From: Los Angeles
23 October 1918
General Diaz had preferred not to expend Italian soldiers when he could wait for the opposing Austro-Hungarian army to collapse by itself. But Italy had been induced to come into the war with promises of expanded territory, and it would not have a good position at the negotiating table unless it could make up for the help it had needed during the debacle of Caporetto. Now or never was the time to win a decisive victory.
However, Diaz was still facing the obstacle of the Piave River. It was wide and flowing strongly in the area near the coast, and further inland the terrain was mountainous and difficult for attackers. Interestingly, the Allied attack plan was similar to the Austro-hungarian plan that had been a costly failure in June. The left wing would advance in the mountains near, while the right wing would attempt a bridgehead across the Piave. There was one difference: the crossing of the Piave would be in two steps. First the Tenth Army under General Robert. , 10th Earl of Cavan, would take Papadopoli Island in the middle of the river, which was wide at that point. From there, the mixed force of British and Italians would cross to the north bank of the Piave, and with luck punch through the Austro-hungarian defenses.
The battle opened with eerily similar results as the Austro-hungarian offensive four months before. Lord Cavan’s men gained a solid foothold on the island, and began to lay their pontoon bridges. Further to the west, however, the Allies were less successful. With the aid of one French division, they attacked mount Grappa, took some prisoners, but then had to fall back to their starting positions. It was true that mountainous terrain favors the defenders, but the strength of the Austrians in that area was still an unpleasant surprise to General Diaz and the rest of the Allies. The first day's advance had been, if anything worse than the Austrians had done in June. There was no movement in the mountains, and the Allies were no more than halfway across the Piave in the east.
But now the Austro-hungarians made a key mistake. Lord Cavan’s Tenth Army was only 4 divisions strong. Apparently the Austro-hungarians concluded this was not the main thrust, and they sent their reserves to the mountain front.
Another campaign kicked off on this day, this one in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iran). The British commander in the area, General Sir William Marshall, had kept his troops quiet even as the summer heat faded into autumn. Now he received instructions from the War Office that "every effort was to be made to score as heavily as possible on the Tigris before the whistle blew". Therefore, General Alexander Cobbe led a British force out from Baghdad, heading north.
And of course there was continued heavy fighting in France. Deneys Reitz had begun his military career fighting against the British Empire in the Second Boer war. Since South Africa was now on the Allied side, Reitz eventually became a Lieutenant Colonel, and found himself in command of the First Royal Scots Fusiliers. On this day, his troops were on the attack:
At 3.30 the British barrage came down. It was not the solid wall of flame of the old days, but it was heavy enough, and the Royal Scots went off behind it. In the dark we could see the figures of the advancing men outlined against the barrage with the light playing upon their bayonets. German machine-guns and rifles were spitting away, but they went on until they were swallowed up in the dark. As we were to follow fifteen hundred yards behind, we watched until we could no longer distinguish them, then when I judged that they would be nearing Vertain, I started my men off. We advanced in open order across the level plain, passing many Royal Scots lying dead or wounded. They had caught the brunt of the enemy fire, which already was slackening down, and we lost only four men killed, and five or six wounded, even though shells dropped freely among us. It was getting light by now, and we could see the dim shadow of Vertain before us. . . . We now came to a small stream, the Georges, through which we waded knee deep, and beyond that we were among the houses and gardens of Vertain.
German shells promptly began to drop into the village. It was a standard tactic: when the Germans evacuated a village they called in artillery to catch the Allied soldiers moving in, and Reitz realized it immediately. He led his men out and sheltered behind a nearby embankment, waiting for the next Allied barrage towards their next objective, the village of Escarmain.
At 8.30 the men were in the assembly line, ready for zero hour. It is always a trying time waiting for the final moment, but I had no fear of the outcome. From what I had seen of German army orders and newspapers, and of their infantry of late, I knew that their spirits were low, and that we were not so much fighting an army as hustling demoralised men. At 8.40 to the second, the barrage came roaring down. A British 6-inch howitzer shell dropped between our front and rear waves, and killed three men, and all the way to Escarmain this infernal gun dropped shorts among us, causing eight or nine further casualties. The rest of the barrage worked smoothly, and we followed behind it at a walk. The German infantry in the rifle pits opened fire on us, but they they were rattled by the shells, and their firing was wild, whilst their batteries were too thin to do much damage . . . And now we reached and entered the village, the elated men rushing down the streets, and fetching out more prisoners from houses and cellars. They speedily cleaned up the place of such Germans as were still lurking about, and we then waded the stream that runs through Escarmain and climbed the slope beyond to the Chapelle de la Rosaire, from which we had an extensive view across another open plain sloping down towards the Ecaillon, a small river two miles away. German infantry were streaming back, and we sped their passage with rifle-fire. Many gun teams too were galloping in the distance, and it was clear that the enemy was retiring on a wide front. Our instructions were to reach the red line on the battle map, and no further, so we made no attempt to pursue, and I had the satisfaction of sending a runner back to Brigade with a note to say that the 1st R.S.F. [Royal Scots Fusiliers] had reached its objective according to orders.
--Deneys Reitz, “Trekking On”
Woodrow Wilson again ramped up the demands for an armistice, sending the message: "If the Government of the United States must deal with the military masters and the monarchical autocrats of Germany now, or if it is likely to have to deal with them later in regard to the international obligations of the German Empire, it must demand not peace negotiations but surrender. “ To many in the German government, this was indistinguishable from an actual demand for surrender. (Although Germany had been united into a single political entity, it was an Empire in title as well as fact. There were a total of 22 kingdoms, principalities, and dukedoms.) The strong implication was the removal of the Kaiser, but it could also have meant the overthrow of the rulers of the German states, and apparently even the resignations of the top commanders of the Army and Navy. This was more than they were willing to do.
< Message edited by Capt. Harlock -- 10/23/2018 2:36:54 AM >
Civil war? What does that mean? Is there any foreign war? Isn't every war fought between men, between brothers?