The British Army in Italy, 1917-1918, John Wilks and Eileen Wilks

The British Army in Italy, 1917-1918, John Wilks and Eileen Wilks

Late in 1917 the Germans sent an expeditionary force to assist their Austrian allies on the Italian Front, achieving a massive breakthrough at Caporetto and pushing the Italians back to within a few miles of Venice. Italy asked for help from her allies, and Britain and France both sent several divisions to help bolster the line. This book looks at the battles fought by the British contingent, which helped defeat the final major Austrian offensive of the war in June 1918 and then took part in the victorious battle of Vittorio Veneto.

The British divisions were only ever a small part of the army fighting in Italy and that is reflected in the structure used here. The authors start with an overview of each period of fighting, and then focus in detail on the British contribution. As a result there is some repetition, but it is a good way of dealing with battles where the British were only ever a small part of the overall Allied army. The book thus contains both major types of campaign history - the readable overview that helps you understand how the battle progressed and the detailed battalion or brigade level work

The authors are very good on dismantling the myths that have grown up around the British and French intervention in Italy. Many books suggest that they 'stopped' the Central Powers advance after Caporetto, but actually the line had been stabilised before the British and French troops reached the front, so the credit for that goes entirely to the Italians.

Away from the main theme the book also looks at the post-war impact of the war in Italy. Italy gained her most important targets in the peace settlement, but didn't get everything promised in the Treaty of London of 1915. This was partly because that treaty had assumed that the Austro-Hungarian Empire would survive in some form, and so parts of it could be given to the victorious powers, but in 1918 the empire collapsed, and so the Italian demands on the Adriatic were now being made against the newly formed Yugoslavia. At the same time many Italian accounts of the war over-emphasised the importance of the battle of Vittorio Veneto - at the time it was at least in part fought in an attempt to make sure that Italian troops were involved in the victory that was clearly coming by October 1918, but it was later portrayed as the battle that won the war, on the grounds that Austria sued for peace before Germany.

This is a useful account of the British contribution to the fighting in Italy in 1917-18, a campaign that is often mentioned in passed, but rarely discussed in any detail.

1 - Italy at War 1915-1917
2 - The French and British Response
3 - The Arrestamento
4 - The British Forces in Italy
5 - The Austrian Offensive, June 1918
6 - The French and British Forces June 15-16
7 - The Summer Recess
8 - Vittorio Veneto
9 - Legacies of the War

Author: John Wilks and Eileen Wilks
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 256
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2013 edition of 1998 original

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