Military Gear & Army Surplus Gear Blog

The Battle of La Malmaison – Breakthrough at Caporetto I THE GREAT WAR Week 170

The Battle of La Malmaison – Breakthrough at Caporetto I THE GREAT WAR Week 170

There are been 11 Battles of the Isonzo River,
all launched offensively by the Italians, but that changes this week. This week a 12th battle begins, launched by
the Central Powers, and this week the Italian front breaks. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week the Germans continued Operation
Albion, a combined air – land – sea offensive in the Gulf of Riga, while in the west casualties
for the two and a half months of the ongoing Battle of Passchendaele were finally being
tallied, and they were enormous. Plans were made to continue that battle when
the weather improved, and plans were also made for a tank attack that would be the first
of its kind. Action now began again on the Western Front
this week, and it was begun by the French. In fact, they scored a big victory at the
Battle of La Malmaison, which ran from the 23rd to the 26th. The French captured the village and the fort
of La Malmaison and took control of the Chemin des Dames ridge. This was a well – prepared limited scale attack,
much like the second battle of Verdun six weeks ago, and it was partly designed to boost
French morale after the disastrous spring offensive and general mutiny of the summer. German artillery was outnumbered 3 – 1 and
the French guns silenced the German ones. Also, the French saturated the Ailette Valley
with gas, so the Germans could not bring forward supplies or evacuate the wounded. The preliminary bombardment had been six days
long and French aerial recon had identified the German infantry shelters, which were systematically
destroyed. When the French infantry went over the top,
still in darkness on the morning of the 23rd, there were 63 Schneider CA-1 and Saint Chamond
tanks with them. 27 of these got bogged down behind French
lines in the mud. 15 more were stopped in no man’s land or at
the German front lines, but the other 21 reached the German second lines according to plan. In four days, the French advanced nearly 10
km, and the success here and recently at Verdun, as well as the Allied September successes
at Passchendaele, showed that with proper planning and artillery preparation, the German
defenses were vulnerable, as they had not been earlier in the year. Casualty estimates vary, sometimes widely,
but William Philpott estimated a few years ago 38,000 German casualties and 12,000 prisoners
against just 14,000 French casualties. Even after the spring offensives and the general
mutiny, there is no way you could count out the French army. Elsewhere on that front, though, the Germans
were holding their ground. On the last day of the week, the 26th, the
Passchendaele Offensive against them began again. The Canadians under Sir Arthur Currie were
chosen to lead the attack, but Currie had serious reservations. Still, he made his plans. It would be a three – phased attack, and the
codenamed objectives were, in order, the Red, Blue, and Green Lines. The 3rd and 4th Divisions of Canadian Corps
would take the first two, and the 1st and 2nd would take the last and doing any mopping
up. The attacks would take place the 26th and
30th of October, and November 6th. This caused issues with General Hugh Gough,
who planned an attack with his 5th Army the 22nd, and wanted Currie to attack the same
day. Currie refused to be rushed. Still, his attack the 26th caused equally
heavy casualties on both sides. Currie’s men were brought to a halt before
they could reach Passchendaele Ridge or what rubble remained of the village. They did not completely take even the Red
Line, the nearest objective, but they did secure jumping off positions for next week’s
attack. But if the Germans were holding their ground
there, they were advancing in the east. Operation Albion continued, and on the 20th,
Dagö and Schilden Islands were captured. The next day, the Germans land on the Russian
mainland at Verder. In nine days have taken 20,000 prisoners and
100 guns. But that operation was just a sidenote to
the big advance this week in Italy. Now, the 10th and 11th battles of the Isonzo
River this summer had cost the Italians nearly 300,000 casualties and the Austrians a couple
hundred thousand, and both sides were begging their allies for help. Italian Chief of Staff Luigi Cadorna thought
the impending collapse of Russia was going to free up Austria-Hungary to send all its
armies against Italy, but the British and French only helped him with artillery. He also kind of ruled by fear at this point,
and he was so certain his strategies were right that he didn’t even listen to alternative
opinions from his own intelligence services. By this time, he had fired 217 generals and
255 colonels (Caporetto), mostly for “lack of offensive spirit”, so standards were
pretty low in the officer corps by this time Austrian Emperor Karl, who was told by his
general staff that the army couldn’t handle another Italian assault, asked German Quartermaster
General Erich Ludendorff for German aid. Ludendorff said no, but Karl went right to
the Kaiser, who intervened. A German general sent to the Italian front
reported that the Austrian army was at the end of its rope, so Ludendorff created the
German 14th Army with bits and pieces taken from the Baltic, Romania, and Alsace-Lorraine. He sent it to the Italian front under General
Otto von Below with orders just to stabilize the Austrians with the most limited campaign
he could manage. He wanted his divisions back by December to
prepare for the 1918 campaign against France. The operation was codenamed Waffentreue – Loyalty
to Arms. This army included some of the best Alpine
divisions the Germans and Austrians had, and would also be featuring new infiltration tactics,
or “Hutier” tactics, named after General Oskar von Hutier. They would proceed in four phases: 1) short artillery barrage of high explosive
and poison gas shells. No preliminary sighting shots would be fired
since the guns would be aimed mathematically with help from aerial recon. This barrage was not to destroy the enemy
front lines, but to neutralize them. 2) Under a creeping barrage, shock troops
would move forward and infiltrate identified weak spots in the defenses, avoiding all combat
if possible, and continuing until they reached enemy artillery or command posts, which they
would then destroy or capture. 3) then, machine gun and mortar units would
launch heavy attacks on narrow fronts against enemy strongpoints that had been avoided by
the shock troops. Artillery was now brought forward. 4) the regular infantry was sent in to mop
up any resistance that remained.. On October 24th, 33 German and Austrian divisions
attacked 41 Italian ones. This was the Battle of Caporetto, named after
one of the villages where the fighting took place that is known as Kobarid to the Slovenians
there- it was the 12th Battle of the Isonzo, but it was the first that was planned and
executed by the Central Powers. It began with 4 hours of artillery, two hours
of which was gas shells. The main attack then began as a pincer movement. The northern arm attacked from the Bovec basin
along the river to the southwest toward Caporetto, on the slopes and ridges. The southern arm attacked from Tolmen and
the bridgehead there to the west. Once Caporetto fell, Austrian General Svetozar
Borojevic von Bojna would attack to hold the forces on the Bainsizza Plateau and the Carso
while the 14th army moved south from the newly conquered ridges. That day the attack in thick fog on a 32km
front broke through at Tolmen and Caporetto, taking 10,000 prisoners and the Italians fell
back as far as 20km just that day. By the 26th, the Central Powers claimed 60,000
prisoners and 500 guns, and the Italians were in full flight along the whole front. Now, Von Below wanted the mountains cleared
of Italian soldiers and artillery, to provide safe access to the Venetian Plain. He sent in his elite Alpine troops, which
included the , which featured one Lieutenant Erwin Rommel. Rommel was given three mountain companies
and one machine gun company, “the Rommel Detachment”. On the 25th, they took two mountain peaks
and 3,600 prisoners. The next day he then took Monte Matajur. In 52 hours of fighting his men had captured
150 officers and 9,000 men and had only had six of their own killed and 30 wounded. Even decades later as a famous general in
another large conflict, Rommel called this the high point of his career. By the end of the week, all of the battlefields
Italy had dominated for the past two years at the cost of so many lives were falling
behind or would soon do so – Gorizia, Monte San Michele, Monte Sabotino, Podgora. The defeat even caused the fall of Paolo Boselli’s
government in Rome. It had become a complete and total rout. Von Below’s commanders wanted to head south,
win total victory over the Italians, and knock them out of the war, but Von Below had no
intention of being an occupying army. He still intended to get his forces to the
Western Front by December. And the week ends, with German making huge
advances in Italy, a smaller advance in the northeast, holding their ground in Belgium,
but losing it in France. And a final note – on the 26th Brazil declares
war on Germany. Think how it would feel in the Italian army
this week. You’d sacrificed men in the hundreds of
thousands to slowly take enemy territory over two and a half years, you bleed out a whole
generation of your young men, and suddenly you lose it all in a week. A few days. What was the sacrifice for then? What do you tell the people at home? The families of the dead? I don’t know. If you want to know more about Erwin Rommel
and his exploits in World War 1, you can click right here for our episode about him. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Alaska
Mike – what a “cool” name. Thank you for your ongoing support on Patreon
which made it possible to film special episodes in Kobarid itself. Don’t forget to subscribe, see you next

Reader Comments

  1. >Ludendorff orders von Below to stabilize the Italian Front with as little effort as possible
    >von Below breakes through the Italian lines and forces the enemy to retreat in panic
    nicely done

  2. I binge watch these but just started to wonder why the horse in the intro doesn't have a gas mask but his rider does.

  3. This is ANOTHER wasted opportunity that irritates me, the Germans and Austrian could have pushed the Italians FAR back all the way past Venice, but instead they didn't they instead just stopped..

  4. Hey Indy just wondering the 100th anniversary of the Red October Revolution is coming up. are you going to do a special on that?

  5. I know is hard with Slovenian names, so here is some help: j is in Slovenian pronounced quite like y in English – so Matajur (matayur).

  6. 5:50 Brothers in Arms was also a great Dire Straits album. 😉 It's perhaps fitting the titles of singles from that album could also describe The Great War: "So Far Away," "Money for Nothing," "Brothers in Arms," "Walk of Life," and "Your Latest Trick."

  7. Hey Indie. I have two questions for out of the trenches. My aunt from Berlin told me there was like a ww1 theme park near Berlin where you could experience living on the front. Is this true? If so, could you tell me a bit about it? and second question: You live in Berlin, also kannst du auch deutsch sprechen, oder?

  8. if only the Italians had a Bulgarian general, they would have pushed the Austrians . Look at how the Serbs fought.
    Anyway respect to Italy for trying , it's not easy to go out there and fight

  9. I have a question maybe for out of the trenches. Why did it take until 1917 for the Germans to decide making a landing behind the Russian lines would be a good idea especially since it seems many times the Russians were so disorganized landing would have caused even more panic and disorganization and possibly even a full on route

  10. If anyone is interested in reading a first hand account, "Infantry Attacks" by Erwin Rommel is an excellent read. I very highly recommend it.

  11. I love this channel.  It took me almost an hour to watch this episode – I was pausing and rewinding again and again to catch all of the great info and to stare and the images. Extremely well written and the photos/footage that were put together are just wonderful.  And of course, Indy is the best.   Thank you The Great War Channel team for continuing to put together this masterpiece of a project.

  12. Is this channel going to just die after November of2018 because i would be sad to see this channel go even if that's still a year away

  13. The other day I was throwing stones on a beach with friends. We had a competition to see who could throw the farthest with our non dominant hands. I threw the stone behind me, almost hitting my friend in the face.
    Question: How frequent was grenade friendly fire? Was grenade throwing trained to avoid mis-throws?
    Also, how has your study of WW1 history affected how you view our modern world? What lessons do you hold most deeply?

  14. Lots of information about the battle in Rommel's book. Something I found interesting was that the Italians did nothing to disguise their positions so that even though they were generally well contructed they were easy to target for destruction by the artillery. While of course people would have known their approximate positions some work on concealment would have added greatly to their survivability.

  15. I can't help feeling that evolutions in Russia will soon grab the headlines.

    Oh and the "i" in Chemin Des Dames is pronounced more like an "a" like in cAt. I've been meaning to mention that for a while, it's a nasal "i". And the "Dames" part is just pronounced "dam" 😉 . Maybe you've heard of "un chemin de fer" – a railway track, it's the same word.

  16. Austrians and Germans be like: ''Ok so you started your 1st offensive and we weren't mad…then you repeated that same thing 10 more bloody times…and now….WE'RE MAD !

  17. Hey Indy and crew first off great job keep up the work and second of all I have a question I hope to get answered and maybe get on out of the trenches. My question is what did Sweden and Norway have to do in the war especially just after them separating from each other not that long before the war

  18. Oh my god, in 2 weeks I managed to watch all 170episodes and now it 'ends', I want more>.<'' I can't wait for next weeks episode xD

  19. That feeling when you fight hard for two years against the Italians, take heavy casualties and hold out against yet another large offensive and then supply the majority of forces for that one offensive happening on your front, yet it is still "German and Austrian divisions" and "Germany making advances."

  20. It does not look as though Caporetto was expected to be the big success it was for the Germans and A-H. By 1917, harsh experience had taught most armies to launch attacks with limited objectives.

  21. No mention of October 23,1917? The first American shots fired onto German positions on October 23, 1917 at 6:05 am. #TheGreatWar #WWI #AEF #LafayetteWeAreHere

  22. HI Indy, I don't know if you read these comments much but I though you might be interesed this debate about wheather the Brits should have gone to war at all.

  23. Hello Indy ( and crew)
    Recently I've seen a old documentary the first action of the Russian civil war, which was on the 30th of October. In the action the cossack commander was captured and released afterwards . Could you tell me a bit more about the starting days of the civil war although a know that lies beyond the direct scope of your show. Keep up the great work, thanks for all the work.


  24. I have a question (probably for OotT) – recently I read an article by a Russian historian about so-called 'Plan-19', developed by colonel Danilov in 1910. Author says that this plan was a defense strategy based around the idea of tactically abandoning Poland and some western parts of Russian Empire – much like what Kutuzov did in the war of 1812 – in order to shorten the frontline and to force enemy into your own territory to complicate supply lines. After that idea was, again, a bit like in 1812 – wear enemy armies down, disrupt supply lines, harass and raid, in the end – have a few decisive battles, break the lines and start global offensive operation.
    This all sounds reasonable enough, but I failed to find any other mentions of this plan, at least on the internets. The only strategic plans I read about are ‘Plan A’ – supposedly the plan army went with during the war, and ‘Plan G’ – about which, again, I failed to find any meaningful info.
    So I was hoping – maybe you can tell me something about strategic plans of Russian Empire, since army command sure hade something like German Schlieffen plan or French Plan-17.
    I live in Russia, and we have this weird blind spot about basically anything that have to do with WW1, so I’m really grateful to you guys for doing historically accurate AND entertaining show about this war.

  25. Questions for Indy and the team (at the end of a really long comment). Great work on this channel, I can't get over the level of detail that you guys give week by week across the world. This is extremely helpful to comprehend the complexities of the development of war between several nations. Everybody keeps asking if you guys will continue on with the series when WWII roles around, and regardless if you guys do, I hope this channel forever changes the portrayal of conflicts for years to come. My question is where do you guys get all your combat footage? How common was it for men to set up in a defense while one guy sits in the back and records them getting shot at, suffocating from poison gas, or even being in hand to hand combat? I believe pictures speak 1000 words, but every picture/frame of a video is 1000 words that help build a story. Again, great work with everything that you guys do.

  26. Why do you say Caporetto and Kobarid, but never Karfreit, the Austrian name? It was a place in Austria Hungary at the time, so why not use the historical name? Same with Gorizia/Görz btw.

  27. Why did Brazil declare war on Germany? At this point it seems like completely random countries choose to enter the conflict only for the prospect of getting their small share of the loot. Or am I missing something?

  28. What fascinates me that the Germans attack Russia on the completely other side of Europe and capture 20.000 men there. 20.000 Russians were just kept there "in case".

  29. If you're Luigi Cadorna, you tell them at home: "I accept my hanging for the waste of men's lives in my futile eleven attempts at personal glory."

  30. For anyone interested in Caporetto, I'd recommend Hans Killian's book on the subject if you can find it translated. He was a HQ officer of the german 14th army on the Alps at the time of the attack.

  31. After Russia'defeat, instead of preparing the great offensive in 1918, could Germany hold a defensive attitude on the western front and help Austria-Hungary knocking off Italy?

  32. Hah! This channel refuses to recognise the brilliance of Generalissimo- He couldn't fight the Germans because Austria was in the way, so this was just a ploy to being them to him.

  33. In a way, don't you think the Italians must have felt the same way the germans had at Verdun?
    I mean, the Germans had slaved on for months to get Fort Vaux and Duamont, and those were again lost, in a single day…

  34. It was a New Zealand general who reached Russia. The Australian and Canadian soldiers weren't far behind.

  35. to this day, in italian we say "it was a Caporetto!" when we want to say that something went disastrously wrong.

  36. Cardorna is like a dumb horny chimpanzee stuck in a cage with a cactus. No matter how much it hurts every time, he'll try humping it vigorously, expecting better results.
    Instead just stopping it and do the smart thing.

  37. Should be noted that the reason the Gemrnans has a dearth of artillery on the Chamin Des Dame was because of movement/rotation to Flanders. This is not a small thing and it should be noted that a position the French had spent over 200,000 casualties from 1914-1917 was taken "relatively" easily taken here. This MUST BE included as one of the "gains" of 3rd Ypres.

    Again, I still think 3rd Ypres was a bad campaign. But it did have success…not for the cost it took to achieve them.

    As for the continuation at Pashendale, at this point the biggest issue is Allie positions are not at a place where you can go into winter quarters yet. That may sound irrelevant to us now but it wasn't to them then.

  38. Indy, want to note your final comment was brilliant and captures the futility of this war and the arrogance that refused outright the prior offer of peace. When nations keep fighting to make the sacrifices of the men who died prior merely consign more to death. And since victory is no certainty, why not look for a way out that saves lives and brings freedom to the nations you fight for (Belgium).

    I often think your same comment visiting The Somme knowing that for several months in 1918 those lands were reconquered by the Germans and graves lost to the new chaos. Tragic…just tragic.

  39. I have a question; what happened to the prisoners; did they die; where they walked for 100 miles to get to the prison camps. What was prison camp life; decent; terrible?

  40. You wonder what they could be thinking; yet, another year; what did they expect to happen. Did anyone have an idea on how to stop the war?

  41. Your friends, the Germans and Austro-Hungarians out there on the Caporetto Plains, are walking into a trap… An entire LEGION of my best troops awaits them….

    Oh, I'm afraid the Isonzo defenses will be QUITE OPERATIONAL when your friends arrive….

    -Emperor (in training) General Luigi Cadorna

    Later! OL J R

  42. Cadorna: Eleven! Ah-ah! Eleven battles of the Isonzo!
    Austria-Hungary: Twelve! Ah-ah! Twelve battles of the Isonzo!

    Luigi Cadorna is writing a message…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *