(The WAR to DECEMBER 1916 – continued)

home | 1901-WW2 Index

WORLD WAR and REBELLION to 1919 (6 of 11)

previous | next

Italy Joins the War

Italy had allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary since 1882, but when war broke out in early August 1914 it declared its neutrality. Then in the coming months the Italians watched the great drama around their country. Some in Italy sympathized with Austria-Hungary, seeing it as a great Catholic empire and a bulwark against the Eastern Orthodox Church. Some favored siding with Austria-Hungary and Germany hoping this would allow Italy to gain colonial territory at the expense of France or Britain. Some others wanted their country to join Britain and France, believing that the Habsburgs were traditional enemies of the Italians, and some favored joining the British because Britain "ruled the waves" and this would save them from losing maritime trade.

Some in Italy wanted their country to gain territory at the expense of Austria-Hungary or perhaps the Ottoman Empire, and Britain and France obliged them. In a treaty signed in London in April, Italy was promised Tyrol, Trieste, northern Dalmatia and numerous islands in along Austria's Adriatic coast, and they were promised a share of Asia Minor at the expense of the Turks. And in agreeing to join the war, Italy was to receive loans and was in turn to attempt to pressure the Pope into refraining from making peace initiatives.

Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary on May 23. Not yet recovered from its war against the Ottoman Turks in 1911-12, Italy was short of artillery, machine guns, transport and other items needed to keep an army functioning. It was about to send a force northeast, intending to break through the Austrian lines.

Prime Minister Antonio Salandra announced the declaration of war:

I address myself to Italy and to the civilized world in order to show not by violent words, but by exact facts and documents, how the fury of our enemies has vainly attempted to diminish the high moral and political dignity of the cause which our arms will make prevail.

I shall speak with the calm of which the King of Italy has given a noble example, when he called his land and sea forces to arms. I shall speak with the respect due to my position and to the place in which I speak.

I can afford to ignore the insults written in Imperial, Royal, and Archducal proclamations. Since I speak from the Capitol, and represent in this solemn hour the people and the Government of Italy, I, a modest citizen, feel that I am far nobler than the head of the house of the Hapsburgs.

Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary responded:

Benito Mussolini

Benito Mussolini, kicked out of Italy's Socialist Party for favoring his country joining the war.

The King of Italy has declared war on me. Perfidy whose like history does not know was committed by the Kingdom of Italy against both allies... Italy abandoned us in our hour of danger and went over with flying colours into the camp of our enemies. We did not menace Italy; did not curtail her authority; did not attack her honour or interests. We always responded loyally to the duties of our alliance and afforded her our protection – then she took the field.

Germany's Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg responded:

When I last spoke there was still a glimpse of hope that Italy's participation in the war could be avoided. That hope proved fallacious. German feeling strove against the belief in the possibility of such a change. Italy has now inscribed in the book of the world's history, in letters of blood which will never fade, her violation of faith.

I believe Machiavelli once said that a war which is necessary is also just. Viewed from this sober, practical, political standpoint, which leaves out of account all moral considerations, has this war been necessary? Is it not, indeed, directly mad?

Before the year 1915 ended, 66,000 Italian soldiers would die along the Austria-Italian border, and there another stalemate developed. By then among the people of Austria hatred had arisen against the Italians for having stabbed them in the back. And this hatred inspired their renewed commitment to their nation's war effort.


Copyright © 1998-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.