Who's Who - Luigi Cadorna

Luigi Cadorna Luigi Cadorna (1850-1928) served as Italy's Chief of Staff from the outbreak of the war in August 1914 until his dismissal in the wake of the Italian army's defeat at Caporetto.

Cadorna was born in Pallanza, in the Kingdom of Sardinia on 4 September 1850.  He received a commission as Lieutenant in the Italian army in 1868.  His rise through the ranks was constant until, in 1908, he was offered the post of army Chief of Staff.

A firm opponent of any form of political interference in military affairs, Cadorna nevertheless turned down the offer of the post fearing likely political manipulation during wartime.  He did however accept the post when it was offered to him for a second time in July 1914, on the eve of war.

Italy began the war as a neutral (having declared as such on 2 August 1914), and supposedly allied, albeit tenuously, with the Central Powers.  It was generally agreed however that Italy's delayed entrance into the war would be as an ally of the Entente Powers.

Such was the case: Italy declared war on 23 May 1915 against her old foe Austria-Hungary.  In the intervening months Cadorna, working with Armando Diaz - his eventual successor - moved to radically overhaul the capability of the Italian army to conduct war.

With war declared Cadorna was given command of the Austro-Italian frontier.  He determined to maintain a defensive line in the Trentino while initiating a seemingly interminable - and largely unsuccessful - series of conventional massed infantry attacks along the Isonzo river.

Cadorna's style of conducting war, using breakthrough tactics, had not evolved to take into consideration the necessary deployment of artillery support, as had become the norm on the Western Front.

Choosing to attribute his setbacks to apathy at home and cowardice among the army, Cadorna was brutal in his implementation of the military death penalty; he authorized the execution of over 750 men and routinely purged his senior commanders, dismissing some 217 officers for perceived incompetence.

Cadorna could count among his successes - limited though they were - the successful Italian defence in the Trentino (1916), the capture of Gorizia (1916) and victory at Baensezza (1917).

His relatively modest successes however were entirely dwarfed by the entry of Germany into the Austro-Italian theatre of war.  Italy's humiliating defeat at Caporetto in late October 1917 quickly sealed Cadorna's fate.  Along with Vittorio Orlando's appointment as Prime Minister, Diaz was appointed Cadorna's replacement as Chief of Staff.

Having been dismissed his primary military role Cadorna was awarded the slight consolation of being transferred to the Allied military council at Versailles.  However the official Italian enquiry into the disaster at Caporetto, published in 1919, held Cadorna firmly to blame: he consequently resigned his position and returned to Italy.

Despite his fall from grace, Cadorna was made Field Marshal by Benito Mussolini in 1924, a form of official forgiveness.

He died on 21 December 1928 in Bordighera at the age of 78.

A howitzer is any short cannon that delivers its shells in a high trajectory. The word is derived from an old German word for "catapult".

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