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  • BR01 - Battle of Cividale del Friuli - 27 October 1917

BR01 - Battle of Cividale del Friuli - 27 October 1917

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Historical background

The battle of Cividale del Friuli on 27 October 1917 is only the first of the series of battles that were fought, during the Retreat of Caporetto by the Italian Army, in an attempt to block, or at least slow down, the Austrian and German troops that were advancing rapidly towards the Venetian plain.
These were short and furious clashes, fought by the Italians outnumbered, with few divisions sent to the front to join the battered remnants of those retreating brigades, which had already been defeated in the mountains to the East. There was no lack of courage in those soldiers, who sacrificed themselves to allow the bulk of the armies to fall back, to re-organize themselves, beyond the great natural border formed by the Tagliamento River - erroneously considered a 'natural obstacle' for the Austro-German forces. These were little-known battles fought by troops just arrived in line or by veterans demoralized and not used to having a 'defensive tactic'. Poorly coordinated efforts that failed to prevent the rapid conquest of all of Friuli and a portion of Veneto. There hadn't been time to set up fixed defense posts: there were no barbed wire obstacles, bunkers or deep trenches; and to make the situation even worse the chronic lack of support from the Italian field artillery.
The direction of attack to obtain the outlet in the plains, in the direction of Cividale del Friuli was planned by generals Below and Krafft as a target for the 14th Austro-German Army. For this reason, in the plain east of Azzida and the San Quirino bridge, at dawn on the 27th, were concentrated 5 of the 7 divisions that the German Grand Headquarters had sent to Italy to help the Austrians. Because the divisions 'Avellino' and 'Milano' had been almost completely disrupted when arrived during the first fights, against the German divisions, remained the 'Jonio' division and the 'Ferrara' division, which supported almost all the defense effort of the hills to the north-east and east of Cividale: Monte dei Bovi, Purgessimo and the ridge of the Castelmonte Sanctuary. The decision to destroy the bridges (like the wonderful one that crossed the Natisone River in Cividale, called 'Ponte del Diavolo'), did not slow down the impetus of the enemy's advance. Only the tenacious resistance and courage on the Italian side, inferior in number and armament, in front of Cividale, stopped the advance of the enemy divisions for a few hours. However, at five in the afternoon the Germans occupied Cividale while on the surrounding hills, isolated Italian formations were fought for two hours more in vain, completely surrounded by the enemy.

The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.

 

Germans

Command CardsCombat CardsHQ Tokens 10  Reserve Artillery 3  Special Personnel 8

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French

Command CardsCombat CardsHQ TokensReserve ArtillerySpecial Personnel 3


Victory Medals: 6

  • 1 Medal for each unit eliminated.
  • The German forces gain 1 Temporary Victory Medal at the start of their turn, when one or more units occupy any Cividale hexes. Place a German Victory Medal when occupied.
  • The German forces are racing against time. The Italian player, when playing a "Recon" command card, may take a Victory Medal and draw only one command card, instead of drawing two command cards.

Special Rules

  • River Natisone is fordable
  • As the Italian trenches have been dug hastily and are not deep when German player target a unit on a trench hex in ranged combat, the unit on a trench hex will ignore only 1 soldier symbol, and may ignore only 1 flag. Targeting a unit on a trench hex in close combat, the unit on a trench hex may ignore only 1 flag.

Historical Premise

The Battle of Caporetto (also known as the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo) was a battle on the Italian front of World War I. The battle was fought between the Kingdom of Italy and the Central Powers and took place from 24 October to 19 November 1917, near the town of Caporetto/Kobarid (now in north-western Slovenia), where the Italian and Austrian forces had been stalemated for two and a half years. The town was positioned on the western side of the Isonzo River, which had partially formed the boundary between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire before the war. By October 1917, the front lines ran some six or seven miles east of the river. Austro-Hungarian forces, reinforced by German units, were able to break into the Italian front line and rout the Italian forces opposing them. The battle was a demonstration of the effectiveness of the use of stormtroopers and the infiltration tactics. The use of poison gas by the Germans also played a key role in the collapse of the Italian Second Army. After the Italian success in the Battles of the Bainsizza, Austrian Emperor Karl knew a breakthrough was going to happen at any moment, as both the Austro-Hungarians and Italians were exhausted, and running out of men to sustain the war. So, he wrote to Kaiser Wilhelm II and requested that German Forces be deployed to Italy. In August 1917 Hindenburg decided to send troops from the Eastern Front to the Isonzo Sector. Later, in September three experts from the Imperial General Staff, led by the chemist Otto Hahn, went to the Isonzo front to find a site suitable for a gas attack. They proposed attacking the quiet Caporetto sector, where a good road ran west through a mountain valley to the Venetian Plain. Caporetto had been selected by the Central Powers as the target for a major offensive also because of the weakness of the Italian defence there. Italians had been involved in heavy fighting during the summer in the successful conquest of the Bainsizza plateau, and was now in a state of disarray. They hoped Caporetto would be a quiet posting. Many units were struggling with large numbers of green, poorly trained soldiers.
The Austro-Hungarian Army Group, commanded by Svetozar Boroević, was prepared for the offensive. The seven German divisions with eight Austrian divisions formed the 14th German Army under Otto von Below. The German and Austrian battle plan was to use von Below's German divisions, to attack a part of the Julian Alps which was near the northeastern corner of the Venetian salient. Meanwhile, Svetozar's Austrian army would attack the eastern end of the salient and a stretch of ground near the Adriatic shore. The German - Austrian attack at Caporetto was a classic pincer movement. One arm of the pincer (the 1st Austrian - Hungarian Corps) was to attack from the Plezzo basin down the Isonzo River valley to the town of Caporetto. The other pincer arm was to attack from the Tolmino bridgehead up the Isonzo River valley and over Mt. Nero to Caporetto. The town of Caporetto was located just behind the Italian third and last line of defense. Once they had taken Caporetto, they would be able to advance unopposed toward the upper Tagliamento River, outflanking the Italian left and force the Italians to withdraw along the entire front to avoid being encircled. Italian Army intelligence judged an enemy offensive unlikely and believed the Austrian - Hungarian Army would most probably attempt to regain territory on the Bainsizza plateau. Localized offensives were expected along the rest of the front and German participation was forecast as "very limited". The failure of Italian intelligence to discover the true size of the offensive was to have dire consequences for Italian troops during the Battle of Caporetto because, based on their flawed intelligence, the Italian 2nd Army failed to adopt an adequate defensive deployment. In anticipation of an enemy offensive, Gen. Cadorna ordered his subordinates to adopt a defensive deployment on September 18, 1917. The order was repeated on October 10th. However, Cadorna's orders were not detailed and his officers were given wide latitude on how to interpret and organize their defense. Unfortunately for the 2nd Army, the German - Austrian forces were far larger than Gen. Capello and Italian intelligence expected and they would employ innovative offensive tactics that the Italian Army was not prepared to counter.
The German Army had adopted a new offensive doctrine based on surprise. Concentrating their artillery in order to achieve local superiority where they wanted to breakthrough the Italian lines by massive gas and artillery attacks on enemy artillery and command and control centers. The concentration and number of guns per meter of the front was more than that which the Germans had deployed at Verdun. Using also the tactic of infiltration, infantry units did not attack in waves, but rather in agile columns that allowed the Germans to achieve local numerical superiority at those places were they wanted to achieve a breakthrough. Once past the first line trenches, the columns continued to drive into the enemy rear without stopping to secure their flanks. Enemy units were then surrounded and lines of communications were cut off. Together with this 'war of movement' method, the Austro-German divisions had a modern weapon that gave them a tactical superiority: the 08/15 portable machine gun which weighed only 20 kg compared to the Italian one (Fiat 1914) of 70 kg.! Small units equipped with these light automatic weapons, exploited the folds and shelters of the ground to hit the enemy on the side or from behind.
On October 24, after four hours of shelling with gas (a mix of fosgen and difenilcloroarsin) and one hour of general bombardment, the Battle of Caporetto began...
The Waffentrue, the Austro-Germanic offensive that produced the retreat of Caporetto did not lead to the defeat of the Italian Royal Army. The Austro-German breakthrough on the upper Isonzo front, between 24 and 26 October, led the divisions in just 3 days in the Friuli plain and threatened the existence of the entire Italian array, extended from the Carnic Alps to the Adriatic Sea. The Italian Army retreated 150 kilometres to the Piave river, where this reorganized behind the Piave-Grappa line, where it managed to stop the enemy advance. The massive retreat of one and a half million Italian soldiers and hundreds of thousands of civilians across the plain in those days, from the eastern front where they had been deployed in mountain trenches and engaged in strenuous and continuous offensive actions since 1915, was inevitably characterized by confusion, improvisation and caused many losses, including deaths and prisoners. If the Italian Army was able to continue fighting protected by the Piave River and, a year later, to win the war, it was thanks to the cover actions undertaken by the units left as a rearguard.

Bibliography:
Bollini G. et al., La grande guerra italiana. Le battaglie. Le 12 battaglie dell'Isonzo, le tre del Piave, le battaglie sul Grappa e sugli Altipiani, Udine 2015.

 

 

Tags: German, Medals: 6

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