Free Trieste Movement

THE LAST BATTLE OF THE “BROWN DEVILS”

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27 OCTOBER, 1918 – MONTE PERTICA

27 October 1918, Mount Pertica is the defensive bulwark that defends the frontline of Mount Grappa. The mountain, 1,549 meters heigh, has been one of the peaks that Italians and Austrians have fought for the most and, after the breach of Caporetto-Kobarid, the frontline is firm on river Piave. Conquered and lost over and over again during the year by the Austrians, the Mount is now in the hands of Italians.

The war is coming to its end. The Austrian-Hungarian double monarchy is falling apart, under the assault of nationalisms. A glorious Empire that wrote the history of Europe, establishing the first State above nationality thanks to tolerance is imploding; overwhelmed by the totalitarian ideologies that have emerged in the terrible massacre that is war. And what remains of its victorious army, which has defeated the enemy on the battlefield, now is quickly, dissolving.

The situation on the Italian front is worsening. The divisions, disbanded, start to retreat. Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Slovenes, Polish, Ukrainians, Ruthenians, Serbs, and Croats want to go back home, in the new Nations that are rising after the fall of the Empire.

Only a few divisions stand firm, holding the frontline without giving up, to the end. Among them is the glorious 7th Infantry Regiment Khevenhüller. The undefeated Regiment, one of the most decorated of the Austro-Hungarian army, is ready to fight, alone, the last battle: the attack to Mount Pertica.

Diavoli bruni” (the Brown Devils) this is who Italians call them. They are the brave mountain troops from Carinthia who won on the S. Michele, on the Julian Alps, in the breach of Caporetto, and in the previous battles on Mount Grappa itself. However, at this point the Regiment is a pale shadow of the proud Regiment which, back in July 1914, left Klagenfurt surrounded by cheering residents, off to the Russian front. Just a few days before the end of the war, it is reduced to 1/3 of its original forces. Little more  than 1,000 men. It is the few veterans of many previous battles, together with the reserves of the territorial troops and the boys. Young, 17 to 18 years old, together with 40 years old men are now the backbone of what used to be one of the élite units of the Imperial-Royal army.

An attack would be vain, because there are no other troops to support it. Once conquered the peak of the mountain, the Khevenhüller won’t be able to keep it. But orders shall not be questioned: the Pertica must be conquered! It is important proving, once again for the last time, the valour of Austrian soldiers. And so, to the assault!

After two hours of march in the night, approaching the target, at 5AM the Regiment is in the positions chosen to led the attack. Three battalions attack at the very same time, covered by Austrian artillery. The battalions are preceded by the assault troops, who must get rid of the machine gun pits. The fire of Austrian artillery covers their advance, one step after another. Even excessively. Short fire causes the first victims among the men who are attacking. Italians, surprised, try to organize the defences. Machine guns crackle in the night and fusilier fire intensifies. But the human tide of the Khevenhüller is inexorable. One after another, Italian machine gun posts are silenced. At 6.15AM, the three battalions of the 7th Regiment break through Italian trenches and, after fierce hand-to-hand combats, they capture the peak of Mount Pertica.

But now this peak, conquered with such an harsh fight, must be defended from the immediate Italian counterattacks. The first ones are repelled by the fire of the heavy machine-guns that the Khevenhüller succeeded in bringing on the peak. However, without reinforcements and running out of ammunitions, the men of the 7th Regiment must start drawing back. At 10.30AM the Italian Alpini conquer the old positions once again.

On 27 October, 1918, on Munt Pertica, the 7th Regiment Khevenhüller loses 862 men and 35 officers: two-thirds of its forces. The indomitable soldiers who, instead of retreating, preferred fighting to death in defence of the honour of their flag, have written the last, glorious page of the Imperial-Royal Austro-Hungarian army.

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