June 23, 1918 – Austrians Retreat from the Piave River
Pictured – A motley band of Austro-Hungarian troops on the Piave. Their defeat there was the beginning of the end for the Hapsburg Empire.
On June 15 the Austro-Hungarian Army launched an offensive on the Italian front which caught the Allies by surprise and drove them back from their defensive line on the Piave River. On June 23 the Austrians were in retreat.
After some fierce fighting, the Italians had regrouped with help from British and French divisions that had been placed to stiffen the lines. Fifty airplanes from the new Royal Air Force also harried the Austro-Hungarian attackers with strafing runs. Allied weight of numbers and a better operational plan won the victory, with the Italians drawing the Austrians deep into their lines before hitting them hard with a counter-attack by reserve divisions. Despite a personal plea by Emperor Karl I to maintain the bridgehead over the Piave, the under-supplied and outgunned Austrians withdrew. By the next day all their men had retreated over the Piave, leaving behind over one hundred thousand casualties they could ill afford.
June 22, 1918 – Hammond Circus Train Crash
Pictured – Locals gather to look at the wreckage. The crash killed 86 people and is one of the worst train accidents in US history.
A tragedy took place in Hammond, Indiana, on June 22 1918 when a freight train collided with a stopped train carrying the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. The circus had just completed several performances in Michigan City, and the dissembleed tents and performers, and their families. had boarded the train for another journey. Fortunately the animals were loaded on a different train.
At 4 AM while most of the circus performers slept, a freight train arrived at the station, but its engineer had fallen asleep. His train plowed into the circus train, which caught fire because of the kerosene lanterns used inside. The aftermath of the crash was a nightmare, with over 200 injured and 84 dead, most of them too badly burned for their bodies to be identified.
Austro-Hungarian Kaiser Karl I (right) inspects bread rations. By 1918 the Dual Monarchy faced a food crisis that contributed to the rapid breakup of the kingdom.
June 21, 1918 – Food Riots in Vienna
Pictured – A robbed butcher’s shop in Berlin. All the Central Powers faced a hunger crisis by the end of the Great War.
British and American newspapers carried word of large bread riots in Vienna on the solstice, claiming that 100,000 Austrian workers had gone on strike. That week the Hapsburg government had reduced food rations in the city; citizens were limited to three ounces of bread a day, according to one paper. The rest of Austria’s meager stockpile had to go to the army in Italy. Even there Italian soldiers reported they could entice Austro-Hungarian soldiers to surrender merely by offering them food. But at least the soldiers could count on regular rations: for the average Viennese worker the daily amount of calories had fallen from 2,845 to 1,293.
The men (and horses and dog) of the 20th Field Ambulance RAMC take a group photograph, June 19 1918.
June 20, 1918 – Britain Drops Conscription in Ireland
Pictured – The Catholic Church and Irish politicians joined together in a “solemn league and covenant pledge” to oppose conscription.
Dublin Castle ended its abortive attempt to introduce conscription into Ireland on June 20, 1918. The call for Irish conscription had become a fiasco for the British government, with thousands of Irish rallying behind the Church and politicians who opposed compulsory service. Ireland had supplied many volunteers to the British army, but had been and now remained exempt from conscription. The Crisis undermined support for the British in Ireland more than the Easter Rising; in a by-election in East Cavan that day Arthur Griffith of Sinn Féin triumphed.
A two-man British Bristol fighter banks in the clouds high over France in June 1918.
June 19, 1918 – Top Italian Ace Barraca Killed by Ground Fire
Francesco Baracca poses in front of his SPAD S.XIII scout days before his death. Barraca’s personal insignia of a rearing black horse was adopted by Italian racer Enzo Ferrari.
As the sun neared its June meridian the Italian army was fighting for its life on the Piave River against repeated Austrian hammer blows. The Italians however could count on air superiority for their side. Clouds of their own fighters, and British and French ones, strafed waves of advancing Austro-Hungarian infantrymen.
One of the pilots overhead was Major Franceso Barraca. Like many pilots, Barraca was a former cavalrymen who brought his talents and his dash into the air during the Great War. Barraca counted 34 enemy machines downed, which made him the top Italian ace of the war. He had shot down ten alone during the Battle of Caporetto and given Italians one of their only bright spots of the battle.
Barraca met his end on June 19 during the Second Battle of the Piave. During a strafing run low to the ground his machine was seen to spin out of control and smash into a nearby hill. When Italian infantrymen counter-attacked across the hill days later, they found Barraca’s body with a bullet in the head. Officially his death was credited to Austrian ground fire, although the rear gunner of an Austrian plane also claimed the kill. Barraca’s legacy lived on, however. An Italian artilleryman named Enzo Ferrari adopted Barraca’s personal insignia of a rearing black horse for a race car after the war, and later, with the permission of Barraca’s family, used it as the emblem for his sports car factory.
June 18, 1918 – French General Franchet d’Esperey Takes Command of Entente Forces in Greece
Pictured – D’Esperey inspects Greek soldiers.
C.S. Forester wrote in his novel The General that the generals of the First World War were like
“savages … accustomed only to nails,” who try to “extract a screw
from a piece of wood … by main force,” never imagining there could
be a better way. He meant that the brute force offensives on the Western Front betrayed a limited imagination to the generation of officers who commanded in the Great War.
Forester was uncharitable. That is evident by the way many generals who failed to break the deadlock on the Western Front revealed their talents when sent to other theaters of conflict. The French General Franchet d’Esperey arrived at the malarial backwater of the Salonika campaign in June 1918 to take command of the Allied forces there, a conglomerate of Greeks, French, British, and Serbs. D’Esperey had been blamed for enormous losses to French troops during the offensives of 1917 and early 1918 on the Western Front. Once in Salonika, however, he displayed enormous skill re-organizing the theater and was responsible for the eventual triumph of Allied arms at Vardar in October 1918. Much like his British counterpart Edmund Allenby sent to command in Palestine, when generals like D’Esperey who failed on the Western Front went elsewhere, they proved more than able to succeed. Casualties were enormous on the Western Front not because the generals were dullards, but because there simply was nothing to use but “brute force.”
Almost a million British women worked in munitions factories during the Great War and were often encouraged to form football clubs. As competitive football was suspended, women’s factory teams became very popular and even organized their own cup in northern England. Pictured is the
Associated Equipment Company’s club from Beckton, London. In 1921 the Football League however banned women from playing on its pitches.