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 of the frontline of the Grappa. The 1,549 meters mountain has been one of the peaks that Italians and Austrians contended the most since, after the breach of Kobarid, the frontline is stable on the Piave. Conquered and lost over and over again during the year by the Austrians, the Mountain is now in the hands of Italians.

The war is coming to an end. The Austrian-Hungarian double monarchy is falling apart, under the assault of nationalisms. A glorious Empire that has written the history of Europe, establishing the first supranational State 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, is now, quickly, dissolving.

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

Only a few divisions remain firm, to hold the frontline without giving up, to the end. Among them is the glorious 7th Infantry Regiment Khevenhüller. The undefeated Regiment, among the most decorated of the Austro-Hungarian army, is now about 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 Alpi Giulie, in the breach of Kobarid and in the battles on Mount Grappa. But, by now, the Regiment is a pale shadow of the proud Regiment which, back in July 1914, left Klagenfurt in the middle of the celebrations of local population, directed to the Russian front. Just a few days before the end of the war, it is reduced to 1/3 of its original forces. Not much 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. Youth 17 to 18 years old and 40 years old men are now the backbone of what used to be one of the elite units of the Imperial-Royal army.

Attacking is vain, because no other troops can 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 more, for the last time, the valour of Austrian soldiers. And so, to the assault!

After two hours of marching in the night to approach to the objective, at 5AM the Regiment is in the positions chosen for the attack. Three battalions attack at the same time, covered by Austrian artillery. The battalions are preceded by the assault patrols that must get rid of the machine gun pits. The fire of Austrian artillery covers their advance, step after step. Even excessively. Short fire causes the first victims among the ones 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 breach through Italian trenches and, after fierce hand-to-hand combats, they capture the peak of the Pertica.

But, now the peak conquered so hardly must be defended from immediate Italian counterattacks. The first are repelled by the fire of the heavy machine-guns that the Khevenhüller succeeded in bringing on the peak. But, with no reinforces and running out of ammunitions, the men of the 7th Regiment must start drawing back. At 10.30AM Italian Alpini conquer once again the old positions.

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

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