Isonzo: The Forgotten Sacrifice of the Great War

Isonzo: The Forgotten Sacrifice of the Great War

Isonzo: The Forgotten Sacrifice of the Great War

Isonzo: The Forgotten Sacrifice of the Great War

Synopsis

This is the first account in English of a much-overlooked, but important, First World War battlefront located in the mountains astride the border between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Not well known in the West, the battles of Isonzo were nevertheless ferocious, and compiled a record of bloodletting that totaled over 1.75 million for both sides. In sharp contrast to claims that neither the Italian nor the Austrian armies were viable fighting forces, Schindler aims to bring the terrible sacrifices endured by both armies back to their rightful place in the history of 20th century Europe. The Habsburg Empire, he contends, lost the war for military and economic reasons rather than for political or ethnic ones.

Schindler's account includes references to remarkable personalities such as Mussolini; Tito; Hemingway; Rommel, and the great maestro Toscanini. This Alpine war had profound historical consequences that included the creation of the Yugoslav state, the problem of a rump Austrian state looking to Germany for leadership, and the traumatic effects on a generation of young Italian men who swelled the ranks of the fascists. After nearly a century, Isonzo can assume its proper place in the ranks of the tragic Great War clashes, alongside Verdun, the Somme, and Passchendaele.

Excerpt

The Isonzo River flows through one of the loveliest valleys in Europe. The cold and fast-moving Isonzo begins high in the Julian Alps, in Slovenia’s forbidding Triglav National Park, barely more than an azure-hued mountain stream. As the winding blue-green water follows its course south to the Adriatic Sea, between snowy Alpine peaks and densely forested hills, past a dozen sleepy Slovene towns and villages long forgotten to history, it slowly widens and darkens in color. Once the river has reached the Italian border at the city of Gorizia, fifty miles downstream from its source, the Isonzo’s pace has slowed, its depth has doubled, and its width has trebled. On its banks, the mountains have become mere hills, and the Slovene towns have been replaced by bustling Italian industrial cities. The last miles of the Isonzo’s course before it reaches the head of the Adriatic take the river west, to the edge of the Friulian plain. Where the Isonzo disappears into the sea, the city of Trieste and its surrounding hills are clearly visible to the east.

The almost unknown Isonzo is notable for several reasons. Geologically, the Julian Alps, which overlook and give birth to the river, are the European watershed between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Ethnically, the Isonzo has served as the dividing line between Latin and Slavic Europe for centuries; the population to the west of the river is mostly Italian, and to the east it is largely Slovene. Politically, the Isonzo valley has divided Italy from several of its northeastern neighbors throughout the twentieth century: Habsburg Austria, followed by Tito’s Yugoslavia, and now the Republic of Slovenia. Yet the Isonzo is hardly well known because of these attributes. Instead, the river is . . .

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