhere toward the Italian frontier. On May 21, 1916, an attack of the Graz Corps on Lavarone Plateau was attended with complete success. The Italians were driven from their entire position. Other Austrian troops captured Fima, Mandriolo and the height immediately west of the frontier from the summit as far as the Astico Valley.
The troops of Archduke Charles Francis Joseph reached the Monte Tormino Majo line.
Between the Astico and Brenta, in the Sugana Valley, the Austrian attacks likewise continued, supported by powerful artillery, against advanced lines in the west valleys of Terra Astico, Doss Maggio and Campelle.
Since the beginning of the offensive 23,883 Italians, among whom are 482 officers, had now been captured and the number of cannon taken had been increased to 172.
Between Lake Garda and the Adige large Austrian forces were massed on May 22, 1916, in the Riva zone. There was also considerable aerial activity on that day on Monte Baldo (the mountain ridge to the east of the lake). From the Adige to the Astico there were only reconnoiterings. Between the Astico and the Brenta Rivers in the Sugana Valley, the Italians were again forced to fall back gradually on their main lines after repulsing heavy attacks throughout the day. The retreat, however, was orderly and spontaneous,