Intense Fighting Around Mt. Grappa

November 22 1917, Mt Tomba–The Austrian efforts to cross the Piave had so far failed on multiple occasions.  Of course, the Austrians already had substantial forces across the Piave, in the Trentino.  Conrad had advocated for a major push from the Trentino in the aftermath of Caporetto in an attempt to cut the Italians off from behind, but found little support for the scheme.  His forces did attack on the Asiago plateau but made little progress.  The key sector was around Mt. Grappa, between Asiago and the Piave.  If the Austrians and Germans could break through here, they would be on the plains west of the Piave, outflanking the Italians yet again and opening the way to Venice.  The Italians had begun to fortify the area after last year’s Austrian offensive in the Trentino, but their defenses were still rudimentary and faced west towards the Trentino, while the Austrians were now coming from the north and east.

In mid-November the Austrians and Germans captured several peaks around Mt. Grappa in intense fighting.  Conrad said that the Italians were trying to hang onto Mt. Grappa “like a man to a window-ledge.”  On November 22, the Austrians took Mt. Tomba, the last peak before the Piave entered the plains below.  However, a counterattack by the last Italian reserves forced the Austrians off the peak at great cost.  The Austrians prepared for further attacks here, though their German allies were pulling out more of their forces daily.  Meanwhile, more British and French troops were arriving in Italy and were preparing to reinforce their Italian allies.

Today in 1916: Sailing Ship Begins Career as German Commerce Raider
Today in 1915: British Fall Back from Libyan Border Amid Defections
Today in 1914: British Troops Occupy Basra

Sources include: Randal Gray, Chronicle of the First World War; Mark Thompson, The White War; John R. Schindler, Isonzo.

Take That, Anti-Semites

In 1916, in the middle of World War I, the German military conducted the Judenzählung: a census of German Jews. It was intended to confirm accusations of lack of patriotism among German Jews. But the census not only disproved the anti-Semitic rumors, it crushed them. Not only were German Jews enlisting in the army, a higher percentage of German Jews fought than of any other ethnic, religious or political group in Germany.

The results of the census were not made public at the time.

The Forgotten American Hero Of The Great War

Meet Alvin C. York, one of the most decorated American soldiers during the First World War. He received the Medal of Honor for one spectacular attack during the Battle of the Argonne. He was put in a group of 17 Americans soldiers who were ordered to infiltrate the German lines and take out one machine gun position. They were able to capture a number of German soldiers, but then small arms fire killed six and wounded three. Suddenly, York was the highest ranking remaining soldier.

He took command, and immediately ordered his men to guard the prisoners while he – by himself– went to attack that one machine gun position they had been ordered to take out. He attacked the German machine gun nest – again, by himself! – with just his rifle and his pistol. That’s right: he took a rifle to a machine gun fight. York ended up taking 35 machine guns, killing at least 25 enemy soldiers, and capturing 132 enemy soldiers.

York was lionized for decades, although he has largely been forgotten by newer generations. A 1941 film about him, Sergeant York, was that year’s highest-grossing film. And the man who played York, Gary Cooper, won the Academy Award for Best Actor that year.

1917  A French Red Cross dog wearing a gas mask

During the First World War there were ‘Red Cross dogs’, also known as ‘ambulance dogs’. These dogs detected wounded people. They were trained to ignore the dead and not to bark when finding an injured person, but to alert their owner in silence. The dogs were also used to bring medicine back and forth. They carried a backpack in which bandages, some food for the dog and a bottle of liquor were stored. There were around 10,000 Red Cross dogs during the First World War.

British filmmaker Geoffrey Malins showing how he carried reels of film while making films covering World War 1 in Belgium and the Vosges Mountains of France, c. 1914-1915.