Luigi Cadorna (Pallanza, September 4, 1850 – Bordighera, December 21, 1928) was an Italian general and politician.The son of General Raffaele Cadorna, he became chief of the General Staff in 1914 after the sudden death of General Alberto Pollio and directed the operations of the Royal Army in World War I from Italy”s entry into the conflict on May 24, 1915, to the defeat at Caporetto.
Cadorna, having trained and armed a large army, but without having had the opportunity to fully understand all its strengths and weaknesses, conceived his command in almost absolute terms, inspired by principles of rigidity and harsh discipline. To this he added a high sense of duty that sacrificed everything to the achievement of victory. With this in mind, while not lacking in some tactical-strategic insights, he was essentially a staunch advocate of the all-out frontal assault to put the Hapsburg enemy to the test, despite the fact that this entailed huge losses of men even for the Italian army.
As a result, for more than two years it continued to deliver harsh and bloody “shoves” against the fortified Austro-Hungarian defensive lines on the Isonzo and Karst, achieving modest results in territorial advance. In 1916 he obtained some favorable results when the Italian army, having arrested the strafexpedition succeeded in occupying Gorizia. In the wake of these events, Cadorna centralized the conduct of the war even more in his hands and tightened his resolve. In particular, he introduced by ordinance in November the use of decimation, a practice dating back to ancient Rome and absolutely not provided for in the military penal code, an act that was roundly disapproved even by the Caporetto Commission of Inquiry, which called it a “savage measure, which nothing can justify.”
Other circulars issued by Cadorna on the disciplinary front completely changed the army”s modus operandi: if already at the beginning of the war the practice of publicizing throughout the army the exoneration of senior officers for manifest inability to command and of publicizing the names of military personnel who had deserted, in 1916 and 1917 orders of the day also began to be issued pointing out, for example, officers who had had straggling soldiers shot at or placing officers guilty of failing to maintain firm discipline in their departments on the Index:
The battles of 1917 further wore down the Austrian front that nevertheless did not give in at a very high cost, the Italian army between the Tenth and Eleventh Battles of the Isonzo between dead and wounded lost 320. 000 men; moreover, the crescendo of ruthless discipline, excessive rigidity imposed on his troops, contributed with other factors to the dramatic collapse of Caporetto, the result of the Austro-German offensive of October 24, which took him by surprise and forced him to beat a retreat to the line of the Piave, maintained, in the chaos created also in terms of command, only thanks to the newfound tenacity of Italian soldiers. Held responsible for the defeat, which he instead attributed to the lack of combativeness of some units, he was replaced by General Armando Diaz. Luigi Cadorna remains a debated and controversial figure of World War I and Italian history.
During the maneuvers of May 1895, still in command of the 10th Regiment, he had the opportunity to point out for the first time those tactical principles that later formed the basis of his unwavering belief in the all-out offensive. In 1896, having abandoned operational assignments, he assumed the post of chief of staff of the Florence Army Corps; during Commander Gen. Morra”s leave, the latter was replaced by Crown Prince (later V.E. III), who told him, “An intelligent officer like you should be made general at once.” In 1898, with his promotion to lieutenant general, he joined the army”s inner circle of senior officers. His rise, though slow, proved steady in spite of his numerous recriminations against alleged obstructionism by superiors. In the same year he faced his first snub, when, having made available the post of inspector general of the Alpines, he was preferred to General Hensch. In 1900 he ran into a second setback: having abandoned the command of the War School to General Alberto Cerruti, he was passed over by General Luigi Zuccari; Cadorna was instead assigned the command of the “Pistoia” Brigade, then stationed in L”Aquila, which he held for the next four years: to that period dates the compilation of a manual devoted to infantry attack methods, in which Cadorna had the opportunity to reiterate his confidence in offensive tactics, then in vogue in the army.
In 1905 he assumed command of the Ancona military division, and in 1907 he headed the Naples military division with the rank of lieutenant general, finally reaching the highest echelons of the armed forces. In the same year his name was first mentioned as a possible successor to General Tancredi Saletta, who was in very poor health, to the supreme post of army chief of staff. But the following year, with Saletta finally abandoning the post, Cadorna was given preference to General Alberto Pollio: neither Cadorna”s proclaimed feelings of hostility toward the then head of government Giovanni Giolitti, nor a letter he had sent on March 9 to Ugo Brusati, the King”s first aide and brother of that Roberto Brusati, future commander of the 1st Army, who in 1916 would be dismissed by Cadorna himself before the Battle of the Highlands, were surely unrelated to this reversal.
In response to Brusati”s probing of Cadorna”s future intentions after obtaining the post, and especially with regard to the maintenance of the prerogatives of the King (formally commander-in-chief of the army), about whose respect he evidently wanted to obtain formal assurances, with little diplomatic spirit but intellectual and moral honesty he replied by upholding the principle of the unicity and indivisibility of command: in that circumstance, although the powers of the sovereign were enshrined in the Albertine Statute, Cadorna was determined to make clear how, in his view, the responsibility for the command of the army rested de facto with the chief of staff alone.
Although by his statements he was then aware that he had taken himself out of the game with his own hands, Pollio”s appointment inaugurated a season of difficult relations between the two high personalities, destined to end only in 1914, with the latter”s death. Cadorna”s bitterness at being preferred over his colleague (disliked in certain circles for his humble origins, the son of a former captain in the Bourbon army) was compounded by strident contrasts of a doctrinal nature, where to the rigid offensive approach of Cadorna”s tactical thinking the new chief of staff contrasted operational conceptions marked by greater flexibility, and founded on an awareness of the role of artillery and modern firearms on the battlefield. Cadorna continued his career, however, and in 1911 he assumed command of the Genoa Army Corps.
The following year the conflict with the Ottoman Empire broke out, and although Cadorna represented the candidate in pectore for the command of an army corps destined for overseas service, in the conduct of military operations in Libya he was preferred to General Carlo Caneva. Cadorna, at the threshold of sixty-one years of age, had not yet received any operational command in the theater of war: this delay would prove advantageous for him, however, since he could go into the test of the First World War boasting a career free of the setbacks that had dotted the recent history of Italian arms, from the Abyssinian campaign culminating in the defeat at Adua, to the bloody and costly military operations against the Libyan guerrillas (folded only in 1934).
Chief of staff
On the morning of July 1, 1914, General Alberto Pollio died suddenly, crushed by a heart attack. A few days earlier, on June 28, Gavrilo Princip had assassinated Crown Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his consort Sophie Chotek in Sarajevo. The following July 27, King Victor Emmanuel III, on the recommendation of General Baldissera, offered the post to Cadorna: the latter made the condition, in order not to repeat the mistakes of the wars of the Risorgimento, that he would depend, hierarchically and institutionally, only on the King and not on the government. The King agreed, telling him “my authority will serve only to make everyone obey it.” Cadorna then took possession of the office of chief of staff. On July 23, the Austro-Hungarian Empire had delivered its ultimatum to Serbia, triggering a chain reaction that, after the unraveling of a series of diplomatic crises and political-military countermoves, led to the outbreak of World War I within weeks.
The army that the general inherited from his predecessor was facing a difficult period of transition: the modernization process, slowed significantly by the country”s poor industrial capacities, was compounded by the expenditure of materiel required by the Libyan campaign and the related organizational and logistical upheaval caused by the readiness of the substantial expeditionary force: by 1914, that is, two years after the official conclusion of hostilities, the 35,000 men initially sent had risen to 55,000, insufficient in any case to come to grips with the state of guerrilla warfare that troubled the new Italian colonial possession. .
The preparation for war
Cadorna according to the provisions of the Triple Alliance treaty, began to organize the army for intervention against France, due to the absolute lack of communication between politicians and the military he was not informed that the government was studying the possibility of abandoning its current allies.
On July 31, the same day the cabinet decided on neutrality Cadorna sent the king his war plan that contemplated the deployment of an entire army corps alongside Germany against the French, a plan that was approved by Victor Emmanuel on August 2, while at the same time neutrality was proclaimed.
Cadorna at the moment when Italy was renouncing its obligations to the Allies began to encourage Foreign Minister Antonino Paternò Castello di San Giuliano to take immediate action against Austria by taking advantage of the situation at the time, which saw the Hapsburg armies engaged in fighting on the eastern fronts and in Serbia, the calls went on throughout August.
The confusing political situation did not alert anyone to the stances taken by the Army Chief of Staff, which in the space of a few hours based on political happenings had radically changed again and again without any assessment of their own forces in the field.
In early October 1914 Cadorna commissioned General Vittorio Zupelli to prepare the army for an approaching war. In Zupelli”s intentions there was a plan to have 1,400,000 men operational and armed by the late spring of 1915.
Salandra and Sonnino initiated negotiations that would lead to the London Pact (the defensive nature of the treaty and Austria-Hungary”s failure to warn Italy of the invasion of Serbia were recalled). Initiated on March 4, the negotiations lasted until April 26, while the uncertainty then reigning in political-diplomatic circles, a consequence of conduct marked by similar opportunistic criteria, led to a significant delay in issuing the first mobilization orders.
The latter was in fact initiated, and in a partial form, only on March 1, while the vagueness of the political directives and the absence of an effective spirit of collaboration (the mediation of the King was completely lacking) between the government and the military leadership prompted the general staff, in the person of Cadorna, to accelerate war preparations on its own initiative. As had happened almost a year earlier on the outbreak of war on the other fronts, military measures ended up forcing the hand of politics, finally prompting the Salandra cabinet to enter into binding agreements with the Entente powers, which provided for Italy”s declaration of war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire within a month of the ratification of the agreements.
After initial arrangements for a secret partial mobilization on April 23, general mobilization was initiated on May 4 with Italy”s exit from the Triple Alliance with the prospect of going to war against Austria-Hungary by the 26th of the same month.
World War I
Come the war, obtained from the government a freedom of action that was unparalleled by those of its colleagues in the Triple Entente
On April 23, 1915 Cadorna began the partial and secret mobilization of the army, 8 army corps out of 14 were put on the war footing and soon after the remaining 6, even before the government ordered general mobilization the army would be able to invade Austria by the end of May.
The start of military operations took place on May 23, Cadorna”s field forces were impressive, 35 infantry divisions, 9 territorial militia divisions, 4 mounted divisions and one special infantry division of the Bersaglieri, 52 battalions of Alpini,14 battalions of sappers, several battalions of Carabinieri and Guardie di finanza. The artillery had 467 batteries and nearly 2,000 pieces including cannons and howitzers.
According to Cadorna”s plans, the 2nd and 3rd armies would easily break through the weak Austrian defenses and then advance rapidly toward Ljubljana and from there threaten Vienna directly.
The forces were advanced slowly toward the course of the Isonzo against weak resistance just beyond the border. Fighting did not flare up until the completion of the muster in mid-June, and the offensive thrust intended by Cadorna reached its peak between the 25th and 30th.
After some initial chess, costing heavy losses, Mount Nero was taken on June 16 by a lightning assault of six Alpine battalions while the remaining peaks remained in Austrian hands.
That same day General Pietro Frugoni ordered the suspension of the offensive operations of the 2nd Army against Plava, a position that would again be the scene of fierce fighting during the second and third battles of the Isonzo. Frugoni”s order thus brought to an end the first phase of the offensive, which according to official reports had already cost the army losses of 11,000 men dead and wounded, although today we tend to believe that these amounted to at least double that number.
On May 23 and 28, the Supreme Command temporarily installed itself in Fagagna at Villa Volpe before moving to Udine in June to the Liceo Classico Jacopo Stellini, Cadorna surrounded himself with a close group of subordinates he would call “my little General Staff” consisting of Roberto Bencivenga, Ugo Cavallero, Pietro Pintor, Tommaso Gallarati Scotti and Camillo Casati, a group of “helpers ” as the general himself would define them on more than one letter who like all officers of the Supreme Command counted for nothing. Cadorna did not want anyone beside him who could give him shade and with whom he could share opinions, as General Giuseppe Ettore Viganò had occasion to write in his memoirs.
The behavior of the generals commanding the large units was not up to the situation: the advance was conducted too cautiously, so much so that Cadorna dismissed the cavalry commander. On the other hand, Cadorna thought that a large part of the generals, selected during peacetime, were unsuited to the demands of war.
From the outset of the war, the Italian 1st Army, deployed along the Trentino Front under the command of General Roberto Brusati, which maintained a sustained offensive thrust throughout the summer and fall of 1915 on the entire front from Pasubio to Valsugana.
Beginning in February 1916, the command of the 1st Army reported an increasing concentration of enemy troops in the sector, this was Marshal Conrad”s so-called “Strafexpedition,” General Brusati, as General Roberto Bencivenga would report, continued to accentuate the offensive deployment and decided to make maximum resistance on the advanced positions. Brusati asked for reinforcements, and Cadorna provided him with five divisions that were deployed in advanced positions.
At the end of April 1916 Cadorna during an inspection of the lines of the 1st Army noted the forward imbalance of the deployment, and the additional defensive lines planned and requested by him behind the front line were practically nonexistent, yet completely ignoring reports of the massing of troops on the border and plans of attack detected by Austrian deserters., he did not order the army to fall back from the advanced positions to those behind and did not grant reinforcements.
Cadorna continued to ignore any news that did not corroborate his hunches, Major Tullio Marchetti of the 1st Army”s intelligence office sent daily data on the impending attack, defectors who minutely described strategic conditions, the amount and disposition of forces in the field, Cesare Battisti himself to put Cadorna on notice got no results.
On May 8 he responded to General Brusati”s insistence that he renew alarms about an impending attack by removing him from command; guilty in Cadorna”s eyes of lacking confidence and panicking, he was replaced with General Guglielmo Pecori Giraldi.
What would go down in history as the Battle of the Highlands had the ambitious goal of exploiting the Trentino salient, which, deeply wedged in Italian territory, threatened the Isonzo deployment from behind where the bulk of the Italian army was stationed. Starting from the plateaus of Folgaria and Lavarone, the Austro-Hungarian forces launched their assault on May 15, 1916, after a long series of postponements determined by adverse weather conditions. The immediate results were encouraging because of the poor defensive value (lines subject to the fire of the powerful Austrian artillery) of the Italian deployment: during the first days the offensive led to the capture of Arsiero and Asiago, two important points of access to the southern plains, and the capture of 40,000 prisoners and 300 guns.
On May 25, 1916, the Padua Reserve Army Command was transformed into the 5th Army, 179,000 men and assigning its command to General Frugoni.
It is assumed that this force was deployed as a reserve at the disposal of the Supreme Command, ready to be deployed in case the Austrian offensive in Trentino succeeded in breaking through the front, the threat did not materialize, since even in the sector of maximum penetration, that of the Asiago Plateau, the Austrian offensive was contained already within the first fortnight of June.
The Austro-Hungarian forces continued to enjoy a series of minor tactical successes, but the stiffening of the Italian defense, and at the same time the lengthening of lines of communication and the expected overloading of the limited logistical network that Conrad could dispose of in Trentino made the coveted prospect of a strategic breakthrough fade. The Brusilov offensive, finally unleashed in Galicia, brought about the final cessation of any offensive movement and the rapid redeployment to the east of the main large units engaged in the offensive.
As soon as Cadorna assessed that the Austrian attack would be unsuccessful, he transported by all available means (rail and wheeled) the forces at his disposal to the Isonzo front surprising the Austrians. Taking the city of Gorizia and advancing 5 kilometers of the front cost the Italian army 21,000 dead and over 30,000 wounded.
Russia”s exit from the war as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution changed the strategic situation (the ratios of forces) by releasing large German forces which, after two months of training and training in Slovenia in the technique of infiltration, were directed against the Italian front with the aim of relieving Austria of a situation close to collapse. Accordingly, Cadorna ordered the all-out defense, which involved staggering the artillery and troops in depth in order to remove them from the expected violent preparation of enemy artillery. But these orders were not carried out by the commander of the 2nd Army, who had mistakenly assessed his forces on a par with those of the adversary and envisaged their maneuvering employment incompatible with their training and framing as well as physical training, which was incompatible with remaining in the trenches.On the Isonzo front, Cadorna had arranged, to the south (north (left bank), the 2nd Army, commanded by General Luigi Capello and consisting of eight army corps. The Austro-German offensive began at 2 a.m. on October 24, 1917, with artillery preparation shots, first with gas, then with shells until about 5:30 a.m. At about 6 a.m. very violent destruction firing began in preparation for the infantry attack. Reports from the artillery command of the 27th Army Corps (Colonel Gunner) indicate that the firing between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. produced very slight casualties but hit commands and lines of communication with extreme precision. Only in the Plezzo and Tolmino basin did the gases have appreciable effects at the bottom of the Isonzo valley.
The infantry attack began at 8 a.m. with an immediate breakthrough on the left wing, in the Plezzo basin on the left flank of the 2nd Army. That part of the front was garrisoned to the south, between Tolmino and Gabrije (a village halfway between Tolmino and Caporetto), by Pietro Badoglio”s 27th Army Corps, which had deployed only one company of the 19th Div. in the valley floor, annihilated by gas. Complicating matters was the situation – only slightly less dramatic – of the front of the 4th Army Corps (Cavaciocchi), bordering to the south with the Army Corps commanded by Badoglio.The real disaster, in fact, began when the enemy arrived at Caporetto from both sides of the Isonzo because they could easily outflank the entire 4th Corps.
The lack of response of the Italian artillery on the front of the 27th Army Corps (530 large- and medium-caliber pieces aimed at the Plezzo basin) is one of the established reasons for the breakthrough (the shortage of ammunition due simply to the fact that the government considered it too expensive also influenced it); Gen. Badoglio, as a result of enemy fire, which had pinpointed his position because he was transmitting in the clear, lost connection with Col. Cannoneer, who, as per his orders, remained inert. Wedged between the two army corps and in a more rearward position had also been very hastily placed the 7th Army Corps commanded by General Luigi Bongiovanni. Its effectiveness was nil. The lack of reserves behind the 4th Army Corps (on the army line), was undoubtedly one of the main reasons that contributed to the defeat.
Badoglio, despite being only a few kilometers from the front, learned of the enemy infantry attack only around noon, and was only able to report it to the 2nd Army command (Gen. Capello) a few hours later. Cadorna learned of the seriousness of the breakthrough and the fact that the enemy had captured some strong positions only at 10 p.m.
Beyond the responsibilities of individual small and medium-sized units, the major faults of a strategic order can only be attributed to the Italian Supreme Military Command (Luigi Cadorna) for failing to supervise the execution of his orders, and to the army command concerned (Gen. Capello) for failing to carry out the order to assume a defensive deployment, while those of a tactical order to the three army corps commanders involved (Badoglio, then Cavaciocchi and Bongiovanni). All were found guilty by the 1918-19 commission of inquiry of first instance, with the sole exception of Badoglio.
However, the most puzzling and objectively mysterious tactical error was undoubtedly made by Badoglio on his left flank (right bank of the Isonzo between the Austrian bridgehead in front of Tolmin and Caporetto). This line, a few kilometers long, formed the boundary between the area assigned to Badoglio”s Army Corps (right bank) and the area assigned to Cavaciocchi”s IV Army Corps (left bank). Despite the fact that all information pointed precisely to this line as the direction of the enemy attack, the right bank was left practically undefended with only the garrison of small units, while the bulk of the 19th Division and the Naples Brigade were perched on the mountains above. In the presence of dense fog and rain, the Italian troops at high altitude were not at all aware of the Germans passing through the valley floor, and in only 4 hours, the German units moved up the right bank arriving intact at Caporetto, surprising the units of the 4th Army Corps from behind.
Following the fall of the front and the risk that the army”s retreat would be cut off, Cadorna on the night of October 26 ordered a general retreat to the right of the Tagliamento.
The 2nd Army had been overwhelmed by the Austrian forces in the northern wing losing ten divisions but in the bulk of the troops 20 divisions deployed across the Isonzo from the Bainsizza plateau to Gorizia were intact and solid, Cadorna without listening to their commanders decided that these divisions were undermined by the uprising and therefore should be sacrificed to protect the retreat of the 10 divisions of the 3rd Army stationed on the Karst.
On 27October Cadorna abandoned Udine with his entire command and moved to Treviso more than 100 km from the front without caring to leave a temporary command in the area to gather information and liaise with the moving troops who were left without a guide.
On Oct. 28, Cadorna sent War Bulletin 887 in which he shifted all responsibility for the breakthrough of the front to Italian soldiers:
Cadorna gave orders to General Antonino di Giorgio to secure possession of the section of the river in which the Cornino and Pinzano bridges were included, guaranteeing deployment on the Tagliamento in the plains.Between Oct. 30 and Nov. 3 at the Battle of Ragogna the Austrians succeeded in outmaneuvering the Italian forces and passed the Tagliamento forcing the Italians unable to hold the river line implemented a confused strategic retreat to the Piave.
On October 25, 1917, the Italian parliament denied confidence in the government headed by Paolo Boselli, who was forced to resign. On Oct. 30 the government was reconstituted under the leadership of Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, who had already in talks in the previous days requested the King to remove Cadorna. Meanwhile, the supreme commander of the French army General Ferdinand Foch and General William Robertson, chief of staff of the British army, arrived in Treviso.
On the night of Oct. 30-31, Cadorna ordered the 4th Army, deployed in Cadore under the command of General Mario Nicolis di Robilant, to accelerate its fallback movement on the right of the Piave River, which was to garrison the sector between Val Brenta and Vidor by occupying Monte Grappa. The Duke of Aosta, commander of the 3rd Army, had already succeeded in securing his troops west of the Piave. Di Robilant belatedly and reluctantly carried out Cadorna”s order, so much so that on November 3, seeing the plan to weld the two armies together on the new defensive line in danger, the supreme commander had to reiterate the order to fall back.
On the evening of Nov. 3, General Cadorna had Colonel Gatti leave for Rome with a letter to Prime Minister Orlando in which he stated that the situation was “critical” and could “from one moment to the next become extremely critical and assume a character of exceptional gravity, should the enemy offensive which, through multiple indications, seems imminent on the Trentino front, be launched with such violence that our forces would be unequal to facing it.”
On Nov. 6 and 7, the Rapallo Conference, an inter-allied summit between the political and military leaders of the Entente, was held, attended by the Head of Government, the Prime Ministers of France and Britain, and Generals Foch and Robertson; General Cadorna did not show up and sent General Carlo Porro in his place with a statement by Cadorna where he declared that the offensive had been led by 35 German divisions (5 times the actual number) and attributed the defeat to soldiers and politicians.
At a preparatory meeting the foreign representatives bitterly objected to Cadorna”s statements and immediately advocated his removal from command, and replacement by the Duke of Aosta. At the next day”s summit, Cadorna”s replacement was imposed as a condition for sending Allied reinforcements, and the establishment of an Allied Supreme War Council was proposed, of which Generals Foch for France, Wilson for Britain, and Cadorna for Italy were to be members.
Participants at the Rapallo summit moved to Peschiera on Nov. 8 to report the results to the King, who opposed the appointment of the Duke of Aosta but confirmed Cadorna”s removal as head of supreme command deploring his actions.
General Armando Diaz, until then commander of the XXIII Army Corps, was appointed supreme commander of the Italian army by Decree of Nov. 9, replacing Cadorna, who, after an initial refusal, accepted the post of representative to the Inter-Allied War Council.
However, Cadorna”s hunch, expressed in a letter of Nov. 3, of an imminent attack on the Trentino front proved right: on Nov. 9, the tail of the 4th Army and three divisions of the 12th Army Corps retreating from Carnia were overwhelmed with heavy losses by the Austro-German 14th Army, which, after forcing the Cornino Bridge over the Tagliamento River on Nov. 2, had begun an eccentric maneuver with respect to the main axis of advance. The 3rd Army stood on the left of the Piave River from the Priula Bridge to the sea on November 9, while the 4th had not yet completed its deployment. This delay allowed the 4th Army to secure medium- and large-caliber artillery, which contributed so much to saving the Grappa.
A senator from 1913 to 1928, Cadorna did not join fascism. In 1924 Benito Mussolini surprisingly appointed him Marshal of Italy and he was completely rehabilitated as a result of pressure from the Great War amputee Carlo Delcroix, president of the veterans” association.
He died in Bordighera on December 21, 1928 at the “Pensione Jolie,” later to become the “Hotel Britannique.” A memorial plaque was placed on the facade of the building. His body rests in a mausoleum, designed by architect Marcello Piacentini, in his hometown (Pallanza) along Lake Maggiore.
In 1931 a light cruiser of the Regia Marina was named in his honor; surviving World War II, the unit entered the Navy until 1951, when it was decommissioned. His son Raphael, named in honor of his grandfather, also pursued a military career and participated in World War II and commanded, after the unconditional surrender of Italian troops to the Allies in September 1943, the partisan forces in northern Italy gathered in the Volunteers for Freedom Corps.
One lesson that could be learned in 1915 from the terrible slaughter that raged on all fronts was that the will to fight was a fundamental and indispensable condition of any army however, by itself was not enough to defeat artillery nor the lack of proper training and preparation. The Austrian army after losing almost 2 million men dead and wounded had learned that modern weapons, machine guns and artillery, dominated the battlefield.
Cadorna did not embrace these lessons, and the official instructions given to the commands on how to deploy troops on the battlefield faithfully followed the strategic vision of their commander-in-chief, who had planned a mobile offensive warfare of exactly the type fought on the other fronts and which had produced a massacre, massive infantry assaults devoid of direct artillery support.
According to some, the main shortcomings evidenced by the army”s conduct, especially during the first months of the war, were of a more tactical nature: the crucial one-month delay, due to the need to complete mobilization, in orchestrating the first Isonzo offensive in fact allowed the Austrians to concentrate their few regimented troops sufficiently to halt the Italian advance. Cadorna”s generals hesitated when faced with the prospect of rapid action, and in this way the opportunity for an easy advance as far as Trieste, possible because of the absence of significant enemy forces along the Isonzo front, was wasted (the commanding general of the cavalry was removed for this hesitation). The Commission of Inquiry into Caporetto (vol. II, p. 189) found that the serious tactical flaws remarked upon during the execution of the offensives, were due to “the misapplication of the correct criteria of the circular -Frontal attack and tactical training-, by certain commanders.”
His strategic competence was different: his determination to strike against lines that were gradually stiffening can be traced to his well-known stubbornness but also to his conviction that wars are won by concentrating the mass of one”s men on the enemy”s weak front. His consistency with objective force relations enabled him to understand the Austrian mistake of attacking in Trentino (1916) while the Russians were preparing an offensive in Galicia, and to seize the victory of Gorizia. In ”17 he knew how to assess the consequences of the Bolshevik revolution(Russia”s exit from the war) and drew the consequences: since with the recovered forces the alliance could have attacked simultaneously from the Isonzo and Trentino, he prepared a defensive line that shortened the front by 200 km. with Mount Grappa as its fulcrum (study Gen. Meozzi published in Caporetto by Tiziano Bertè
Among the accusations most levelled at him is his disregard for soldiers” lives, which speak of brutal discipline, excessive punishment and inadequate management of men. In this regard, Cadorna”s circulars written to urge military tribunals not to “waste time in laborious interpretations of law,” and to urge officers to extend the practice of summary shootings and decimations, are well known.
Cadorna should also be credited with understanding, unique among Allied generals, that the mass of the Allied armies would have to be concentrated against Austria because it was the weakest opponent (Liddel Hart – History of World War I) and that artillery would play a crucial role based on the observation that the losses suffered by the Austrians in these early clashes were inflicted precisely by Italian cannon fire.
Schindler again recalls how for the third battle of the Isonzo as many as 1,372 guns were mustered, 305 of which were large caliber: data that lead the author to identify precisely in Cadorna the first great interpreter of the so-called Materialschlacht, a natural consequence of the war of attrition induced by the advent of the trenches. Again, the reasoning behind Cadorna”s decisions followed a simple quantitative logic (in relation to the quality of troops, terrain characteristics, logistical situation and alliances), based on the approach of providing more firepower to undermine increasingly extensive and deep entrenchments. In conclusion, however, it should be pointed out that the confrontation set up by Cadorna according to the terms of the Materialschlacht would have inevitably led Austria-Hungary to defeat by virtue of the sheer disparity of the forces in play: already at the time of the conquest of Gorizia, Cadorna had just begun to chip away at his own human reserves, while the Austro-Hungarians had to face at that time the first serious crisis since the beginning of operations. It is often forgotten that in the aftermath of the Eleventh Battle of the Isonzo the Austrian situation had become desperate, with only Mount Ermada now left to bar the way for the Italian advance across the Karst towards Trieste: resistance had reached breaking point, and it was precisely this evidence that induced the German High Command to finally grant the coveted reinforcements that led to the establishment of the 14th Army in preparation for that planned lightening offensive that ultimately led for Italy to the defeat of Caporetto
More complex is the assessment of Cadorna as a commander of men, and of his despotism in the management of the army. Within the army he was able to enjoy freedoms quite unknown to other Allied commanders, and his influence extended to the point of conditioning the actions and directions of the Ministry of War and the government itself, especially under the submissive Boselli government; from the fall of the Salandra II government, as a consequence of the Strafexpedition launched by the Austrians, until Caporetto, the general concentrated in his own hands powers and prerogatives comparable only to those of the “military dictatorship” established de facto in Germany by General Falkenhayn and later by the Hindenburg-Ludendorff duo.
Because of this state of affairs Cadorna was able to exercise his power in an authoritarian manner, making and unmaking the senior cadres of the armed forces: much discussed in particular was the practice of indiscriminate torpedoings, which played such a part in seriously undermining the morale and combativeness of the army. Raising from command for the most disparate reasons (up to the paradox of “preventive” torpedoings) became such a widespread practice that it completely inhibited the spirit of initiative of commanders at every level, each fearing being removed by his direct superior even as a result of chess and marginal failures. In fact, Cadorna believed that commanders, all trained in peacetime, were mostly unfit for command in war and used torpedoes for the purpose of bringing out the best. In particular, he noted the unwillingness of commanders to share with soldiers the toils and risks of war and their lack of practical expertise in terrain assessment (Brusati). He realized the inconveniences of torpedoing but believed that it would be far worse to leave the lives of thousands of soldiers in the hands of incompetent generals.He always respected the autonomy of army commanders as provided for in the current regulation of discipline. He then argued that this breadth was often misunderstood causing real indiscipline (Capello, Brusati, Di Robillant), which according to him was among the main causes of Caporetto.
In the overall picture of World War I, Cadorna moreover remains one of the most prominent personalities; foreign observers themselves recognized his energy in command action and stated that he had “a square and virile mentality, certainly not inferior in intellectual and moral fiber to any of the Allied commanders we had known.” Austro-Hungarian General Alfred Krauß gave similar assessments of Cadorna, who was described as a man with a “will of steel,” endowed with a “cool, tenacious mind, not subject to the impulses of the heart,” emphasizing his lack of the allegedly typical Italian temperamental characteristics; “more than an Italian, he was a Lombard.” General Enrico Caviglia in his memoirs finally points out his “strong will” and “very strong character,” resembling “one of those rocks that rise on the shores of the Ligurian Sea, against which the fury of storms is poured in vain.” There is no shortage, however, of criticism from foreign historians such as Dr. David Stevenson, who in his own book With our backs to the Wall defines Cadorna in the following terms “Luigi Cadorna earned the obscurity of one of the most callous and incompetent commanders of World War I, his successor Armando Diaz proved to be a welcome contrast.” Hated by the soldiers, who ascribed coldness and inhumanity to him, in the aftermath of the rout of Caporetto he was accused of shifting the blame for the defeat onto the troops, speaking openly of cowardice on the part of Italian soldiers. In fact, the October 28 bulletin, signed by Cadorna as the third signatory, had been drafted by Ministers Bissolati and Giardino and on the whole certainly praised the valor of the troops. However, only certain units of the Second Army and particularly their officers were accused of cowardice. The Generalissimo was removed and replaced by Armando Diaz, whose first concern was to improve the living conditions of the soldiers, abolish decimations and motivate the soldiers with the promise, later not completely fulfilled by the postwar governments, to give “land to the Italians.”
The Cadorna Road
From Bassano del Grappa to Mount Grappa there is a winding road that climbs for about 25 km to the top of the mountain, called the “Cadorna road” because he had it built.
In 1916 Cadorna had rearward defensive lines set up near Mount Grappa in order to protect the large units deployed on the Trentino front in case of a breakthrough of the advanced lines in the Vicenza to Montello sector.
He then gave orders to the Army Corps of Engineers to build a road and two cable cars in a short time that could carry vehicles and troops up to Mount Grappa. About 30,000 men worked on it between the military and civilians.
The road was completed a few days before the defeat at Caporetto, and the defensive lines of the Grappa were used by the 4th Army commanded by General Mario Nicolis di Robilant, in retreat from the Dolomite front of the Trentino
On several occasions, until the last days of the war, the Austrians bled themselves dry in a futile attempt to occupy the summit of the mountain, which dominated an entire sector of the front and from which, for dozens of kilometers, the Italians hammered the enemy troops with their guns.
In Pallanza, now a hamlet of Verbania, his hometown on Lake Maggiore (province of Verbano Cusio Ossola), there is a mausoleum dedicated to him, inaugurated in 1932 and designed by Marcello Piacentini.
Milan North Railway Station
Milan named the Milano Cadorna Station, which overlooks Piazzale Luigi Cadorna, after Cadorna.
The twentieth tunnel on the road of the 52 tunnels of Mount Pasubio, dug during the fighting of World War I, bears his name.
In 2011, Udine”s toponymy commission decided to change the name of the square dedicated to Cadorna, to “Piazzale Unità d”Italia,” since over the years there has been increasing confirmation, the opinion of historians, of the disregard for the lives of Italian soldiers employed at the front. This initiative is also reflected in other similar proposals made in various cities in Italy, including Bassano del Grappa itself.
Marshal of Italy — November 4, 1924
Data taken from the Italian Parliament website.