Battle of Piave, 15-23 June 1918 (6 of 10)

Battle of Piave, 15-23 June 1918 (6 of 10)

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Battle of Piave, 15-23 June 1918 (6 of 10)

Picture provided by Josh Edin

Landships II

You mention with some incredulity that your great grandfather may have encountered Brits as POW's at the Piave in 1918. My answer is: but off course. The British Army made a very important contribution to the breaking of the Austrian Front there.

I found the following text on EBay (yes!) and I quote it in length, and I hope that you don't find it TOO long:

The Battle of Vittorio Veneto 1918

British forces lead the way in dramatic advance across the River Piave

The Allies were disappointed and angered at the Italians inability to counterattack against the Austrians following their defeat at Asiago and along the Piave in June 1918. Both Foch, newly appointed Generalissimo, and Lord Cavan, Commanding British forces in Italy, attempted to persuade the Italians to action. However, no definite assurances were received from Diaz (Italian Commander-in-Chief succeeding Cadorna) until October 6th. During the long pause in serious operations, the French and British Allies carried out sustained raiding and patrol activity. For example, in July the British fired an average of 14,000 shells a day on the Asiago alone. The German Army suffered a serious defeat on the Western Front in August, and the Austrians were left in no doubt that they could no longer count on German assistance: on the contrary they were asked how many Divisions they could send to France. This had a crushing effect in Austria, and confidence melted away. On 4th October 1918, Austria associated herself with the German appeal to President Wilson, for an armistice.Diaz reorganised and formed two new armies. The Tenth, under the command of Lord Cavan, included XIV Corps (7th and 23rd Divisions), and the Italian XI Corps of two Divisions. The Twelfth, under the French General Graziani, included no British units. The 48th Division came under Italian XII Corps. By October, the Allies had 60 Divisions with 7,700 guns, facing 61 and 6,030. The overall battle plan was for Allied forces to break through across the Piave, separating the Austrian armies in the mountains from those on the Vittorio Veneto plain, and then to wheel westwards. The first phase would be for the Tenth and Eighth Armies to attack at the junction of the Austrians Isonzo and Sixth Armies, between the Montello and Papadopoli Island. This would be preceded by an advance to capture Papadopoli itself, which was garrisoned by Hungarian units.

Where the battle took place

The River Piave flows in a generally north-west to south-east direction, joining the sea to the east of Venice. North-West of Treviso - which is itself north of Venice, it loops around a hilly area called the Montello. The river from this point to the sea is very broad, some 800 yards in places, but fast-flowing. South-east of the Montello a series of islands lies in the river, of which the largest is the 4-mile long Papadopoli. The land on either side is flat, giving those in occupation of the Montello an excellent observation advantage.The land beyond the next river, the Monticano, is densely-populated and agricultural.

The clearing of Papadopoli IslandAt 8.15pm on 23rd October 1918, the 22nd Brigade of 7th Division began to cross the dangerous Piave on 12 flat-bottomed boats. The first platoons landed safely, before the Austrian artillery were alerted. Casualties were suffered, but no boat was hit, and the crossings continued. Once bridgeheads were secured, Italian Pontieri engineers built footbridges, and the rest of the Division crossed by this means. By 5am on the 24th, the Papadopoli objectives had been achieved, at small loss. The Hungarians put up poor resistance and did not counterattack. However, the weather worsened and although more units crossed to the island ready for the next days main assault, conditions slowed progress, to the point where the attack was postponed. Next day, the weather improved: the island was cleared, and a pontoon bridge constructed after much effort.The BundThe next phase of attack was to clear the Bund (the Austrian front line on the east bank), and advance into the plain beyond. Zero hour was 6.45am on the 27th October. Both Divisions of XIV Corps would attack. The infantry crossed the rest of the river on foot some men were drowned in the attempt. The thin bombardment had destroyed little of the wire, and enemy machine-gun fire was intense. However, by rush and bravery, the Bund objective was captured by 7am. 'The appearance of the British (at the Bund) created universal terror' (Austrian Official History). Further objectives were reached after overcoming resistance from fortified villages and isolated farms. XIV Corps was the only attacking formation to achieve all of its objectives on the day. In so doing it captured 2,500 prisoners and 54 guns, and advanced 3000 yards from the river.The River MonticanoOn the 28th, all three Allied bridgeheads on the east bank were consolidated and expanded. Again, units of XIV Corps achieved all objectives and by nightfall were nearing the high banks of the next river barrier, the Monticano. This position was strongly held by the Austrians, and resistance proved much harder on the 29th. However, in most places the British achieved their first objective and crossed the Monticano. The Austrians were by now in general retreat, and the way was open to the Vittorio Veneto plain, but by now the troops were tired, and out-running their supplies. The British were also way ahead of the Italian units on either flank. The River LivenzaBoth the 7th and 23rd Divisions pushed forward their reserve Brigades, and mounted and cyclist troops continued the advance as fast as could be achieved. Enemey resistance was sporadic indeed, but increased as the Livenza was neared. General Shoubridge of the 7th Division: 'You have only to march like Hell and the war is won'. Unfortuantely, ammunition supply was by now so low, and the columns coming up from the Piave so delayed, that a halt was ordered for the 31st.The advance continued on the 1st November, where little resistance was encountered. It continued until 4th November, crossing the Tagliamento, until halted by the Austrians signing the Armistice.

British open-warfare offensive tactics won the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, as did incredible bravery and feats of engineering in gaining Papadopoli Island and the Bund. However, artillery support was light, and logistics constrained by the bridging capacity at the rivers.

The Allies - and without question the two British Divisions of XIV Corps led the way - utterly defeated two Austrian Armies on this front. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George strongly believed that it was possible to defeat Germany through attacking its neighbours elsewhere, particularly in Italy. While this proved not to be the case, there is no doubt that the defeat of the Austrians at Vittorio Veneto contributed to German anxiety and the signing of the Armistice at Compiegne.

The battaglia d’arresto ↑

On 13 November 1917, the army group commanded by General Alfred Krauss (1862-1938) assaulted the Grappa Massif in an attempt to proceed toward Bassano. Krauss’s army occupied Mount Perna but did not conquer the Grappa summit. General von Below ordered further attacks from the east and west, but the Austro-German troops suffered heavy losses. Despite the inexperience of the new Italian soldiers, the 4 th Army defended their position. Since Below’s army was exhausted from three weeks of fighting, they couldn’t replenish their losses and build up supplies of ammunition to support the offensive. From 22 to 24 November, Austro-German troops attempted to conquer Mount Pertica, Col Caprile and Col della Beretta, but every attack was thwarted by Italian troops. In the end, Erich Ludendorff (1865-1937), worried by the British attack at Cambrai, asked for the cessation of fighting in Italy. On 26 November, the operation on the Italian front was suspended. [1]

On 11 December, Austro-German troops launched a new audacious offensive against Italian positions on Grappa and Asiago Plateau. They conquered Valderoa and Mount Asolone and could have advanced toward Bassano, but no further progress was made. Furthermore, the Allied reinforcements came into line. On 20 December, the front was covered by snow and it was difficult to continue the offensive. On 21 December, the Habsburg High Command ordered the suspension of the attack and the XIV German Army was transferred to the Western Front. Austro-German generals underestimated the resistance the Italian army could mount. Furthermore, Di Robilant adopted an elastic defence tactic: instead of defending sectors that were in greater difficulty, they would be left to the enemy to be reconquered later by rapid counterattacks. Finally, the Italian High Command decided to concede more autonomy to the officers, increasing morale as a result. [2]

Images: WWI: 100 years and 100 pictures

NIEUWKERKE, Belgium -- A century after the start of World War I, Belgium and France are still scarred by over 1,000 graveyards, countless bomb craters, rusting gas shells, bunkers and trenches that tore apart the Western Front for four years.

The 1914-18 conflict was so unprecedented in its scope and savagery that it became known simply as "The Great War." The front line of death and destruction burned through the Alps, Central Europe, the Balkans and Russia, spilling into present-day Turkey and reaching beyond to the Middle East and as far as China.

World War I claimed some 14 million lives -- 5 million civilians and 9 million soldiers, sailors and airmen from 28 countries, from India to South Africa to the United States. At least 7 million troops were left permanently disabled.

The Associated Press has pulled key moments from its vast archive of World War I photographs and assembled them into a 100-photo timeline, beginning with the steps Archduke Ferdinand took with his wife shortly before he was assassinated to major troop deployments and the early battles in Belgium and France in 1914.

The selection shows the scope of the battles and destruction, from the Eastern Front to the Western Front to Gallipoli, from the Battle of Jutland to the horrors of Verdun, the Somme and the muddy, bloody fields of Passchendaele. It reflects technological changes such as tanks, artillery, airpower and the poisonous chemical gas that came to define WW1.

It ends with the deployment of American troops in 1917 and, after four years of fighting and exhaustion, the Armistice in 1918.

Battle [ edit | edit source ]

Battle of Piave showing afternoon positions

Believing that the bulk of Archduke John's army lay at Conegliano, Eugène planned an ambitious assault crossing of the Piave. He did not realize that the Army of Inner Austria was deployed only 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) north of the river. In fact, Albert Gyulai's VIII Armeekorps was ranged between Susegana and Santa Lucia di Piave, while Ignaz Gyulai had the IX Armeekorps in line between Santa Lucia and Bocca di Strada just to the east. Eugène greatly outnumbered John, who had between 24,120 Α] and 28,000 troops at the Piave. Β]

Understanding that his defeat at Sacile was caused by poor preparation, Eugène made sure that he had most of his army assembled. He planned to feint at the Nervesa ford with Seras' Reserve division while Dessaix's Light Division (Advance Guard) led the main attack at the Priula ford. He ordered Grouchy to cross with three divisions of cavalry at the San Nichiol crossing and swing left to help Dessaix's effort. To provide the Light Division sufficient fire support, Eugène massed several batteries on the south bank and placed them under the command of his artillery chief Sorbier. If Dessaix successfully carved out a bridgehead, Eugène planned to send the corps of MacDonald and Baraguey d'Hilliers across the Piave. Grenier's corps waited at San Nichiol to follow Grouchy's cavalry. ⎢]

At 7:00 AM, Dessaix crossed the river with nearly 5,000 troops. By this time, Archduke John's army was moving up behind the Piavisella stream, much closer than Eugène realized. ⎢] The archduke posted the VIII Armeekorps on the west flank with Frimont's infantry, while the IX Armeekorps defended the east flank. ⎣] By 8:00 AM the Light Division was 400 meters south of the dike. Having massed virtually all his cavalry under Wolfskeel, he sent them charging at Dessaix's men. The French general reformed his soldiers into two large squares and repelled wave after wave of enemy horsemen. As Wolfskeel's disorganized troopers withdrew, a massed battery of 24 Austrian guns opened fire on the French. ⎢]

Deployed 800 yards from the French, these cannons were commanded by Reisner, Archduke John's chief of artillery. ⎤] The artillery barrage soon caused serious casualties in the vulnerable French squares. As some French troops began to shrink from the heavy fire, couriers raced off to get help. ⎥] Quickly, Eugène ordered twenty guns belonging to Broussier and Lamarque across the river. When the cannons arrived, the French formed their own 24-gun battery in front of the infantry and replied to Reisner's bombardment. ⎤] Wolfskeel asked for some infantry to be sent forward from the Piavisella line, but for some reason no help arrived. ⎢]

While Dessaix and Wolfskeel battled, Grouchy sent the divisions of Pully and Sahuc across the Piave at San Nichiol. The troopers encountered Kalnássy's IX Armeekorps brigade in the open and hustled the Austrians back to Cimadolmo and San Michele, where they took up a strong defensive position. Guérin d'Etoquigny's division crossed around 9:00 AM, allowing the other two divisions to move to the left in support of Dessaix. ⎢] By this time, the French artillery fire began to slacken. In their haste to help Dessaix, the French gunners had left their reserve ammunition behind. ⎦]

There are two accounts about what happened next. Having reorganized his horsemen, Wolfskeel returned to the attack around 10:00 AM. The Austrian cavalry trotted toward Dessaix's men in three lines. This time Sahuc's light horse and Pully's dragoons were waiting for them. The two French divisions countercharged, and the cavalry of both armies became embroiled in a terrific melee. ⎧]

A second account states that the French cavalry attacked first. Eugène sent Pully and Sahuc charging at the Austrian guns in a pincer attack. Under cover of the smoke from the two artilleries blasting away at each other, the French divisions struck Reisner's gun line from both flanks. While some horsemen began cutting down the gunners, the others galloped among the Austrian cavalry which was formed up behind the guns. ⎤] ⎦]

The results of the cavalry action are not disputed. A French dragoon killed Wolfskeel in personal combat, while his second-in-command Hager became a prisoner. Leaderless and outnumbered, the Austrian horsemen broke and fled. The Austrians managed to bring away ten cannons but 14 cannons were captured by their enemies. ⎤] During the struggle Reisner was wounded and captured. ⎨]

The French cavalry pursued the routed Austrian troopers as far as Mandra and Santa Maria (Campana), where they came upon the brigades of Colloredo and Gajoli. ⎧] Pully's troopers tried to break the Austrian infantry squares but they were unsuccessful. ⎦] Unable to dent the Austrian line without support, the French horsemen fell back to the dike where they were joined by Dessaix's troops. Though the Piave began an alarming rise at this time, Eugène hewed to his plan of reinforcing the bridgehead. Around noon, MacDonald pushed three-quarters of Broussier's division and half of Lamarque's division across the river. While MacDonald began probing the Piavisella line, Grenier managed to get part of Abbé's division across the river at San Nichiol. ⎧]

With Eugène trying to get more troops across the Piave before it drowned the fords and Archduke John organizing his defenses, the fighting died down after 1:00 PM. By 3:00 PM Eugène had to suspend all troop crossings because of dangerous high water conditions. By this time, all his cavalry and only half his infantry reached the north bank, with Baraguey d'Hilliers, Seras' division, the Italian Guard, and part of Durutte's division remaining on the south bank. If the battle turned against the French, they would be trapped with an unfordable river at their backs. But with the bulk of his badly shaken and outnumbered horsemen still rallying in the rear, Archduke John elected not to expose his foot soldiers to cavalry attack by ordering them forward. ⎧]

By this time, there were approximately 27,000 to 30,000 Franco-Italian troops in the bridgehead. ⎩] Assembling the available troops, Eugène planned to hurl MacDonald's corps, elements of Durutte's division, and Sahuc's division at the Piavisella line. Off to the right, the viceroy ordered Grenier to pin the left wing of IX Armeekorps at San Michele and Cimadolmo with Pully's and Guérin's cavalry and Abbé's infantry. The French attack got rolling in the late afternoon. Abbé's advance was counterattacked by squadrons of the Archduke Josef Hussar Regiment, the last unbroken Austrian horsemen on the field. Pully and Guérin quickly repulsed the gallant Austrian riposte and Kalnássy evacuated San Michele and Cimadolmo before Grenier's pressure. Kalnássy fell back to Tezze where he sturdily held his ground until evening, ⎪] suffering 1,200 casualties during the battle. ⎩]

MacDonald's attack was preceded by a bombardment from 24 guns. His attack breached the IX Armeekorps line and John was forced to commit his last reserve, Kleinmayer's grenadier brigade. These elite troops attacked, but were unable to halt MacDonald's offensive. On the left flank, Dessaix and Sahuc seized Barco while Macdonald took Santa Maria (Campana) and drove toward Bocca di Strada. On the right, Grenier finally dislodged Kalnássy from Tezze and let loose his two dragoon divisions. John's army finally broke and streamed north into Conegliano. As darkness fell, Eugène suspended the pursuit on a line from Vazzola to Susegana. ⎫]

Tragedy at Fismette, France, 1918

An exploding phosphorous round silhouettes a helmeted American doughboy of the 28th Division at Fismette in August 1918. The French-ordered attack was a costly failure. (National Archives)

‘Staring past the wall, Allen saw a sudden puff of smoke that rolled forward with a jet of yellow flame. Men curled up as smoke and flame rolled over them, and he dazedly thought of burning leaves’

To the surviving doughboys, the cry seemed like a death knell. Only a few dozen of them remained, scattered in the cellars of half-ruined houses and strung out behind a battered stone wall that spanned the northern edge of the village. They had been fighting for weeks and had not eaten a scrap of food for four days. Nerves frazzled and lungs wracked by gas, they slumped at their posts, seemingly more dead than alive. They had long since used up their grenades. German artillery had knocked out their only machine gun. Their rifle ammunition was running low. And they were trapped.

The doughboys occupied the village of Fismette, on the north bank of France&rsquos Vesle River. German troops occupied the steep hillsides that dominated the village to the north, east and west. To the south the debris-choked river flowed 45 feet wide and 15 deep. A man could swim it if he didn&rsquot mind slithering across submerged coils of barbed wire and risking German machine-gun fire. Otherwise, the only way across was a shattered stone footbridge that barely linked one bank to the other. Clambering over the bridge was a slow business&mdashimpossible in daylight, due to enemy mortars and machine guns, and risky at night.

For the past two hours the Germans had bombarded Fismette with every gun in their arsenal. Now dawn had broken, and German observers stationed on the hills above or flying in planes overhead would watch the Americans&rsquo every movement for at least the next 12 hours. It was at this moment&mdashwhen the doughboys&rsquo situation seemed impossibly desperate&mdashthe Germans chose to attack. A full battalion of elite stormtroopers armed with rifles, grenades and flamethrowers rushed the weak American line. As thick black smoke and flames spurted toward them, the ranking American officer, Major Alan Donnelly, could find only two words to say.

The Pennsylvania National Guard&rsquos 28th Division, the famed &ldquoKeystone,&rdquo was among the best the Americans had in France in the summer of 1918. &ldquoThey struck me as the best soldiers I had ever seen,&rdquo said Brig. Gen. Dennis Nolan, commander of the division&rsquos 55th Infantry Brigade. &ldquoThey were veterans, survivors who didn&rsquot seem to be oppressed by the death of other men.&rdquo

When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, the Pennsylvania National Guard&rsquos 109th, 110th, 111th and 112th infantry regiments formed the 7th Division. Later that year the unit was redesignated the 28th Division, assigned to the American Expeditionary Forces and shipped to France under the command of Maj. Gen. Charles H. Muir. Though grouchy and inflexible, Muir knew what fighting meant. Serving as a sharpshooter during the Spanish-American War, he had received the Distinguished Service Cross for single-handedly killing the entire crew of a Spanish artillery piece. Muir&rsquos men affectionately called him &ldquoUncle Charley.&rdquo

The Pennsylvanians entered combat for the first time in early July 1918, fighting as part of the American III Corps under Maj. Gen. Robert Lee Bullard. As no independent American Army in France yet existed, however, they were under the overall command of Maj. Gen. Jean Degoutte&rsquos French Sixth Army. Attacking northward from the Marne River about 50 miles east of Paris, they pushed into an enemy-held salient backed by the Aisne River. On August 4 the Americans captured the town of Fismes on the south bank of the Vesle River. They had advanced 20 miles in just over a month and cleared out most of the German salient. Degoutte nevertheless ordered the 28th Division to cross the Vesle, capture Fismette and hold it as a bridgehead.

Muir and Bullard vehemently disagreed with Degoutte&rsquos orders. The bridgehead at Fismette was too vulnerable, they argued. Enemy-held hills overlooked it on all sides, and withdrawal under fire over the Vesle would be next to impossible. But Degoutte would have none of it, and the American generals had to swallow their objections. Until the independent American Army that General John J. Pershing had sought for so long became a reality, they had no choice but to follow the Frenchman&rsquos orders.

The Germans did not concede Fismette easily. On the night of August 6&ndash7, troops of the 112th Infantry attacked the village, but German resistance was too strong, and they had to withdraw. They tried again the following morning after American artillery had laid down a heavy barrage, and after a savage street fight they gained enough of a toehold to hang on. For the next 24 hours attacks, counterattacks and constant hand-to-hand fighting engulfed Fismette in an inferno of flame, smoke and noise.

Lieutenant Hervey Allen, a literate young man from Pittsburgh who would later become a successful novelist, approached the riverbank opposite Fismette late on the evening of August 9. His company of the 111th Infantry had been fighting the Germans for six weeks and had not received rations for the past few days. Allen&rsquos thoughts were less than cheerful as he gazed across the Vesle at a churning cloud of smoke flickering with muzzle flashes and echoing with gunfire and explosions. Somewhere in there lay Fismette.

The infantrymen crossed the stone bridge just after midnight. As they picked their way forward, they prayed enemy flares would not light up the sky and expose them to machine-gun fire. Fortunately, the sky remained dark. Rifle fire intensified, however, as the doughboys entered Fismette. The Germans still held much of the village, and contested the Americans house to house. Allen&rsquos captain led them through the village, dodging and sprinting, until they reached its northern edge just before dawn. Ahead, on a half-wooded upward slope cut by a small gully, German machine guns barked at them furiously from the shelter of some trees.

The captain ordered an attack but was shot dead as he led his men into the open. Allen and the others continued forward another 50 yards before retiring to the village with heavy losses. The few remaining officers in Allen&rsquos company held a hurried conference in an old dugout. Their standing orders were to attack and seize the hills above Fismette, but this seemed insane when even survival was problematic. One of them, they decided, had to return to headquarters in Fismes and seek further orders. Allen said he could swim, so the other officers chose him.

Allen approached the riverbank by slithering down a muddy ditch, dragging his belly painfully over strands of barbed wire half-submerged in the mud. Small clouds of German mustard gas filled the ditch in places, and although he wore his mask, the gas burned his hands and other exposed patches of skin. Enemy shells fell nearby, stunning him into near-unconsciousness. Allen nevertheless made it to the river&rsquos edge, where he slipped into the water, discarding his gas mask and pistol.

The lieutenant crossed the Vesle beneath the bridge, sometimes swimming and other times crawling over submerged barbed wire. As he reached the opposite bank, Allen&rsquos heart sank. American and German machine guns constantly raked the shore. There seemed no way forward and no way back. &ldquoI lay there in the river for a minute and gave up,&rdquo he later remembered. &ldquoWhen you do that, something dies inside.&rdquo

After a moment, fortunately, Allen noticed a small culvert that offered just enough cover for him to make his way into Fismes. A few minutes later he was racing down rubble-strewn streets toward the dugout serving as battalion headquarters. No signposts were necessary&mdashall he had to do was follow the macabre trail of dead runners&rsquo corpses. He arrived at the dugout to the sight of an unexploded German shell wedged into the wall just over the entrance. Inside, Allen waded through a crowd of officers, wounded soldiers and malingerers to reach his battalion major. The major looked rather pleased with himself, for he had so far received only positive reports of the fighting in Fismette. Allen, as the only eyewitness present, quickly disabused him of his optimism. His duty done, the lieutenant saluted, moved to a corner and lost consciousness.

Several hours later an officer shook Allen awake and ordered him to guide a group of reinforcements back into Fismette. Night had fallen. Little remained of the bridge, and the surrounding area was strewn with shell holes, broken equipment and pieces of men. A sentry warned that the slightest sound would provoke German machine guns to open fire on the bridge, and that several runners had been killed trying to cross. Waves of nausea engulfed Allen. For a moment his resolve wavered. &ldquoNo more machine guns, no more!&rdquo he said to himself over and over. An American sniper, sheltering nearby and waiting to fire at German muzzle-flashes, hissed, &ldquoDon&rsquot stoop down, lieutenant&mdashthey are shooting low when they cut loose!&rdquo

Allen sucked in his stomach and led his men carefully over the bridge. As they reached midspan, an enemy flare lit up the sky. The doughboys stood frozen and prepared to die. &ldquoThat,&rdquo Allen later recalled, &ldquowas undoubtedly the most intense moment I ever knew.&rdquo The flare seemed to float eternally, until it finally descended in a slow arc, sputtered and went out. Miraculously, the enemy had not fired a shot.

The hours that followed sank only partially into Allen&rsquos memory, passing in a haze of sights, sounds and impressions. What he remembered most was weariness. &ldquoIn that great time,&rdquo he later wrote, &ldquothere was never any rest or let-up until the body was killed or it sank exhausted.&rdquo Around him, the fighting continued without letup.

Months afterward many members of the regiment would receive medals in tribute to their bravery in Fismette. Sergeant James I. Mestrovitch rescued his wounded company commander under fire on August 10 and carried him to safety. Mestrovitch would receive the Medal of Honor for this act of heroism&mdashbut posthumously, as he was killed in action on November 4.

Lieutenant Bob Hoffman would return home with a Croix de guerre. He spent his days and nights in Fismette scouting German positions and fighting off counterattacks. One morning Hoffman noticed German preparations for an attack and deployed his men in a block of ruined houses they had linked together with strongpoints and tunnels. The Americans had just taken their positions, poking their rifles through apertures in the crumbling stone walls, when German soldiers came rushing down the street. Hoffman never forgot the sight: &ldquoClumpety-clump, they were going, with their high boots and huge coal-bucket helmets. I can see them coming yet&mdashbent over, rifle in one hand, potato-masher grenade in the other husky, red-faced young fellows, their eyes almost popping out of their heads as they dashed down the street, necks red and perspiring.&rdquo

Hoffman had positioned his men well. As the 50 or so Germans advanced further into the village, they stumbled into preset kill zones and were shot down to a man. During the fighting, a young German popped into the doorway of the house where Hoffman had taken shelter and paused to catch his breath. Hoffman, standing in the semidarkness of the ruined house, hesitated for a split second as he decided what to do&mdashshoot the German, challenge him to fight or just stick a bayonet in him? He chose the last option and lunged forward. The surprised German died spitted on the lieutenant&rsquos bayonet.

After three days of fighting the 111th seemed in no condition to withstand a determined enemy attack. But everyone knew one was coming. One evening Hoffman led a scouting party that captured a teenaged German soldier. The frightened boy told his captors that German shock troops had arrived and were preparing an all-out assault on Fismette. Hoffman crept out along the village outskirts in a search for evidence to corroborate the boy&rsquos story. He found Fismette strangely quiet. German artillery fired intermittently. Enemy snipers had gone dormant. American reinforcements had crossed the bridge without drawing fire. The only enemy activity seemed to be in the air. An unusual number of German planes were aloft, sputtering along slowly&mdashand uncontested&mdashabove the village. A sense of stillness and expectancy reinforced Hoffman&rsquos sense of foreboding.

Back across the river in Fismes the 111th regimental officers thought the tide had turned in their favor. Muir kept relaying messages from Degoutte&mdashattack, advance, attack&mdashand as the German guns fell silent, it seemed the Frenchman&rsquos persistence had borne fruit. The time had come, they thought, to clear the Germans out of Fismette and seize the surrounding heights. Hoffman and Allen received their orders early in the morning on August 11. They must rouse every available man and attack at dawn. Fismette must be cleared. If the Germans fled as expected, the doughboys must also drive them from the surrounding hills.

&ldquoIt was a frightful order, murder,&rdquo thought Allen. He asked Major Donnelly, whose 3rd Battalion would spearhead the attack, to reconsider. Donnelly brushed him off. Orders, he replied&mdashthey had no choice. The word &ldquomurder&rdquo also popped into Hoffman&rsquos mind as he watched Donnelly assemble his men, but he stayed quiet. Neither Allen nor Hoffman took part in the initial attack&mdashbut they would share in its aftermath.

As the 3rd Battalion moved forward, the German artillery burst forth with sudden, frightful intensity. It was, indeed, murder. After a few minutes a handful of doughboys&mdashall that remained of the battalion&mdashcame staggering back down the hill, chased by German shells. Donnelly, who had sent them forward, watched in silence. Then the American artillery retaliated, and Fismette burst into flames. Allen took refuge in a cellar, surrounded by the dead, the dying and men driven half-mad by shell concussions. Hoffman, delirious with exhaustion, made a feeble attempt to care for the wounded before he too hunkered down in a basement. There was nothing more any of them could do.

The German bombardment continued all the rest of that day and through the night. Toward dawn the shelling intensified. Then, as daylight broke, the German guns fell silent. &ldquoThat,&rdquo Allen knew, &ldquomeant only one thing.&rdquo Hardly conscious of what he was doing, he ordered every man who could stand out of the dugout and drove them toward a wall to face the enemy attack. &ldquoThey are all dead up there along the wall, lieutenant,&rdquo someone said. Hoffman, nearby and heading for the same wall, thought the same: &ldquoEverywhere I looked were dead men. There seemed to be no live men around to man the guns.&rdquo

&ldquoHere they come!&rdquo someone shouted. &ldquoHold on!&rdquo Donnelly cried.

Staring past the wall, Allen saw a sudden puff of smoke that rolled forward with a jet of yellow flame. Men curled up as smoke and flame rolled over them, and he dazedly thought of burning leaves. Another flash burst among some nearby houses. One of Allen&rsquos men stood up and whirled to face him, his body outlined against the flames. &ldquoOh! My God!&rdquo he screamed, staring wide-eyed into the lieutenant&rsquos face. &ldquoOh God!&rdquo

Hoffman felt the same knot of terror in the pit of his stomach as he watched the flamethrowers move forward, borne by men with tanks on their backs, clutching hoses that spewed liquid fire up to 50 yards. His body seemed to shrivel with the heat as banks of smoke wafted past him.

For all their terror and exhaustion, the doughboys held. From behind the wall and along the village perimeter, they opened fire on the German stormtroopers. They concentrated on the men with flamethrowers. Their morale soared when a bullet punctured a flamethrower tank and a German erupted into flames. The other flamethrowers followed, one by one like roman candles, until all that remained was the smell of burning flesh. Rifle and grenade-toting German infantry surged forward regardless and managed to drive the doughboys from several houses. But the enemy had spent his energy. The American line held.

That night troops of the 109th and 112th regiments relieved the survivors. Hoffman&rsquos entire company had been reduced to just 32 men. Allen was in no condition to call roll for his company. Suffering from gas inhalation and burns, shrapnel wounds and shell shock, he was evacuated and spent the remainder of the war in a French hospital.

The tragedy of Fismette had yet to reach its denouement. The Americans cleared the village step by step, and on August 22 they declared it under control. The Germans continued to hold the heights, however, and were reinforcing their lines.

By this time the defense of Fismette had reverted to the hands of the 112th Infantry. Its commander, Colonel George C. Rickards, knew the division was exhausted and that it lacked further reserves to meet a German attack. On August 26, Rickards invited Bullard and Muir to his headquarters in Fismes. After a brief consultation, all three men agreed the Americans must abandon Fismette. Muir promptly issued an order to evacuate the &ldquouselessly small bridgehead,&rdquo and Bullard approved. Unfortunately, Bullard&rsquos chief of staff tattled to Degoutte before Rickards could execute the order. Furious, Degoutte countermanded Muir&rsquos order and ordered Bullard and Muir to hold Fismette at all costs.

That night companies G and H of the 112th&mdash236 men in all&mdashtook up positions in Fismette. At dawn the following morning, August 27, German artillery laid down a barrage around the village, destroying the bridge over the Vesle and sealing off the beleaguered Americans. Twenty minutes later 1,000 German stormtroopers with machine guns, hand grenades and the dreaded flamethrowers descended on Fismette. The Pennsylvanians held on doggedly for several hours, inflicting severe casualties on the attackers. The Germans nevertheless broke through to the river at several points, separating the Americans into isolated pockets they then methodically destroyed. Just over 30 doughboys managed to swim across the Vesle to safety. Of the remainder, an estimated 75 were killed and 127 taken prisoner. Fismette was back in German hands.

Bullard blamed Degoutte for the disaster and wrote a letter to Pershing describing how the French general had countermanded Muir&rsquos orders to evacuate Fismette. Degoutte tried to make amends by publicly praising the 28th Division for its gallantry. Pershing was not mollified. A few days later he confronted Bullard at headquarters. &ldquoWhy did you not disobey the order given by General Degoutte?&rdquo he demanded.

Nothing like Fismette, Pershing resolved, must ever happen again. From then on the bulk of American forces in Europe would fight under American command. On August 10, even as Hervey Allen and Bob Hoffman fought for their lives in Fismette, the independent American First Army was formed. It would spearhead the American drive to victory that ended with the armistice on Nov. 11, 1918.

For further reading Ed Lengel recommends Toward the Flame: A Memoir of World War I, by Hervey Allen, and Doughboy War: The American Expeditionary Force in World War I, edited by James H. Hallas.

Battle Of Piave River

The Battle of the Piave River, known in Italy as Battaglia del Solstizio (Battle of the Solstice), Battaglia di Mezzo Giugno (Battle of Middle June), or Seconda Battaglia del Piave (Second Battle of the Piave River, as the last part of the Battle of Caporetto is considered to be the first), was a decisive victory for the Italian Army during World War I.

On October 24, 1917, a combined Austro-Hungarian/German army struck across the Isonzo River at Caporetto and by November 12 had advanced all the way to the Piave River. Cadorna's disposition of most of his troops far forward, with little defense in depth, contributed greatly to the disaster but graver still were the responsibilities of other officers, notably Pietro Badoglio, then corps commander in a sector overrun by the Austro-German attack. The Italian Army fled in disarray and seemed on the verge of total collapse 275,000 soldiers surrendered. Cadorna was sacked and replaced by General Armando Diaz he was appointed as the Italian representant to the Allied Supreme War Council set up in Versailles. Then the Italian forces rallied behind the Piave and Monte Grappa (a mountain Cadorna himself had previously began to fortify, in a moment of almost prophetical insight) and reversed, with the help of several Allied divisions, the course of the conflict.

San Boldo Pass, a military road with 18 hairpin turns and 5 tunnels

Passo di San Boldo is a mountain pass at an elevation of 710m (2,329ft) above the sea level, located in the province of Treviso, Veneto, north-eastern Italy. The road to the summit is an engineering masterpiece with 8 hairpin turns and 6 tunnels. It’s one of the famous hairpinned roads in the world.

Located within the northern reaches of the Italian Alps, the road to the summit is paved. It’s called Strada Provinciale 635 (SP 635). The 17km long route goes from Trichiana (in the Belluna Valley), at an altitude of 329m, to Tóvena (in the Val Moreno), at an altitude of 272m, through an altitude of 706m. The most challenging part of the climb is a short stretch of 700m with 5 five tunnels blasted into the rock with 8 numbered hairpin turns and six bridges. The road to the summit, just allows traffic in one direction, alternating with traffic lights. The ramp to access the south side by the neck back is a nearly vertical wall with a series of five turns through tunnels carved into the rock connected by six bridges. There is a speed limit of 30 km/h (19 mph) and a height limit of 3.2 m (10.5 ft), after buses were repeatedly stuck in the tunnels. Starting from Tovena the climb features18 hairpin turns.

This road is usually open all year, but it can be closed anytime when the access is not cleared of snow. This road replaced a steep path leading up to summit that existed since the nineteenth century but only during the First World War that project succeeded. Between February and June 1918, the Austro-Hungarian army managed to build the road in less than three months. After this fact, the road got the nickname of "road of 100 days." 1400 people, including prisoners of war and women, children and the elderly in the area, worked day and night to complete the strategic route for refueling during the Battle of Piave. Despite the topographical conditions, the slope could not exceed 12% for the passage of heavy vehicles and artillery.

It was built by 7.000 workers (mostly Russian prisoners and women) and was completed in a record time, hence it was inaugurated in June 1918 with the nickname "the road of 100 days". The works began in 1914 under the direction of engineer Giuseppe Carpenè, which employed 500 migrants repatriated between 1914 and 1916. During World War strategic reasons motivated the Austrian engineers (under the direction of Nikolaus Waldmann) to complete the work in a short time, being its construction planned for January 1918, with five additional galleries that now characterize the climb. Despite the fact that the road is located in Italy, the road is named after a Spanish hermit, called Boldo. He was a hermit living in these mountains and some years late he would become saint, San Boldo.
Pic: Solitario Motero

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1 Heereswesen , Bundesministerium für und Kriegsarchiv, Österreich-Ungarns letzter Krieg 1914–1918. Das Kriegsjahr 1914 vom Kriegsausbruch bis zum Ausgang der Schlacht bei Limanowa-Lapanów , 7 vols. ( Vienna : Verlag der Militärwissenschaftlichen Mitteilungen , 1931 )Google Scholar , I [hereafter ÖULK, I], 54.

2 See Stone , N. , ‘ Army and Society in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1900–1914 ’, Past and Present , 33 ( 1966 ), 99 – 101 CrossRefGoogle Scholar Hämmerle , C. , ‘ Die k. (u.) k. Armee als “Schule des Volkes”? Zur Geschichte der Allgemeinen Wehrpflicht in der multinationalen Habsburgermonarchie (1866–1914/18) ’, in Jansen , C. ed., Der Bürger als Soldat. Die Militarisierung europäischer Gesellschaften im langen 19. Jahrhundert: ein internationaler Vergleich ( Essen : Klartext , 2004 ), 181 Google Scholar .


Four years passed between Dunkirk and D-Day © The French collapse was as sudden as it was unexpected. It ripped up the balance of power in Europe, and overnight left the strategic assumptions on which Britain had planned to fight Hitler completely obsolete. With France out of the equation, Britain's war for the next four years was fought in the air, at sea, and in the Mediterranean - but not on the Western Front. Not until D-Day, 6 June 1944, did a major British army return to France.

The legacy for France itself was complex. Resistance groups formed, but risked bringing savage reprisals on the civilian population if they attacked the occupying forces. While de Gaulle formed an army and a government in exile in Britain, he was technically a rebel.

The French collapse was as sudden as it was unexpected.

The 'legitimate' French government was that of Marshal Philippe Pétain, an aged World War One veteran, and had its capital at Vichy in central France. The Vichy regime was authoritarian and collaborated with the Germans. Arguably, the wartime divisions within French society that were created by this arrangement are still not fully healed.

Historians have located the seeds of the French defeat in low morale and a divided pre-war society. This may be so, but in purely military terms, the Germans were a vastly superior force (although not in numbers). They used their mechanisation and manoeuvre more effectively, and benefited from domination in the air. German military doctrine was more advanced, and generally their commanders coped much better with high-tempo operations than did their Allied counterparts.

Allied command and control was cumbersome, and the Anglo-French operational plan was deeply flawed. However, the very success of the risky blitzkrieg approach led the Germans to gamble even more heavily on their next major operation - the invasion of Russia. But this time the strategy failed, with consequences for the Nazi regime that were ultimately fatal.

Watch the video: Battle of Vittorio Veneto Italy vs Austro-Hungary World War I