THOMAS NELSON PAGE
ITALY AND THE WORLD WAR
ITALY'S WORK IN THE OFFENSIVE OF 1917
THE Allies had planned a great offensive for early spring on all their fronts. The late opening of the spying in 1917, however, prevented until May the great offensive which Cadorna had planned on the Carso front to force the Austrians from their strong positions above the upper and middle Isonzo, where their right---to employ the words of the Italian report---"pivoted on a lofty mountain system, consisting of various lines of high peaks, each of which was a dominating base connected with its neighbor; so that, taken together, they formed a formidable defensive whole." Such were the enemy's lines between the middle Isonzo and the Chiapovano, and Idria valleys, extending to the system of the Ternovo plateau, and to the mountainous line on the right of the Vipacco River to the north and east of Gorizia. Hence---to quote from the same authority---they extended "through the narrow valley of the Vipacco to the northern edge of the Carso, at Monte Faiti, and joining the Cornem-Brestovizza-Hermada-Duino bulwark, extended down to the sea."
As soon as the weather conditions permitted, Cadorna opened his offensive from the bridge-head at Plava, and sent the Italians up the precipitous steeps of Monte Kuk, Mount Vodice, and "Hill 625." The dash of the assault carried against desperate resistance the Austrian first line, while farther toward the sea the Italian right advanced on the Carso, sweeping the Austrian left out of their strongest positions "as far as the immediate approaches to Faiti, to Brestovizza, and to Monte Hermada." By May 27 the Italians had reached the third line of Austrian defenses and crossed the Ternovo. The offensive was costly, for the Italians were forced to carry by assault against Austria's best troops positions which, naturally of tremendous strength, had been fortified by Austria's highest experts till they were deemed the impregnable bulwarks of the Dual Kingdom. But if the Italian losses were tremendous, they also exacted a heavy toll from the defenders. So successful was this May offensive that Austria felt compelled to draw important reinforcements from her eastern front to defend these gateways to Trieste. Cadorna was now complete master of the initiative, and he prepared for his next step, which was to assemble a superior force with superior artillery, and attack once more along the whole Isonzo front. Again he was successful. His left thrown against the Austrian right captured the advanced Bainsizza plateau and the positions on Monte Santo as far as the Chiapovano Valley, and then made a flank attack against the positions of Ternovo and an attack by both front and flank on the positions on Mount San Gabriele. On the Carso the Third Army under the Duke d'Aosta carried the enemy's first line, and then, to quote the Italian report, "made a determined bid for Monte Hermada, the most important bulwark barring his advance on Trieste." But there must be a limit to all effort, however epic its scope or exercise may be. Against these bulwarks Italy's offensive came for the time to a stand. She had poured out her blood like water on those rock mountain sides and plateaus, where every point and line were swept by a fire that cut away woods as a harvestfield is mown by the scythe, and blew away the living rock in its elemental fury.
This offensive in which Italy was forced to put forth her utmost efforts had cost her heavily---how heavily was not divulged. But she had to show for it substantial gains. She had smashed the enemy's powerful lines and, against the most stubborn resistance, had carried his most cherished defenses, in a region where every position seized was the proof at once of her success and of her prowess. She had captured over 30,000 prisoners, 135 guns, including several of the famous "305's," nearly 400 machine-guns and trench mortars) and a prodigious quantity of military supplies and other stores of all kinds.
With the proof of her ability to capture, against Austria's most powerful efforts at resistance, defenses so formidable that military writers had long considered them impregnable, Italy might well feel satisfied.
But not only had she strengthened her own position; she had rendered, if it were known, a vast service to the Allied cause. First, in that while Russia was crumbling internally, her armies were as yet intact. And that they had remained so was due in part to Italy's having compelled Austria to withdraw from the Russian front troops which, if left there, might have changed the situation months before the Russian armies gave way, and thus have permitted German reinforcements from the weakened Russian front to fling their weight on the already worn French and British armies at the crucial moment when they were straining every nerve on the Meuse, the Aisne, and the Somme.
The relation of Greece to the war was a cause of constant anxiety to the Allies, and with the spread of the Submarine war and the growing belief that "the pirates" were harbored in Greek waters, the situation became intolerable.
It was evident that the authorities in Athens were espousing more and more the side of the Central Empires, and that unless some firm action were taken, Greece would be lost to the Allies. Firm action was taken, and toward the middle of June (12) King Constantine was compelled by the Allies to abdicate the throne in favor of his son, Prince Alexander. Venizelos now came into power again, and a little later (June 29), under the strong pressure of the Allies, Greece broke with the Central Empires, and two weeks later (July 16) declared war on the side of the Allies.
The step secured by the Allies at the hands of the new Greek Government was of decided value to them, in that it relieved them of a certain menace on their flank, should they advance on the Macedonian-Thracian line; gave them a freer hand in searching out Submarine bases; and prevented the flinging against them of the weight of those Greek troops who remained under King Constantine's command, which would have counted, at least, for something in a moment so difficult. It also had a certain moral effect. In fact, the consequences of the declaration of the President of the United States a few months previously had shown how amazing moral effects might be, and the situation of the Allies at this time was one in which a moral effect was almost as essential as military success. They were fighting with great resolution; but they were not acting in complete unison, and the consequence was loss of power and the possibility of yet increased loss in the future.
In the Balkans this want of unison amounted almost to division. The French General, who commanded on that front, was suspected by the other Allies of applying energies to the political side more than to the military side, and considerable mistrust ensued. This situation was one of the things which was reflected in Briand's retirement from the Premiership of France. The Commander was considered to be working politically in Greece in the interest of his own Government, rather than in that of the general cause; and the result was dissatisfaction and distrust by the other representatives of the cause. The interests of Greece and those of Italy were, according to the views of their public men, sufficiently divergent to cause much watchfulness. Greece claimed Northern Epirus, and Italy considered herself to have claims on Albania, which Greece's aspirations might conflict with. The statesmen of the respective countries had, in the early part of the war before Baron Sonnino, became the head of the Consulta, come to an understanding as to the line which should divide the regions which they severally might exploit.(98) But apparently Baron Sonnino, held somewhat stronger views as to Italy's rights than those entertained by his predecessor and, although it was not known at the time referred to, he had strengthened his hand so far as concerned Albania by the Secret treaty of London at the end of April (26), 1915. Whereas, on the other hand, Greece, who had in November, 1914, been promised Southern Albania (Northern Epirus) if she would enter the war on the side of the Allies, had later occupied Northern Epirus, though the Allies had protested against her annexation of it.(99)
A small region about Coriza had been created, under a plan formed by the French Commander, into an independent Republic or State under a civil Governor sustained by a French officer. Its object was suspected by the Italian Government, and to some extent, at least, by the other Allies.
In June (4) the announcement of Albania's independence under the protection of Italy appeared in the Italian Press. The step was taken by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, apparently without consultation even with his colleagues, or at least a number of them. It was a complete surprise to the other Allies, and caused some resentment on their part. It was equally a surprise to a part of the Cabinet itself, and several Ministers resigned as a protest against such a step being taken without conference with the other members of the Government. Among these was Leonidas Bissolati. A protest was understood to have been made by the other Allies, and explanations were made that the step was taken on the advice of their military commander in Albania, to counteract the effects of an Austrian proclamation asserting that the Italians had invaded Albania with the intention of subjugating the Albanians; and that the term "protection" was not used in the technical political sense, but in the dictionary sense. Thereupon, the matter was dropped and the incident was closed; but the division between Baron Sonnino and Bissolati was never entirely closed, and it was considered by Italy's allies that under Sonnino's leadership she was being led into a policy of some obscurity. The Minister for Foreign Affairs was thenceforth even more than before recognized as the head of the extreme expansionists or Nationalists, while Bissolati was regarded as representing the more moderate aspirations of Italy, and a conviction that her soundest policy was to establish friendship with her neighbors, relieve them of apprehension that she had imperialistic aims, and thus open a vastly broader field for the exercise of the genius of the Italian People.
On the 1st of August, Pope Benedict XV addressed to all the Belligerent Powers a note, inviting all those Governments to come to an agreement on the points which he set forth as the fundamental basis of a Permanent Peace. They included "the moral right of justice" as a substitute for "the material might of arms"; the introduction of arbitration according to an agreed standard, under the threat of certain disadvantages to that State which should refuse either to submit matters of internal dispute to arbitration or to accept its decision. And as a consequence to the establishment of "the sovereign authority of justice," the "true freedom and common enjoyment of the seas" under the guaranty of definite rules.
This note had much effect on a certain element of the People of Italy; for it was generally indorsed by the Clergy and the Clerical Press, and was held out to the people as the expression of the mind and will of the Supreme Pontiff, the successor of St. Peter himself, and according to it the war should be brought to a close forthwith, and no sound reason existed for prolonging it. The Central Empires promptly availed themselves of the opportunity to attempt a "Peace offensive" under the manoeuvre of an apparent readiness to accept the suggestions under certain conditions favorable to their aims. The Allies, on the other hand, felt that under the existing conditions it was less favorable to their interests than to those of their adversaries. The United States Government replied to it a little later, defining the grounds on which this Government was prepared to make peace, and declaring its view of the necessity to continue the war until these were realized. The Allies adopted this answer as presenting their stand in the matter. The Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, in a speech in the Chamber in which he made Italy's only reply to the Pope's note, aroused the implacable resentment of the Vatican by referring to the note as savoring of German suggestions. He made it clear that Italy had never received any Peace proposals which either her honor or her vital interests could for a moment have entertained.
THE DISASTER OF CAPORETTO
THE news of the breaking-up in Russia, followed by the threatened cessation of hostilities, at least, against the enemy, and the return home of the soldiers, with the programme for the participation of the Soldiers' and Workmen's Committees in the work of alleged reconstruction, had a decided repercussion in certain localities in Italy. Those tainted with Bolshevistic tendencies were secretly spreading their insidious propaganda. This was especially the case in certain industrial centres, where defeatist methods had been insidiously employed with marked success, and where the socialist Peace propaganda fell on ears prepared to accept it. The Peace Note of the Pope brought to many the hope that Peace might soon be in sight, and although the two currents had different sources and did not mingle, they bore toward a common outlet of Peace.
In August, inspired partly by these ideas and partly by the more ordinary motives of bettering Wage conditions, a strike was ordered in Turin, and against efforts to prevent its taking a seditious form, it developed suddenly an opposition by force so menacing that the Government felt called on to suppress it with sternness. A considerable number of persons were killed and yet more were wounded, and the disorder was suppressed. But the situation appeared so threatening that a large number of those engaged in the movement---militarized workmen---were rounded up and were sent to the front, where supposedly they would be under firm military discipline, and at least would not be able to engage in seditious public meetings. This supposition proved later not wholly well founded.
The point selected for their disciplining was the Sector before Monte Nero, near the town of Caporetto. Caporetto lay on the western bank of the Isonzo, where it skirts the foot of Monte Nero, towering above its surrounding mountains. The Italians held Monte Nero; but to the south, a little distance, in the angle of the Isonzo, the Austrians had never been dislodged from the Tolmino-Santa Lucia bridge-head on the western bank. Several roads converged on Caporetto down the valley, and thence through the gradually diminishing mountains ran a good road, and a newly constructed railway directly to Cividale, a dozen or more miles away, and so on to Udine, the headquarters of the Supreme Command. When the great disaster befell, Caporetto, as the first town of importance taken and mentioned in the despatches, gave its name to the event; but the German-Austrian drive, while it converged on Caporetto, covered a wider front than that represented by the little town on the highway to Udine. The enemy were quick to avail themselves of everything to their advantage. The bridge-head on the west side of the Isonzo was a good point d'appui for their project. Monte Nero and the Bainsizza, Monte Santo and the Carso, could not be carried by assault; but, if flanked, they might fall.
The British and French had for some time had on the Isonzo front each an auxiliary artillery force. The British had had something over a hundred guns; the French had had something like three-fourths of that number. After his success at Bainsizza and San Gabriele, Cadorna considered his position impregnable, and as the British and French needed all the guns they could get on their own fronts, they took away most of their artillery. The British left only about thirty, and the French left perhaps ten or a dozen guns.
At the same time the Germans reinforced the Austrians with a number of Divisions, perhaps eight or ten, which rumor quickly increased to twenty-two. They also aided the Austrians essentially with the new tactics and methods devised by Ludendorff, who came to give his personal aid in the projected offensive.
The Italians were accustomed to fighting the Austrians and the Hungarians and Jugo-Slavs; but they had not been pitted hitherto, at least in Italy, against the Germans, and the latter had a great reputation there, especially for organization, persistence, and military skill. Also they had new tactics unfamiliar to the Italians. Of all of these facts the Germans were prompt to avail themselves.
It was known that the offensive was on the cards, and the presence of the German divisions, multiplied by rumor, created some anxiety in Italy when the offensive opened on the Isonzo front, especially in view of the sentiment disclosed in a Defeatist circular of the secretary of the Socialist organization denouncing the war and sent secretly throughout the country. But the news from Cadorna was reassuring, and the Minister of War, General Giardino, a gallant and capable commander, made a speech in the Chamber on the afternoon of the 24th of October, in which he declared that the army was sound to the core, and that he could assure the country that it was the solid and secure bulwark of Italy. It was his maiden speech, and he received one of the greatest ovations ever tendered in the Chamber to a Minister. The body voted that the speech be printed in large numbers and circulated throughout the country. That night the enemy broke through the Italian lines at Caporetto. It was a tragic climax to a lofty and patriotic speech.
In the light of facts now known, the importance of Caporetto appears quite obvious. It was undoubtedly supposed to be securely protected, but unfortunately something was wrong and, like a bolt from the blue, the disaster came with all its fell consequences.
All sorts of explanations have been given for the tragedy of Caporetto; many theories, some by no means reconcilable, have been advanced and numerous reasons assigned. And possibly, there were sundry reasons taken in combination, rather than one or two only which led to the tragic result and came so near destroying Italy and wrecking the Allied Cause.
The Italian Government must know all the reasons and their several relations thereto; but it is a great question whether all will be disclosed in our time. It may be asserted, though, as quite certain that those usually assigned have not the relation to the climax generally attributed to them. Only one thing is certain: that when Italy awoke to the realization of the situation into which she had been brought, and of the fate that impended over her, she gathered herself together and, utilizing every force within her reach, with every energy left within her stricken soul, she applied all her might in one supreme effort to extricate herself from the slough into which she had been flung, and succeeded. It was a supreme effort, and she has a right to feel proud of its success; for it was the decisive action of her national life, and it saved herself and possibly saved the Allies. At least eventually Peace was hastened by Austria's collapse under her final assault.
The causes that led to the disaster of Caporetto have been adverted to. The antecedent situation as a whole, with the relative bearing on it of different causes, is somewhat obscure.
First and foremost, the soldiers in all that region---as in all the sectors of the front---were tired; worn by constant labor and by even more exhausting vigil---they were, in fact, worn down. Month after month , winter after winter, they had been kept at it with little respite or relief. In winter in snow and sleet, rain and mud; in summer in sun and dust---ever toiling, ever watching, ever on a strain; they had fought and won ridge upon ridge, mountain after mountain, with infinite courage, giving up their lives, pouring out their blood like water, in assault after assault, with more to follow; yet they were apparently no nearer the goal of their aim than before their comrades had died by the thousand. There appeared to be no end to it. And the times when they were not fighting were more burdensome than when the fighting was going on. They were tired out; bored out with it all. If they got a congedo, it was days in a cattle-car to get home, and as many to get back. And they knew that their enemies---the Huns: Austrians, Hungarians, Croats---on the other side felt the same way. The prisoners and deserters told them so. The pickets, when they fraternized, said the same. When would it end? The food was so scarce; the prices were so high; the sussidio so inadequate. When would it end? Why did not it end and let them come home? There were those who said it could be ended if the authorities would agree. The Priest thought so; the Socialists said so. In fact, the Holy Father had said so in Rome. The Priest said he had written a letter to say so. This was the burden of many letters that they received, and often the letters did not come. Were they forgot, or were the letters held by the Censors' office?
They agreed---those who became disaffected---that the time might come when the men would have to do as they were doing in Russia---at least, were said to be doing there ---refuse to fight any more, and stop the whole war.
As we have seen, in the month of August and later on, the militarized Turin workmen who had been rounded up and arrested were sent en masse, fresh from the suppressed revolt at Turin, to the Caporetto sector to be taught a lesson.
Instead of being taught, they gave lessons---in Defeatism. Some were deeply infected with the theory of Sovietism. They were all against the continuance of the war and of the actual régime. The fierce revolt in Turin was the proof of it. They were followed to the front by their newspaper. The Avanti was the Voice of the Future inveighing against the Present, and proclaiming the duty of sabotage against the war. The Secretary of the Socialist organization had sent a circular to all the Socialist Communes, urging them to disobey all the decrees that looked to the continuance of the war. All conspired to confuse the ideas of the plain soldier, who reasoned that when the Socialists agreed with the Priests, as they were doing back at home, they must be right. The new contingents from the Turin factories were not only imbued with this as a theory, they were ready to put it into practice. To some extent they did put it into practice. They deserted as occasion offered, and took through the lines with them exaggerated stories of disaffection. They also took with them definite information as to the location of the defenses and batteries; of telephone stations, etc.
On top of this came to the soldiers there the growing conviction that they were being treated unjustly; that they were being kept at the front longer than others, and that back of the front, where there were better rations and better barracks, towns and cafés and women, the streets swarmed with men who, they considered, were favored and pampered and spared the hardship of the trenches, at the expense of those at the front. It was, they felt, unfair---unjust---outrageous. They were put upon and abused. They talked about it---growled about it---sneered about it ---wrote and sang songs about it.
This must have been known to the head of the Supreme Command. Rumors of it were floating around the Capital months before; they had, however, ceased as Italian valor stormed up the mountain sides above the Isonzo, capturing position after position and sweeping the Austrians before it; but they had of late begun again, and there was much talk of Defeatism.
It was said later that Cadorna had such implicit confidence in his men that he had discouraged persistently any complaints of them, and that any officer who reported lack of loyalty in troops under his command was likely to find himself relieved and sent to Libya, or at least transferred to some other command. Thus, officers refrained from reporting anything resembling defection within their commands, preferring to try to master it themselves to facing the danger of being rebuffed and detached.
This is given, as the Press says, only by way of faithful chronicle. The report was current after the disaster; but reports current after the events must be received with care.
There was another report which was very current, assigning as one of the moving causes of the break at Caporetto the work of the Representatives of the Church among the men. No doubt there was a deep and heartfelt desire for Peace among these worthy representatives of Religion---both chaplains and nurses---and it is possible that some pious souls may, on occasion, have sighed their wish that the Lay world, in its agonizing struggle to keep on to final victory, would let the Holy Father, whose affection embraced all, settle the matter, and put an end to the slaughter that was decimating the world.
But that there was any prearranged or organized or intentionally unpatriotic work on the part of the Chaplains or the Sisters at the front seems quite incredible. The record of the entire body of the Religious Representatives among the soldiers is absolutely the other way, and no more devoted class of workers served Italy during those long years of stress and struggle than these Catholic Chaplains and nurses, who lived among the soldiers and shared their hardships and dangers.
Amid all the stories, inextricably tangled and confused, of the reasons for its happening and of the way in which it happened, the physical military fact of the manner in which the break came appears to be that the Germans, finding themselves held up in France, and believing that should sufficient strain be thrown against her, Italy would give way and thus open a possible break in the Allies' defensive line,(100) came down to render the Austrians the necessary aid to overwhelm Cadorna's hard-fought Right on the Isonzo. And having come, von Ludendorff introduced his new system of hammering to pieces the first line; then of capturing it under cover of the moving barrage which, in a region where every foot of road and every possible approach were known to the assailants, would prevent the arrival of reinforcements from the rear. Having effected this, the plan was facilitated by what was termed the method of infiltration, which demanded a certain amount of individual thought and independence from the men who according to plan would penetrate the Italian lines, and when there form groups or units for capture, holding and, under favoring conditions, for further progress.
The advance began with a stratagem which seems to have deceived the Italian outposts by causing them to believe that the first enemy units were bent on mere friendly fraternization, such as had previously gone on to some extent between the outposts and pickets, and as goes on in all wars where troops lie in close proximity to each other for a long time. With these, masking as such, were picked troops, carefully instructed and skilfully led to seize and utilize guns and strategic points, and behind these came the veteran shock-troops, burning to wipe out the long account with those who had so long held them off and so often driven them from their chosen positions. It was reported throughout the army that the officers were, many of them, from the Irredente region and spoke Italian perfectly, and that in the darkness they gave the Italians orders, which contributed to the Austrian success.
The plan appears to have worked beyond all expectation.
How many Italian troops, infected by the defeatist propaganda, proved false to their duty in this first scene of the tragedy is not known. The story that there were in a certain Division a considerable body thus infected was sufficiently circulated to justify the belief that the charge was true; but the number could not have been relatively large and, according to report, they were confined to two or three regiments of a single Division. However this was, the advance soon developed into an engagement, and this in turn into a fierce battle which swept to right and left as the Germans and Austrians came on along a more extended front, pouring through the passes and overwhelming those who strove desperately to bar their way. The attacking army were far from having it all their own way, but, whether by stratagem or by sheer fighting, fortune favored the assailants. They, either by betrayal or by the favoring fortune of war, early destroyed or got possession of the central telephone station of the Italians, whence orders were distributed to all the commands in all parts of that sector, so that no orders could be given, or those given were such as to add to the general confusion under the night attack.
Map. 6. THE AUSTRO-GERMAN DRIVE AT CAPORETTO, OCTOBER, 1917, SHOWING THE BREAKS IN THE ITALIAN LINES.
The general commanding this army (the Second Army) was, according to report, absent from the front. He had been ill and had been sent to Padua or some other place to convalesce, and he returned to his Headquarters the day before the break, but was so ill that he was ordered to a hospital the following day. So sudden and swift was the penetration of the front that, according to the report current at the time, the Commander of the Division (Twenty-fourth) holding the front above Caporetto was surrounded and caught in his headquarters before he knew of the break in his line. On parts of the line of the advance the fighting was as fierce as in any battle of the war. Regiments were wiped out in their desperate efforts to save their positions. Regiments of the Bersaglieri, as ever, stood their ground and fought till exterminated. Elements of the Twenty-fourth Division fought with a valor sufficient to redeem the reputation of the Division from the stain brought on it. But the valor of the now flanked and isolated commands was unavailing. Within a few hours the flood of the assailants had poured through the passes and were, if not in the plain, on the commanding points above it where they were able with their barrage to prevent the arrival of reinforcing Italian troops.(101) In places the most dire of misfortunes that can befall an army---a panic---appears to have seized on some of the retreating troops; in others the Italians fought with surpassing courage to hold up the pursuit to give the disorganized elements time to escape, and those still unshaken time to retire.
Success begets success, and in nothing so much as in military action. With success, the Austrian and German forces acquired new powers, and in a region which was as well known to the Austrians as to the Italians, they were able to press the retreating Italians irresistibly, pushing them into ever-increasing confusion and disorder, and rendering vain the efforts made by the Staff and the still unshaken troops to stem the ever-rising tide and sweep back the overwhelming flood.
After occupying Caporetto, the invading host pushed on and, with the impetus of victory, sweeping over the opposition, which was attempted in the hope of stopping them, captured Cividale with its large accumulation of stores, and scarcely stopping to consolidate their gains and gather up their booty, drove on straight for Udine, which was held only long enough to evacuate the hospitals and withdraw what could be moved in the few hours of confusion left after it became evident that the town could not be saved. Here the Second Army fell into complete disorder. A great number of the older and more experienced officers had been killed in the great offensive, and many of the officers left were too young and inexperienced to control under the extraordinary and novel conditions of the tragic situation.
The headquarters of the King and the General Staff had been removed to the neighborhood of Treviso, and the line of the Tagliamento had been chosen as the first line of serious defense, with the line of the Piave as the stronger defensive line behind.
The victorious and rapid advance of the invading armies, had rendered necessary the withdrawal of all the troops on the Isonzo front, and the Third Army---the army which had captured and held the Carso---had been hastily ordered to abandon the positions they had won and maintained at such cost, and retire to the Tagliamento to cover the retreat of the now completely disorganized Second Army, and hold the crossings of the Tagliamento. The order was executed and the withdrawal of the Third Army was successfully accomplished. It withdrew from lines in face of a potent enemy eager to destroy it. With its flank exposed to the well-organized and victorious German-Austrian army, now pressing forward with all the ardor of success, it marched some forty-five miles, stopping neither for food nor for rest, and when it reached the first possible line of defense, it turned at bay and held it long enough to enable the ruck of fugitives, military and non-combatant, to escape, and the situation to be cleared sufficiently to provide for the permanent defense of the strong line of the Piave. It was one of the most notable and brilliant feats in History, and will rank, when all the facts are known, with any of the similar movements of the great commanders. Parallel to the roads by which this army passed in its heart-breaking march was that from Udine, filled with the ruck of soldiers of the now disorganized Second Army and the refugees from the towns and countryside, fleeing before the Huns. The greater part of the former had now, all semblance of organization lost, thrown away their guns and were simply making their way westward. Many were under the delusion that the cause was lost and the war ended. Others joined other organizations. A panic had spread through the countryside, and the stricken population abandoned their homes and, taking such movables as they could carry, headed westward, fleeing in terror before the invading foe. The roads were packed with vehicles; in places thousands of farm vehicles and driven stock mingled indiscriminately with army cars, caissons, ambulances; pedestrians carrying all they had left in the world, all moving at the same gait. The wounded creeping, or hobbling along on crutches, helped by others, were in the throng. The pace of the slowest, which was hardly ever more than half a mile an hour, set that of the entire retreat. The autumn rains had begun and poured down steadily. At times there was a complete block, and the melancholy procession came to a stand for hours, or numbers straggled off across the sodden fields to seek some country lane that offered the illusory promise of a quicker way to safety. Many abandoned their vehicles to make better time on foot through the indescribable confusion and horror.
It was mainly after leaving Cividale that the Second Army began to break up. After Udine was abandoned, though units still fought gallantly, it broke up completely as an army and, possessed by the idea that all was lost, flung away arms and accoutrements, and, self-disbanded, spread over the country, headed for the Tagliamento and home.(102)
It was not until the Tagliamento, now a rolling flood, was passed that any feeling of security was had and order could be brought from the chaos of retreating soldiers and panic-stricken refugees, who poured westward. Happily for Italy and for the Allied Cause, the Third Amy had been brought, by a supreme effort, to the west side of the Tagliamento, in good order, though with loss of many guns which could not be got out of the mountains, and this Army covered the retreat and held up the eager enemy till the mass of the refugees could get across and the pursuit be somewhat checked. So eager was the pursuit that on October 25 the enemy were threatening Cividale. On the 28th they were threatening Udine, which they occupied the following day.
On the 31st they had reached the Tagliamento. The Tagliamento, however, was not considered as strong a line as the Piave, and no adequate system of defenses had been provided for holding it in such a catastrophe as had befallen the Italian armies. It was, however, held long enough to permit the non-military and the disorganized military mass to find safety on the western side of the Piave. The upper Tagliamento was crossed and the western side was occupied November 4, and the Italians, fighting rear-guard engagements at every step, fell back to the Livenza. This, however, could not be held, and the Italians fell back to the Piave, where the stand was made that held the Austrians and Germans beyond that strategic line, and saved Italy and the Allied Cause. The enemy reached the Piave on the 9th of November. Here Italy turned at bay.
When it became evident that the enemy could not be held on the Tagliamento, the First Army, the Fifth Army, and the Fourth Army (under General Count di Robiland, an experienced and able soldier) were, about November 4, withdrawn from the advanced Trentino, line, not only to shorten the line of the Italian front, which the loss of the Second Army necessitated, but to prevent their being cut off should the enemy, who had advanced from Plezzo to Belluno, and were threatening to close in behind them, prove strong enough to seize Feltre and force the crossing of the Piave, of which there appeared some danger at first. The movement was a difficult one under any conditions, but was especially so under those which now prevailed, with the Austrians burning to give Italy the coup de grâce. It was, however, effected with great address, and substantially everything military was brought off in the withdrawal, and thereafter the Fifth and First Armies held the left, and the Fourth Army held the centre of the shortened Italian line in the "Grappa Area" until, exactly a year later to the day, it opened the victorious and decisive engagement of Vittorio Veneto.(103)
The line now extended from Lake Garda to the Asiago plateau, and on across to the bend of the Piave at Quero; and the Austrians and Germans were striving furiously to break through down the valley of the Brenta, and along the region between the Brenta and the Piave. Cadore and the Sette Communi were lost, and the Italians, fighting desperately, were pushed back on the Asiago. But the key to the situation, the Grappa, was held fast. To lose it at that time would have meant the turning of the Piave line, the loss of Venice, and possibly of the whole Venetian Plain.
General Diaz had now been placed at the head of the Commando Supremo, in the room of General Cadorna, with General Badoglio and General Giardino as his lieutenants, and it was determined to hold the Piave and save Venice; and the Asiago-Piave line was that on which Italy stood till she moved forward a year later to avenge her disaster by inflicting a yet greater one on her foe.
Three days after the enemy reached the Piave, the Trentino army had arrived on the new line where it was to take its position, and the enemy was stopped there as well, and as the issue proved, was stopped there for good. But at the time this was not known. Italy was profoundly shaken; her existence was at stake, and the whole Allied Cause was in peril.
In the early days of the disaster, when the Second Army was losing all organization, an address was issued, bearing the name of the Commando Supremo, denouncing the betrayal of the country in unmeasured terms, and calling down the maledictions of Heaven on the traitors. A little later it was itself denounced as a piece of enemy propaganda.
The King issued a brief but ringing appeal, that rang like a trumpet throughout Italy, and the people awoke to the peril and arose to the exigency as one man. It was this fact of Italy's imminent peril that was her salvation. Under the shock she gathered herself together in one supreme effort of resistance.
She realized that she had lost in a month all that she had fought for and gained at such cost, in two years and a half of sacrifice and carnage. She had lost one of her armies, scattered to the winds, disorganized and disintegrated; she had lost, at least, a third of all her war material of every kind; she had lost several provinces among her fairest, and their population, to the number of over half a million, beggared in a moment, having lost everything, were thrown upon her already weighted down hands, in an agony of despair that appealed to her deepest sympathies and challenged her utmost resources. But more than all this, she had lost confidence in a great element of her army; she had lost in the eyes of the world and, possibly for the moment, in her own eyes, the respect that she felt she was entitled to. All of her aspirations had suddenly been swept out of her reach, and in their place her whole future was imperilled by one cataclysmic blow of malign fortune. The old enemy was within her gates. Venice might again be lost; the old days of Radetsky might once more be known in Lombardy. Italy might again fall under Austrian domination, and all the fruits of her vast sacrifices perish.
The catastrophe was appalling. The French and British authorities offered to send assistance. Generals Foch and Robertson came down to look the situation over. The former visited the war zone to gauge the condition of the army. They both visited Rome, to gauge the resistive power of the nation. A meeting of the leaders, Civil and Military, was held at Rapallo (November 6), inter alia to take stock of the situation, and lay down the lines of future action necessary to redeem what was lost and give promise of success, which at that moment appeared to be waning. The foundations of closer co-operation along lines military and economic were laid. If Italy could and would meet the situation with all her power, troops would be sent from France to help her; if not, then not. Italy had responded to their question. She would hold. She did hold, and, encouraged by their promise, she held with her own forces.
The story was published in the countries of the Allies that Italy was saved by the British and French contingents sent to her relief, and this has become the generally accepted story. It is not a correct statement of fact. That the relief promised and sent to Italy had a great moral effect in stiffening the Italian morale is undoubted, and, possibly, this has not been sufficiently recognized in Italy. But the fact is, that the fighting that was done on the Piave at that time was done by the Italians themselves. The only active military assistance her armies received immediately in that crisis was from her own naval forces, who were brought in to help defend the lower Piave. They improvised rafts and floating batteries and, bringing them into the lagoon and mouths of the Piave, contributed efficiently to the salvation of Venice and the Venetian Plain; and, as turned out, of Italy and of the Allied Cause.
Italy was ready to fight, but she must have food and coal and steel. The representatives of France and England returned to France satisfied, and troops began to come into Italy. They could not, however, in any event, be got into the fighting zone for two weeks, and the Italians set themselves to the task to save Venice. The French and British troops were not sent to the front at all in that crisis; for they were not needed. The four French divisions were stationed behind the Po-Mincio line, convenient to the defense of the front from the Stelvio to Lake Garda, and were later placed south of Bassano as a general reserve. The British were, as they arrived, placed in the region about Mantua, behind the front lines. They were, in the first days of December, sent to relieve the worn First Army in the Montello Sector; and the French were, a day or two later, brought up into line to relieve the Italians in the Monfenera-Revassecca Sector.(104)
By the time the British and French had arrived at these positions, the crisis had passed on the Piave. The Austrians had been definitely stopped, and were taking their revenge by harrying the unfortunate inhabitants of the countryside on the eastern side of the river, who had not been able to escape. The aid that the British and French rendered at that time was substantial, but was wholly moral and economic. The military aid that they rendered was later on.
Italy had responded to their question. She would hold. In the crisis she girded herself with new forces evoked from within herself, and barred the way of her invaders. All division was suddenly closed. The Defeatists took to cover in the sudden storm of mingled grief and rage. The opponents of the Government hushed their clamor and sided with former adversaries in the supreme effort to save Italy. Never in all Italy's history did the Italian people exhibit greater patriotism or more heroic virtues. The great industrial companies opened their stores to replace the munitions of war that had been lost beyond the Piave. One Company alone, the Ansaldo, furnished the Government, without a scrap of paper, over 2,000 pieces. All Italy rushed to the rescue. In Rome the Government rose to the greatness of the occasion.
The danger was not only on the Battle-front. The refugee population, stripped of everything on earth, had fled panic-stricken from the Huns, and were scattering throughout all the northern part of the country; others were filtering through southward. There was danger of their spreading panic throughout the Peninsula. Prompt measures were taken for their relief. The Government appointed a Commission for their assistance and appropriated a large sum of money for that purpose. This was supplemented by private relief unstintedly applied, and provision was made for their transportation and disposition in many provinces and cities of the country, far from the war zone, where they could be taken care of and tranquillized. In this crisis for the first time the offers of assistance from Foreign Relief organizations were accepted by the Government, and very soon the American Red Cross and the British Red Cross were adding their ministrations and. aid to the overtaxed Italian Red Cross; the Intendenza and other Relief organizations of Italy,(105) which were striving desperately to meet the overwhelming demand suddenly thrown on them.
It was not very long before order began to come out of the chaos.
In the first hours of the catastrophe there was a crisis in the Ministry, and on a vote of confidence, Signor Boselli's Ministry suffered a defeat (October 25). It could hardly have been otherwise. For some time the feeling had been prevalent that some change in the Cabinet was demanded by the situation---that a younger and more active man was needed at the head of the Government. It was felt that the Minister for Foreign Affairs was having it too much his own way in the Government, and that the Premier should be rather more potent in keeping the proper distribution of power among the several Ministries. Moreover, the country felt that a change would tend to increase its power.
Thus in the deepening shadows passed from the head of the Government one of Italy's great patriots who, as he had truly said not long before, had "fought since his boyhood for Liberty." Moreover, he was a statesman of broader vision than many who excelled him in grasp and force. He was, perhaps, fortunate in being relieved at the moment; for the storm that was just bursting on the country must have taxed him beyond his strength.
Signor Orlando, who a few days previously had felt it necessary to make a defense of his administration as Minister of the Interior, was called on to form a new Government, which he succeeded in doing. He soon found his powers, as exceptional as they were, taxed to the utmost, as the knowledge of the extent of the disaster became known throughout the country. Fortunately for him and for Italy, it was the very completeness of the disaster that brought the remedy. Although after the first shock of the collapse on the Isonzo had passed, dissensions began again among Parliamentary elements, they were kept for the most part within closed doors. Externally a solid front was shown and the people grew more and more resolute. It was the people of Italy who in this cataclysm saved Italy. Responding to the King's appeal to their patriotism, they united in one solid mass of fervid patriotism, resolved to do and to suffer all for Italy. The peril was still imminent. The Army was holding the Piave, and the line to be held had been shortened by nearly a third; but the enemy, now above the Italians on the Alpine front as when the war began, was attacking not only on the Piave, but through the Trentino, and there was grave reason to apprehend that the line might be thrown back to the Po and the Mincio, that ancient war-frontier of Italy---some even said to the Apennines; but these were the defeatists and the secret friends of Germany and Austria, and they spoke in whispers.
The people said Italy---all Italy---must be saved.
Italy was saved. Although the Fifth, First, and Fourth Armies had, as stated, to be drawn back from the Trentino positions which they had so victoriously conquered, and although the Italians were for a time in danger of being driven down to the plain and back from the Piave, with the loss not only of Venice, but of much besides, they, as in the former crisis a year before, made their final stand on the threshold of their door and held the enemy at bay. The latter later actually crossed the Piave, but were flung back again. They seized the Grappa, but were driven off. For Italy was now resolute to retrieve all that she had lost.
In other fields, as well, the situation at this time was serious. Russia, whose collapse had enabled the Germans and Austrians to withdraw troops from that point and throw them in with crushing weight on the hitherto fairly balanced Italian front, was now in complete anarchy. Under the destructive forces of Revolution and Civil War, she appeared to have sunk into national Madness, and to have thrown away all semblance of ordered existence. The former Dictator and Commander of Russia, civil and military, Kerensky, was after a disastrous attempt to bring everything under his authority, overthrown and fled for his life just at the time that the Italians were fighting their rearguard actions between the Tagliamento and the Piave (November 7).
The new leaders, Lenin and Trotsky, promptly concluded at Brest-Litovsk a peace with Germany as with a victor, and signed a treaty which Germany was later on, when the Allies were victorious, compelled to renounce in toto.
In France and Flanders there had been heavy fighting all the autumn. What is known as the Third Battle of Ypres began the last day of July, and continued with little intermission through August, September, and October, until its close with the battle of Passchendaele, which the British captured on the same date that Italy was withdrawing her armies to her final stand on the Asiago-Piave line. It had been for over three months as stubborn fighting as was known during the war, and the losses had been enormous on both sides. So enormous, indeed, had they been on the British side that the British reserves had been substantially exhausted. During the same period the French were fighting with equal resolution, to force the Germans from the gains made by them at Verdun in their earlier effort to seize this crucial point in the defenses of Paris, back in February and March, 1916. It seemed necessary to restore the old position as it was prior to that time, and about the end of August this, after tremendous fighting, was accomplished, and although Verdun was a ruin, the strategic value of the original salient was restored. Another step deemed of great moment by the French Commander, General Pétain, was the clearing of the ridge above the Aisne, where the Germans still held the western end of the Chemin des Dames and Fort Malmaison, and the forcing of them from a position which not only commanded the reaches of the Aisne, but protected Laon. It was in the attempt to capture Laon that Nivelle had made such sacrifices in the early spring. The offensive began October 23, and before the month was out the Chemin des Dames was cleared, and the Germans were forced back to the Ailette.
Just after the middle of November (20) an exploit which gave great satisfaction to the Allies and aroused much hope, especially among the English who were, at the time, going through a period of unusual depression, was the surprise break through the Hindenburg Line by General Byng's army, the capture of Bourlon Wood, and the driving of a salient almost up to Cambrai. Unhappily, at the end of ten days, the Germans, having massed quietly the necessary forces, made a return surprise attack and recaptured a considerable part of what they had lost.
Ten days after these fierce battles for Cambrai, occurred in another and quite distant front a capture, which in mere picturesqueness, though it had also its strategic and moral value, eclipsed any yet made during the war in its historic appeal to the Allies. All the year the Palestine campaign had been pushed forward, at times with varying fortune, but with success steadily turning to the British side. On the 9th of December the City of Jerusalem was surrendered to General Allenby and thus, the Sacred City and the Holy Sepulchre, for possession of which the Crusades were vainly fought, and which had been in Moslem hands well-nigh since the days of Coeur de Lion, fell after so long a time into Christian possession.
THE PACT OF LONDON AND
THE PRESIDENT'S PRINCIPLES
TOWARD the end of December, 1917, there were published in an English magazine,(106) and in certain journals, a number of Secret documents which had been given out by the Head of the Russian Bolshevist government, now in power. Among the documents thus bared to the world were Secret Conventions which undertook to provide for the settlement among the signatory Powers of questions which had convulsed Europe for generations. The first was the basis of a Convention entered into between Great Britain and Russia, in March, 1915, by which Great Britain consented to the annexation by Russia of Constantinople and the Straits: that is, the western coast of the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmora, and the Dardanelles; Southern Thrace as far as the Enos-Media line; the coast of Asia Minor between the Bosphorus and the river Sakaria, and a point on the Gulf of Ismid to be defined later; the Islands in the Sea of Marmora and the Islands of Imbros and Tenedos. "The special rights of England and France in the above territories were to remain inviolate."(107) The consideration for the consent on England's part to this somewhat far-reaching annexation was a similar benevolent attitude on Russia's part toward the political aspirations of Great Britain in other regions; the neutral zone of Persia to be included in the British sphere of influence.(108) Within the Russian sphere of influence was to be granted to Russia "full liberty of action."(109) This document is dated a month after Great Britain's abortive attempt to force the straits of the Dardanelles with her sea power alone (February 20).
It appears from the documents that after Italy entered the war, Russia's wishes "were communicated to the Italian Government, and the latter expressed its agreement provided the war ended in the successful realization of Italian claims in general, and in the East in particular," and in the recognition by Russia for Italy of the same rights within the territories ceded to Russia as those enjoyed by France and England.(110) Thus Russia, had she remained faithful to her Allies, was assured of what she had aspired to and fought for since the days of Peter and Catherine. Happily for her Allies, the successful heads of the Revolution when they later abandoned the Allies, abandoned as well the position of vantage thus conceded to Russia.
There were other secret Treaties or Documents at the time, relating to secret understandings, published. These included that relating to the partition of Asiatic Turkey in the spring of 1916; the agreement with Roumania, dated August 18, 1916; the Russo-Japanese Treaty, July 3, 1916; the Franco-Russian correspondence relating respectively to France's intentions as to the left bank of the Rhine, and Russia's intentions as to her western frontier, March 11, 1917, which, tragically enough, was only one day before the Revolution in Russia and the abdication of the Tzar. Also there were documents published relating to the correspondence between the Allies and Greece.
The document, however, that most nearly concerned Italy among those published in Russia and later in England, was the Treaty of London, signed by the representatives of England, France, Italy, and Russia, April 26, 1915, a week before Italy denounced the Treaty of the Triple Alliance, and two or three days less than a month before Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary. By this Treaty it was provided that a Military Convention was to be concluded without delay between the General Staffs of France, Great Britain, Russia, and Italy to determine the minimum number of troops which Russia would have to throw against Austria-Hungary if the latter should want to concentrate all her forces against Italy. On her part, Italy undertook by all means at her disposal to conduct the campaign in union with France, Great Britain, and Russia against all the powers at war with them. And the Naval forces of France and Great Britain were to render uninterrupted and active assistance to Italy until such time as the Navy of Austria should be destroyed or Peace should be concluded.
Italy was to receive by the future Treaty of Peace the district of Trentino; the entire Southern Tyrol up to its natural geographical boundary; which was specifically stated to be the Brenner Pass; the City and District of Trieste; the County of Gorizia and Gradisca; Istria entire up to Quarmer, including Volosca and the Istrian Islands of Cherso and Lusinia, as well as seven smaller Islands, which were named, with the neighboring islets, all of which regions were described by boundaries.
Italy was likewise to receive the province of Dalmatia in its existing frontiers, including Lisserica and Trebigne in the north, and all the country in the south up to a line drawn from the coast at the promontory of Planka, eastward along the watershed in such a way as to include in the Italian possessions all the valleys of the rivers emptying at Sebenico. Also all the islands situated to the north and west of the coast of Dalmatia. Then was described the part of the coast to be neutralized---from Planka to the extremity of the Sabbioncello Peninsula; a part of the littoral south of the promontory of ancient Ragusa, so as to include the entire gulf of the Cattaro. The Montenegrin ports were not to be neutralized on the Adriatic.
Certain territories on the Adriatic specifically named were to be included by the Powers of the Quadruple Entente in Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro, viz.: in the north of the Adriatic, the entire coast from Volosca Bay on the border of Istria to the southern frontier of Dalmatia; including the entire coast belonging to Hungary, and the entire coast of Croatia , the port of Fiume and the small ports of Novi and Carlopago; a number of islands which were named; likewise in the south of the Adriatic where when Serbia and Montenegro had interests, they were to have the entire coast from Planka up to the River Drin, with the chief ports of Spalato, Ragusa, Cattaro, Antivari, Dulcigno, and San Giovanni di Medua, with a number of Islands, which were named. Consent was given to the assignment of the Port of Durazzo to the independent Mohammedan State of Albania.
Further, Italy was to have in absolute property Valona, the island of Saseno, and as much territory as would be required to insure their military safety. Having obtained the foregoing, Italy undertook in the event of a small autonomous and neutralized state being formed in Albania, not to oppose the possible desire of France, Great Britain, and Russia to repartition the northern and southern Districts of Albania between Montenegro, Serbia, and Greece. The southern coast of Albania to be neutralized. Also to Italy was conceded the right of conducting the Foreign Relations of Albania; and in any case, Italy was to be bound to secure for Albania a territory sufficiently extensive to enable its frontiers to join those of Greece and Serbia to the east of the Lake of Obrida.
Outside of the Adriatic Italy was to obtain all the twelve islands: the Dodecanese, already occupied by her, in full possession. France and Great Britain and Russia admitted in principle the fact of Italy's interest in the maintenance of political balance of power in the Mediterranean, and her rights in case of a partition in Turkey to a share equal to theirs in the basin of the Mediterranean, to wit: in that part of it which adjoins the province of Adalia.
There were other provisions relating to Italy's equality of interest with the other signatory powers in Asiatic Turkey, conceding her right to occupy Libya; her right to her share in any war indemnity corresponding to her sacrifices and efforts; her right to compensation, should the other powers obtain Germany's African colonies, by way of the extension of Italy's African possessions. Great Britain was to facilitate the immediate flotation on the London market for Italy of a loan of not less than £50,000,000. And by the last Article but one (Art. 15), "France, England, and Russia pledged themselves to support Italy in not allowing the representations of the Holy See to undertake any diplomatic steps having for their object the conclusion of Peace, or the settlement of questions connected with the present war."
The last Article (16), which, indeed, was a separate convention, provided that this Treaty was to be kept secret and that "as regarded Italy's adhesion to the Declaration of September 5, 1914 (which was the declaration that no one of the Allies would make peace, or engage in negotiations for peace, save in common with the others), this Declaration alone would be published immediately on the declaration of War by or against Italy."
And, finally, Italy declared that she would actively intervene at the earliest possible date, and at any rate, not later than one month after the signature of that document by the contracting parties.
There had been rumors of this secret Convention in circulation soon after it was signed. Its existence was indeed mentioned as a fact at the time that Italy was being swept into the strife. And from time to time, later on, it was alluded to in the Press, but only enough to soothe the amour propre of the Italian People---and none but the confidants of the several signatories knew what its term were. They knew vaguely that it extended Italy's power in the Adriatic, and to some extent beyond that historic sea. The newspaper that more than any other was considered to represent Baron Sonnino declared (April 19, 1915) that the politico-strategic question of the Adriatic could "be solved only by one method---by eliminating from that sea every other war-fleet but Italy's," and that "neither a fort, nor a gun, nor a submarine that is not Italian, ought to be in the Adriatic." The Treaty was on its face manifestly one whose publication was never contemplated as a possibility in the situation that existed then, and its publication subsequently was undoubtedly an embarrassment to the signatories; as its contents, in terms of apparently cold barter, were a shock to the International Public. However clever may have been thought, by those interested, the extortion from the other Powers of so much of regions not wholly theirs to give or trade away, the impression on others was painful. Was it true, after all, that Italy had dickered and bartered with the two sides before making her choice; was all the talk about her war for Liberty and for Civilization mere moonshine and deception?---a mask to cover sheer material interests? Had she taken advantage of the hard case in which France and England found themselves to hold them up and extort from them all she could get? This was the question that arose in the minds of many whose hearts had gone out to Italy in her heroic struggle and sacrifice. Her enemies were quick to take advantage of her equivocal situation to blacken her secretly or openly, and it took all the efforts of her friends and all the devotion and sacrifices of her people to clear away the unhappy impression caused by this secret arrangement.
England and France could say nothing, but were aggrieved at having been forced into the arrangement. And now to be publicly placed before the world as having been made to divide that to which their title was more than questionable, placed them in an unhappy position. Their Governments had to meet interpellations as to a number of the matters concluded in the Convention. Serbia and Greece were both enraged at the provisions that related to the territories to which they aspired.
In Italy, Article XV was that which caused the greatest sensation. The Vatican was quick to resent the secret engagement made to prevent the Holy See from taking any steps in the conclusion of Peace, and interpellations were addressed to the Governments, which in Italy did not receive any very definite response, though the impression was conveyed that the translation as given was not correct, and the interpretation put on it was erroneous. In the House of Commons, Lord Robert Cecil, on behalf of the Government, stated (December 20, 1917) that "the Treaty did not say that the representatives of the Holy See should not be allowed to take any diplomatic steps to bring about Peace," and in a further statement (February 14, 1918) he said that "the only thing that this clause does is to say that if Italy objects to the Pope's sending a representative to the Peace Conference, we would support the objection." Whatever this clause may say, undoubtedly the reason given by Lord Robert Cecil was the intention with which it was framed. The Italian Government was nervous in regard to any step that might look toward the Internationalization of the position of the Holy See, and was as firm now in opposing everything of the kind as it had been at the time of the Second Hague Conference, when it had obtained England's support in preventing the Holy See from securing the admission of its representative to that Conference.
The year 1918 opened with Italy holding steadily the Piave line, and forcing every energy to the utmost in her desperate effort to restore her lost position by increasing her output of war material and supplies. It was like making bricks without straw, for she was never so short of provisions and supplies of prime necessity as now, and she had long been short of them. There were times this winter when it appeared as though she could not possibly hold out. The Submarine campaign was being carried on ruthlessly, and with what looked not unlike success. Much attention was now being concentrated on Italy, and the enemy, having cut deep into her territory and forced her to a desperate stand on the Venetian Plain, were now trying to give her the coup de grâce by cutting off her food-supply and reducing her people to a condition in which disorders must occur. The Army had to be supplied, even if the civic population suffered; and at times, in cities like Naples and Messina and Palermo, the supplies of food were actually exhausted.(111) The grain ships coming to their relief were sunk on sundry occasions almost in sight of port.
Toward the end of January (21) Premier Orlando and Signor Crespi were compelled to go to Paris, like Jacob's Sons to Egypt, to get Bread,(112) and to England to get Coal.
Connected with this dearth which was an evident peril, was another peril, which was equally actual, though not so apparent: a psychological peril. This consisted in the steadily deepening apprehension that with the increased activity of the Submarine campaign, the food-supply of Italy would be cut off and the people be starved. And this apprehension was being fostered in every way by those who were against Italy. Russia had collapsed and the Austrians were preparing to fling all their forces on Italy. Moreover, a question had been raised as to whether England and France still would stand by the Treaty of London.(113) Contributory to this depression was the financial situation in Italy. Since the disaster in the autumn and the increased need to buy yet more extensively in foreign markets, without any corresponding increase in exports, Italian lire had steadily depreciated with the consequent rise in the cost of living.(114)
The subsidy or stipend for the wives and families of soldiers was for an average Italian family now only about six cents per capita per day in American money; threepence in English money. The Government strove earnestly to meet the situation by controlling prices and by creating an Exchange Commission which should control all exports; by mobilizing and sequestering all food-supplies; by mobilizing and utilizing all tonnage; and by impressing on the Allies the need to recognize Italy's right to her proportionate apportionment of the stock of food available.
America had, the year before, recognized the need of conserving and apportioning equitably her food-supply among all the countries dependent on it in any degree, and the President of the United States, under authority of the Congress, had appointed a Food-Control Commissioner with very extensive powers to effectuate this.(115) The American people had responded to the appeal made to them with a patriotism which insured its success as nothing else could have done. But certain difficulties had been encountered in the practical application of the foundation principles of the scheme, when it came to dealing with the several Governments interested. Each one was, perhaps not unnaturally, desirous to secure for itself as much as possible, and Italy believed that she was not generously treated by the International Commission, or Board having charge of the final distribution. And whether because she was the farthest away, or for some other reason, her complaint apparently had a considerable basis of fact. She was always short of something of prime necessity; sometimes of several things, and occasionally of everything. At times she lived, as it were, almost from hand to mouth. But she lived, and she fought.
There was now beginning to be a feeling among the Allies that no complete and crushing victory was likely to come; but that no Peace was likely to come either unless the Enemy were prepared to recede from their arrogant position of the preceding year. But the world was longing for Peace, and certainly it could not sustain much longer the strain and drain of a war that was exhausting it to the point of sheer destruction.
It appeared manifest that the Enemy should not be left under any misapprehension that the Allies would consider any peace not consonant with the principles whose preservation had brought them to make such immeasurable sacrifices. And on the 7th of January, the British Premier, Mr. Lloyd George, delivered an address before the TradesUnions in which he set forth the conditions which England would consider a basis on which to begin a discussion of Peace terms.(116)
On the 8th of January President Wilson delivered before the Congress of the United States the address in which he laid down his now famous Fourteen Points. These were as follows:
(1) Open Conventions.
(2) The Freedom of the Seas.
(3) The Elimination, as far as practicable, of Economic Barriers, and the Establishment, as far as possible, of equality of trade conditions among all nations consenting to the Peace, and associating themselves for its maintenance.
(4) International Disarmament.
(5) Impartial adjustment of Colonial claims, with considerations of the interests of the Populations concerned.
(6) The Evacuation of Russian territory, and Assistance to her.
(7) The Evacuation and Restoration of Belgium .
(8) The Freeing of French territory, the Restoration of her invaded portions, and the righting of the wrong touching Alsace and Lorraine.
(9) The Readjustment of the Frontiers of Italy along clearly recognizable lines of Nationality.
(10) The Freest opportunity of Autonomous Development of the Peoples of Austria-Hungary.
(11) The Evacuation of Roumania, Serbia, and Montenegro, with Restoration of Invaded Regions; the delimitation of their Frontiers on Historic lines; access to the Sea and International Guaranties of the Political and Economic Independence and Territorial integrity of the several Balkan States.
(12) The Turkish portions of the Ottoman Empire to be assured a secure Sovereignty; other Peoples thereunder to be assured all opportunity for autonomous development; and the Dardanelles to be free under International Guaranty.
(13) The Independence of Poland with access to the Sea, and her Political and Economic Independence and Territorial integrity to be guaranteed under International Covenant; And finally,
(14) The Formation of a General Association of Nations under Specific Covenants for the affording of Mutual Guaranties of Political Independence and Territorial Integrity to Great and Small States alike.
There was no apparent conflict, save on one point, between the address of the President of the United States and that of the British Premier delivered the day before to the Trades-Unions. Only in regard to the Freedom of the Seas was there likely to be a wide divergence.
There was a certain difference of opinion regarding Russia from whose confusion the President apparently expected better results to proceed than was generally believed possible, or than time has brought to pass. But on the whole the two declarations were not irreconcilable, and they had the appearance of having been to some degree concerted. The reference to Italy that her frontiers should be settled on lines of clearly recognizable nationality was accepted in Italy as far as it went, but only thus far, and the Press was very critical. Italy was disappointed at the meagre space in the address assigned to her in comparison with that given to France, and especially at the omission to indicate appreciation of Italy's need of defensible frontiers. Moreover, the test applied would take away Italy's claims to the Greek Islands, and her share in Asia Minor. The Vatican press tended to accept the address as consonant with the Peace Note of the Pope of August 1, 1917, but claimed that it should have come earlier to have any important effect.
The attitude of other Powers engaged in war toward this new and firm exposition of principles was watched with keen interest in Italy. So judicial a tone was novel in the discussion of such matters as the address treated of. France and England were, to judge from the Press, apparently critical of the position assumed by the President, though they did not desire to alienate the good-will of one who was bending every effort to send them succor. Moreover, there was a tone in the message which augured ill for certain of their aspirations. The message referred to France's right to Alsace and Lorraine; France, however, had other aspirations besides these. There were, for example, the Saar Valley and the left Bank of the Rhine. The message referred to the absolute freedom of navigation at sea, in War as well as in Peace. England regarded this principle as a blow at her control of the Sea.
Germany affected to accept the principles in part; but with reservations which would have nullified much that the President set forth as fundamental. And the President, on February 11, laid down in another address, as elucidating and supplementing his fourteen points, four principles as follows:
I. That each part in the final settlement must be based on the essential justice of the particular case, and upon such adjustments as will be most likely to bring a permanent Peace.
II. That Peoples and Provinces are not to be bartered about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were mere chattels and pawns in a game ---even the great game now forever discredited, of Balance of Power. But that
III. Every territorial settlement involved in this war must be made in the interest and for the benefit of the Populations concerned, and not as a part of any mere adjustment or compromise of claims amongst rival States.
IV. That all well-defined national aspirations shall be accorded the utmost satisfaction that can be accorded them, without introducing or perpetuating old elements of discord and antagonism that would be likely in time to break the Peace of Europe, and consequently of the World.
These principles were more or less accepted, though with a reserve due to the question in the minds of those controlling the policies of the various Governments concerned, as to how far it was intended to apply them. The theory was unassailable; the practical application was quite a different thing. Even in Germany the Chancellor, in a speech made on the Points, declared his adherence to them in principle, as a basis on which to begin discussion---a manoeuvre probably intended to effect what the earlier German note had failed to accomplish. He declared that he "gladly welcomed the President's statement in respect to the forever discredited Balance of Power," and he added that the "maintenance of Equilibrium" was "an English invention, "(117) an assertion which Mr. Balfour, on behalf of England, warmly repudiated.
The German Chancellor made the reservation that the effectiveness of the President's principles was dependent on their acceptance by all nations, and that a Court of International Arbitration must be established by all nations to render them operative.
There were other reservations made besides those of the Imperial German Chancellor to the declaration of the President of the United States; though they were not made so publicly. England was not yet ready to accept the doctrine of the Freedom of the Seas. Some others were diffident as to accepting doctrines so novel as that, Government was based on the consent of the governed. It took some time to bring them to it, and to other doctrines laid down by this Teacher of Democracy. In time they came to it. It was adding a new force to the Allied cause. But the Peoples accepted them first. To them it was a new Gospel, and they heard it gladly.
As the time passed, it became evident that everywhere some change was taking place, and that when the spring opened, there would be a renewal of the conflict with even greater intensity than ever before, and that the offensive might include the entire front from the North Sea to the Adriatic.
The situation in Italy was growing more distressing as means grew more scant. A certain increase of apprehension on the part of the Allies that the one or the other might not hold out was felt. France, who was short of provisions and had put her people on an allowance of 300 grammes per day, was going through the throes of the early stages of the Caillaux: trial for treasonable communication with the Enemy, and Bolo Pasha was tried, convicted, and shot for treason. Italy was undergoing extreme privation, owing to the diminution of tonnage and the sinking of the supply-ships destined for Italian ports. And on top of it all came the complication of the question of exports whether to Switzerland or to other countries, and the further complication of what was known as the silk-waste (Cascami) export scandal relating to earlier exports to enemy countries, in which certain prominent manufacturers and a deputy of wealth and standing were alleged to be implicated; all of which had to be investigated by the Government. And to make the situation more difficult there was a feeling prevalent that notwithstanding the sacrifices undergone by the Italian People, Italy and her part in the war were undervalued by her Allies. This feeling applied especially to the part that her fleet had performed. The sinking by Austrian cruisers of the British Mine-Sweepers in the lower Adriatic in May (15) the year before had always been held, though perhaps not openly, as chargeable to Italy's failure to protect better those waters, and some endeavor had been made to obtain Italy's consent to place her fleet under the French Admiral in command in the Mediterranean. All such suggestions, however, Italy had firmly rejected, at least so far as concerned her independence of action in guarding her coasts and interests in the Adriatic, and some feeling had resulted therefrom. There was a time, indeed, when the feeling growing out of this might have been characterized more strongly.
In the early Spring, steps were being taken to clear the North Sea, and the suggestion of the creation of an Admiral-in-Chief came up again. But Italy, whose coast was largely unprotected, had her own views touching the employment of her fleet, whose disposition her Government knew had a political as well as a military bearing, and the only result of the attempt to exert pressure upon her was to exasperate her. Her Government leaders knew their People better than their British and French colleagues knew them, and they undoubtedly had sound ground for questioning whether they would be sustained if they withdrew the Italian fleet from the command of an Italian Admiral, and placed it under command of a French Admiral; or if they withdrew it from the Adriatic and sent it to the North Sea.
Taking all these things together, the situation was somewhat gloomy.
The long vigil on the Piave was wearing on the Italian troops, and the British and French Divisions back of the Piave front were, toward the middle of December, moved up to the front, and assigned to the Sector of the Grappa and the Montello.
Russia had now not only fallen into complete collapse; but the tumultuous surge of her wreck threatened to sweep over her late Allies. For a time the Bolshevist Government paltered; but the German armies swept on. The Peace of Brest-Litovsk, imposed on her by the Central Empires, and signed March 3, placed her at their mercy, and Germany extorted what she wanted. She was to get Poland, Lithuania, Courland, and Esthonia. She got £300,000,000 sterling, one-half in gold; and she got the substantial monopoly of Russian trade. She occupied the Ukraine and seized Odessa and other Black Sea ports, which gave her control of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Roumania came next. Having disarmed certain disorderly Russian regiments within her borders, she was forced by Germany to make Peace and disarm. Finland was subjected to the peril of imminent destruction, and was declared a Republic under German protection: protection of the lamb by the wolf.
Having got these things accomplished, or in process of accomplishment, Germany largely moved her troops and guns, now no longer needed on her eastern front, to her western front preparatory to her final offensive.
The great offensive in France began as customary with a fierce bombardment, and the attack was launched on March 21 along a front of fifty-four miles. The Germans were largely preponderant in numbers and guns,(118) and besides had the advantage of the initiative. The first attack was directed against the British lines, especially against the joint where the British and French lines under different commanders abutted on each other without being really united. Notwithstanding plenty of gallantry displayed by the British, the line was pierced in several points west of St. Quentin, and the British were compelled to fall back. The enemy forced the crossing of the Crozat Canal and the Oise, and by the morning of the third day there was a gap of eight or ten miles in the British lines, whose reserves had already been thrown in, and the Germans with plenty of reserves were advancing steadily. It is said that the Emperor himself had come to witness the attack, and the final victory of his armies, and that as the Germans pushed forward he exclaimed with imperial pride: "This is my battle."
The left was obliged to fall back to prevent being turned on the right by the Germans, and territory which it had cost four months of hard fighting to win was lost in fewer days. There was gallant fighting against heavy odds; but the Germans were now confident of victory, and were sweeping forward irresistibly. Line after line was taken and lost.
By the morning of the fourth day the exhausted British were in full retreat and the Germans were crossing the Somme. That night there was a big gap at Serre between the two armies, and the situation of the Fifth Army from Serre to the Oise near Noyon was extremely critical. The simple fact was that the whole situation was extremely critical. "The gap was filled by non-combatants and odd-job men," hastily collected for the purpose, and the retreat continued, covered by three French Divisions who were rushed up across the Oise on the second day, and who took up a line behind the Crozat Canal and covered the retreat the following day, and then with some isolated British regiments, fell back to protect the line of the Oise. That evening General Fayolle arrived with reinforcements to save the Allied cause from possibly irretrievable disaster.
In face of this disaster a step was taken which should have been taken long before. The Governments of Great Britain, France, and the United States were brought to the realization that the only way to meet a united military Power under one Commander was to oppose to it a united military Power under one Commander, and on the 26th General Foch was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the armies fighting in France.(119) The effect was immediately apparent, and from this moment the hitherto separate armies were fused into one cohesive power and employed as one great army by its great Commander.
The extraordinary thing is that this step had not been taken earlier. The British Premier had some time before made in Paris an exceedingly frank speech, in which he admitted that a series of unhappy errors had retarded the success of the Allied arms, and bespoke a closer co-operation as necessary to prevent disaster. The speech was not lacking in boldness, and he was attacked for it in the House of Commons. But he was not bold enough at that time to stand for a single Commander-in-Chief of all the armies in France, who would undoubtedly be French.
The first German offensive directed toward Amiens finally came to an end (April 6) when within six or eight miles of Amiens, where a barrier was formed which they vainly strove to break through. They addressed their next push along the Lys, both north and south of Armentières, where they drove through, forcing the British back to a line west of Mt. Kemel to the Forest of Nieppe, and around to the west of La Bassée, where a stand was finally made by the British reinforced by the French Divisions despatched by Foch to their support. This offensive was brought to a close about the end of April, by which time some 300,000 men had been hurried across from England to supply the place of the British Reserves, now quite exhausted. This offensive had resulted in losses to the Allies of some 1,500 square miles of territory; 100,000 prisoners; 1,000 guns; 100 tanks, and ten million pounds' worth of other matériel. The total Allied casualties were about 300,000, to 500,000 on the part of the Germans.
The Germans having failed in their objective, which was the capture of Amiens and the complete separation of the British and French armies, now after a month spent in reorganization, addressed themselves to the French front covering Paris. On the morning of the 25th of May they launched their attack against the heights above the Aisne, along which ran the Chemin des Dames. Here, as in the earlier attack against the British lines, they were largely preponderant. The French were swept from the Ridge, and that evening the Germans were forcing the passage of the Aisne at several points between Vailly and Berry-au-Bac. The British right was forced back on Rheims, and the Germans, driving forward, forced the passage of the Vesle at Fismes and Braisne. Soissons was captured on the 29th. But Rheims was held, and the Germans pushed on to Fère-en-Tardenois, where they captured the great depot of matériel there. Extending their wedge east and west, they captured Oulchy and pushed on to the Marne, which they reached at Jaulgonne, Château-Thierry, and Dormans. Driving westward along the valley of the Oise, they took Neuilly. They later forced the passage of the Marne and established a bridge-head, which they began to extend. They seemed now well on the road to Paris, from which they were only some forty miles distant. Apparently they were quite irresistible. For the first time they had made a breach in the French line, and were in the open.
But Foch was a great General. He brought up his reserves and barred the way at Villers-Cotteret. He held Rheims throughout, as he held Amiens, and the two bastions served his purpose, when he flung his weight on the stretched sides of the great salient on which Germany counted to break the French defense. Across this breach at Belleau Wood on June 5 the Americans, fresh and stalwart, were flung---Marines and Regulars---and they blocked the German drive. It required some three weeks, from June 5 to June 24, to clear the Belleau Wood; but it marked the first step in the Counter-offensive that stopped the German advance.
The final German drive for Paris was made when on July 15 the Germans were making at the same time a last assault on the bastion of Rheims and Gouraud's lines to the east, and they forced the passage of the Marne and established a bridge-head between Fossoy and Dormans. Crossing over some five or six divisions, they extended the bridgehead eastward toward Epernay. The situation looked grave enough with this bridge-head on the south side of the Marne---but the hour had struck. On the 15th of July the Americans cleared Château-Thierry, which they held from this time.
On the western side of the Salient Foch, on the morning of the 18th of July, flung against the enemy the weight of the armies of Mangin and Degoutte, with the Reserves and the Americans; while on the eastern side Gouraud stood firm till his moment came. At Fossoy were the Americans, who flung them back across the river.
Mangin's troops pushed forward from the Forest of Villers-Cotteret. Degoutte moved up the valley of the Ourcq. And that day was the turn of the tide of the war. The day closed with the Mont de Paris, overlooking Soissons, in Mangin's hands; and some 15,000 prisoners and 300 captured guns were in the hands of the French and Americans.
From now on, though the struggle was long and furious, the tide set in steadily for the Allies and their associates: the Americans, who began the advance which, though at times stayed, never ceased till it crossed the Rhine.
In the middle of June, whilst the Germans were delivering their terrible and telling assaults on the French front along the Oise, where the armies of von Boehm and von Hutier were pushing forward between Soissons and Villers-Cotteret, and those of von Below were endeavoring to encircle the coveted bastion of Rheims, now a mass of ruins, and with their eyes set toward Paris, which they appeared fatally bent on having, whether as a city or a ruin, a move was made in Italy.
While the Germans were driving forward in France in April, advancing on Amiens, a movement began, with both a military and political object, which was destined to have far-reaching consequences. The main object was political, viz.: the breaking up of Austria-Hungary through the emancipation of her subject Peoples: the Poles, the Czecho-Slovaks or Bohemians, the Jugo-Slavs and, if possible, the Hungarians. The military object was the securing of the active co-operation of the military elements of these races, who had been impressed to fight under the flag of Austria, in the work of the emancipation of their several countries, and were now prisoners of war in Allied countries, mainly Italy and Russia. There were in Italy a large number of these prisoners, some of whom had deserted and voluntarily surrendered; and a considerable force had been enlisted from among those in Russia who were now giving a good report of themselves in Siberia. President Wilson's ringing words, addressed to the Peoples of the world in advocacy of the emancipation of the Peoples subject to the tyranny of Austria, backed as they were by the whole power of America, had had an immense effect throughout all those regions, and indeed throughout the world. It was the belief of the organizers and friends of the movement that a strong contingent could be recruited by voluntary enlistment from among these prisoners in Italy, who would not only render efficient service against Austria in the field; but whose presence under the flag of Freedom would have a far-reaching effect on their co-nationals who were enrolled in the armies of the Enemy.
Under the inspiration of exiled Patriots from among the oppressed Peoples, and with the cordial encouragement of those individuals among the Allies who, either as lovers of Liberty or haters of all Oppression, saw in the situation an opportunity to advance at once the cause of Liberty and the Allied cause, the movement gathered head. A conference of those interested in the proposed plan was held in London between a number of exiles representing an element of the Peoples subject to Austrian rule, and a number of Italians of influence, and a certain understanding was arrived at, which although inchoate, furnished sufficient basis to give promise that a General Conference to be held in Rome might have important results. Accordingly, a General Conference assembled in Rome in the earlier part of April, popularly known as the "Rome Congress of Oppressed Nationalities"---oppressed by Austria. It was attended by representatives, naturally self-appointed or selected by the groups of exiles, of those Nationalities; and by certain ardent advocates of the plan from among the Allies. And among both were a number of men of importance. There was much discussion and some division, but a series of Resolutions were adopted for publication, and a further series were adopted---not to be published. They were, however, rather expressive of the aspirations of the groups for independence than declarative of a programme. This was natural where the ground was unbroken before, the membership represented different and possibly even conflicting interests, and where the method of effectuating the several aspirations proclaimed was wrapped in uncertainty and obscurity.
That the Conference was held with the sympathy and good-will of the Allies goes without saying; but it is equally undoubted that the aspirations of those representing the several Oppressed Nationalities could not be said to have been followed pari passu by a sympathy which could be certainly transmuted into action.
Before the Conference broke up---or at least before the membership dispersed---they were received by the Premier, Orlando, as a token of Italy's sympathy as a People; but the Italian Government did not consider that, as such, it had formally recognized the Conference.
The Conference, however, accomplished more than was considered likely in the beginning, and its effects were clearly traceable later on. Largely through the efforts of Colonel Stefanik, who was the soul of the Czecho-Slovak (Bohemian) movement, a Czecho-Slovak Legion was formed from among the Czecho-Slovak prisoners, and was placed under General Grazziani, an Italian officer of great daring.
A Convention was drawn up and signed a little later (April 21) by Premier Orlando on behalf of Italy, and Colonel Stefanik on behalf of Czecho-Slovakia, by which Italy recognized the Czecho-Slovak Committee which had been formed as a Provisional Government, and recognized in them certain Governmental powers, as, for example, the creation of a Court or Tribunal to deal with offenses on the part of their co-nationals.
An effort was made by the Jugo-Slav representatives and their friends to obtain for them the same rights and recognition; but as to these Sonnino, who was dominant in the matter, was inflexible. He probably had a conscientious objection to availing himself of men who were placing their lives in jeopardy to accomplish the liberation of a region, a part of which he had no intention of relinquishing to them. He certainly had a serious objection to the idea of a great Serbia, which would absorb all the rest of Jugo-Slavia; and would expect in recognition of their services all of Dalmatia, and possibly Istria and Trieste. He believed that such recognition as was now demanded would cause Austria to fight with renewed bitterness immediately, and in the future would lead to the newly constructed Jugo-Slav kingdom falling under Austrian influence in a way permanently disadvantageous to Italy. He had, indeed, a profound distrust of the Jugo-Slavs and although, under the strong pressure brought to bear on him by those who held more liberal views, he yielded so far as to consent to the release of individual prisoners among those of this nationality, who had given satisfactory proof of their adherence to the idea of Independence, it was coupled with the condition that they should be sent to the Balkan front, and at best only a few hundred out of many thousands were accepted, under the rigid tests instituted. It was at this time that the foundation was laid of the resentment against Italy's position which later, when the Armistice came, led to so many complications and to such implacable hostility.
As the Germans pushed forward in their imposing offensive in France in the spring, they recalled their troops from Italy to add to their weight on the Aisne, and the British and French troops likewise were withdrawn from Italy, with the exception of three British Divisions and two French Divisions, in exchange for which, two Italian Divisions were sent to the French front, and some 50,000 Labor troops were sent to France to release for service at the front there an equal number of fighting troops. Thus, there were actually at the moment in France more Italian troops---fighting and work-troops---than there were British and French put together in Italy.
Tremendous efforts were made by the enemy throughout all this period to shake Italy's morale. The destruction of Italian cities was a part of Austria's regular plan: Verona, Padua, and especially Venice were the constant objects of bombing attacks. Venice suffered from some threescore attacks, which destroyed a number of her most renowned edifices: and many lives. That many more were not killed was due solely to the fact that the population was largely removed from Venice. Padua was a military post and so was subject to bombardment. Verona was bombed and many lives destroyed. Such warfare was wholly futile so far as military results were concerned. It only served to enrage the Italian People against "the Huns."
When the second, or June offensive, occurred in France, and the Germans were making their desperate effort to break down the bastion of Rheims and open the way to widen the salient already thrust toward the Marne, the Austrians in concert with them made a move to break the Italian defense on the Piave. It was certain that no more British or French succors could be sent to Italy. When, a little later, Germany, finding herself pushed back, was calling for assistance on the French front, it was evident that the best assistance that Austria could render her Ally would be to crush Italy, who was sending troops to fight in France. Accordingly Austria made imposing preparations for an offensive to begin the middle of June, and on June 15, after a tremendous bombardment on the Italian positions along her entire front, seventy Divisions of Austrians were sent forward to push through to Italy's heart. Italy was not ignorant of what was impending over her, and all preparations possible had been made to meet the portentous attack. The British Divisions had been moved over to the Asiago, and a few hours before the Austrian attack was launched, Diaz ordered a counter-bombardment of the assembling Austrians. The offensive, however, could not be prevented, and it was made with such weight and determination that the first assault had a measure of success sufficient to call forth all the power of Italy to withstand and finally repel it. The centre of the Asiago defenses was pierced; the crossings of the Piave were forced at several points of much strategic importance---at Santa Dona and Campo Sile, where a bridge-head was established, and at Nervesa, where the Enemy succeeded in pushing forward and seizing the Montello, the key to that position. It looked serious enough for a while. It had not been done without great sacrifice. The fighting had been heroic and the losses enormous. But there was no break in Italy's morale now. She knew that she was measuring herself with Austria for the future, and she threw in all her might. She flung in even her boys: the class of 1900, and they fought like veterans. In a day or two she had the Enemy stopped---in a day or two more they were being thrown back across the Piave, and from the Asiago. A flood in the Piave aided the Italians by cutting off the supplies from the Austrians, who were still holding positions on the west side, and General Diaz (June 23) flung his full weight upon them and cleared the western side of the Piave, taking some 20,000 prisoners and many guns. As the flood subsided he sent the cavalry over, who scoured the eastern side of the river and cleared it, save toward the sea where the enemy, screened and sheltered, held a stretch of the Delta. Diaz then turned his attention to the sector of his front where the enemy had seized heights which, if left in his possession, would menace his Piave line. Here also he won the prize. of complete success, and the enemy were flung back with the loss, not only of the guns they had captured when they seized the positions, but of some 200 guns of their own.
For the third time Italy was saved, and for the last time an Austrian offensive, planned and prepared with all the military skill at her service, came to naught and ended in disaster. General Conrad von Hoetzendorf, on whom rested the responsibility for the disastrous enterprise, was replaced by a German Commander.
But the next time an offensive was opened on the Piave it was Italy's offensive, and it ended on November 4 in shattered Austria's appeal for an armistice.
The appointment of Marshal Foch to the command of all the armies in France had so marked an effect in welding into one potent weapon the hitherto separate and independent armies of the Allies that it was supposed that Italy would unite promptly in the step that had been taken. This, however, was not done, and although there was much talk in the Press in Italy of the "one front," and there was, without doubt, more consultation and a greater desire to act in unison in the movements that took place on the several fronts, the Italian armies remained, like the Italian Marine, quite independent. Italy was justly apprehensive that the preponderant opinion in France that only on that front could the enemy be definitively beaten might result in her forces being despatched to that seat of war and her own front denuded. Besides this, there was a strong political reason for not weakening her front in the manner indicated. It would have been a blow to Italian amour propre to place her armies under a French Commander-in-Chief which might have had unhappy results. The morale of both troops and People had been re-established; but it was questionable whether it would have stood the transfer of a great number of troops and guns to a front as distant as that where Germany was apparently pushing forward irresistibly. The talk of the Fronte Unico in the Press was possibly due to the effect that the suggestion had in tranquillizing the spirits of those who suffered from a certain feeling of isolation and apprehension that some situation might arise in which Italy might find herself abandoned. Indeed, later on when Italy, under the shadow of another expected offensive, was urging the sending of troops anew to Italy from France, and there was some perturbation of mind on the part of many over Italy's isolated situation, the Premier himself, on the eve of a visit to Paris to attend a conference after the tide had turned on the French front, made a reference in the Chamber which was construed to signify that Italy had placed her armies under Foch's command. The inference, however, was repudiated in Paris and it threatened to produce unhappy consequences. Happily, the matter was satisfactorily adjusted. In fact, a certain amount of feeling had developed out of the situation as it existed. France had the support and assistance of several million men besides her own troops. Their presence was not only of military value to her, but also of equal political value. Italy had no one, save five British and French Divisions as a counter-balance for whom she had had to send substantially an equal number of Italians to France. The British, American, and other foreign troops in France not only were a security to France; but brought there vast supplies and a great sum of money, which tended to keep the conditions of life much easier than in Italy, where but meagre supplies and no foreign money came. The relative value of French and Italian currency marked the difference. The franc had depreciated hardly perceptibly, the lira, which at the outbreak of war was substantially at a parity with the franc, was now greatly depreciated. Italy felt that she was not being justly treated by her Allies. There lurked under this feeling a real danger that her people might one day awake all at once to a realization of this situation. That day would have been a sad day for her Allies no less than for Italy. She appealed to have troops sent her even more as a recognition of her right and for the moral effect than because of any immediate apprehension that her armies would be beaten in battle. She appealed to the Allies. They were hard pushed themselves. She appealed to the United States. The Secretary of War had come down on a brief run from Paris,. and his visit had inspired hope. On his return home the American Press published a statement that a Division would be sent to Italy. It was taken as a pledge. A regiment was sent ---a fine-looking, well-drilled regiment. They brought the flag and it had a great effect. They were detrained and paraded through several cities and made a fine impression. The Regiment was received with great honor. The King and the General Staff reviewed it on an historic plain. The guard of honor was composed of battalions of Italy's picked veterans. In war, numbers are readily multiplied and the idea got abroad that the Americans were coming to Italy in considerable numbers. It had a tranquillizing effect. America and the Americans were taken to Italy's heart. Wherever they went arose the shout, "Viva l'America!" Children adopted them as their own; walked beside them with an instinct of protection; climbed over them in a sort of proprietary way; women who had forgot to smile since their men went away now smiled at them in reassured content that the home-coming was nearer than before.
A new element had come into the war. The words of the President of the United States were now carrying far. Not that the Statesmen received the new Gospel with any great measure of satisfaction. It was too contrary to all their theories, plans, and practices---too far-reaching. It cut too deep for them to assent to so radical a Revelation as that which asserted the right of equality of Small Nations with Great at the bar of International Justice; rejected the right of the latter to deal with the former as chattels; declared that the Right to Govern was based on the Consent of the Governed, and abolished at once the Secret Conventions and Balances of Power. But every word that the President uttered was sinking into the hearts of men in all countries as the note of a New Evangel for the salvation of the World, not only in this war, but after the war should cease, so that there should never again be a recurrence of so immeasurable a catastrophe.
And the Statesmen of the Old School, though unconverted, recognizing their power and the power behind them, bowed and proceeded to get from these principles such reinvigoration for their People as they might.
These declarations of Principles were followed up by the President in several other deliverances. One (in Baltimore, April 6) wherein he accepted the challenge of the Central Empires of the use of "Force to the uttermost." "America," he declared, "would give all that we love and all that we have to redeem the world, and make it fit for freemen like ourselves to live in." There were others (in May) urging America to put all that she had into the balance for the Freedom of Mankind. In an address at Mount Vernon, on July 4, he answered von Kühlmann, the Imperial German Minister for War. In this he declared for "No Compromise," and laid down the ends for which the Associated Peoples of the World were fighting, and which must be conceded them before there could be Peace.
In this declaration, made as it was in almost the darkest hour that the Allies had known: when Germany was pushing her way across the Marne; and when Italy was in what might have been her death-struggle on the Piave and the Asiago, the President's note of resolution must have sounded like a death-knell to the Protagonists of Tyranny and Oppression, as he laid down the ends for which the Associated Governments were fighting. These he declared were:
I. The destruction of every Arbitrary Power anywhere, that can separately, secretly, and of its single choice disturb the Peace of the World; or, if it cannot be presently destroyed, at least its reduction to virtual impotence.
II. The settlement of every question, whether of Territory, of Sovereignty, of Economic Arrangement, or of Political relationship, upon the basis of the free acceptance of that settlement by the People immediately concerned, and not upon the basis of the Material Interest or Advantage of any other nation, which may desire a different settlement for the sake of its own exterior influence or mastery.
III. The consent of all nations to be governed in their conduct toward each other by the same principles of honor and respect for the common law of Civilized Society that govern the individual citizens of all modern States in their relations with one another to the end that all promises and covenants may be sacredly observed; and Peace be established on a mutual respect for Right.
IV. The establishment of an organization of Peace, which shall make it certain that the combined power of Free Nations will check every invasion of right, and serve to make Peace and Justice the more secure by affording a definite tribunal of opinion, to which all must submit, etc.
In a word, he declared the aim to be: "The reign of Law, based upon the Consent of the Governed, and sustained by the organized opinion of Mankind."
This high note, reiterated in later addresses---like that of his Labor Day address of September 1, when he declared that the war was to make the nations and peoples of the world secure; to oblige Governments to act for the People and not for the private and selfish interests of a Governing Class, and to let men know that Governments are their servants and not their masters, went out into all the World and evoked new powers from the almost exhausted forces of Liberty. It was translated into every Tongue; it was disseminated in every country; it reached every encampment---if only to be denounced---and it sank in. It inspired the armies of the Democracies---it depressed the armies of the Autocracies. It went into Belleau Wood with the Americans, and it crossed the Piave with the Italians.
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