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Besides accomplishing their advance in the Val Sugana, the Austrians continued the reduction of the forts protecting Arsiero, well across the Italian frontier on the way toward Vicenza. Arsiero is the terminus of a railway leading down into the Vicenza plain and the city of Vicenza. Through the capture of the Spitz Tonezza and Monte Melignone the Austrians now held the entire line across the frontier as far as Forni on the Astico. They also pushed their advance toward the ridge north of the Val dei Laghi, and toward Monte Tormino and Monte Cremone, all three outlying defenses of Arsiero. Meanwhile the right wing of the Austrian army, after storming Col Santo, had moved toward Monte Pasubio, and the left wing had stormed the Sasso Alto, commanding the Armentara Ridge, enabling the Austrians to advance into the Sugana Valley and to take Roncegno.
In order to appreciate the difficulties connected with all of this fighting, it must be remembered that the fighting is going on in the mountains, on ground varying in altitude as much as 5,000 feet per mile. The mountains were still partly covered with snow and the transportation of supplies, therefore, was exceedingly difficult.
As the month of May drew to its end, the Austrian advance spread steadily. By May 23, 1916, the Austrians had occupied north of the Sugana Valley the ridge from Salubio to Borgo. On the frontier ridge south of the valley the Italians were driven from Pompeli Mountain. Further south the Italians successfully defended the heights east of the Val d'Assa and the fortified district Asiago and Arsiero. The armored work of Campolono, however, fell into Austro-Hungarian hands. The Austro-Hungarian troops approached more closely the Val d'Assa and Posina Valley.
Orderly as the Italian retreat was, it was nevertheless a hasty one. For the official Italian report for May 23, 1916, admits that artillery "that could not be removed" was destroyed.
Both the violence and unexpectedness of the Austrian attacks are testified to by articles published at this time in Italian newspapers. A writer in the “Giornale d'Italia" of Rome says that
“the Austrian offensive came as a surprise to the Italian com mand and the taking of Monte Maggio and other important positions was possible, because the Italians were not looking for so heavy an attack."
A correspondent of the "Corriere della Sera" of Milan, writing of the extensive preparations made by the Austrians for the present offensive, says "that the Austrians massed 2,000 guns, mostly of large caliber, on the twenty-four-mile front attacked."
Though it was now scarcely more than a week since the be ginning of the Austrian offensive, 24,400 Italians had been made prisoners, among them 524 officers, and 251 cannon; 101 machine guns had been taken.
The Italians, of course, appreciated fully the deeper meaning of this Austrian offensive. They understood that the Austrian objective was not simply to reduce the Italian pressure on Trent or to drive the Italians out of southern Tyrol, but to advance themselves into Italy. At the same time, Italy also knew that, though such an advance was not an impossibility, its successful accomplishment for any great distance or duration would be seriously handicapped by the fact that the preponderance of numbers was unquestionably on the Italian and not the Austrian side. This confidence found expression in an order of the day issued at this junction by King Victor Emmanuel in which he says:
"Soldiers of land and sea: Responding with enthusiasm to the appeal of the country a year ago, you hastened to fight, in conjunction with our brave allies, our hereditary enemy and assure the realization of our national claims.
“After having surmounted difficulties of every nature, you have fought in a hundred combats and won, for you have the ideal of Italy in your heart. But the country again asks of you new efforts and more sacrifices.
"I do not doubt that you will know how to give new proofs of bravery and force of mind. The country, proud and grateful, sustains you in your arduous task by its fervent affections, its calm demeanor and its admirable confidence.
“I sincerely hope that fortune will accompany us in future battles, as you accompany my constant thoughts.”
Still further Austrian successes were reported on May 24, 1916. In the Sugana Valley they occupied the Salubio Ridge and drove the Italians from Kempel Mountain.
In the Lagarina Valley, after an intense night bombardment, Austrian forces attacked twice toward Serravalle and Col di Buole, but were vigorously repulsed. Next morning the attack on Col di Buole was renewed with fresh troops, but again repulsed with heavy loss. Italian troops followed up this repulse and reoccupied the height of Darmeson, southeast of Col di Buole.
Between the Val d'Assa and Posina the Austrians, after having kept Italian positions at Pasubio under violent bombardment, launched a night attack with strong columns of infantry, which were mowed down by Italian fire and thrown back in disorder. Between Posina and the Astico the Austrians unmasked their heavy artillery along the Monte Maggio-Toraro line, but Italian guns replied effectively.
On May 25, 1916, the Austro-Hungarians occupied the Cima Cista, crossed the Maso rivulet and entered Strigno in the Val Sugana, four miles northeast of Borgo and a little less than that distance southeast of Salubio, with the Maso stream between. They also captured the Corno di Campo Verde to the east of Grigno, on the Italian border and occupied Chiesa on the Vallarsa Plateau, southwest of Pasubio.
THE RISE AND FAILURE OF THE
Y May 26, 1916, the center of the Austro-Hungarian army
was sweeping down toward Arsiero, while another strong force further west was within ten miles of the Italian city of Schio. Both of these points are terminals of the railroad system of which Vicenza is the center. That day some of the ar.
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mored works of Arsiero and some strongly fortified positions southwest of Bacarola were captured and Monte Mochicce was occupied. Another Austrian success was the capture of the entire mountain range from Corno di Campo Verde to Montemeata (in the Val d'Assa). The Italians suffered sanguinary losses and also lost more than 2,500 prisoners, four guns, four machine guns, 300 bicycles and much other material.
In the Monte Nero zone on the night of May 26, 1916, the Austro-Hungarians attacked Italian trenches near Vrsic and succeeded in gaining a temporary foothold. When reenforcements arrived, after a violent counterattack, the Italians drove out the enemy, taking some prisoners and machine guns.
The natural difficulties in the way of the Austro-Hungarian invaders were so manifold and severe that it appeared at times as if the offensive had come to a standstill. However, this was not the case. Slowly but surely it progressed and as it progressed it even spread out. Thus on May 27, 1916, the Austrians not only captured a fortification at Coronolo, west of Arsiero, and also a barricade in the Assa Valley, southwest of Monte Interrotto, but also carried their offensive further toward the west until it included the northern end of Lake Garda.
Again on May 28, 1916, the Italians had to give way. The Austrians crossed the Assa Valley near Roana, four and a half miles southwest of Asiago. They also repulsed Italian attacks near Canove, between Asiago and Schio, and occupied the southern slopes and captured the fortifications on the Monte Ingrotto heights, north of Asiago, after having taken Monte Cebio, Monte Sieglarella and the Corno di Campo Bianco. In the upper Posina Valley the Italians were driven out of their positions west and south of Webalen.
With renewed vigor the Austrians attacked on May 29, 1916. As a result the armored work of Punta Gorda fell into their hands, and west of Arsiero they forced the crossing of the Posina Brook and occupied the heights on the southern bank in the face of determined Italian resistance.
The next day, May 30, 1916, Austrian troops, northeast of Asiago, drove the Italians from Gallin and stormed positions on the heights northward. Monte Baldo and Monte Fiara fell into their hands. West of Asiago the Austrian line south of the Assa Valley was advanced to the conquered Italian position of Punta Gorda. The troops which had crossed the day before the Posina took Monte Priafora.
This brought the Austrians so near to Asiago that the Italians deemed it wise to evacuate this town, holding, however, the hills to the east. In spite of the gradual advance of the Austrian center, the Italian wings held and severely punished the attacking Austrians. This was made possible by the admirable Italian motor transports which enabled the Italian command to bring up great reenforcements and stop the gap made in the first line. The most serious loss which they suffered was that of the big guns the Italians were obliged to abandon on the Monte Maggio-Spitz Tonezza line.
The Austrian offensive was now in its second week. So far it had yielded in prisoners 30,388 Italians, including 694 officers and 299 cannon.
Reviewing the Austro-Hungarian offensive up to this point, the military critic of the Berlin “Tageblatt" says:
“The Austro-Hungarian advance is in progress on a front of thirty-one miles between the Adige and the Brenta. This is about the same distance as the front between Gorlice and Tarnow, in Galicia, over which the offensive against the Russians was conducted thirteen months ago.
"The general direction of the advance is toward the Italian line running through Asiago, Arsiero, and Schio, which up to the present time had been protected by advanced positions. This line represents the third and last fortified defensive position, the strategic object of which is to prevent an invasion of the Venetian plain.
“The Austro-Hungarian troops already have disposed of the loftiest heights, which presents a situation favorable to them. When the heavy artillery has been brought into place there will be visible evidence of this.
“The total Italian casualties thus far are not less than 80,000 men. The loss of more than 200 cannon is exceedingly serious