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  • BR02 - Retreat of Caporetto - The Battle of Ragogna - 30 October - 3 November 1917

BR02 - Retreat of Caporetto - The Battle of Ragogna - 30 October - 3 November 1917

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Historical background

The large Italian retreat after the collapse of the Isonzo's front had to be covered by rear units. One of these commanded by Major General Antonio di Giorgio, was deployed on the middle course of the Tagliamento River. Cadorna ordered him to defend the bridges of Pinzano and Cornino to the bitter end. In the general chaos and 'fog of war' of those hours this was a far-sighted decision. In fact, von Below, had immediately identified bridges as primary objectives and given the order, on the night of October 27, to conquer bridges before the destruction of the enemy.
The Italian defenses were concentrated on shallow trenches on the flanks and slopes of Mount Ragogna -an elongated 500-meter-high moraine hill that dominates the three bridges and the bend in the river- and on the islet of Clapat. The Ragogna bridgehead was garrisoned by the 'Bologna' brigade and by elements of the 'Barletta'. The islet of Clapat, in the middle of the wide Tagliamento river bed, controlled the two sections of the Cornino road and railway bridge. several hundred infantrymen of the 'Siracusa' and 'Genova' brigades, armed with machine guns, were assigned to its defense. Few Italian artillery batteries with few ammunition were placed on the slopes of the mountains on the right shore, still Italian.
The battle of the middle Tagliamento began on the evening of October 30, when, after the conquest of San Daniele, the 12th German Infantry Division, the 50th and 55th divisions and part of the 13th Austrian 'Schutzen' division, advanced to attack the Italian troops who defended the bridge of Pinzano (180 mt. of reinforced concrete), Pontaiba (wooden bridge) and the largest bridge of Cornino.
At dawn on the 31st the Austrians of the 50th and the Germans of the 12th attack the village of Ragogna, conquering the center (S.Giacomo). The next day a furious attack by the Austro-Germans broke out, armed with deadly light machine guns L.M.G. 08/15 but they are rejected 300 meters from the Pinzano bridge. The Italian engineers set the Pontaiba bridge on fire and thus the only escape route for the Bologna infantrymen remains the Pinzano bridge which they are defending strenuously. On the right, meanwhile, the Austro-Hungarian 50th division managed to conquer the north-eastern and central sectors of Monte di Ragogna, making the Italian defenders move back to S. Pietro (village of Ragogna). Fearing that the Pinzano bridge would fall intact in the enemy's hands, at 11:25 am it is blown up by the Italians, condemning the units that they continued in fighting in Ragogna area to imprisonment. They resisted until the afternoon, when they were overwhelmed. The Italian artillery contributed to the size of the tragedy because, after the demolition of the bridge, opened repression fire towards the mountain of Ragogna, killing hundreds of Italians and Austrians. Of the 5000 soldiers of 'Bologna' only 500 were able to cross the river. At this point all efforts were concentrated against the Italian defenses at the Cornino bridge, damaged but not demolished by the Italian rearguards. The 55th Austrian division had already attacked in force on 30 October but the garrison of the little island of Plat had repelled the attack. From 1 November the Italians decided to retire to the right bank of the river and the engineers blew up 20 meters of railway embankment. On the evening of November 2 the Austro-Hungarians launched a surprise assault that caused the breakthrough of weak Italian line: with a perfect support action of the artillery, lined up in front line, Bosnian soldiers overcame the Tagliamento with walkways placed on the damaged pillars and by surprise they fell on the shore right. The 'Lombardia' brigade spread over a large front in the mountains behind the bridge, failed to counterattack effectively. Reinforcements immediately rushed to consolidate the Bosnian bridgehead and the Italian front, after 3 days of resistance, disarticulated on 3 November. At that point the Italian supreme command ordered the general retreat from the Tagliamento to the Piave river.

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

 

Italians

Command CardsCombat CardsHQ TokensReserve ArtillerySpecial Personnel 3

Germans

Command CardsCombat CardsHQ Tokens 10  Reserve ArtillerySpecial Personnel 8
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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 of the bridge hexes. Place a German Victory Medal when occupied. A German infantry unit is engineer unit, when in an adjacent hex to a damaged bridge of Pontaiba may repair the damaged bridge. If the damaged bridge is rebuilt, flip the damaged bridge token over to the bridge side.
  • 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

  • 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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