A Brief History
On October 26, 1917, a force of only 100 German Army soldiers led by Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant in American talk) Erwin Rommel took Mt. Matajur from an Italian defensive force of 7,000 men, a key part of the German/Austro-Hungarian victory at the Battle of Caporetto (aka The 12th Battle of the Isonzo).
Rommel earned the highest German military medal of the time for his exploits, the Pour le Merite (sometimes called colloquially The Blue Max) but his main comments were for his men to be better fed, which says a lot about his leadership.
To illustrate how amazing this feat of military prowess was, you should know that military tactics call for an attacking force to outnumber a defensive force by a ratio of 3 to 1 to have a reasonable chance of victory. To beat an entrenched army when outnumbered 70 to 1 is virtually unheard of!
Rommel and other German commanders made good use of some of the newer technology during the Battle of Caporetto, including machine guns, light and portable mortars, flamethrowers, hand grenades, and at the upper levels, poison gas. Rommel’s Alpine troops were essential for securing the high ground to allow a chance for the success of Central Powers forces.
Initial victory by Central Powers forces resulted in their men being spread over a larger area, allowing the soundly defeated Italians a respite which resulted in resumed attrition warfare. The Italians did suffer greatly at Caporetto, losing 10,000 dead, 30,000 wounded, and a whopping 265,000 captured. Italy also lost 3000 cannon, 3000 machine guns, and 2000 mortars along with mass quantities of other supplies. Central Powers losses were also high, with 70,000 total dead and wounded, but with negligible numbers captured.
Rommel went on to great success during World War II, marching up the ranks to Field Marshal. Wounded in July 1944 after the June 1944 Normandy invasion, he was implicated in the plot to blow up Adolf Hitler (Valkyrie) and was allowed to commit suicide in lieu of a trial and execution, keeping his honor and family intact. His reputation among Germans is so high it is virtually mythical, and among his opponents (British and American) military men then and even now his reputation is of the highest order.
Question for students (and subscribers): We will leave further research up to our readers to decide just how much of a military genius Rommel was, but if capturing Mt. Matajur during the Caporetto campaign is any indication, it would certainly seem so! Please let us know what you think in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Butler, Daniel Allen. Field Marshal: The Life and Death of Erwin Rommel. Casemate, 2015.