Below is a transcript of a report by the Commander in Chief British Forces Italy,
which was found amongst Bert's collection.
The Secretary of State for War has received the following Despatch from General, The Earl of Cavan, K.P., K.C.B., M.V.O., Commanding-in-Chief British Forces in Italy:-
(3) As a result of the tactical situation in France and the consequent demands on rolling stock the proposed exchange of divisions was postponed from day to day. The situation in Italy also changed, and finally all three divisions remained in this country.
(4) On 6th October I went to Comando Supremo at Diaz's
request. General Diaz at this interview offered me the Command of the
mixed Italian-British Army with a view of undertaking offensive operations
at an early date. I expressed my high appreciation of the honour conferred
on me, and the pleasure it would give me to accept this new command.
General Diaz impressed on me the vital importance of secrecy. In order
to make as little apparent change as possible he suggested that the
48th Division should remain in position on the Asiago plateau and pass
temporarily under the command of General Pennella, Commanding the Italian
Corps. To this I agreed, with the stipulation that the 48th Division
should rejoin my command at the earliest opportunity.
(12) On the night of 25th/26th October, the conquest of the island of Grave di Papadopoli was completed by a combined movement of the 7th British Division from the north and the 37th Italian Division from the south. This successful operation put the main channel of the Piave behind us and enabled us to begin our bridges and preparations for the main attack in comparative security, although the garrison of the island was subjected to a very heavy shelling all day on the 26th.
(13) At 11.30 p.m., on the night of 26th October, the bombardment of the hostile positions opened along the whole front. The fact that no single British gun had opened previous to this hour deserves special mention. Both heavy and field artillery were registered by the 6th Field Survey Company, R.E., and the fact that the bombardment and subsequent barrage were excellent in every way reflects the greatest credit on all ranks of this company.
(14) At 6.45 a.m., on 27th October, the attack of the Tenth Army against the enemy defences east of the Piave opened. On the right the XIth Italian Corps under General Paolini, attacked with the 23rd Bersagliere Division under General Fara on its right, and the 37th Italian Division under General Castagnola on its left. On the left the XIVth British Corps attacked with the 7th British Division under Major-General T. H. Shoubridge, C.B., D.S.O. on its right, and the 23rd British Division under Major-General H. F. Thullier, C.B., C.M.G., on its left.
(15) The enemy offered considerable resistance in his front line, but the defenders were overwhelmed after a hard fight, and the advance was pushed forward by all units with utmost determination. I would especially commend the action of the 22nd Battalion Manchester Regiment and the 11th Batallion Northumberland Fusiliers in this assault. Unfortunately we lost a number of gallant men by drowning; the difficulty in keeping a footing in a strong current being very great when loaded with rifle and ammunition. By the night of 27th October a large bridgehead had been gained and firmly held, and Stabiuzzo, S. Polo di Piave, Borgo Zanetti, Tezze, Borgo Malanotte, C. Tonon were all in our hands.
(16) The bridging of the Piave was proceeding rapidly, though much interfered with by hostile airmen. The strength of the current was such that if a break occurred there was a great danger of the whole structure being washed away. Both bridges were frequently broken.
(17) On the front of the Eighth Italian Army, but at an interval of ten kilometers to our left, a landing had also been effected, but difficulties in throwing bridges had been encountered, especially at the point of junction with my Army. Comando Supremo therefore allotted me the XVIIIth Corps, under the command of General Basso, with a view to passing it across our bridges and attacking northwards and so clearing the front of the Eighth Army.
(18) During the night of 27th/28th October portions of the 56th Italian Division, under the command of General Vigliani, and the 33rd Italian Division under the command of General Sanna, both of the XXIIIth Corps, crossed the Piave by various bridges in the XIVth Corps Area and took over the front from C. la Sega to C. Tonon.
(19) At 9 a.m. on 28th October the attack was renewed. During the night
of 27th/28th October many of the bridges had been broken, and as a result
the XVIIIth Italian Corps had been unable to deploy the troops required.
General Basso with soldierly instinct, did not hesitate to continue
the advance, which was resumed with splendid dash. By dark the Tenth
Army had reached the line Roncadelle-Ormele-Tempio-Rai-C. Bonotto-C.
Milanese-S. Lucia di Piave-Ponte-Priula. Patrols had been pushed in
advance of this line towards and up to the River Monticano.
(30) Meanwhile, as stated above, the 48th Division, under Major-General Sir H.B. Walker, K.C.B., D.S.O., has remained on the Asiago Plateau, forming part of the Sixth Italian Army. Successful raids were carried out on 4th, 11th and 23rd October which resulted in the capture of 445 prisoners and twelve machine guns. A further raid carried out on the night of 29th/30th October found the trenches facing Ave unoccupied. This pointed to a withdrawal in the mountains, and on 30th October patrols pushed beyond Asiago found the enemy rearguards in position on the line M. Catz-Bosco-Camporovere. At 5.45 a.m. on 1st November an attack was launched against this line. M. Catz was captured by the Royal Berkshire Regiment by 6.30 a.m., but no progress could be made on M. Interrotto. On the morning of 2nd November the success gained on M.Catz by the 145th Infantry Brigade was wisely exploited. M. Mosciagh was in the hands of the 48th Division by 7.30 a.m., and the Interrotto position thus out-flanked. The advance then became more rapid, and by dark the advanced guards had reached Vezzena, and thus set foot on Austrian soil. This division was therfore the first British division to enter enemy territory on the Western Front. On the morning of 3rd November the advance was again resumed, and by dark both Caldonazzo and Levico had been occupied. At 3 p.m. on 4th November, when the Armistice came into force, the leading troops were on the line Miola-eastern outskirts of Trent. The captures in prisoners and guns made by the 48th Division cannot be accurately ascertained; they amounted to at least 20,000 prisoners and 500 guns. Included amongst the prisoners were the Commander of the 3rd Corps and three Divisional Commanders. It must be remembered that this Division was attacking very formidable mountain positions with only a fifth part of the artillery that would have been at its disposal had the initial attack started on the Altipiano. Its performance therefore in driving in the enemy's rearguards so resolutely, while climbing up to heights of 5,000 feet, is all the more praiseworthy. During these operations the leadership of Brigadier-General G. C. Sladen, C.M.G., D.S.O., M.C., Commanding the 143rd Infantry Brigade was particularly noticeable.
(31) The infantry had been waiting for an opportunity to show that they could worthily emulate the performances of their comrades in France. When the opportunity came they fulfilled my highest anticipations.
(32) The work of the Royal Artillery throughout was based on valuable "Notes on Recent Fighting" sent to us from France, and the rapid advances in close support of the infantry were worthy of their great traditions.
(33) The Royal Engineers were incessantly at work in bridging not only the Piave, but the Meduna and the Tagliamento. Without their highly skilled and efficient work vigorous pursuit would have been impossible.
(34) The Royal Air Force, under the command of Colonel P.B. Joubert, D.S.O., took a very prominent part in the battle, harrassing the enemy's retreat so effectually that many batteries and thousands of prisoners fell into our hands that would have otherwise escaped.
(35) The Machine Gun Corps had frequent opportunities, which were fully taken advantage of, and their training and skill in moving warfare was well exemplified.
(36) Under circumstances of greatest difficulty the Signal Service kept me in communication with the various units under my command.
(37) During the battle, I was in constant touch with His Excellency, General Caviglia, under whose general direction my Army was operating. He was always most kind and prompt in assistance and advice, and I owe him very warm thanks for his generous encouragement. The action of the XIth and XVIIIth Italian Corps has been only briefly referred to, but they bore a very noble and conspicuous part in the victory. My cordial thanks are due to their commanders for their most loyal co-operation. My thanks are also due to His Royal Highness The Duke of Aosta and the Staff of the Third Army. The XIth Italian Corps had previously formed part of the Third Army. Careful and detailed arrangements for an attack had long been made and owing to the advance state of these preparations little in this direction remained for me to do.
(38) The fresh influenza epidemic, which broke out shortly before the
commencement of operations, threw a heavy and additional strain on the
medical services. Despite this, the evacuation and care of both the
sick and wounded was rapidly and satisfactorily carried out. All the
arrangements were most ably organized by my Director of Medical Services,
Major-General F.R. Newland, C.B., C.M.G.
(40) The Chaplains of all Denominations with my Force have invariably rendered the most devoted service, showing at all times the utmost solicitude for the welfare and comfort of the men.
(41) Brigadier-General T.W. Hale, C.B., C.M.G., my Director of Ordnance Services, has promtly and efficiently met every demand that has been made on him.
(42) The rapid advance during the operations entailed great strain
on the Supply and Transport Services. My thanks are due to Brigadier-General
W.S. Swabey, C.B., C.M.G., and all ranks of these Services who maintained
the supply of both ammunition and rations, in spite of bad roads, hastily
constructed bridges and long distances from railheads.
(44) In their retreat the Austrians left many hospitals full of sick and wounded of all nationalities behind them. In many cases these hospitals were bereft of provisions and attendants. The British Red Cross, under the supervision of Colonel Sir Courtauld-Thompson, K.B.E., C.B., spared no efforts to alleviate the sufferings of the inmates, and undoubtedly saved the lives of many Austrian as well as Italian patients.
(45) I again desire to express my most grateful acknowledgement of the services rendered by my Major-General, General Staff, Major-General the Honourable J.F. Gathorne-Hardy, C.B., D.S.O., whose unerring judgement and readiness to help in any difficult situation did much to bring about the very decisive results of the battle of Vittorio. I also desire to thank all subordinate members of my Staff for the smooth working of a difficult operation, and in particular my Chief Engineer, Major-General C.S. Wilson, C.B., C.M.G.; my G.O.C., R.A., Major-General W.H. Kay, D.S.O.; my D.A. and Q.M.G., Major-General H.L. Alexander, D.S.O., who met enormous demands for food for prisoners - which far exceeded the most sanguine estimate - as well as for a starving population and a never ceasing flow of Italians, military and civil, returning to the liberated country; Lieutenant-Colonel C.H. Mitchell, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., head of the Intelligence Section; Colonel O.C. Mordaunt, D.S.O., Deputy-Director of Signals; Major The Honourable P.W. Legh, my Military Secretary; and Major-General J.A. Strick, D.S.O., Inspector General of Communications.
(46) Lastly, I have the greatest pleasure to inform your Lordship that I have always been able to obtain the ready ear of Comando Supremo in all important matters. Their extreme courtesy and kindness to myself and to the British troops adds much to the happy memory of the campaign in Italy.
I have the honour to be, My Lord,
Your Lordship's obedient Servant,
British Forces in Italy