Luigi Cadorna

Luigi Cadorna

Luigi Cadorna was born in Italy in 1850. He joined the Italian Army and in 1908 was offered the post of chief of staff, but rejected the proposal over the issue of political control in wartime. However, when it was offered again in July 1914 he accepted.

Although the Italian government declared its intentions to be neutral on the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, Luigi Cadorna expected war and began building up his army. He decided to concentrate his forces on the borders with Austria-Hungary.

By the spring of 1915 Cadorna had 25 infantry and 4 cavalry divisions. Grouped into four armies, Cadorna only had 120 heavy or medium artillery pieces and some 700 machine guns. Despite the shortage of artillery Cadorna launched mass attacks on Austria-Hungary in May 1915. The defending army quickly built trenches and the Italians suffered heavy casualties. In the first two weeks of the Isonzo Offensive, the Italian Army lost 60,000 men. By the time the attacks were called off that winter, Italian casualties had reached 300,000. Cadorna had also lost 3,000 field guns.

Cadorna made seven attempts to break through enemy lines but his only substantial victory was at Gorizia in August 1916. His conventional massed frontal attacks resulted in the loss of large numbers of his trained officers and experienced soldiers. With morale low and growing desertions, Cadorna authorized widespread executions of his soldier to eradicate the growing problem of what he called "cowardice".

Cadorna's victory at Gorizia in August 1916 worried the Germans and it was decided to carry out a joint operation against the Italians. In October 1917 nine Austrian and six German divisions launched an attack on a lightly defended stretch of the front at Caporetto. Aided by misty conditions the assault took the Italians by complete surprise. By 24th October Cadorna gave orders for a retreat to the River Piave.

Over 300,000 men and most of its trench artillery was lost during the Caporetto Offensive. Cadorna was sacked and replaced by General Armando Diaz and the new prime minister, Vittorio Orlando, agreed to a new Allied Supreme War Council that would help coordinate Italian operations.

After the war the Italian government held an enquiry into the defeat at Caporetto and the report published in 1919 was highly critical of Cadorna. However, when Benito Mussolini gained power he made Cadorna a field marshal in 1924. Luigi Cadorna died in 1928.