What was the impact of the First World War on Italy?

The intervention crisis

  • 1914 Declaration of Independence led to a political crisis concerning possible intervention
  • PM Antonio Salandra feared that if Germany and Austria-Hungary won and Italy hadn't helped, they wouldn't be sympathetic. BUT - if Britain and France won and Italy didn't help them, they wouldn't be open to discussing Italy's ambitions in the Mediterranean.
  • Salandra believed war would enable him to introduce repressive legislation - authoritarian solution to political problems
  • 1915 - Salandra and foreign minister Sidney Sonnino held secret negotiations with British/French govts and Germany/Austria. Entente offered best deal - victory with them = irredente lands (South Tyrol, Trentino, Istria, Trieste, Dalmatia)
  • 26th April 1915 - Treaty of London = supported Triple Entente. Conducted secretly, army general not informed. PSI and Catholics were against intervention.
  • April 1915 - prefects reported that most Italians feared war and weren't concerned about irredentism.
  • May 1915 - crisis grew when Giolitti denounced T of L, 300 deputies opposites to Salandra's decision. Parliament was divided.
  • Crowds of supporters of war held rallies in streets, those who backed neutrality were called traitors.
  • Mussolini expelled from Socialist Party - promoted intervention, believed the war could start revolution
  • Salandra resigned, King asked Giolitti to become PM again. Declined because he felt he couldn't support treaty, but didn't want to overthrow the king.
  • 16th May - Salandra PM again, 20th May - granted emergency powers
  • 25th May - Italy declared war on Austria.
  • Intervention predominately due to foreign and domestic political reasons, little to do with interventionist protests.
  • Myth that govt was forced into WW1 by protests later played a big role in Mussolini's political campaigns after 1918.
  • Salandra hoped the war would unite Italy but majority of Italians opposed intervention.
  • PSI voted against Salandra's emergency power and were the only far left wing party in Europe to be against intervention.

Military stalemate 1915-16

  • Salandra hoped for brief offensive war and immediate territorial gains. Instead, the war was fought in mountaineous area at the border and was mainly static trench warfare. Many killed by cholera and frostbite.
  • 2 years of stalemate - thousands sacrificed just to move a few hundred metres. 1915 - 62,000 Italians died during 4 attempted offensives.
  • 5 million men conscripted, majority were peasants or agricultural workers.
  • Southern peasant conscripts were overrepresented, ideals of war and expansion meant little to them. Didn't understand why frozen wastelands were worth dying for. Majority spoke different dialects and couldn't understand orders given by educated northern Italians in official language.
  • Conscripts treated poorly, regions extremely low (3,000 calories a day by 1916)
  • 290,000 soldiers court-martialled during war for desertion - couldn't comprehend why war was being fought. Solution by supreme commander Luigi Cadorna was harsh punishment to repress dissent = military tribunals passed 4,000 death sentences for desertion and indiscipline.
  • Italian leaders feared that soldiers might surrender if they heard conditions in POW camps were tolerable - govt hampered attempts to help captured Italians.
  • 600,000 captured, 1000 calories a day. 100,000 died of hunger related illness, 5 times the number from Britain and France whose prisoners received food parcels.
  • Soldiers who survived camps felt abandoned and angry towards a govt that betrayed them.

Defeat at Caporetto

  • 1916 - Austrian army launched Strafexpedition to open path and allow it to attack Verona and Bologna. Italian army able to regroup and halt attack, but had big impact on army and morale.
  • Salandra forced to resign after criticism by military command and parliament. Replaced by 78 yr old Paolo Boselli, but military efforts didn't improve.
  • October 1917 - Battle of Caporetto. Austrian forces attacked front line. Poor leadership + low morale = army dissolved, humiliating and chaotic retreat.
  • Italian army came down mountains. Reports of looting, violence between Italians, celebrations by those who thought war was over. 200,000 lost contact with regiments, military arms lost, majority of Venetian region lost.
  • Actions of troops was embarrassment to leaders who previously claimed war brought patriotic unity. Senator Leopoldo Franchetti committed suicide.
  • 10,000 Italians killed. 30,000 wounded. 300,000 taken prisoner. 400,000 vanished.
  • Defeat was turning point - Italy now fighting for survival.
  • Majority of parliament not behind the war, were blamed for poor military performance. Nationalists called for revolution. Some called for Giolitti and other politicians to be put on trial for treason.
  • Boselli resigned, replaced by Vittorio Orland (younger and more dynamic)
  • Italian army reorganised under new commander, General Diaz. Rations raised, annual leave increased, greater focus on boosting morale through lectures and newspapers. Peasant conscripts promised land reform.
  • December 1917 - organisation established to look after welfare of soldiers and their families.
  • General Diaz avoided needless sacrifice of soldiers in suicidal offensives, casualty rates fell from 520,000 in 1917 to 143,000 in 1918.

Socialist responses to war

  • PSI continued to oppose war, refused to vote for war credits, declared policy of 'neither support nor sabotage' to war effort. Nationalists and many liberal supporters saw it as defeatist, unpatriotic, anti-Italian. Blamed them for poor military performance.
  • Humiliation after Caporetto - many PSI leaders arrested, believed to have 'stabbed Italy in the back'
  • Mussolini blamed socialists, said they were more dangerous enemy than Austrians, called for a forceful leader to unite country.
  • PSI position on war meant there was greater polarisation between left and right,

War economy and costs of war

  • Italy initially behind Austria in key economic areas that were crucial for war - steel production less than 1M tonnes, Austrians at 2.6M tonnes; for every 2 machine guns per Italian battalion, Austrians had 12; Italy short on artillery and bullets.
  • Italy made significant economic improvements that would overcome its deficits and overall, it's industry dealt with war requirements effectively
  • Fiat est. as Europe's leading truck and lorry manufacturer. 25,000 vehicles produced in 1918. Created aeronautical industry, produced 6,500 planes 1918.
  • By end of war, Italian industry produced 20,000 machine guns, 7,000 pieces heavy artillery, more than British.
  • Under-secretariat of arms and munitions, Alfredo Dallolio, organised recruitment of woman and peasants into factories, ensured that those deemed essential to war production wouldn't be conscripted
  • Work hours increased, strikes made illegal, workers faces military tribunals if behaviour was unsatisfactory
  • Dallilo's ministry financed expansion by making payments in advance, arranging cheap loans, establishing profitable contracts for big businesses.
  • Italy achieved rapid growth. No risk involved for industrialists, they were backed up by state and banks which fuelled expansion. However, growth was based on govt investment, paid for using foreign loans and printing money - inflation, cuts to govt spending, country 23 billion lire in debt after war.
  • Economy unbalanced with war based sectors growing at disproportionate rate compared to other industries.
  • Majority of war production bases in north east and growth of industry here accelerated north/south division. North's economy grew over 20% 1911-1921
  • By 1917 bread and pasta were rationed, meat and sugar consumption falling sharply.
  • Long hours and a 25% fall in wages fuelled anger, especially since majority of Italians didn't support war
  • Govt increased direct taxes to pay for war effort - greater social division, affected poor more
  • August 1917 - 50 workers killed protesting in a Turin against bread shortages and war. Riots shocked politicians, steps made to increase food supplies and pro-war propaganda.
  • Industry increased during war but cause long term economic and social problems after war.

The significance of victory

  • Shift in military tactics, with disintegration of Austria-Hungarian Empire due to events elsewhere, saw Italy's prospects improve. By Oct 1918, the empire was near collapse.
  • Orlando encouraged Diaz to attack, believe Italian victory would strengthen position in negotiations after war. 24th Oct 1918 - Italian forces launched offensive across the Piave, entering town of Vittorio Veneto, splitting Austrian army in 2. Armistice signed 4th Nov.
  • Battle of Vittorio Veneto symbolised greatest moment of Italian nation. Victory promoted by nationalists as demonstrating glory of Italy achieved through patriotism, unity and self sacrifice.
  • Mussolini would later link battle to his appointment as PM and success of fascism, claiming they represented same ideals as achieved at Vittorio Veneto
  • Italy suffered 650,000 casualties, economy greatly distorted between N/S, debt and inflation, those who supported war and those who didn't, those who fought and those who didn't.
  • Govt faced difficult task of fulfilling promises made to peasants after Caporetto.
  • Soldiers wanted compensation for sacrifices made
  • Italians believed war should bring major changes in politics.

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