THOMAS NELSON PAGE
ITALY AND THE WORLD WAR
ITALY AND THE ALLIED CAUSE IN 1916
THE year 1916 opened with the situation of the Allies far from satisfactory. The economic forces of the struggle, however, were beginning to be considered and brought into exercise. It was one of the crucial periods of the war, or Germany and Austria had got their "second wind," and had utilized the intervening months to create new forces that brought the War into a new phase. And from now on, Italy's action must be considered in connection with the whole field of operations.
The New Year was ushered in with the announcement of the Declaration of war on Austria and Bulgaria by the de facto Government of Albania, a step in which Italy had a large part. It was also signalized by the news of Austria's reply to President Wilson's second note on the sinking of the Italian passenger-ship Ancona. The reply was termed a "come-down," but was immediately followed by news of the sinking of a P. & O. passenger-boat in the Eastern Mediterranean---The Persia.
Italy was now well aware that the struggle before her was to be long and bitter. If there had ever been any illusions that her entrance in the War would terminate it quickly, they had been dispelled. It was now War à outrance and to a finish. She adjusted herself to prosecute it with all her power. The snow in the Alps rendered any great advance on either side impossible in those regions in the winter months; but positions were fortified and preparations made to take advantage of the first opportunity.
Montenegro was a source of anxiety---Albania was the same. The key to the Cattaro was the Lovcen, the peak which commanded it. The Montenegrins needed guns to defend it. Finally guns were sent. The morning after they arrived, and before they could be taken ashore, an Austrian Squadron dashed out of the Cattaro, and sank the vessel, with the guns on her, in the harbor. The Austrians, on January 10, carried the peak by assault. On the 14th the Austrians, pushing forward, captured Cettinje, the capital of Montenegro, with important military stores.
Italy, for her part, was preparing for an offensive which should capture Gorizia and open the way to Trieste and the Balkans. Roads were being constructed; supplies accumulated; her manufactories for war material of all kinds enlarged and "speeded up," and all preparations were being pushed forward for an offensive as near al fondo as possible. The Austrians were now pushing forward in Albania, and about January 23 occupied the town of Scutari. In the end of January (28) the Italians occupied the town of Durazzo, and set to work to rescue the remnant of the Serbian army, which together with some twenty odd thousand Austrian prisoners had, after one of the most tragic retreats in History, reached the coast in a starving condition. Offers of assistance were tendered in this work, but Italy preferred to undertake the main part of it herself, and although relief supplies and a certain number of ships were contributed by others, she mainly performed the work of transportation. The troops, which numbered some 80,000 men and boys, mainly without organization, were got off and taken to Corfu for rest and reorganization; the Austrian prisoners were brought off and distributed in various prison-camps; the refugee and the civil population were taken to Italy. It was a laborious and difficult work, but was successfully performed.
Durazzo was not tenable permanently and, after the Serbian soldiers and the refugees had been removed, the town was evacuated and Italy proceeded to establish her position at Valona and extend her lines from that base, with a view to co-operating, as she did eventually, with the Allied forces based on Salonika, where General Sarrail was in command. Of these forces Italy formed the left wing. The centre and right wing were composed of the French, the British, the Greeks, Russians, and, later, the Serbians. The failure of Italy to prevent the occupation of Montenegro, was the subject of sharp criticism in the press of England and France. It was referred to caustically in the British House of Commons, and this was so hotly resented in Italy that there was danger that the press polemic which ensued might have serious consequences. Italy was in no mood to stand further insinuations of bad faith.
The German propaganda was as active as ever. The countercharge was made by the Italian press that the only way to have saved Montenegro was through saving Serbia, and that the responsibility for the failure to accomplish this lay, not at Italy's door, but at that of England and France.
The crushing of Serbia and the incidental crumbling of Montenegro had been a grave blow to her. And the charge made by Serbia and intimated by the other Allies that Italy had failed to do all in her power to relieve them rankled in her heart. Both the capture of Lovcen, the key to the Cattaro, and the seizure by the French of Corfu (January 14) were a shock to Italian pride, and Italy sent a detachment over to Corfu and mounted the Italian flag beside those of France and England. A few days later (January 17) Montenegro capitulated unconditionally to Austria, who was said to have demanded the surrender of all arms and the giving of hostages. The story soon got about that King Nicholas, who had escaped and was now in Paris, had made a secret treaty with Austria to save his People and Dynasty. However this was, a little later Montenegrin forces were in the field again.
Just at the time that Montenegro obtained her peace by unconditional surrender, the Italians attacked the Austrians on the ridge of Oslavia, and recaptured the trenches which they had recently lost, and, continuing their assault with great resolution against desperate resistance, regained and re-established themselves finally in their dearly won position on the heights to the Northwest of Gorizia. It was a good start for the coming offensive, and may be said to have been the beginning of a year of desperate and uninterrupted fighting, in which the ultimate issue of the war was as much at stake as, later, on the Meuse or the Somme.
The situation in Italy, however, was now causing serious, if carefully concealed, concern to the other Allies. The tone of the Press, where not censored, was acrid; the attitude toward France especially was growing more and more one of exasperation. Italy was manifesting signs of feeling isolated and of being treated without consideration. She knew that they were suspicious of her; that they were saying that she was not putting forth all her powers; that she was sparing her men and her ships; that she was trying to keep at peace with Germany; that she was waiting only to realize her own aspirations to make a separate peace. The Allies' attitude toward neutral ships was not only causing irritation among the neutrals, but in Italy as well, where it resulted in holding up and delaying shipments of necessaries of war and of life: grain, coal, oil, etc., on which her very existence depended.
In February (11), 1916, Monsieur Briand came down to Rome to visit the Ally of France. It was held by some that he came to see what was going on in Italy, and to secure from Italy closer and stronger co-operation against Germany. He made an excellent impression and accomplished much of what he came for. Whether he secured immediately much more of the "closer co-operation," which was heralded as the motive of his visit, may be a question. The simple fact is, that all of the Allies had at that time about all the burden they could carry. They were all pursuing, in addition to the general policy somewhat loosely defined, some individual aim, and had not yet awakened to the necessity of merging their special interests and of flinging all into the one scale to win the war. It required the shock of manifestly approaching defeat to awaken them to the peril of so fatuous a policy.
It was in February, 1916, that the German armies under the Crown Prince launched their attack against the French fortress of Verdun, which the Crown Prince had almost completely invested back in the early autumn of 1914, when the defeat of the movement on Paris compelled him to relinquish his prize. That he had not captured Verdun had without doubt been a blow to his prestige, and this probably explains in part the sacrifice of men in the third attempt which he made.(88) The ancient fortress was now defended by a modern system of intrenchments, which had been made in the autumn of 1914 by General Sarrail, who was later sent out to command in the Balkans. They curved around across the Meuse in a blunt salient to the North, some eight or ten miles below Verdun, through the plain of the Woevre, and so back to the heights of the Meuse at Les Eparges. The position constituted a menace to the Germans in any advance they might attempt to make to move on Paris, and was a constant reminder of the failure of the Crown Prince to capture it both in September, 1914, and in 1915, when he had again attempted fruitlessly to obtain possession of the place. After a series of movements in other directions, which were intended simply to distract attention from their real object, the Germans, who had massed heavy guns and all other necessary material for the purpose, launched this attack from the North, on the East side of the Meuse. The bombardment began on the 16th of February, and the Infantry were sent forward to the assault on the 21st.
Under the shock of the terrific and continued attack the French recoiled at first, and for a brief space it looked as if the attack had been successful. Not only military reasons, however, but also political reasons demanded that Verdun should be held. Thus this struggle was not only a fight to the death between assailants and assailed, but became, as it were, a tug of war between the two nations to prove which was fundamentally the better. The contest lasted substantially the whole year, but the French won. It was one of the decisive movements of the war.
On the 25th of February arrived Pétain with his reinforcing army in automobiles, and the German advance was repulsed on the east side of the Meuse. In the autumn the French forced them back a sufficient distance to render safe from them the spot where Verdun stood, and finally, about mid-December, established their line beyond danger of being driven out. The battle of Verdun, however, was over by mid-July. Its full cost to Germany will possibly never be known. It was enough.
When the Germans were held up at the end of June, the main fighting in France was transferred to the Somme region, where for weeks the fighting raged which had begun with the Battle of the Somme, and was continued on until what is known as the Battle of the Ancre in November brought the British to within a few miles of Bapaume and the French to the edge of Péronne. It was the high tide of Allied success that year on the French front.
While this Titanic struggle went on, taking every man and gun that was in France, the struggle elsewhere was not less bitter. The fight for Mesopotamia and the control of the strategic points on the traffic ways between the West and the East had so far proved a fiasco for England. A brave endeavor had been made to relieve General Townshend, who was now shut up closely in Kut-El-Amara when almost in sight of Bagdad; but it failed and at the end of April (29) General Townshend was forced to surrender. Later on, the disaster was retrieved by the expedition under General Maude and his successor, General Allenby. But for the time being, it was a serious setback for the Allies. Only in the nearer East was there light, where on the same day (February 16) that Germany began the attack on Verdun, Erzeroum with its stores fell into the hands of the Russians, who pushed on Westward and captured Trebizond. They then pushed Southward, but were later driven back. The way to Bagdad was effectually barred till the following year.
The Turks were now sufficiently encouraged to cause anxiety in Egypt, both to the Eastward and to the Westward, and England began to take more serious measures.
On May 21 the Battle of Jutland was fought between the battle-fleets of England and Germany (the former called the Grand Fleet, the latter called the High Seas Fleet). It was the greatest naval battle of the war---perhaps of any war---and the most obscure. It is still being fought over. England's first report of the battle made it appear almost as a defeat. Germany decorated her streets as for a victory. But the German High Seas Fleet never came out again to fight, and eventually, after the defeat of her armies, was surrendered in mass to the Allies, and was brought captive into a British port by the British Grand Fleet, under command of the Admiral who had led the attack that forced the Jutland fight.
It was to Italy that many eyes were turned in the early part of 1916, amid the gloom of the destruction of Serbia, Montenegro, and Albania; the invigoration of Turkey and Bulgaria; the obscurity of Greece; the increase in the submarine campaign, and the murderous persistence of the attack on Verdun---Italy, without coal, grain, or metal save what she could obtain with difficulty; with scarcely anything in sufficient quantity---Italy not yet at war with Germany, nor certain that she would be; with her Sphinxlike Minister for Foreign Affairs, and her strong political antiwar element; with her men, amid the measureless snows of the Trentine and Carnic and Julian Alps, driving, in Arctic cold, under incredible hardships, tunnels through mountains of ice and rock, scaling icy precipices, swinging their cables across vast gorges. Would she stand it? Could she stand it?
As the spring drew nearer it was evident that Italy was irrevocably bent on getting Gorizia and Trieste, and Austria-Hungary began to feel the need of some action that would weaken the incessant drive that Italy was making on the Isonzo front, and relieve herself from the ever-increasing pressure toward Gorizia and Trieste. Moreover, the "gradual advance of the Italians into the Trentino, which was approaching closer and closer to the main lines of his defense, aroused in the enemy a desire to free himself from a pressure which was growing more threatening."(89) Russia had been driven back sufficiently to give Austria a freer hand on her western and southern front, but was preparing for another attempt later on. Germany was being held up at Verdun. The time appeared ripe for a blow at Italy before Russia should be ready. Austria accordingly made carefully elaborate secret preparations for an offensive against Italy through the Trentino. Here Italy had pushed forward the year before, capturing mountain peaks and valleys, as fortune followed her, in her movement on Trent, until the winter caught her holding among the peaks and precipices a line irregularly advanced; not always well consolidated, and in places not capable of consolidation until other peaks should be secured.
East of Lake Garda, where the Austrians had, in 1866, laid down their frontier, the line ran deepest down into Italy, a little north of Rivoli, and not a great distance north of Verona and Vicenza, which it threatened. This line the Italians had pushed back till, speaking in a general way, it ran eastward from south of Rovero to north of the Col Santo supported by the great Pasubio, on across the Val Maggio and the Val Sugana, following the old frontier to Monte Gallo, and on northwest of Borgo.
From Trent a half-dozen valleys run east, south, and west, divided by mountain ridges between which communication is difficult, thus affording to the Austrians the choice of a half-dozen corridors down which to conduct their attack, which, if pushed through, would reach the Venetian Plain, cut in behind the Italian army on the Isonzo and sever irremediably their communications. Elaborate preparations were made for a drive al fondo. Some 2,000 guns, including many great guns, were assembled from every part of the Austrian front, and some from the German---the noted 420 mms. which had done such effective work in Belgium. It was reported that from the Val Lagarina to the Val Sugana there was a gun for every twenty yards, a number of them the most powerful guns in existence. The Grandduke Charles, the heir to the throne, was brought to Trent to take personal command, with General Conrad von Hoetzendorf as his chief of staff, than whom no man hated Italy more. It was intended to parallel the German move which was giving the Crown Prince of Germany the supposititious honor of capturing Verdun. It would impress the Austrian Peoples. The offensive was termed the "Punitive Expedition." Italy was to be "punished for her treachery." Italy knew "the Huns" and had cause to know them. Over sixty invasions had penetrated those plains, or nearly penetrated them, since Ancient times when Rome began to defend them. Their history was the history of Italy's blackest hours. Once more the Huns were hammering at her gates---everything had been prepared for a rapid and tremendous push into the Venetian Plain. "Vast depots of food, clothes, equipment, medicines, and, above all, of ammunition," had been established.
The Italians soon became aware of the portentous preparations being made for the offensive, and in view of their magnitude were naturally anxious. General Cadorna, after making a careful tour of inspection of the Trentino lines, moved his headquarters at the end of April to this Sector, taking them up with the First Army, whose commander was soon afterward removed on the ground that insufficient provision for defense had been made against an attack in such force.
The offensive began on May 14, with an artillery bombardment of great violence along the entire Italian front, from East to West, from the Carso to the Giudicaria. It soon became evident, however, that the real assault was on the Trentino front, on the sector between the Val Lagarina and the Val Sugana. Here, after a terrific bombardment, the Infantry in great masses were launched to the attack under an artillery cover unprecedented on that front in violence or effectiveness. Eighteen divisions, or some 400,000 men and some 2,000 guns, were employed in the offensive. The Austrians knew every foot of ground: mountain and valley, and their attack was admirably planned and well carried out. Both Artillery and Infantry were skilfully handled. The Italian advanced positions were swept away by the flood of shell poured out on them. Then, under the tremendous bombardment of the great guns, moved forward as required, other positions were rendered untenable. From point after point, position after position, the Italians were driven, with increasing losses in men and guns. Austria's dream appeared on the eve of realization. If the Italians could drive up-hill, the Austrians could certainly drive downhill, and drive they did, their massed and powerful artillery, used steadily with great ability and success, and rendered more potent with the increasing momentum derived from each captured peak or shoulder, valley and village, ever pressing down toward the opening to the plain beyond the rolling Piedmont, where Italy, her flank cut into, her armies divided, her people stampeded, must, Austria believed, sue for peace. The mountain flanks of sheer rock afforded no shelter against such a continuous storm of shells. No intrenchments were possible. Under the pressure of the vastly preponderant artillery,(90) sweeping mountain crest and flank, valley and roadway, Cadorna was forced to withdraw his centre back beyond the Posina torrent, with the abandonment of much that had been won at such cost in the preceding year. It was a difficult and dangerous step. If accomplished successfully, it would be a skilful manoeuvre; if not, it would be a break in his line which might involve more than the fate of his army. Refugees, their homes now abandoned, were pouring down toward the plain from the villages with all their movable belongings: their flocks and cattle and household stuff, to escape the heavy shelling and onrush of "the Huns," adding to the confusion and peril. But Cadorna was an able General, and especially able at organization, and the movement was accomplished successfully, and what might have proved an irremediable disaster was, in the sequel, only a reverse---a serious reverse, it is true, but one that was recovered from in time. Not an available place for a stand but was held tenaciously, and fought for until beyond hope of being held longer; not an inch was yielded without a struggle, and the cost to the enemy was dear. By the 22d of May Cadorna had got his line back to a position where the army could be thrown and held in fighting shape and effectively manoeuvred, and although it was forced back yet farther, and the losses were immense, it was ever a fighting force to be reckoned with, and it held until sufficient reinforcements could be brought up, first to stay the oncoming tide, which threatened to overwhelm Italy, and then to sweep it back with immense losses beyond the Italian confines, almost to the original lines before the offensive began.
Map. 5. THE TRENTINO OFFENSIVE, MAY-JUNE 1916.
When the Austrians renewed their attack (May 24) after a brief respite, due to their need in view of the stiffening resistance of the Italians to reorganize their attacking force, it was with increased violence, and the Italians were forced by sheer weight yet farther South toward the open country, until they were almost down on the plain where lay with bated breath awaiting the issue Vicenza, Verona, Padua, and many another fair Italian city, and beyond them the roads to the heart of Italy. Here the Italians made their stand and maintained it till the end.
If the time had been well utilized by the Austrian General, it had been even better utilized by Cadorna. During these weeks of furious fighting Cadorna had availed himself of the one advantage he had over the enemy: the inner line, and he had been organizing an army to support or, if necessary, take the place of Brussati's worn-down and wasted forces.
The order to draw up this plan for mobilizing a new army was given one morning in May (21). It was ready the following morning. By midnight that night the first troops of the new army were on the march.(91) Cadorna had drawn troops from many directions, and had assembled around Vicenza an army of over 400,000 men, fully equipped and ready to take the field. It was an accomplishment worthy of any general and any people in History.
The gravity of the situation was now well understood throughout Italy, and she had girded herself to make her stand to the death beyond the plain which had been the prize and the grave of so many invading armies.
When June came in the Italians, after two weeks of as fierce and unremitting battle as had taken place in the war, with every advantage save one against them, had made their last stand above and across the mouths of the valleys that opened on the Venetian Plain, and the Austrians, believing themselves victorious, were pressing forward with all the ardor born of success and lust of loot, and heightened by the furious desire to wreak their vengeance on an enemy whom their Emperor had denounced to them as having betrayed Austria. "The men," said the Report of the Italian Supreme Command, "were promised an easy invasion and the sacking of our rich countryside and wealthy cities, where the victorious troops would find food and pleasures(92) in abundance." But when men stand on the threshold of their home to defend their own, new forces come to birth in their souls.
A few days later (June 3) General Cadorna, confident of the stability of his army, now strung to the highest pitch by the peril to their Patria, announced to his Government that the immediate danger of invasion of Italy was past. The Italians had stopped the Austrians. The latter were now dashing in impotent rage against the Italian lines. The Italians had been ordered to hold them to the death, and they held them. Cadorna now was forming a plan by which he hoped to inflict a memorable defeat on "the Huns," and perhaps destroy their invading army. He would contain them with his centre, which was drawn back for the purpose, and at the proper moment would attack simultaneously along their right and left flank, and if possible cut them off. Reinforcements were from the first hurried forward as fast as possible, and at the right time the new army was thrown in, and the fortune of the struggle and of the war was changed---as it was changed when Pétain rushed his new army in automobiles to Verdun to relieve the hard-pressed troops who had held so well the defenses of that pass to Paris. The Italians knew now that Italy herself was at stake, and all Italy was now in the fight. For some time, notwithstanding Cadorna's encouraging announcement, the issue appeared to hang in the balance. Austria, balked at the very moment of seizing the prize, as she deemed it, was loath to relinquish her aim, and continued to hurl her masses against the Italian positions, only to break in foam against them. Their force was spent, and as the Italians grew stronger the tide turned. By the middle of June the Italian General knew from "the sporadic character of the Enemy's attacks; the diversity and distance of the objectives they aimed at, the very improvidence and the almost desperate violence of the actions which were followed by periods of exhaustion," that these final expressions of the Enemy's offensive activity were not guided by any organized scheme.
On June 16 the Italian Counter-offensive began on both flanks of the Austrian Army, and although the latter fought with desperation, the slancio of the Italians soon began to tell, and a few days later the Austrians began to withdraw their big guns preparatory to retiring, and about the end of June Cadorna, pressing his advantage, began to push them back. Back, back he pushed them, still fighting fiercely--- recapturing point by point, peak after peak, and valley after valley, until early in July he had substantially recouped the disaster of May and driven the Austrians back almost to the lines to which they had been driven the year before. Only in a few sectors were they able to hold any substantial gains. But like their Allies and kindred, the Germans, the Austrians in their retreat destroyed the villages, or what remained of them, through which they were driven. It is a racial trait which Caesar remarks on in his Commentaries on the Gallic War. The Austrian losses in killed and wounded were reckoned by the Italians at over 100,000. But their great loss was their failure, notwithstanding their vast effort, to win through to the Italian plains; their loss of prestige with the Italians. Like the battle of the Marne, to which it has been resembled in its results, it was a turning-point in the war not only for Italy; but for the Allied cause.
The reversal of the tide of invasion had a strong moral effect in Italy. The Italian armies had beaten the Austrians a second time, holding superior positions and with superior artillery, and this time flushed with victory.
It was certainly a fact that Russia's action in turning with her reorganized armies on Austria-Hungary in early June, and pushing vigorously her new offensive which wrested from Austria territory which Austria had taken from Russia the summer before, not only prevented Austria from bringing more troops over to the Trentino battle from the Russian front, but distracted Austria's attention from the Trentino offensive and centred it now on the Russian front, where serious peril once more threatened her. It was the second time that Russia had come to the aid of the Western Allies. But while acknowledging this, the Italians felt, and had a right to feel, that they had won through the superior moral and military qualities of the Italians, for in fact they had done so. Also they had on their side rendered to Russia a great service, when turning on the Austrians they had dogged their heels, holding them continually engaged, and preventing Austria's despatching earlier to the Eastern front the nine divisions which she had contemplated sending to stay the new Russian advance. Further, Italy had by her supreme effort and the aid rendered the Russians materially assisted the other Allies, who later on when Russia fell out of the fight felt instantly the immeasurable difference.
Not unnaturally, in the tense condition of the public mind in Italy, all sorts of rumors became current as to the cause of the success of the Austrians' attack, and naturally there was much looking about to find a scapegoat. The losses in men and material of war had been enormous, and it had been a close thing, but they had saved Italy. The Government had been very reticent regarding matters that were in every heart and on every tongue. There was even question as to how far Italy herself remained unshaken.
Premier Salandra and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Baron Sonnino, were recognized as the strong men in the Cabinet; but they "ran things" in their own way and vouchsafed little information to the country, which was not only tingling with nervousness over the situation; but was stirred to its depths and was ready to make extreme sacrifices. It wanted, however, to know the exact situation---to be taken into the confidence of the Government---to feel that the whole country was admitted to its share of the responsibility and the patriotism in this crisis, and especially was entitled to the contribution of all its powers to the service of the Patria. England and France had shown the way. Sonnino was silent; Salandra was aloof.
The Parliament had assembled on June 6, in the midst of the tense anxiety of the days which racked Italy from the Carnic Alps to the extreme point of Sicily. Even Cadorna's message that the danger of the immediate invasion of Italy was for the present past, had not reassured completely the profoundly moved public opinion. The fight was still going on; the hospitals were growing ever more crowded; the trains were still stuffed with soldiers being rushed to the battle-front, where the losses, magnified by rumor, were touching the remotest regions of Italy. Italy wanted to know the true situation. The Chamber met. The Premier insisted on his programme: the discussion of the routine business of the Government. It meant that no explanations, no confidences would be given. The Chamber rebelled. The Premier was firm. Back in March (19) the Chamber had given him a vote of confidence of 394 to 61. But neither he nor Sonnino was popular personally. They had the respect, but not the personal friendship of the Chamber.
Salandra, in a debate afterward, said, in rejecting some appeal against his policy, that the Chamber had "supported the Government." "Yes," replied one of his opponents, "as the rope supports the hanged." The Premier made an angry retort which was not forgotten. About the same time he made a speech in the North, in which a phrase or two were caught at as infelicitous. And finally, in his speech in the Chamber, he uttered a phrase which was taken as a criticism of the General Staff that tended to create want of confidence in the army. He stated that it must be frankly recognized that "had the positions been better prepared and better defended, they would have held out longer." Just then Cadorna was regarded as the saviour of the country, and the criticism was highly resented. But the real reason for the Parliamentary crisis lay in the profound feeling of the Country that something of unmeasured seriousness was going on which might have vast consequences and that the Country was not sufficiently informed about it. The Official Socialists were against him because he was for fighting the war through; the Interventionist Nationalists because he had not declared war against Germany; the Giolittians on general principles of loyalty to their leader. So, when on June 10 he demanded a vote of blind confidence, the vote stood against him. Two days later he announced his resignation.
His overthrow and resignation, when it had taken place, were somewhat of a regret to many of those who had accomplished it. For although not popular, he had the respect of even his opponents, and there was no one in sight to handle the reins and guide with as much firmness. Sonnino could do it; but he stood in the same relation to Parliament with Salandra, and had even less address in handling the Chamber. It was rumored that Salandra was not averse to laying down the reins under the circumstances and, to employ another metaphor, that he had "ridden for a fall." In this exigency, with the enemy at the gates, Giolitti was considered to be out of the question. Eyes were turned only toward those who were associated with Italian Independence. What was felt to be needed was the union of all forces in defense and a leader who could rally them. A national Cabinet, such as had been tried in France and England---not with any great success, it was true, but still as a working machine---might meet the exigency and tend to satisfying conflicting interests, and dividing the responsibility. In the crisis the King came back to Rome. His presence had a tranquillizing effect and his broad views clarified the situation. A National Ministry was formed under the presidency of Signor Boselli, the Nestor of the House, whose life was associated with the idea of Italian Independence and Italian greatness.
Paolo Boselli had been a fighter in the great days of the Risorgimento, when Italian genius turned what might have been the red glow of a dying day into the effulgent splendor of a rising sun. He had served with Garibaldi, and his name and fame were a link with Italian glory. He was the head of the Dante Alighieri Society, whose literary name represented only partially its far-reaching patriotic Nationalist scope and aim. He was an old man, bordering on eighty; but in Italy young statesmen are the exception. He was an orator with a ringing voice; a devoted patriot, of broad and catholic views, and when he spoke he could ever command the attention of the House. Men forgot his age and listened to the flowing eloquence that sprang from a broad patriotism, founded on all that Italy aspired to, and, freed from all suspicion of personal interest, pointing ever to the goal of Italian Redemption and Italian Glory. Though the Nestor of the Chamber, he had never held high position in the Government, but this was remedied by his being given the Collar of the Annunciata. And he had, to close with, also a faculty for harmonizing conflicting views. Thus, he was the person eminently fitted to preside over a National Cabinet. With him were associated Sonnino, who retained the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the leaders of both the Socialist and Clerical groups and parties. The former was Signor Leonidas Bissolati. He was one of the great Italians. He might have lived in the time of Brutus, or Cato, or Mazzini and, so far as his powers permitted, have been their peer. Like Mazzini, he had been a Republican, but, for the general good, subordinated his principles regarding the form of Government to the substance of Liberty under a Constitutional Sovereign, who lived and reigned for the People. He was an orator of a high order, in virtue of his sincerity and profound earnestness and devotion to the cause of the People. He had at one time edited the Avanti, the Socialist organ; but when the war came he broke with the Official Socialists, who opposed Italy's entry in the war, and as soon as Italy entered the war he enlisted, was seriously wounded, and being incapacitated from further service in the trenches, returned to his duties as a Deputy, and became one of the forces which pushed the war against Austria, and later against Germany. He was not a good politician, but was an independent thinker and a statesman of vision and lofty purpose. His adhesion to the new Cabinet was an element of strength for it.
When the history of this war shall be fully written and the final assessment of its great events and their consequences shall be made, the great Austrian offensive down the Trentino will be reckoned one of the critical events of the struggle and its defeat one of the masterly campaigns as well as one of the turning-points in the war. If Cadorna miscalculated Austrian intentions in the beginning and failed, as Salandra said, to provide better for guarding the gates of Italy, he quickly repaired the error, and by the creation and handling of his new army added to his old one, proved himself a great general in the field no less than in his Headquarters' cabinet.
The work of the Italian Army in its counter-stroke, of staff and line alike, was not excelled by anything anywhere during the war. They forced the Austrians back when in sight of their prey; clung to them doggedly throughout the entire retreat; wrenched from them substantially all they had seized; inflicted on them immense losses, and saved not only Italy but probably the Allied cause. For had Austria succeeded in defeating Italy and forcing her to sue for Peace, she would certainly have occupied Lombardy and, conjecturally, Piedmont and have menaced France's Southeastern frontier. Verdun might not have held out; Paris might have fallen, and Versailles might have witnessed a Peace Conference with the Central Empires and the Allies in reversed rôles from those played in June, 1919.
Baron Sonnino remained at the head of the Foreign Office, and continued the most dominant force in the new Cabinet. He and Bissolati did not always get on well together, for each was a man of strong convictions, and eventually they clashed so irremediably that Bissolati resigned. But this was not until after the Armistice, and during the war they worked in harmony, at least, to the extent of presenting publicly a united front to the enemy.
Besides these were Orlando, a man of high gifts, who took the Interior, and Meda the clerical Representative; and Scialoia, who later on followed Sonnino and Titoni as head of the Foreign Office.
As soon as the peril of the Austrian Trentino offensive was over, and while the Italians were still pushing them back through the higher Alps of that region, and while the battle was still muttering around the Montecitorio, Cadorna began to force his way with renewed energy toward Gorizia and the passes leading to Trieste. It can hardly be said that the operations here had ever ceased; for all Spring had gone on what would have been considered in any other war a general engagement. Moreover, the preparations for the great movement, which was being planned for the moment when all should be ready, were unremitting. Roads were being built under conditions so difficult that their construction appeared a marvel of engineering and would have been so a little time back even for the Italian Genio: the performer of marvels. Matériel of war was being accumulated for an offensive on a scale hitherto undreamed of in Italy.
In the first determined advance on this line a new weapon was used by the Austrians---the asphyxiating gas, the deadliest and wickedest of all the weapons yet conceived by man.
The Italians had knowledge of it and masks had been made to meet the danger; but they were primitive and inadequate. The training with them, which men were required later to go through, had not yet been devised. The officers could not yet give intelligent orders nor the men cheer with the masks on, and when the Italians were sent forward, they either did not have masks that were protective or they took them off, and the result was a loss that was ghastly. Seven thousand men are said to have been stricken in this appalling fashion, during the attack, with a tale of officers that substantially exterminated them. Against so murderous a weapon the attack at the moment failed of its farthest objective; but for all that it was only a postponement, and a little later the offensive was pushed with a resolution and carried forward with a desperate ardor that knew no abatement.
Every branch of the Italian service was brought into full exercise in this supreme effort and, what is more, every one met the demands made on it. The Italian military units mainly retain their old nomenclature, as such and such a regiment or other command---of Genoa, Milan, Turin, Venice, Florence, Naples, Palermo, etc., but under the System adopted in later years, while Liguria, Lombardy, Tuscany, Calabria, Sicily, Sardinia, etc., are still commemorated in the names of the Regiments or Battalions that shed lustre on them in the past, these commands are composed of troops representative of every region in Italy, the intention being to give the troops the feeling of being national and representative not of a province or city however renowned, but of Italy: Mother and Patria of all. Within these general lines there are certain corps which have a special prestige, as demanding certain qualifications for admission, such as the Cavalry, the Bersaglieri, the Alpini, the Arditi, the Granatieri, etc. The Genio, or Engineers, were everywhere, and were expected to do and did everything that was necessary to assist, facilitate, and contribute to the support of all the rest. They not only constructed the systems of trenches, they ran graded roads up impossible mountains; built bridges over rushing rivers and bottomless ravines; cut tunnels and corridors through the rock mountains; swung telefericas (cable railways) from mountain peaks across deep valleys; tunnelled and blew off mountain tops which resisted assault, and performed work everywhere and always, without which the Titanic achievements of the Italian army would have been impossible. This age has always regarded the ancient Romans as the great road-builders of History. Future ages gazing on the remains of this war will say that the Italians surpassed all others, even their ancestors, in this Titanic accomplishment.
It was along in midsummer, 1916, that the great Italian offensive on the Isonzo front was made. On the right was the Third Army, under General, the Duke d'Aosta. Next him, commanding an army corps, was General Capello, whose Chief of Staff was General Badoglio, one of the younger and most brilliant Generals in the Italian army. Farther to the West commanded General di Robiland, General Giardino, and General Diaz. They all came into great note later.
Before this the Italians had already torn from the Austrians long stretches of their front, including many of their cherished positions above the Isonzo. They had, as already stated, established their bridge-head beyond the Isonzo above Gorizia, and were on the slopes of the mountains both to the North and the South of Gorizia. They had dug or cut themselves in on the slopes from above Monte Kuk to the Carso to the South. Beyond them frowned other mountains: Kuk, the Bainsizza, San Gabriele, San Michele, the Carso-Titanic ramparts in a Titanic strife. But where the river had through the ages drilled its way between the mountains above Gorizia, Monte Sabotino was still held by the Austrians as a mighty bastion on the Western side of the Isonzo. Thence the Oslavia-Podgora ridge stretched away, protecting the town in the hollow beyond them, which it had cost so much blood to try to capture.
In places the Italian and Austrian trenches ran within a few yards of each other. On Kuk and Podgora Hill, and at many other points, the Italians had driven their trenches up and were sticking fast just below the Austrian lines. They could talk to each other readily exchange banter and bullets at a few paces distance.
It was in the beginning of August, 1916, that the first spring in the new move on Gorizia was made. It opened August 6 with a terrific bombardment of Monte Sabotino, tunnelled and chambered like Gibraltar, where it faced the Italian lines. Under cover of this barrage the Italians forced their way up the mountainside, carrying position after position, capturing garrisons and guns, and by evening were masters of the chief western defense of Gorizia, with much spoil of war. Between them and the town, however, still stretched the Oslavia-Podgora defenses. It took three days' continuous fighting to capture them. They had once been like a garden. Vineyards and orchards covered their smiling slopes. A calvaria stretched up to Podgora's top whence one looked down over the river slipping under its willows below, with gardens bathing their feet in its cool waters, and beyond, the pretty town, set amid villas, which had been a sort of Austrian Riviera. The Podgora now was a waste. Ploughed and upturned by shells, it looked like some vast, disembowelled carcass torn by wolves and vultures, and left with only shreds and grisly bones. The calvaria had been blown away---no trace remained, but Golgotha was there---grisly, ghastly, red and white, the evidence of man's infinite capacity for courage, suffering, and destruction. It is folly to say the Austrians do not fight. They have always fought. They are of fighting races. They were well commanded and disciplined, and fought with fury. They were beaten on the Isonzo as in the Trentino, because the Italians, inspired by a superior spirit, fought better. The losses on both sides were appalling. But at such work as this the Italians are unsurpassed in all the world. They had all turned into Arditi.
It took three days to secure Podgora. Even after it was flanked on both sides and cut off, it held out. But three days after Sabotino was captured, the Italians rushed the broken bridge under a withering fire, and at last planted the Italian flag on the station in Gorizia. That night Italy rejoiced "with exceeding great joy." She had regained Gorizia, the jewel of the Isonzo, and her sons were pushing on to San Gabriele and San Michele. And who knew how far they might go?---possibly even on to Trieste?
The yield of Gorizia in mere booty of war was some 18,000 prisoners, with 400 officers, over 30 big-caliber guns, besides a large quantity of other guns, machine-guns, rifles, ammunition, and other corresponding spoils of war. Later on, in further forward movements in September and October, when the Italians captured Monte Santo and a part of the Carso, they added to their prisoners enough to bring the tale up to some 40,000, with over a thousand officers, and they doubled, likewise, their captured booty of war. But although Gorizia had been lost, the Austrians were still firm. They still held the, commanding positions beyond Gorizia, made almost impregnable by Nature, and where she had missed, reinforced by all that military science could effect, and held by troops as good as Austria had ever furnished in all her conquering history: Germans, Hungarians, Croatians, Slovenes, now inspired by every motive of hate and fear to fight with desperate courage. But the requirements of modern warfare demand, after an advance such as Italy had made on the Isonzo, time enough to carry forward and install the ordnance needed to open the way for a further advance of the troops. This took some days, and although the Second Army made desperate attempts to take San Gabriele, and the Italians established themselves on its rough flank, the position proved impregnable, as did that of Monte Kuk, to carry which was attempted just afterward. The Third Army, however, had better fortune, and though its persistent endeavor to capture San Michele was costly, it was pushed through to final success, and the Italians established themselves on the Carso, and held the heights on both sides of the Vallone. And Gorizia was made securely Italian. A little later, in mid-September, Monte Santo was captured, and in October and November Cadorna was still hammering at the mountain walls, with inflexible resolution to open the road to Trieste.
Notwithstanding the boldness with which the British and French asserted their success in the great offensive in France, it was known to the well informed that the situation there was not as satisfactory as the authorities were given to asserting. The great offensive on the Somme had made progress, and had resulted in the capture by the British of some 125 guns, over 400 machine-guns, and nearly 40,000 prisoners; and, by the French, of over 200 guns, 1,200 machine-guns and trench-mortars, and 70,000 prisoners. But they had not reached the final objectives. The losses of the Allies had been enormous, but Bapaume and Péronne were still untaken. The German lines, though pierced in places, had not been smashed, and the Germans appeared as strongly intrenched in their new lines as ever.
If the war were to be brought to a close within a reasonable time, it was necessary to bring other factors into the solution of the problem. Greece was not in a position to count for much. The only other powers that could be brought in to aid were Italy, who had not yet declared war on Germany, and Roumania, who had stood neutral, warming toward the Allies as they pushed the forces of the Central Empires back, and cooling toward them as their fortunes waned. Roumania was unwilling to declare war against so potent an enemy as Germany; but Italy might do this if Roumania would declare war against Austria. It was arranged accordingly.
On August 2 (1916) the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs was informed by the Russian Ambassador at Paris of the nervousness of the French Government because the offensive on the Somme had not given the desired results. Therefore the entrance of Roumania into the war was particularly desirable now.(93)
England and France were at this time endeavoring urgently to obtain Russia's co-operation in bringing Roumania into the war: Russia was resisting Roumania's demands, which included the Banat, Transylvania to the river Theiss, and Bukovina to the Pruth, in which regions only some 37 per cent or 38 per cent of the population were of Roumanian stock, and the rest were Serbs, Magyars, and Germans. However, in view of the urgency of the Allies, Russia yielded,(94) only stipulating that she should not be compelled to continue the war till all of Roumania's claims were realized. Even this, however, she was compelled to yield in view of the situation in France,(95) and after President Poincaré had telegraphed the Tzar personally (August 9) of the desirability of an immediate agreement with Roumania, Russia consented.
The exaggerated report of the success of the Allies had its effect in other directions than on the Italian and French fronts. During the time that the Italians were scaling the cliffs of the Julian Alps, and the French were holding, with ever-growing resolution, the semicircle about Verdun, and French and English were on the Somme putting forth their herculean efforts, Diplomacy had not been inactive or less successful. It was apparent to all now that the enemy could not be defeated until they should be closed in on every side, and shut off from continued replenishment of their supplies from the Eastward as well as from the Westward. So long as Roumania was neutral, there was a source of supply open to them which could not be closed. Greece likewise, so long as she remained under her existing Government with her King, the brother-in-law of the Emperor of Germany, in command, was a cause of anxiety to the Allies in a situation where it had transpired that the weight on the two sides was so nearly in equipoise that any fresh accretion to the power of either might give it the preponderance. Her hatred of Bulgaria and the peril that she would run should a blockade be declared against her had hitherto been considered by the Allies fair guarantees of a reasonably assured neutrality on her part; but Constantine was very popular with the army, and Greece had her heart set on obtaining certain territory which she could only obtain at the hands of the victorious side. Her policy, therefore, tended to oscillate somewhat as fortune appeared to favor one or the other of the opponents. It was of extreme importance to her that she should make no mistake in her final decision. Italy still held the Dodecanese Islands, formerly Greek Islands, and although she was pledged by the Treaty of Lausanne to restore them to Turkey on certain conditions, it was unquestionable, now that she and her Allies were at war with Turkey, that the Islands would not be restored to Turkey, nor would Italy, who had secured by the secret treaty of London the consent of England and France to her retaining them permanently, give any intimation that they would be given up to Greece.
Moreover, Italy now held Valona, and was eager to extend her control over the Albanian territory beyond that important and commanding position, an extension that would cut into Northern Epirus, which Greece considered Greek. An arrangement as to the boundary of Northern Epirus had once been arrived at between Greece and Italy (in 1914); but other things had later intervened which had changed the entire Balkan situation, and rendered it most unlikely that Italy would now feel bound by this understanding.
And finally, to the continued anxiety of her Allies, Italy had never declared war on Germany. Strong efforts had been made by her Allies to induce her to take this step, but so far without avail. The criticism directed against her had only exasperated her; pressure angered her, and argument and persuasion had been equally fruitless of results. She had maintained her formal neutrality as to Germany for over a year, and left it to Germany to declare war if she wished. She had, she felt, enough on her hands already. She would leave it to Germany to make the first declaration. For her part, Italy would wait until Germany moved, or at least until she did some act which would consolidate Italian feeling against her and give the Italian Government assurance of the full weight of the united Italian people behind them.
Germany had long given what the other Allies considered sufficient cause for a declaration of War against her, had Italy desired to make one; but the Italian Government hung back from the step which was urged on them so earnestly. Not only had Germany, by the attitude of her Government, outraged the sensibility of the Italian people, but German guns were among those employed in sweeping away Italians before the Trentino offensive in May. Several Italian ships had been sunk by submarines of German build, manned by Teutons who spoke pure North German; whereas, according to report, the Austrian submarines were manned generally by Austrian subjects from along the Adriatic seaboard who, though speaking German, were readily distinguished from the German Austrians both in coloring and speech. Thus it was generally held that the "pirates" were Germans. Finally, Germany, in her failure to carry out her engagement to pay to the Italian laborers within her borders the pensions due them, gave Italy a ground on which the Italian Government felt they could with security count on the backing of the Italian people---now vastly reassured by the repulse of the Austrians in the Trentino and by the capture of Gorizia. Moreover, Russia had made an astonishing recovery and was pushing forward again, driving before her the Austrian army, capturing much territory and prisoners by scores of thousands. Accordingly, under the unremitting urgency of the other Allies it was arranged that Italy should, on August 27, declare war on Germany to date from the following day, and on the same day Roumania should declare war on Austria. This was done, and on the same day Germany declared war on Roumania. Two days later, the 30th, Turkey declared war on Roumania, and the following day Bulgaria declared war on Roumania.
The declaration of war against Germany had little immediate effect on the situation in Italy. The ground for the announcement had been prepared in advance with address. It had long been anticipated and the political effect was already discounted. The Italians knew that the Germans had for a good while been aiding their chief enemy with an the means at their disposal; and they felt that as Germany did not march with Italy and had about all the burden she could well carry, she was not likely to prove a new danger of great magnitude for Italy Moreover, at the moment it was generally believed that the entry of Roumania into the conflict would have a very weighty result. It was also believed by many that Greece might soon be brought to come in on the side of the Allies.
Roumania started off with a dash. She invaded Transylvania and within a few days she was occupying the Carpathian passes into Hungary, while the Austro-Hungarian army retired before her. The Roumanians pushed forward into Transylvania until they encountered Von Falkenhayn, who had come up with an Austro-German army especially superior in artillery to the Roumanians, and the latter were forced back. On the other hand, the Turkish and Bulgarian troops had invaded the Dobrudja. This, however, was not immediately considered a great peril, and it was not until Von Mackensen, who, at first, was held up by the Roumanians on the Bucharest-Tchernavada line, pushed forward later with an efficient German army that any serious anxiety was apparent. The Roumanians were now swept back. Costanza fell into the enemy's hands together with its important stores of wheat and oil, which had been accumulated there with the expectation of getting them out to the Allies. Tchernavada, was taken. Von Falkenhayn forced the passage of the mountain passes and swept on across Roumania. Von Mackensen crossed the Danube and, advancing, threatened the destruction of the Roumanian army. By the end of November the Western half of Wallachia was overrun, and on December 1 Bucharest was abandoned by the Government, which retired to Jassy, and was occupied by the Germans a few days later. Von Falkenhayn continued his advance Northward into the oil regions of Ploesti, the wells in which, however, had been partially destroyed when those in charge of them left before the advancing Germans. The Dobrudja was now completely overrun, and the Russian army under Sakharof, with which it had been attempted too late to support the Roumanians, was driven across the Danube into Bessarabia. Braila and Galatz were lost, and before the end of the year the whole of Wallachia was in the firm possession of the enemy. Roumania had been crushed almost as completely as Serbia had been crushed a year before and the enemy had, through the diplomatic errors of the Allies, retrieved their misfortunes, and were in a position to continue the war, both on the East, and the West, with renewed vigor.
The overwhelming of Roumania was a blow to the Allied cause which happily was little appreciated at the time. The capture of the oil regions and of Costanza, with its stores of oil and of grain which had been accumulated there awaiting the opening of the Dardanelles, furnished the Central Empires stores which put them on their feet for the ensuing season. Furthermore, it brought them to the Black Sea and eventually resulted in their control of the Russian Black Sea fleet; a situation which had far-reaching consequences in both Russia and Turkey.
Italy was putting forth at immense cost all her efforts to wrest from Austria the commanding positions of the Grand Pasubio and the Carso, without which she could make no decisive progress, whether in the Trentino or on the Giulian front. All through October and November the desperate assaults went on, making little progress so far as the map showed, but steadily pushing forward step by step to the consummation which was to come later when in the last and crucial test the temper of her weapon was to prove superior to that of her powerful adversary.
The chief assistance rendered the Allies at this time was Italy's successful offensive against Gorizia in those August days when her sons were pouring out their blood like water to secure the keys to Gorizia and Trieste.
The result of the diplomacy of this summer was the destruction of Roumania and the perilous situation of Italy after October, when the Germans came down to aid and by their power and generalship increase vastly the fighting strength of the Austro-Hungarian armies massed against Italy.
Italy's economic condition at this time was by no means fully appreciated by the other Allies. She was reduced to so low a state as to supplies, essential for the prosecution of the war, including the means of subsistence of her people, that the representatives of the Government had to go to Paris to present the situation to her Allies in its full gravity. A Conference was held there in November at which the perilous state of the case was laid plainly before them and steps were taken to afford at least in part the necessary relief. The naked fact is, that however hard pressed the other Allies were in the matter of such necessaries, Italy was always harder pressed. She never had more than a bare margin above what was required to keep her going.
In the early part of November (7) President Wilson was re-elected by a scant margin of a score or so electoral votes, after a tremendous contest in which the fact that he had kept America out of the war had been strongly emphasized by his supporters. Yet the German vote was understood to have been largely thrown against him, at least in the eastern and central western part of the United States. Shortly after his election his attitude toward the general situation began to be realized. He began to assume a definite policy to bring before the consciousness of the world the perilous situation in which it was plunged.
About the middle of November, 1916, a suggestion came from Switzerland that the time had arrived when some step should be taken to enter into conversations to ascertain whether some basis for peace might not be found. On December 12, 1916, Germany and Austria made formal proposals to "enter forthwith into peace negotiations," which were subsequently rejected by the Allies, who considered them as arrogant and insincere. It transpired later that these Powers desired to forestall any action by the President of the United States.
The President of the United States about a week later, December 18, addressed to all the Belligerents a note, containing a suggestion which, it was stated, he had "long had in mind to offer, and which was in no way associated with the recent overtures of the Central Powers," and which he requested might "be considered entirely on its own merits and as if it had been made in other circumstances."
In this note he suggested "that an early occasion be sought to call out from all the Nations now at war such an avowal of their respective views as to the terms upon which the war might be concluded and the arrangements which would be deemed as satisfactory as a guaranty against its renewal or the kindling of any similar conflict in the future as would make it possible to frankly compare them."
He called attention to the fact that "the suggestions which the statesmen of the belligerents on both sides have had in mind in this war are virtually the same as stated in general terms to their own people and to the world." Then, after outlining what they were understood to have stated "in general terms," and saying that as thus stated "they seemed the same on both sides," he added, "yet never had the authoritative spokesmen of either side avowed the precise objects which would, if attained, satisfy them and their people that the war had been fought out." He then suggested that an interchange of views might clear the way, at least for conferences, and make the permanent concord of the Nations a hope of the immediate future, and a concert of Nations immediately practicable.
This note was made the occasion for an attack on the suggestion contained in it by important elements of the press in all the Allied Countries---including Italy. The construction was placed on the note that the President had stated that the aims of both sides were substantially the same, which was far from the fact, as was shown very soon afterward when he took another step, laying down the principles by which he declared the action of America would be guided.
On the 24th of December the Pope delivered a discourse to the Sacred College of Cardinals in which he expressed his hope for the restoration of peace, but made no mention of the step which had been taken by America.
The simple fact was that the conditions were such at that time in all the countries of the Allies that the Governments did not feel in a position to accept any suggestions which might leave them in the condition which then existed, and they feared the effect on their Peoples of anything that might tend to diminish their powers of resistance.
ITALY IN THE DARK PERIOD OF THE WAR
THE year 1917 came in with the attention of the world focussed on the political rather than on the military struggle that had so long engrossed all thoughts. The German and Austrian notes, or so-called "Peace Proposals," hastily got out to forestall the step contemplated by the President of the United States; the note which the President, undisturbed by the German and Austrian coup, had proceeded to address to all the Belligerents; the reply of the Allies to the first, and the discussion of the, as yet, unprepared replies to the second, filled all minds in the early days of the new year. That something of moment was in the air all believed; that it might possibly lead to Peace---that consummation devoutly to be wished---many hoped. The allocution of the Pope in the end of December, urging the Peoples to cease from a war which was destroying Christendom, added to this hope, but increased the anxiety of the Governments. The stiffness of the Allies' reply to the German and Austrian Proposal, however, diminished any confidence that a Peace Conference would be held very soon. The close relation of the Papacy to Austria-Hungary was traditional, but, after all, the Pope was Italian and must have the Italian's feeling for Italy. So the Italians reasoned, and while they were content to follow their leaders so long as they held out to them the expectation of final success, many still cherished the hope that the Peace would come before long.
A meeting of all the Premiers of the Allied Governments, except Russia, took place in Rome at the beginning of January, and the whole situation was gone over by them. Great secrecy was maintained as to the reasons for their meeting, and many theories were advanced; but it took no great acumen to divine that among the causes which called them into conference in the Eternal City were the necessity for arriving at a basis for a reply to the note of the President of the United States that would be satisfactory, not merely to themselves, but to the People of their several countries; and the necessity to come to a decision regarding both Roumania and Greece. The condition of the former was now well-nigh hopeless. While the Conference was in session at Rome, the Russians were driven out of the Dobrudja and the Germans were consolidating their hold on Moldavia. The condition of Greece was one to cause serious anxiety. Italy was said to be in disagreement with her Allies as to the policy regarding Greece, and this disagreement touching the fourth paragraph of the Allies' note to Greece was said to be one of the causes of the conference. Not only had the question of Greece's relation to the Allies to be settled, but the entire Adriatic question was involved in a confusion to which the Greek situation contributed its share. The flags of three, if not four, of the Allied Countries floated over Corfu. And in despite of the flags, Greece, which was neutral, claimed the island as hers against all the Allies. Also she claimed Northern Epirus alike against Albania and Italy, and whether she was ruled by King Constantine or Venizelos, she was likely to continue to assert her claim. Russia was represented by her Ambassador and a General. She had no Premier to represent her at the Conference, but this was before her débâcle, and although it was not yet known outside, Russia had been promised by the Pact of London Constantinople, the Bosphorus, and the Dardanelles, and Italy had been conceded rights in Albania hardly consistent with the claims that Greece was asserting. Greece, indeed, was at the moment a sort of storm-centre.
England and France were considered as backing Venizelos. England, however, was not yet ready to stand for the removal of Constantine from the throne. Italy was more conservative. It was wittily said that she feared Venizelos's friendship more than Constantine's enmity.
Finally, another reason for the Conference was suggested by those who were not too firmly convinced of the solidarity of aims of all the Entente Powers; this was that England and France were not too well assured of Italy's complete solidarity with them, and came both to satisfy themselves on this essential point and to gratify the pride of the Italian People, and thus bind Italy more irrevocably to the Allied Cause.
They returned somewhat reassured and a better understanding was supposed to have been arrived at touching both Greece and the Adriatic. Also an understanding was reached as to the form of the reply to the President's note of December 20; but the reply was to be sent from Paris after Russia should be apprised of the result of the Conference. Indeed, the situation in Russia was becoming one of the anxieties of the Allies. No one appeared quite certain what Russia was doing. The Russians at the Conference were reported as having been in opposition to much that the other Allies were in agreement about. Vague rumors were recurrent of Russia's relation to proposals for a separate peace. A crisis in her Ministry was reported a few days later. The Premier Tripoff was succeeded by Galitzine, but Prokowsky remained as Foreign Minister.
An important step taken by the Conference was the decision to form a mobile army, composed of forces of all the Allies, for use where needed.
On the 10th of January the reply of the Allies to the note of the President of the United States was forwarded to Washington. Opinion was somewhat divided as to this reply. In phrase it was diplomatic and formally courteous. Under the form was a tone of unconcealed resentment. It laid down plainly the determination of the Allies to proceed unlet and unhindered in their policies, and their somewhat extensive aims were set forth with considerable particularity. Incidentally it contained an allusion to and repudiated the President's reference to the apparent similarity of the aims of the two sides, as expressed generally by their respective spokesmen. In substance the note might be considered a rebuff to the President for the step he had taken.(96)
The press had assumed and continued to maintain an attitude very critical toward America. Though the character of the attacks on the President had been somewhat modified, articles charging the United States with Imperialism, and with casting covetous glances both to the Southward and Northward---toward both the South American Republics and the British Dominion of Canada---appeared in the Extreme British Periodical Press, and were taken up and added to by the Italian Press. Steps were taken to form a Latin-Countries League; conferences having, perhaps, originally an economic basis, but also having, possibly, a political drift were held, and apparently were regarded sympathetically by the authorities. The fact that South American countries had not adhered to the note of the United States Government was extensively played up in the Press, and from having been formerly referred to as "the Little South American Republics," they were now termed "The Great South American Republics." Restrictions touching commercial concerns were tightened, and a considerable number of American firms were placed on a Black List. American enterprises were impeded; and protests were met with the simple statement that Italy was dependent on Great Britain for necessaries of war, and the latter had the decision in these matters.
Unexpectedly a shock came from the other side. A leading American journal, The New York World, in an editorial discussing the relative moral bases of the claims of the Belligerents on the two sides, declared that alone among the Allies Italy had not been invaded, and that she was engaged in an immoral enterprise; and was prosecuting a war of conquest. The World had strongly supported President Wilson, and was erroneously regarded in Italy as his official organ. It was, in fact, an independent Democratic journal, and in no sense an organ of the Government, though its attitude in this matter of Italy may have been caused in part by the attacks on the American Government, and emphasized by the refusal of the Italian Government to permit for so long American Press correspondents to visit the Italian front. The discrimination against Italy as engaged on a moral basis less exalted than that of her Allies was a shock to many of those connected with the conduct of Italy's action, as well it might be, for it exposed the fact that the action of England and France was better understood in America than that of Italy. Italy knew that the fundamental ground of her action in entering the war was not desire for conquest, but for the rescuing of her own people from a foreign yoke; and with this her own emancipation from the Austrian menace.
Meantime, however beset on many sides, Italy was bending all her energies not only to render secure what she had already won at great cost, but to prepare for the spring campaign as soon as the snows should melt sufficiently to permit. Her factories were being enlarged and increased in output to an extent hitherto unimagined. Military roads were constructed in regions hitherto unpenetrated by anything on wheels; up mountains inaccessible to anything but pack-animals. Bridges were thrown across swift torrents and deep ravines; mountains were tunnelled and precipices were turned. Supplies of everything necessary for the use and maintenance of an army were accumulated and transported, and all this with an incredible dearth of fuel. If Italy had been taught organization, she had learned it well. In no war zone along the entire war-front, whether on the West or the East, were so many natural difficulties overcome with more address or scientific skill.
The public men might confer and wrangle, plan and discuss and decide; the Press might describe and censure or flatter; but the army, grumbling or swearing, kept on in the snow and the rain and the mud; digging away; cutting, drilling, and building; fighting and dying---for Italy.
On the 22d of January (1917) the President of the United States delivered before the Senate an address, the text of which he communicated simultaneously to all the Governments of the nations at war, setting forth his ideas touching the means of preventing, through "an international concert which should thereafter hold the world at peace," the repetition of such a catastrophe as was then destroying Europe and threatening the rest of the world. He put aside without comment the spirit of the Allies' reply to his former note, save to remark that the world was that much nearer the discussion of the definitive peace which should end the war. America could enter this League for Peace only on condition that it should be secured by the organized sentiment for Peace of Humanity. It was to be "Not a balance, but Community of Powers; not organized rivalries, but organized Peace." His understanding of the declarations of the statesmen of both groups of nations arrayed against each other: that it was "no part of the purpose they had in mind to crush their antagonists," was that they implied that it should be "a Peace without Victory"---an equality of rights of nations both great and small; the recognition and acceptance of the principle that "Governments derive all their just powers from the consent of the governed." He further laid down the principle that so far as practicable, every great people should be assured a direct outlet to the highways of the Sea---that the paths of the sea should alike in law and fact be free; that there should be a limitation of armament, both naval and military; so that armies and navies should become "a power for order merely, not an instrument of aggressive, selfish violence."
His declaration that the Peace aimed at should be "a Peace without Victory" was seized on by the Allied Press and made the basis of renewed attacks on the President. But underneath the attacks lay probably other grounds than this, viz.: his demand for the Freedom of the Seas; the reduction of armaments, and the acceptance of the American principle that "Governments derive all their just powers from the consent of the governed." None of these save the first, however they might be accepted in theory, was wholly accepted in practice, and England considered that the first was a blow at her traditional claim to "rule the wave" according to her own construction of the International Maritime Code.
So antagonistic, indeed, was the general tone of the Allied Press to the President's views as enunciated by him, that the idea became diffused among the People---not without some suggestion, however---that he was working to some extent in harmony with the enemy. In certain circles the idea was prevalent that he was working to take advantage of the destruction of the European Powers and build up America so that she might become the arbiter of the destinies of the world. "American Imperialism" was at times presented in the press as an offset to German Imperialism. This idea, however, did not go very far with the People, who in Italy knew the United States better than the upper class knew them, and who began to feel that America was trying to help feed the Peoples of the allied nations. They had, indeed, incontestable evidence of the fact in the grain that came into their ports.
There was soon something else to think about. On January 31 Germany gave notice that from the following day, in all waters surrounding the coasts of the Allies, would begin a Submarine campaign à outrance, and she made good her word by sinking immediately a number of unarmed merchant ships. Three days later the United States broke off relations with her, and the following day the President invited all neutral nations to take the same action, and try to bring Germany to her senses.
Matters were now rapidly hastening to a crisis. The United States rejected Germany's proposal to discuss the Submarine campaign, so long as it continued to be carried on. Germany reiterated her determination to continue it so long as the Allies continued to blockade her ports, and before the month was out, the President of the United States, following the constitutional course, asked permission of Congress to arm the Merchant vessels of the United States, and called a special session of Congress to consider and take measures to meet the ever-increasing gravity of the situation. The call was first set for the 16th of April, but was soon changed to the 2d, and on the assembling of the Congress on that day the President delivered before it his famous message, demanding that the World be made safe for Democracy. It was addressed rather to the Democracies of the world than to any one People, and it has been termed "The Magna Charta of the nations of the world."
The effect was instantaneous. It was a trumpet-call to Humanity. It aroused an enthusiasm throughout all countries save those which were fighting to destroy Democracy, and even there it was recognized as the death-knell of Autocracy and the reveille of a new era of Freedom.
On April 1 the American armed merchant vessel the Aztec was sunk by a German submarine off Brest. On the 6th of April the United States declared that a state of War existed with Germany. Cuba declared war on Germany the following day. The day following this Austria-Hungary severed diplomatic relations with the United States.
On the 14th of April the Congress of the United States authorized a bond and note issue of $7,000,000,000, of which $3,000,000,000 was to be loaned to the Entente Allies.
Inspired by a sort of divine fury, America suddenly flung herself into the war with all her weight. Almost immediately on the Declaration of War some forty American war-vessels were despatched to European waters. Before a great while the number was increased to a hundred and one. A selective-draft law was passed May 18. On May 19 was passed a war appropriation bill of $3,342,300,000, and on June 5 some 10,000,000 men of military age registered under the selective-draft law. The Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces was with his staff already nearing the shores of Europe, and, passing through England, arrived In France a few days later. South America and Central America also were aroused. Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua all broke off relations with Germany.
In order to make clear what Italy's relation to the war and part in it were at this time, it is necessary to set forth in outline what the situation was in France, and also on the Russian front, where hitherto a potent part of both the German and Austrian armies had been contained by the immense Russian armies, whose ponderous weight had several times during the struggle threatened to overwhelm both Germany and Austria.
In France, in December (1916), General Joffre was superseded in the command of the French armies by General Nivelle of Verdun fame, and was retired with the rank of Field-Marshal, which was, in fact, revived in his honor.
In England, in December (4), Admiral Jellico was superseded in command of the Grand Fleet by Admiral Sir David Beatty, and was made first Sea Lord of the Admiralty. Also Mr. Asquith on the following day resigned as Premier, and was succeeded by Mr. Lloyd George, with Mr. Balfour as Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and a Limited War Cabinet succeeded the large coalition Cabinet which, if not inharmonious, had been found somewhat over-ponderous for speedy action.
The repercussion of the failure of Roumania to hold her own had a decided effect in Greece, and the Naval Allied Commander, the French Admiral, having landed troops at Athens the 1st of December, 1916, to intimidate the supporters of the Central Empires, they were attacked and after a hundred or more casualties on the two sides were surrounded and forced to surrender. A blockade soon, however, showed Greece that the policy of Venizelos was the wiser for her, and a situation was restored which after an amende had been made and Constantine's army compelled to confine itself to the Peloponnesus, brought Venizelos back into power.
Toward the end of January and the beginning and middle of February the British made a forward movement north and south of the Ancre, and secured several important ridges and towns in the direction of Bapaume, which they occupied a little later. In the Orient the British had recouped their misfortunes of the Autumn before, and with better organization had captured Kut in the end of February and Bagdad toward the middle of March (11). Also they had made Egypt measurably secure. The British were now headed for Palestine.
A longer part of the front in France was now taken over by the English to relieve the French, and when they continued the offensive in March, they had some hundred and ten miles of front. They had pushed forward toward the middle of March to the line covering Bapaume, when it was found that the Germans were retiring to a new defensive line, which they termed the Siegfried line, but which came to be known among the Allies as the Hindenburg Line. The discovery nerved the British to fresh efforts, and in the middle of March (17) a general attack was launched, from Arras to Roye, and it became a continuous battle from that time on until the Germans had retired to their new positions in the Hindenburg Line. Bapaume was taken on the 17th, Péronne next day.
The British attacked the northern sector of the Hindenburg Line from Arras, and pushed toward Cambrai and St. Quentin. The French attacked the southern end of the Line, and passing Ham and Noyon, pushed up the Oise toward La Fère. Vimy Ridge, a position of great strength, was captured by the British on the 9th of April, and by the 12th British and French were pressing forward against all obstacles along a forty-mile front. The Hindenburg Line was pierced at Wancourt and Haninel, but the Germans, finding Douai and Cambrai threatened, had prepared what was called "the Wotan Line" for their defense.
Finally in May, after terrific fighting, some ten miles of the Hindenburg Line were secured by the British, including the capture of Roeux and Bullecourt. They captured also a great number of prisoners together with over 250 guns and nearly 700 machine-guns and trench-mortars. The entire offensive had yielded the British some 40,000 prisoners.
The British commander now turned his attention to a new offensive toward Ypres.
While the British were driving against the northern part of the Hindenburg Line, the efforts of the French were being directed more to the south against the line which crossed the Oise west of La Fère, took in the forest of St. Gobain, and swinging around Soissons crossed the Aisne at Missy, then extended along the Aisne to Craonne, whence it ran to Berry-au-Bac, thence around Rheims some three miles, and on eastwardly by the Main de Messiges toward the Argonne. Above the Aisne on the north side stretched a lofty ridge along which ran a road now famous forever as the Chemin des Dames. On one point of this, at Troyon, the French had maintained a position. The rest was held by the Germans. Along the valley to the north of the Ridge ran from east to west the Ailette, a tributary of the Oise, and across the valley a dozen miles from the Aisne was Laon, Nivelle's objective. Great preparations were made for the offensive and great hopes were built on it. The first step was a tremendous bombardment which covered nearly a week, and was expected to clear the way for an assault so powerful that nothing could withstand it. The French Commander was reported to have set a time for the capture of Laon---a very short time---a single day. But man proposes and---a very high French military authority has said that "Providence is on the side of the heaviest battalions."
On the 16th of April the attack was launched along a front extending nearly fifty miles, and for a time there was a promise of success. The Germans were forced back across the Aisne between Missy and Craonne, and the greater part of the Ridge of the Chemin des Dames was captured. In the centre a substantial advance was made, but north of Rheims Briomont stood out. The French right reached and stormed the heights about Moronvillers, which controlled Moronvillers and the roads to Laon, but were unable to maintain their positions on the crest under the portentous fire directed on them. Craonne, toward the eastern end of the Chemin des Dames, barred their progress, but was captured finally. The French had, however, not crossed the Ailette. Laon still stood, and the offensive, though many prisoners and guns had been taken, had resulted in huge losses, and had failed to attain its object. France was profoundly shocked at the failure, and on May 15 General Nivelle was superseded by General Pétain, and General Foch was appointed Chief of General Staff at Paris.
The morale of France, perhaps, was never more depressed than when the offensive, which had been counted on to break completely through the German lines, was found, notwithstanding her heroic efforts and immense sacrifices, to have failed in its real purpose. Not that either France or England thought of yielding, or of accepting Germany's arrogant proposal, any more than Italy even in her most desperate hour thought of accepting that of Austria. There was, however, an element that had to be reckoned with which took a pessimistic view of the situation, and from it developed an attitude which acquired the name of Defeatist. Both in France and in Italy this became a menace which their Governments had to meet.
The change of the Commander of an army in face of the enemy is in itself an admission, if not of failure, at least that matters are going badly. In this case to the military reason was added a political factor which created a very serious situation. Happily France was rich in Generals of a high order, and her selection of Foch and his lieutenants proved most fortunate.
Meantime, momentous events were occurring elsewhere.
In Russia, where the Government, sunk into a hopeless slough of Bureaucracy permeated with corruption, and undermined by German intrigue, had after many vicissitudes proved incompetent either to conduct the affairs of the country or to supply the armies in the field, Revolution had broken out. The Duma met on March 12 in defiance of a decree of the Tzar dissolving it. The Tzar was forced to abdicate (March 16) in favor of his brother, the Grandduke Michael, who, however, declined, or was not permitted to accept the crown, and a Provisional Government was appointed. The Tzar and his family were sent under arrest to Tsarkoe-Selo, whence later, on the outbreak of a second Revolution which overthrew the Provisional Government, they were removed to a more secure place of confinement, where before a great while all met with the usual tragic fate of dethroned autocrats. His fate was the more tragic in that the record of his life would seem to show him to have been personally a good man, sincerely desirous to advance his people along lines of modem development. But that, on the other hand, he was as a ruler unable to handle with decision the great affairs which devolved on him. He was crushed by the burden he inherited. But the cup of Russia was by no means full yet. The German propaganda had failed in Italy. It had failed in the United States. Both had gone to war with Germany. But in Russia it had proved more successful. All through the latter part of the preceding year (1916) the controlling Russian statesmen had been subject to German influence. The Premiers, Stürmer and Prince Galitzine, had been pro-German. Protopopoff, the Minister of the Interior, was even more so. German corruption, by all reports, had eaten deep into the vitals of the Government. By reason of it Brusiloff's offensive had come to a tragic end. The army had been sacrificed to it. The weak Tzar had fallen a victim. The Provisional Government went next in a second Revolution, and a Soviet Government was set up in the Capital. The army and navy now both became permeated with the revolutionary spirit. Officers were deposed and elected by the men. In the navy many were murdered. The fighting force of Russia seemed to have collapsed. It was unexpectedly revived for a time by Kerensky, the most energetic member of the new Government, who became a temporary Dictator, and appeared for a brief period to have acquired some authority over the army. Brusiloff was able to turn on the Germans and Austrians and make a sudden drive forward toward Lemberg, which resulted in the capture of some 20,000 prisoners, while Korniloff advanced farther to the south. For a time the movement gave promise of re-establishing the Russian factor in the struggle. But the hope was delusive. The army had become too much saturated with the Bolshevist propaganda, so skilfully promoted by Germany. Discipline was undermined, and Germany and Austria, who had been depleting their forces on that front, returned and in a rapidly renewed campaign re-established their positions, and the armies of Russia disintegrated into a great disorganized mob of armed soldiery, without discipline or cohesion. Large masses of them subsequently left the front, and returned home to participate in the general seizure and division of the lands, though some elements remained under arms for some time yet. All the rest of the story is a confused succession of movements without order or direction, with Brusiloff superseded by Korniloff and Korniloff refusing to obey Kerensky, and marching on Petrograd to be defeated by Kerensky; and with Kerensky both dictator and general until he was overthrown and fled in disguise to give place in a new revolution to a new dictator, Lenin, as the head of the Bolshevists in a new system, amid new confusion. And the end is not yet.
Apart from the exceptional difficulties that Italy had to encounter in the terrene where her troops were engaged, and her supplies had to be forwarded and distributed amid Alpine snows, the economic conditions of Italy had grown steadily worse as the war progressed, and were now becoming very menacing. The dearth of coal was such as to cause serious anxiety lest Italy should be forced to suspend her manufactories for war-material, ammunition, guns, etc. The importation of coal was cut down to about half the normal consumption in times of peace, and to this consumption was added the augmented necessities of the war. The increasing scarcity of provisions was a grave menace. The Government regulated and limited the prices, but when there was not enough to go around, the price was a secondary consideration. Throughout the entire Country women in the Cities stood for hours in the long bread-lines only to be told at the end that everything was exhausted. Incipient bread riots occurred in Rome itself. They were readily disposed of, but the causes remained and the anxiety increased. The Germans undertook to extend their blockade zones, taking in all waters about the coasts of the Allies, and also the Eastern Mediterranean. Moreover, their Submarine campaign was beginning to be effective enough to excite grave apprehensions. Off the shores of Italy was among the chief regions of their piratical warfare. To counter this, England undertook to lay down and enforce control of neutral shipping. Her efforts at such control of sea-traffic were, however, both exasperating and ineffective. Italy at her alleged instance adhered to her restriction on the sailing of neutral ships from Italian ports, unless bound for some port of an allied country. Protests were filed against such action, and eventually the restrictions fell into abeyance and other measures less exasperating were adopted to secure the best results from the tonnage accessible to the Allies.
Southern Italy was dependent for existence on its agrumi or fruit crops, and Northern Italy had a large trade in silks, and as both were utilizable by the enemy for war purposes, arrangements had to be made by the Allies to buy and pay for these crops. Neutrals, such as the Scandinavian countries, were permitted to proceed to Italy to purchase fruits, etc., but only on condition that they carried to her necessaries such as coal.
About the middle of March M. Briand resigned the premiership of France. Things did not appear to be going very well there. In Italy, also, there was considerable talk of Sonnino's resignation, and the Allies and the Interventionists were much disturbed, as he was considered the backbone of the war-to-a-finish element. The crisis, however, was happily tided over.
One effort of the defeatist element to prevent America from entering the war on the side of the Allies, and to bring the war to a speedy close, was by inducing the neutrals, especially America, to cease all shipments to Europe, whether of war-material or foodstuffs. This was a direct effect of the German-Austrian propaganda. It was argued that thus only could America be really neutral in fact as well as in theory, inasmuch as under existing conditions shipments could only be made to the Countries of the Allies, and that such an embargo would bring the war to a close within forty-eight hours, as the Allies were absolutely dependent on America for their sustenance. Mexico appears to have fallen in with this idea, as toward the middle of February (12) she made a proposal that the neutral nations should stop the war by an embargo on all trade with the Belligerents on both sides. There was, indeed, an element---happily not a large one---even in the Congress of the United States, who at one time appeared to tend to a view somewhat akin to this, inasmuch as they urged the prohibition by the United States Government of American citizens travelling on ships belonging to the belligerent nations. But the President announced that he would not consent to curtail, during his administration, a single right that Americans possessed under international law, and he was overwhelmingly sustained by the Congress.
The work of the defeatist elements had been the cause of considerable anxiety in Italy, not only to those who were eager to see the war pushed to a triumphant conclusion, but to the Government itself. How far their ramifications extended, and what form they took, were not known---at least outside of official circles; but rumor made it appear somewhat formidable. Two big battleships, the Leonardo da Vinci and the Benedetto Brin, had been blown up-one inside of the harbor of the naval base itself. Suddenly the Government drew in its net and laid its hand on the culprits. They comprised a considerable number, a score or more; but among them were five men of some importance, including the editor of a former ephemeral defeatist organ, said to have been financed by the German Embassy; and a certain Monsignor Gerlach who, it was stated, had formerly been an Austrian officer but had taken orders and then had had some association with certain high ecclesiastical dignitaries. The latter and one of the other accused persons escaped to Switzerland, but a trial was held and three of those accused were convicted and sentenced to death, while certain others were convicted and sentenced to prison for longer or shorter terms. The energy with which the Government acted in this case had the effect of sending the extreme defeatists to cover for a time; but they were at work again before long.
The entry of the United States into the war was made the occasion for immense demonstrations in England and France. The American flag was mounted over the Parliament Houses at Westminster beside the national emblem, and over the Palace Bourbon beside the national Tricolor of France; and London and Paris were decorated with the Star-spangled Banner everywhere. But in Rome it was not so. The People were profoundly relieved and testified their feelings with immense cordiality; the press generally reflected this attitude, though the Clerical press manifested some disappointment. The Government confined itself to formal, but appropriate expressions of appreciation to the Government of the United States. There was scarcely an American flag displayed in Rome over a Government building, and few anywhere. An informal inquiry as to the reason elicited the reply that there were no American flags in Rome.(97) Also that the Italian People did not manifest their satisfaction in this way, and that demonstrations were likely to lead to counter-demonstrations. The latter reason appeared sounder than the former. Perhaps, another reason was that a certain scepticism prevailed among Italian public men as to America's real motives in entering the war. They could not accept the statement put forward that it was solely in the cause of Liberty and to make the World safe for Democracy. England and France, however, appeared closer to America than Italy, and their public manifestations of appreciation put Italy at a certain disadvantage with the American Public.
The other Allies pressed their advantage by sending Commissions over to the United States, composed of men of great reputation in America. At the head of the British Commission was Mr. Balfour, while Viviani and Joffre were on the French Commission. The Commissions were received with great distinction, and had much effect in securing the despatching of men and supplies to England and France. It was not until the Press insistently demanded it that Italy also sent a Commission. This Commission likewise was composed of men of high distinction---among them Nitti, afterward Premier; the Marchese Borsarelli, Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and Marconi, and was headed by a member of the Royal House, the Prince of Udine.
The effect of the Submarine war soon began to cause serious anxiety. The tale of the victims steadily increased. No sea appeared really secure and, for a time, no effective means of countering their piratical work appeared to have been devised. They infested the approaches to the shores of Great Britain, and France and Italy. They at one time crossed the Atlantic and sank ships off the American coast. They lurked about the traffic-ways of the Mediterranean and the Adriatic. While they threatened the food-supplies of the Allies, they were a constant menace to the communications of their forces in the Orient.
It was apparent that unless some efficient means were devised to counter this Submarine menace, it would become a very serious peril to the Allied cause, and so far no means devised appeared effective. The most obvious step demanded was to discover and destroy the submarine nests.
As far as concerned the Mediterranean, these were believed to be primarily the ports of the Balkan and Greek coasts and the Greek Islands. The former could not be reached; but Italy guarded, and for the most part efficiently, the Adriatic. The Greek coast and Islands were within the jurisdiction of the Allies under the general command of a French Admiral. The situation of the Allied cause was now by no means as reassuring as they might have wished. Russia was sinking into the slough of chronic Revolution and universal confusion. America had come in; but the defeatists were saying that she could never get her forces over in sufficient numbers to defeat the intrenched power and organization of the Central Empires, reinforced by the collapse of Russia. England and France were fighting desperately, holding their own and at times even making gains.
Italy was doing likewise; but the losses were frightful. The supplies were diminishing; the tonnage was being destroyed, and altogether the outlook was not as encouraging as the people were inclined to believe.
A little after the middle of April (1917) a meeting of the heads of the Governments of the Allied Powers was somewhat hastily arranged to take place at St. Jean de Maurienne, a small Alpine town on the Paris-Rome Railway, just inside the French border. Great secrecy was maintained as to the object of this conference. But it was generally understood among those interested to follow such meetings that the menacing Russian situation was one of the principal causes for calling it, and the Italian economic situation was another. The Greek situation was a third; also the chances and the means for separating Austria from Germany were reported among the subjects to which attention war, given; and there might have been other causes as well. Whether any or all of these several matters were the real causes of the Conference is not now of great importance. The Conference resulted in Italy's securing certain concessions, including the right to occupy later Smyrna. An Allied offensive of great magnitude was begun a little later on the front of every Ally.
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