Almost a year after the war’s commencement, after secret parallel negotiations with both sides (with the Allies in which Italy negotiated for territory if victorious, and with the Central Powers to gain territory if neutral) Italy entered the war on the side of the Allied Powers. Italy began to fight against Austria-Hungary along the northern border, including high up in the now-Italian Alps with very cold winters and along the Isonzo river. The Italian army repeatedly attacked and, despite winning a majority of the battles, suffered heavy losses and made little progress as the mountainous terrain favoured the defender. Italy was then forced to retreat in 1917 by a German-Austrian counteroffensive at the Battle of Caporetto after Russia left the war, allowing the Central Powers to move reinforcements to the Italian Front from the Eastern Front.
The offensive of the Central Powers was stopped by Italy at the Battle of Monte Grappa in November 1917 and the Battle of the Piave River in May 1918. Italy took part in the Second Battle of the Marne and the subsequent Hundred Days Offensive in the Western Front. On 24 October 1918, the Italians, despite being outnumbered, breached the Austrian line in Vittorio Veneto and caused the collapse of the centuries-old Habsburg Empire. Italy recovered the territory lost after the fighting at Caporetto in November the previous year and moved into Trento and South Tyrol. Fighting ended on 4 November 1918. Italian armed forces were also involved in the African theatre, the Balkan theatre, the Middle Eastern theatre and then took part in the Occupation of Constantinople. At the end of World War I, Italy was recognised with a permanent seat in the League of Nations’ executive council along with Britain, France and Japan.
At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 the Italian Army comprised just under 300,000 soldiers. Four years later, more than 5.9 million men had been mobilised and sent to the various fronts. Some military operations in the occupied zone continued until 1919.
The Italian military went to war inadequately prepared. The introduction of a new field uniform in 1909 and the army’s recent experiences during the Italo-Turkish War (1911-12) against the Ottoman Empire had advanced the modernisation of equipment. Nonetheless, compared to the military capabilities of the major European powers Italy’s Army had only moderate striking power, while its domestic industry lacked the capacity to meet the challenges of mass warfare. This led to delays and fluctuations in textile supplies but also to the emergence of new leaders.
With illustrations of more than 350 uniforms, caps, hats and helmets, this work shows how the appearance of the Italian Army changed as the war progressed. The pieces shown in the book come from the collections of the Museo Storico Italiano della Guerra (Italian War History Museum) in Rovereto, as well as other public and private collections. They illustrate the uniforms of the traditional formations (infantry, Granatieri, Alpini, Bersaglieri, artillery, cavalry, Carabinieri, Financial Guard, engineers, medical and logistical services) as well as those of the newer branches of service that had emerged as a result of modern warfare (mortar formations, machine-gun troops, Arditi, Military Air Corps). In addition, they provide a comprehensive view of the various special formations that were attached to the Italian Army, with particular focus on the volunteer formations (Garibaldian Volunteers, cycling and motorised corps, Czechoslovakian legionaries, Italian Expeditionary Corps in the Far East).
The collections, along with a great deal of hitherto unpublished archive material, provide the reader with an authentic picture of the Italian Army’s organisation and its uniforms during the war, as well as showing the shortfalls and subsequent advances in its equipment.
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