Italy Declares War on Austria-Hungary
Italian Army, 700,000
Gen. Luigi Cadorna, Commander
Duke of Aosta
King Victor Emmanuel
Austrian Army, 1,200,000
Gen. von Hofer, Commander
Gen. Boroevic von Bojna
Gen. von Rohr
Though Italy did not enter the war arena as an active participant until May 24, 1915, from the very beginning she had dedicated herself, heart and soul, to the cause of human liberty. On August 2, 1914, three days before England declared war on Germany, and at the very moment of Austria's attack on Serbia, Italy nobly renounced her alliance with Germany and Austria, boldly declaring her neutrality, and proclaiming to the whole world her abhorrence of Teuton brutality.
The fate of France, of civilization itself, depended upon Italy's decision. Had Italy cringed before the might of Germany, France must have regarded her as a potential foe, and felt the necessity of protecting her Southern frontier with a force of 1,000,000 men.
After severing her unnatural bonds with Austria and Germany, Italy at once gave France the full assurance of her friendship, enabling France confidently to withdraw her troops from the Italian frontier and array them against Germany in the glorious Battle of the Marne, where the fate of Europe was decided.
Thus Italy, though nominally neutral, rendered military and moral aid of the supremest value to the cause of liberty, freedom, and justice. Without that moral aid which Italy extended to France, defeat instead of victory might have resulted at the Marne and the world have been subjugated by the German barbarians.
How Italy Became Germany's Ally
Italy had become the unwilling partner of Germany and Austria in 1879 from humiliating necessity. Following the wars for Italian independence, she was hemmed in by enemy states. Her relations with France had been embittered by the French seizure of Tunisia, to which Italy aspired.
Germany was threatening to disrupt the new kingdom by restoring Rome to the Pope, and plotting to open wide the breach between France and Italy which had been caused by the infamous treaty of Campoforma in 1797. Italy, too, had much to fear from Prussian and Austrian aggression in the Balkans. Germany, on her part, had observed the growing friendship of England, France, and Russia which developed soon after, into the entente alliance.
Feeling the necessity of a counter-alliance that should serve to curb the power of France in the Mediterranean, Germany decided to invite Italy into partnership with herself and Austria. It was really coercion on the part of Gel-many, for had Italy declined the invitation, she might have been snuffed out of existence on some pretext or other. Italy, therefore, consented under duress to this unnatural alliance with her ancient enemies.
Austria and Germany Betray Italy
Since 1879 Germany and Austria had repeatedly betrayed their ally, Italy. The most flagrant of all these betrayals was the seizure of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1908. It had been definitely stipulated, as a condition of the alliance, that the Allies should exchange information concerning relations with other powers. Austria violated her solemn agreement, by seizing the two Balkan kingdoms without notifying her ally, Italy, of her intentions.
Austria persistently fomented trouble in the Balkans without consulting Italy. Thus she selected a ruler for the Kingdom of Albania; compelled Serbia to relinquish an outlet upon the Adriatic Sea ; forced Montenegro to yield the port of Scutari, and arranged the frontier between Serbia and Greece, all without consultation with her ally.
Invasion of Italy Proposed
Austria's supremest act of treachery toward her ally, Italy, occurred after the Great Messina earthquake, at a time when Italy was wrapped in mourning.
Gen. Conrad von Hoetzendorff, Chief-of- Staff of the Austrian Army, proposed the invasion of Italy, and his infamous proposal was actually supported, by the Emperor Franz Joseph and the Crown Prince Frederick Ferdinand, who was later assassinated at Serajevo. Happily, the wanton attack upon Italy was successfully opposed by Chancellor von Aerenthal.
Italy's seizure of Tripoli and Cyranesia from the Turks in 1911 was prompted by knowledge of Germany's preparations to take those territories. Germany, throughout that war secretly aided the Turks to overthrow her ally!
It remained for Austria to cap the climax of her treachery when she served her fatal ultimatum upon Serbia on July 23, 1914, without consulting Italy or announcing her intentions to her ally. Germany, too, after Italy had declared her neutrality in the World War, roused Tripolitania to rebellion against Italy.
Germany Seeks to Bribe Italy
It will ever redound to the glory of Italy that she spurned the tremendous bribe proffered by Germany to secure her continued neutrality, and instead nobly threw herself into the struggle for freedom at a time when the Allies were on the brink of disaster. Russia had collapsed, the Western line was bending under the German pressure, the U-boats had begun to take their toll of ships, Eng land had not yet placed a tenth of her forces in the field, the Allied cause was in dire straits, when Italy entered the struggle.
Italy was unprepared for war in 1914. She had just emerged from her war with Turkey in Libya. Her military stores were therefore exhausted, her artillery depleted, her armies disbanded and her finances in a critical state. In a military sense, she was helpless. To have joined the Allies at that time would have meant national suicide. Instead of aiding, she would have injured the cause of her future Allies. Austria then would have conquered Italy in a short campaign.
Italy, therefore, chose the safer course ; she declared her neutrality, secretly assured France of her friendship and made hasty preparations for inevitable participation in the great struggle.
German Propaganda in Italy
The German and Austrian intriguants, however, were tirelessly seeking to buy the support of the nation. Italian newspapers were bribed to conduct a campaign of pacifism; Socialists were bribed to advocate the continuance of neutrality. Baron von Buelow, a gifted German diplomat, offered the supreme bribe to Italy, if she would remain neutral.
The greater part of the Trentino was to be restored to Italy; Trieste was to be proclaimed as a free city ; certain islands off the Dalmatian Coast were to be surrendered : concessions along the Eastern frontier were to be made; Austria would recognize Italian sovereignty in Vallona and withdraw from Albanian affairs.
Why Italy Hated Austria
To All these seductive offers Italy turned a deaf ear. The cry of martyred Belgium, the appeal of ravished France, the stifled cries of tortured humanity, aroused her spiritual indignation. At the proper time she would enter the War and fight for human liberty.
Aside from her purely altruistic reasons for striking a blow at the Teutons, Italy had a secondary motive, the redemption of the lost provinces, "Italia Irredenta," torn from her by Austria. The Italian people in these provinces had been the victims of unspeakable atrocities, at the hands of the Austrians.
Within 50 years, the Austrians had punished their rebellious Italian subjects by soaking their bodies in turpentine and burning them alive ; had crucified children ; buried patriots in quicklime and put to death hundreds for trivial political causes. Italy had not forgotten these martyrs.
Italy's aspirations, once she entered the War for liberty, were for the freedom of her own enslaved peoples in the Lost Provinces as well as the other martyred races of earth. As her inalienable right, she demanded a pledge that, if successful in the War, the Allies should restore her Lost Provinces.
Austria had done all in her power to denaturalize the Italian provinces by colonizing Croatians and Germans, Prussianizing the schools and subjugating the people, but her efforts proved futile. Trieste, Trentino, Venetia, Dalmatia, all remain as essentially Italian today as they had been Roman for 1900 years previously.
Another vital reason for demanding the retrocession of Italy's provinces, lay in the fact that Istria alone had several excellent seaports, while the Italian shore of the Adriatic Sea is without a single first-class harbor. While Istria remained in foreign possession, just so long was an Austrian knife poised over the heart of Italy. It was stipulated, therefore, that the harbors of Trieste and Fiume especially should be restored to Italy.
Italy Votes for War
A wave of spiritual indignation swept Italy when the facts of the atrocities in Belgium and France first became known. The warm heart of Italy clamored for war. But before Italy could enter the War unitedly, certain political obstacles must first be removed. Giolitti, the former Premier, and perhaps the most powerful politician in Italy, controlled the lower branch of the legislature. He was both a strong neutralist, and a particular friend of the Austrian Ambassador, Buelow.
On May 10, 1915, Giolitti appeared before the Assembly, protesting against war with Austria-Hungary. The Assembly seemed on the point of acceding to his demands. Premier Balandra at once resigned his office. In this crisis, the Italian people took control of the situation. Popular demonstrations occurred on every hand.
On May 15, 1915, in obedience to King Victor Emmanuel's request, Premier Salandra resumed his office. Five days later the Assembly passed a vote of confidence in the ministry, the count standing 407 to 72.
The final step was taken on May 23, 1915, when the Italian Chamber of Deputies, by a vote of 407 to 74, decreed that beginning with the following day, May 24, 1915, Italy would consider herself in a state of war with Austria-Hungary.
On May 23, 1915, Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary. The Italian declaration opened up a new front in World War I, stretching 600 kilometers—most of them mountainous—along Italy’s border with Austria-Hungary. Italy—which had become a unified nation only as recently as 1859—was, like Russia, not yet a fully industrialized power. It was certainly not prepared for large-scale warfare, and although it managed to mobilize 1.2 million men in the spring of 1915, it possessed equipment for just 732,000. Upon declaring war, the Italian army immediately advanced into the South Tyrol region and to the Isonzo River, where Austro-Hungarian troops met them with a stiff defense. The snowy and treacherous terrain made the region poorly suited to offensive operations, and after several quick Italian successes, combat settled into a stalemate.