chapter  5
9 Pages

The Home Fronts

On the home fronts, ‘business as usual’ was a hollow pretence by 1915. In Britain, the grim reality of war arrived with the shell crisis and the lists of dead. In Germany, it took the form of an increasingly bitter debate over war aims and submarine warfare. The occupation of a tenth of France concentrated the mind of the French wonderfully and ruled out any fond hopes of an easy war. Severe inflation saw to it that staying alive preoccupied the people of Russia. Ethnic nationalism had divided the subjects of the Habsburg Empire long before the war and now intensified, with the added complication that Slavs in the Empire were pitted against fellow Slavs in Russia. When Britain and France bribed Italy to enter the war in May 1915, the peoples of the Habsburg Empire finally had an enemy they could all dislike. Unfortunately for both them and the Italians, the only place they could meet to fight was in the valley of the Isonzo river and in the Dolomite Alps north and east of Venice. Between June 1915 and June 1917, there were ten distinct ‘battles of the Isonzo’, none conferring an advantage to either side for long and all adding up to abject misery comparable to the suffering the Germans and British endured in the flood plains of Flanders. German help gave the AustroHungarians a thin edge, culminating in the rout of the Italians at Caporetto in October 1917, sometimes called the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo. A year later, the Italians with British help broke through to Austro-Hungarian headquarters at Vittorio Veneto, in effect applying a finishing blow to the ancient Habsburg Empire.