The Italian Expeditionary Force is one of the less familiar parts of the British war effort of the First World War. Although it gets mentioned in most wider accounts of the war, its actual role in the fighting in Italy is rarely examined in much detail other than in specialised works. There are now some good studies of the actual fighting carried out by the IEF - a defensive battle around Asiago and its participation in the battle of Vittorio Veneto. This book doesn't look at the actual battles fought by the British in Italy in any great detail, but instead focuses on a variety of themes - morale, discipline, relationship with the Italians and so on. The battles aren't ignored and several key events are examined, but largely to explore other topics.
The overall British attitude to the Italians changed dramatically over time. In 1914-15 one of the main aims of British foreign policy was to get Italy to enter the war, but once she was in the British military didn't really appreciate the difficulties faced by the Italians on their mountainous fronts, or the amount of casualties they had suffered during the many battles of the Isonzo. The attitude of the high command and of the soldiers to their allies is a key part of this study,
The author does a good job of comparing the conditions on the Italian and Western Fronts, using the available statistics to examine the level of punishments, the types of crimes being committed, the wounds suffered and so on. He then goes beyond the bare figures to look at what they might actually mean - one example being the greater number of accidental wounds suffered on the Italian front, which he suggests were caused by rock splinters being thrown up by enemy shelling. The problems of maintaining morale and discipline on a front that was a long way from home, not the centre of public attention, and generally much quieter than the Western Front take up much of the space.
I would suggest that this book is best read alongside one of the more traditional narratives of the British involvement in Italy in 1917-18, in which case it will very usefully fill the gaps, and give a wider understanding of the problems faced by the British in Italy, and by their Italian allies.
1 - Italy's war prior to Caporetto: 'The all-important thing is to secure Italy's signature to the alliance'
2 - The dispatch of British divisions: 'It was like entering another world'
3 - Working with the Italians: 'Allies are a tiresome lot'
4 - The Medical Services in the IEF: 'I am in good health at present'
5 - Maintaining morale: 'Football was played during the morning'
6 - Crime and punishment: 'In war kid-glove methods cannot always be employed'
7 - The Austrian attack, June 1918: 'It was exciting when they came over the top'
8 - British participation in the Battle of Vittorio Veneto: 'A conscious thrill of victory'
9 - Post-armistice and demobilisation: 'It's about time we all got home'
10 - Conclusions
Author: John Dillon