On the Footsteps of the Great War From Natisone to Isonzo
The start of the First World War on the 28th July
1914 should not have disturbed the Natisone
Valleys since Italy was part of the Triple
Alliance with “Central Empires” Germany
and Austria-Hungary, so the Slavia Friulana
border was a “friendly” border. In addition, the
Italian government had already announced its
neutrality on the 3rd August as they claimed that
the Triple Alliance had a defensive agreement
and the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war
against Serbia, making them the aggressors; and
hence not obligating Italy to enter. The Austro-
Hungarian Empire had in fact declared war in
order to avenge the assassination of the Archduke
Francesco Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, in a
nationalistic Serbian attack.
During the stalemate period that followed after the first weeks of the First World War, Italy could have made the scales tip to either side of the parties involved and was therefore able to negotiate and consider who would give the best territorial advantages in the event of a victory. In addition a cultural, but influential, minority saw this as an advantageous reopening of the hostilities with Austria to end the cycle of wars of the Risorgimento and to reclaim all the unredeemed territory.
The first cannon was fired on 24th May 1915.
In the Natisone valley the cyclist bersaglieri
advanced to Kobriad/Caporetto; another division
of Bersaglieri from Cepletischis/Čeplešišče
occupied Livek and the territory on the right of
the Isonzo/Soča River.
violent attack of artillery. “The mountains appeared to be engulfed by fire,” eye witnesses stated, and the ground seemed to erupt like “hot fountain jets that gushed everywhere, heating the air.” There were also dramatic consequences with poison gas shells. Further north, towards Bovec/Plezzo, where the Isonso/Soča valley is at its narrowest, the use of poison gas was intense as it infected the whole valley. In the Natisone valleys “small gas shells” were used, that is cylinders containing a lethal mix of gases inside the shells, the so called Buntschiessen (colourful bullets).
This was a mixture of difenilcloroarsin (so called Blaukreuz as a result of the blue cross thatcharacterised the shells filled with this substance), which provoked eye irritation, respiratory problems and spasms of vomit, and which easily filtered gas masks and induced soldiers to take them off and of the lethal gas phosgene (Grünkreuz, characterised by the green cross on the shells filled with this gas), that paralysed the nervous system.
The Infantry attack started in the morning and was unstoppable despite the resistance, at times strenuous, of the Italian troops. On the 25th October the posts on Kolovrat fell; on the 26th those on Matajur and at Stupizza/Štupca; on the 27th those on the ridge of Craguenza/Kraguojnca and Joanaz/Ivanac. The Friulian and Venetian plain were now vulnerable.