War diary

October 1917: the “Wonder of Caporetto”

Towards the end of the 1917 war year, all warring parties reached the limits of their tolerance. The effort over the years, both on the fronts and in the hinterland, had already made the euphoria of the war disappear. In the best cases, stagnation prevailed, in the worst cases, riots and mass desertions took place. However, from the point of view of the Monarchy, the war situation was not bad. The Russian Empire was on the verge of collapse and had to face revolution and civil war. All enemy countries in the Balkans were defeated. The front line survived only because, relying on Greece, which was annexed by the Entente, English troops from the southern corner of Albania to the present-day Greek border were deployed for defense. Only one serious belligerent opponent of the Monarchy remained: Italy.

In October 1917, the Monarchy, which had reached the limit of its strength, was no longer able to conduct an independent offensive operation. Therefore, for the attack against Italy, significant German reinforcements arrived in the area of the upper reaches of the Isonzo. Austro-Hungarian troops reinforced with German units launched an attack on October 24. After a short artillery preparation, the edge with assault troops successfully broke through the depth of the Italian defense lines in the vicinity of the Tolmein bridgehead. The attack soon unfolded on the entire Isonzo front. A significant part of the demoralized Italian troops was taken prisoner, and the remnants of the troops flowed back in a disorderly manner. The retreating Italians were chased quickly and efficiently even in the Italian lowlands. Much of the weapons and technical equipment of the forces deployed in the region fell into the hands of the attackers.

Many minor and major details can be highlighted regarding the attack. One of these was Lieutenant Árpád Bertalan’s action on October 24 in the vicinity of Globocak mountain peak. His assault patrol of 15 penetrated two enemy positions while capturing a heavy howitzer battery and a field first aid station. The patrol came from the crew of the 3rd Bosnian rifle battalion belonging to the 7th mountain brigade. A breathtakingly exciting description of the raid patrol route can be read here. Lieutenant Bertalan’s story is interesting because in 1918 he received the officer’s gold medal for valor for this act of war. In 1927, he received the Knight’s Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresia. Bertalan later became the commander of the Hungarian Royal Parachute Battalion. On April 12, 1941, he died in an air accident during deployment.

Another trifle worth mentioning is Ernest Hemingway’s famous novel, A Farewell to Arms. In it, one of the volunteers of the American troops sent to support the Italians becomes a spiritual victim of the seemingly hopeless war. He is trying to get behind the Austro-Hungarian front line on Lake Garda with his lover, to desert. The novel presents the extreme disillusionment at the end of 1917 using the example of one of the later great winners of the war, a soldier of the USA.

The badge attached to the post is a nice badge of the 35th Division. The soldier’s portrait with an assault helmet and the inscription Lom Plateu remind us of the area and the action committed by Lieutenant Bertalan and many other assault soldiers who fought there in October 1917. As a supplement, I also present a picture of an unknown storm trooper.

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