Austrians Capture Italian Division Near Asiago

December 4 1917, Mt. Meletta–Although the Germans had largely ceased attacks on the Italian front, the Austrians, exhausted but with high morale, were still determined to break through in the mountains and outflank the Italian lines on the Piave.  On December 4, they attacked an Italian salient in the mountains just east of Asiago.  An initial gas attack incapacitated many of the defenders (thanks to the poor quality of the Italians’ gas masks, many of which were French cast-offs), and within four hours they had taken the salient along with 16,000 prisoners.

Conrad pushed further south in the following days.  While he was still around ten miles away from the plains below, an Austrian breakthrough here would have dire consequences, as it would be behind not only the Piave, but the Brenta as well; Venice and Padua would have to be evacuated.  In a panic, Diaz apparently considered a withdrawal as far back as Bologna, which would abandon the whole of northern Italy to the Austrians.  While the prospect of an Austrian advance over the Alps into southern France was far-fetched to say the least, this would still require the French and British to guard that frontier, and they informed Diaz that they would not withdraw even if the Italians did.

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