The twelve battles of the Isonzo (the last being better known as the battle of Caporetto) made up one of the most costly campaigns of the First World War, fought in very difficult terrain and with great determination by two of the war's less well regarded combatants. The Austro-Hungarians showed themselves to be very able when defending their own territory while the Italians proved to be very determined attackers, making a series of costly assaults on the Austro-Hungarian lines. Limited advances were made at fearful cost during the first eleven battles, before the pattern was broken by the Austro-Hungarian's great victory at Caporetto.
The section on the main commanders is more nuanced than is often the case - Cadorna in particular is shown to be a more complex figure than the arrogance martinet of many accounts, with some ability to learn from his failures (if not all that quickly). The main Austro-Hungarian commanders come across as competent, fighting well with limited resources.
On some parts of the front the difficulties of the terrain are obvious, but in some of the apparently flatter areas it isn’t so clear from the map. The authors do a good job of explaining why the southern part of the front was so difficult - its plateaus were separated by ravines, lined with cliffs and generally made ideal defensive positions, as did the Isonzo valley. The large number of photographs are also very valuable in this respect, and give an impression of an incredibly difficult battlefield.
The chapters on the twelve individual battles were of particular interest to me, having struggled to find any detailed accounts of these battles in the past. This allows the different battles to come into focus rather than as eleven virtually identical Italian attacks and one massive Austro-Hungarian and German success. I wish I'd had this book when I was writing those articles!
1 - Background to the Campaign
2 - The Appalling Terrain
3 - Opposing Objectives
4 - The Belligerents
5 - The Commanders
6 - The Campaign: An Overview
7 - The First Jump
8 - The First Battle of the Isonzo
9 - The Second Battle
10 - The Third Battle
11 - The Fourth Battle
12 - The Fifth Battle
13 - The Six Battle
14 - The Seventh Battle
15 - The Eighth Battle
16 - The Ninth Battle
17 - The Long Winter, 1916/1917
18 - The Tenth Battle
19 - The Eleventh Battle
20 - Caporetto - The Twelfth Battle
21 - Aftermath - Recovery from Caporetto
22 - The Destruction of the Habsburg Army
23 - The Battlefield Today
Author: John Macdonald with Zeljko Cimprié
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military