The Battle of Vittorio Veneto was the last decisive battle in northern Italy of World War One. The Italian victory at Vittorio Veneto also effectively signalled the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Without an army to support it, the governing regime that controlled the empire collapsed and the empire fragmented
The Italian army had lost 300,000 men at the battles fought at Caporetto in 1917 and morale in the Italian army after this defeat was low. In an effort to restore morale and to push the Austro-Hungarian army out of Italy, victory at Vittorio Veneto was vital. Under the command of a new general, Armando Diaz, the Italian army managed to secure and stabilise its frontline along the Piave River in June 1918 when they held off a major attack by the Austro-Hungarian army. While this was a significant success for the Italians, the Austro-Hungarian army lost 100,000 men killed and wounded. The defeat did a great deal to hasten the demoralisation of an army that was already on the verge of collapse.
The Italian Prime Minister, Orlando, wanted a successful offensive campaign as he believed that such a campaign would do a great deal to boost his popularity and bolster any Italian territorial demands against the Austrians at a future peace settlement. Field Marshal Foch, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, supported Orlando in this desire. However, Diaz was more guarded and while he supported an attack against the Austro-Hungarians, he only wanted to launch one when he thought his army was ready.
The Italian offensive against Austro-Hungarian forces at Vittorio Veneto was launched on October 23rd 1918. Vittorio Veneto was chosen as the primary target as the town’s capture would split the Austro-Hungarians in two. The Austro-Hungarians held a line across northern Italy and Vittorio Veneto was effectively at the midway point. Diaz believed that once the Austro-Hungarian force was split in two, it would crumble away. In this Diaz was correct.
An attack was launched along a line that stretched from Venice, Treviso, Vicenza to Bormio. The Italians attacked Austro-Hungarian forces with 54 divisions. 3 French and British divisions supported them. They faced 52 Austro-Hungarian divisions. At the start of the battle, the Italians had a marked advantage in artillery weapons.
The attack brought an immediate problem – crossing the flooding River Piave. Once this was achieved, the Italians attacked relentlessly against an army that was on the verge of collapse. Vittorio Veneto was recaptured on October 30th. The 10th Italian Army pushed towards Udine, the Third Army pushed towards Latisana while the First Army targeted Trent.
In just ten days into the campaign, the Italians had recaptured much lost land. The Austrians lost 35,000 dead, 100,000 wounded and taken 300,000 prisoners-of-war – though some researchers have put the figure as high as 500,000. After fighting across a front that measured 56 kilometres and advancing 24 kilometres, the Italians lost just 5,800 men killed and 26,000 wounded.
A truce was signed on November 2nd, which was formalised on November 4th. Without a properly functioning army to support it, the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed and fragmented into various nation states.