Free Trieste



THE K.u.K. Infanterieregiment Nr. 7 “KHEVENHÜLLER” ON THE SAN MICHELE

November 24ᵗʰ, 1915, Mount San Michele, afternoon. We are in the midst of the 4ᵗʰ battle of the Isonzo. The 3rd Italian Army lead, by the Duke of Aosta, aims at breaking through the southern front to find a way to Trieste, Austria-Hungary’s main port.

Trieste’s fall would be an epic victory for Italy, and a fatal blow for Austria.

However, the well-defended Austrian-Hungarian first line, which runs south from Gorizia to the sea, cannot be crosser without taking hold of one of its strongholds: the San Michele.

This first line consists of the low hills that yet tower above river Isonzo its its low flat. Behind the San Michele starts the dry Karst plateau. After 20 kilometers runs the second defense line: this the last shield before Trieste. It is the Hermada fortress.

The Imperial-Royal army has fortified the San Michele as well; its four peaks are now the domes of a citadel made of fences, trenches, galleries dig in the stone, observation points, artillery posts, machine gun nests. The three battles of the Isonzo took place here as well, all very vehemently, all leaving thousands of fallen on both sides.

Yet, the Italian has never been able to destroy the Austrian-Hungarian defense lines: those stand still on the main quotas. Now the Italian divisions are with their tranches embraced on the mountain’s steep slopes. They are only some dozens meters under the first Austrian-Hungarian defense line, and the Isonzo is behind them: a very uncomfortable position.

There have already been three battles on the San Michele, and they all ended in a bloodbath: the Italian army suffered three times more losses than the Austrian-Hungarians, and yet the Italian “strategists” didn’t learn a thing from it. They agree with “generalissimo” Cadorna and with his theory about front assaults. And so, it all goes on the same way, over and over again.

On November 16ᵗʰ, after one week of harsh fighting, the first phase of the attack ends. Preventive, blanket bombings, then the obvious attacks, with many infantrymen thrown right under enemy fences, often intact, only to be mown down by a cross-fire of machine guns, rifles, and grenades. Obviously, it is all in vain. All attempted frontal breakthrough fail into massacres, including those on the Doberdò plateau, defended mostly by the 17ᵗʰ Austrian-Hungarian Infantry Regiment and by the 22nd Schützendivision.

After a short, 2-days pause due to worsening weather conditions and the necessity to reorganize the troops, providing the units “dissolved” in the infernal cauldron of the San Michele with new troops, new cannon fodder ready to be slaughtered, Cadorna launches the second phase of the battle.

November 18ᵗʰ, sunrise. The Italians bomb the San Michele, uninterruptedly, as never before. The San Michele is defended well. The 6ᵗʰ Infantry Regiment stands on the north, the 17ᵗʰ division on the south. The 12ᵗʰ Infantry brigade guards the main peak and the northern side, together with the battalions Feldjäger, No. 7, 8, 9, and the 7ᵗʰ Infantry Regiment Khevenhüller.

Follows complete devastation. The bombing thorns Austrian-Hungarian trenches and the land around, exposing the bodies of those fallen in the previous battles. Men keep living and dying for six days, as long, infernal battles ensue. Slipping in the blood of comrades and enemies, rolling over their bowels, thorn outside the bodies discarded and ripped by grenades.

The Italians break through some positions, try to open new breaches, to conquer some hundred meters, but ultimately the Austrian-Hungarian counterattacks push them back. The Italians draw back to their initial positions.

The same happens in San Martino: November 23rd, afternoon. The Italians enter Austrian trenches on the right wing, defended by the 16ᵗʰ Landsturm Mountain Brigade. However, 1st battalion of the 7ᵗʰ regiment, reacts promptly. Led by Captain Gawaloski, the battalion stops the Italians.

Although with halved forces, Gawaloski’s battalion counterattacks without hesitation despite being outnumbered 1 to 10 by the Italians. Gawaloski’s men resist until the 17ᵗʰ Honvéd regiment arrives. On the following day, the old defensive position San Martino is completely recaptured thanks to Captain Gawaloski’s battalion, alone, with only 80 men left.

The K.u.K. Infanterieregiment Nr. 7 Khevenhüller plays a decisive role in this battle.

They are an élite army, called to defend the dangerous breaches opened by the Italian attacks on  the San Michele. This is how the brave mountain troops from Karten prevent the most dangerous breakthrough of the Italians in this cruel battle.

November 24th, northern side of the San Michele. The Italian troops successfully capture altitude 124, wedging themselves between the 3rd Honvéd Infantry Regiment and the 17ᵗʰ infantry regiment. The situation is dangerous.

Italians could overwhelm the Austrian-Hungarian defense line, circumventing altitude 275, the main peak of the San Michele. It is fundamental reacting promptly to prevent them from doing so.

The 3rd battalion of the 7ᵗʰ infantry regiment Khevenhüller lead by Captain Barger is in charge of the counterattack. The companies involved are the 9th, the 10ᵗʰ and the 11ᵗʰ.

At 11.30PM, the 9ᵗʰ and 10ᵗʰ company start marching, approaching their target. In the middle of the night, in complete darkness, and in maximum silence, the men must go through the former trenches of the 3rd regiment Honvéd.

It is a difficult action, they are just 30 meters away from the Italian line, and it is important avoiding unnecessary sounds. In three and a half hours, the Austrians cover the 2 Km distance. Then they take contact with the 27ᵗʰ Regiment.

The 11ᵗʰ company comes to covers the others. The counterattack can begin.

The enemy is not further than 15 meters.

At 4.30AM the 9ᵗʰ company, lead by lieutenant Josef Zigurnigg, attacks. Zigurnigg stands before his men, a gun in his hand. Soon, the 10ᵗʰ company joins the attack as well.

The Khevenhüller throw lots of hand grenades in enemy trenches, then attack at draggers drown. The battle continues as hand to hand combat. The Italians are taken by complete surprise and retreat, leaving dozens of fallen and prisoners behind.

In a few hours, the trench occupied by Italians as a wedge in the Austrian-Hungarian line returns firmly in the Imperial and Royal troops’ hands. They reinforce the front: the dangerous circumventing of the San Michele bulwark is prevented.

In the twenty days fighting on Mount San Michele, in November 1915 alone, the K.u.K 7ᵗʰ Infantry Regiment loses 980 men out of 1,705. About 58% of its troops. Heavy losses, which testify their role and permanent presence in all critical positions along the front.

On December 9th, the Khevenhüller Infantry Regiment that bleed this much on the San Michele is sent back to Austria and re-established. It remains on the Karten front until October 1917, when it takes part to the 12ᵗʰ battle of the Isonzo. Also known as the Caporetto – Kobarid victory.

Translated from blog “Environment and Legality” by Roberto Giurastante

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