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Thread: The Americans in Italy during WW1

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    Default The Americans in Italy during WW1

    At the Conference of the Allies, which took place in Chantilly (France) in February 1918, the Italian Prime Minister, Vittorio E. Orlando, officially requested a Contingent of American troops to be put at the disposal of the Italian Army Headquarters. This had been done in the past with the other members of the Alliance. The American President, Wilson, had to send the requested Contingent, even though his Generals and Commanders disagreed. Beyond the moral reasons, the image, and the duties of the Alliance, there was a great deal of political pressure on the Congress from the large Italian-American community. This facilitated the decision to send an Infantry Regiment to the Italian front, which had a full strength regular combat unit created through the organized aggregation and integration of several minor independent units like a battalion of machine–guns, some batteries of artillery and mortars with logistical autonomy, and complete medical units. The 332nd Infantry Regiment was chosen since it was ready to be sent to Europe. The Generals opposed the decision of providing Italy with American troops that were already fighting on the French front, and requested to send troops that were available in the U.S.A. Actually, the German offensive in France took place in March 1918, therefore it would have been impossible for the Allies to move any of their troops to the disposition of the Italian Army.

    But before they reached Italy, because the defeat at Caporetto, in December of 1917arrived in Italy other Americans. They were not combat troops, as in France, but young volunteers of "American Red Cross" who had signed a six-month engagement as drivers of ambulances. In most university students, they were anxious to assist "in the front row" to what the U.S. press, with a cynicism justified only by distance, extolled as "the greatest show on earth."
    It was a small contingent. In all, about 200 men, with responsibility of welfare and propaganda. In practice they had been sent to Italy to give courage to those who fought on the front lines, to cheer the moral after the disastrous retreat, to encourage the resistance because behind there was the great America who was coming (?).
    Among them, two future very famous writers: Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos.
    The novel of Hemingway "A firewell to the arms" was largely inspired by the author exprience on the Italian front.

    The Americans were grouped into five sections of the ARC (American Red Cross) with bases in Schio. Bassano del Grappa, Fanzolo, Roncade and Casale sul Sile. Each Section had twenty ambulances "Ford" and "Fiat" available and thirty drivers, used to transport the woundeds from field hospitals to rear. The sections also dealed with management of "rest stops" set up behind the front lines that supplied combatants. In Milan, Via Cesare Cantu No 4, the ARC had arranged for their staff a small but efficient military hospital. When the front was quiet, these American boys in khaki uniform dare to set foot in the trenches where they distributed handshakes, chocolate, cigarettes, coffee and backslapping. For this reason, not knowing how to define them, many people called them "those of chocolate".

    Owing to reasons of supply priorities, the 332nd Regiment could leave the U.S.A. only in May 1918. Together with the entire 83rd Division, they reached Great Britain in June. While they were getting ready to be transferred to France and then to Italy, news of an Austrian -Hungarian offensive in June1918 on the Piave river postponed their departure from Great Britain. A Contingent of about 2000 Officials and soldiers embarked on the Italian ship “Giuseppe Verdi”, and reached Genoa on the 28th June 1918. By train they arrived in Padua where they met with the Command of the U.S. Military Mission. The Headquarters of the U.S. troops in Italy was created in Padua, while the Field-Military-Hospital A.E.F.331 was installed in Verona and the Base Hospital A.E.F. 102 was installed in Vicenza. On the 25th July 1918, the 332nd Regiment, that was in France at the time, was sent to Italy. The Regiment arrived in Milan on the 28th July 1918 and was welcomed with joy by the residents and authorities. The troops at their arrival were welcomed in Villafranca (Verona), too. The 3rd Battalion, the Battalion of Machine gunners and the Companies of Supplies stayed in Villafranca. In Custoza, near the Field-Hospital 331, the 2nd Battalion was quartered. The 1st Battalion and the Regimental Command was quartered in Sommacampagna (Verona) along with the Battalions of Artillery and Mortars. All other minor units were divided among the various Battalions.

    The troops were quartered in old Italian Military infrastructures that were put at their disposal, infrastructures that had been used in the past by the Italian Army, but all were lacking in efficiency and safety. Some efforts were made immediately in order to improve the buildings and get them to good levels of cleanliness and safety.

    The training for trench warfare started immediately in some areas that had been prepared for this purpose, both for the Infantry and the Artillery, in Valeggio near the Mincio river (Verona). The training took place in August 1918, for all the U.S. units. During the training some accidents occurred and some soldiers were injured. The training had been prepared by the “Arditi” units, a special Italian Army group of assaulters. By the end of August some units of the 332nd Regiment were ready to go to the front. The first to go were the men of the 2nd Battalion, who joined the 37th Italian Infantry Division on the Piave river, in the Candelù sector. The 1st Battalion was kept as reserve, behind the front lines, between Varago and Maserada ( Treviso ), while the 3rd Battalion was finishing the training. By the end of October the whole U.S. Contingent was ready to be sent to the front lines.

    During the first weeks of October the units took turns in the trenches on the Piave river between Candelù and Grave di Papadopoli sectors, in an area that was regarded as tranquil, and there was little loss of life. There were, though, some sudden attacks by the Austrian-Hungarian Artillery, which was starting to give in.

    When the offensive of “Vittorio Veneto” started on the 24th October 1918, the 37th Italian Infantry Division was in reserve behind the front lines with the U.S. Contingent. On the 29th of October they were ordered to advance and cross the Piave river, to chase the enemies, who were withdrawing. On the 3rd of November the vanguard of the 37th Italian Infantry Division, which included the U.S. 332nd Regiment, contacted some Austrian - Hungarian units that were trying to resist on the Tagliamento river. At the bridge, Ponte della Delizia, the enemy placed their machine–guns to try to arrest the forwarding Allies. On the 4th of November, in the morning, the Infantrymen of 332nd Regiment attacked and conquered the areas that were occupied by Austrian-Hungarian soldiers and forced them to surrender. Then they ran after those who had managed to escape on the road to Codroipo and Udine. There was very little loss of life. On the same day, at 3 p.m., the Armistice stipulated by Italy and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire came into force and the fighting stopped. The agreements were that Italian Army had to reach and to occupy several areas of Austrian – Hungarian territory.

    It was decided that the U.S. Contingent had to become an Occupation Force of the Allies in the territories that had been under the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.
    When the members of the 332nd Regiment got back to the U.S.A, they showed off an ornament in red cloth with the lion of Saint Mark in the centre, sewn on the sleeve. The lion keeps a book opened with its claws and 332nd, the number of the Regiment. The ornaments were hand-made most likely in the area around Treviso, but they were unauthorized and out of order unit crests. In the years that followed, these ornaments were officially recognised and authorised by the U.S. Army.

    Furthermore, since September 28, 1917 U.S. pilots were training with the Italian aeronautical corp.
    Among them Fiorello La Guardia, future beloved mayor of NYC.
    The best pilots were then embarked the following year with the Italian bomber groups VI and XIV.
    One of them was the leutnant pilot Coleman De Witt from Tenafly, NJ, one of the few foreigners to receive the highest honor of the Italian armed forces, the gold medal.
    The aircraft Caproni Ca44 serial number 11669 took off from Tombetta airfield for a bombing action on the front of Vittorio Veneto in the final days of the offensive, while the troops were involved in the passage of the Piave river. On board, a mixed Italo-American crew.
    At the controls De Witt and James Bahl, second pilot, with Vincenzo Cutelli and Tarcisio Cantarutti. The aircraft was intercepted and shot down by a patrol of 5 Austrian fighters.
    The motivation of the gold medal says: "In the afternoon of October 27, 1918, during an action of bombing, crew chief of a C44 Caproni attacked by five enemy aircraft, instead of evading the fight, he preferred to accept it without hesitation, transfusing strength and energy in his comrades of flight, with his magnificent example of courage and decisiveness. Two of the opponents were downed by the infallible shots of the surrounded aircraft, on board of which the crew continued to struggle amid the flames, until, overwhelmed by the larger number of enemies, it crashed and the entire crew paid with death his audacity". The co-pilot James Bahl was awarded with the Silver Medal.
    Last edited by DVX; 10-27-2011 at 04:57 PM.

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    Default Re: The Americans in Italy during WW1

    I add some nice pics of the 332nd US regiment uniform (from worldwar.it).
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  3. #3
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    Default Re: The Americans in Italy during WW1

    Would you like post some photos of American troops in Italy? Thx

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    Default Re: The Americans in Italy during WW1

    Quote Originally Posted by DVX View Post
    But before they reached Italy, because the defeat at Caporetto, in December of 1917arrived in Italy other Americans. They were not combat troops, as in France, but young volunteers of "American Red Cross" who had signed a six-month engagement as drivers of ambulances. In most university students, they were anxious to assist "in the front row" to what the U.S. press, with a cynicism justified only by distance, extolled as "the greatest show on earth."

    It was a small contingent. In all, about 200 men, with responsibility of welfare and propaganda. In practice they had been sent to Italy to give courage to those who fought on the front lines, to cheer the moral after the disastrous retreat, to encourage the resistance because behind there was the great America who was coming (?).
    Among them, two future very famous writers: Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos.
    The novel of Hemingway "A firewell to the arms" was largely inspired by the author exprience on the Italian front.


    The Americans were grouped into five sections of the ARC (American Red Cross) with bases in Schio. Bassano del Grappa, Fanzolo, Roncade and Casale sul Sile. Each Section had twenty ambulances "Ford" and "Fiat" available and thirty drivers, used to transport the woundeds from field hospitals to rear. The sections also dealed with management of "rest stops" set up behind the front lines that supplied combatants. In Milan, Via Cesare Cantu No 4, the ARC had arranged for their staff a small but efficient military hospital. When the front was quiet, these American boys in khaki uniform dare to set foot in the trenches where they distributed handshakes, chocolate, cigarettes, coffee and backslapping. For this reason, not knowing how to define them, many people called them "those of chocolate".
    My underlining.


    I was a fan of Hemingway's writing in my youth.

    He was badly wounded while distributing chocolate but rescued a wounded Italian soldier and received an Italian medal for it. His experience had a profound effect on fiction concerning war and no doubt on his readers' perception of war.

    During the First World War, Ernest Hemingway volunteered to serve in Italy as an ambulance driver with the American Red Cross. In June 1918, while running a mobile canteen dispensing chocolate and cigarettes for soldiers, he was wounded by Austrian mortar fire. "Then there was a flash, as when a blast-furnace door is swung open, and a roar that started white and went red," he recalled in a letter home.

    Despite his injuries, Hemingway carried a wounded Italian soldier to safety and was injured again by machine-gun fire. For his bravery, he received the Silver Medal of Valor from the Italian government—one of the first Americans so honored.

    Commenting on this experience years later in Men at War, Hemingway wrote: "When you go to war as a boy you have a great illusion of immortality. Other people get killed; not you. . . . Then when you are badly wounded the first time you lose that illusion and you know it can happen to you. After being severely wounded two weeks before my nineteenth birthday I had a bad time until I figured out that nothing could happen to me that had not happened to all men before me. Whatever I had to do men had always done. If they had done it then I could do it too and the best thing was not to worry about it."

    Recuperating for six months in a Milan hospital, Hemingway fell in love with Agnes von Kurowsky, an American Red Cross nurse. At war's end, he returned to his home in Oak Park, Illinois, a different man. His experience of travel, combat, and love had broadened his outlook. Yet while his war experience had changed him dramatically, the town he returned to remained very much the same.

    Two short stories (written years later) offer insights into his homecoming and his understanding of the dilemmas of the returned war veteran. In "Soldier's Home," Howard Krebs returns home from Europe later than many of his peers. Having missed the victory parades, he is unable to reconnect with those he left behind—especially his mother, who cannot understand how her son has been changed by the war.

    "Hemingway's great war work deals with aftermath," stated author Tobias Wolff at the Hemingway centennial celebration. "It deals with what happens to the soul in war and how people deal with that afterward. The problem that Hemingway set for himself in stories like 'Soldier's Home' is the difficulty of telling the truth about what one has been through. He knew about his own difficulty in doing that."

    After living for months with his parents, during which time he learned from Agnes that she had fallen in love with another man, he decamped with two friends to his family's Michigan summer cottage, where he had learned to hunt and fish as a young boy. The trip would be the genesis of Big Two-Hearted River—a story that follows one of Hemingway's best known fictional characters, Nick Adams, recently returned from war, on a fishing trip in northern Michigan.

    In the story, Hemingway never actually mentions the war and the injuries Nick has sustained in it—they simply loom below the surface. In this and other stories in his first major collection, In Our Time, Hemingway does more than advance a narrative; he also debuts a new style of writing fiction.

    "The way we write about war or even think about war was affected fundamentally by Hemingway," stated Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., another speaker at the Hemingway centennial. In the early 1920s, in reaction to their experience of world war, Hemingway and other modernists lost faith in the central institutions of Western civilization. One of those institutions was literature itself. Nineteenth-century novelists were prone to a florid and elaborate style of writing. Hemingway, using a distinctly American vernacular, created a new style of fiction "in which meaning is established through dialogue, through action, and silences—a fiction in which nothing crucial—or at least very little—is stated explicitly."

    "Hemingway was at the crest of a wave of modernists," noted fellow centennial panelist and book critic Gail Caldwell, "that were rebelling against the excesses and hypocrisy of Victorian prose. The First World War is the watershed event that changes world literature as well as how Hemingway responded to it."
    http://www.archives.gov/publications...hemingway.html
    ..
    A rational army would run away.
    Montesquieu

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    Default Re: The Americans in Italy during WW1

    This may be of interest to some people

    With British Guns in Italy a Tribute to Italian Achievement, by Hugh Dalton, Sometime Lieutenant in The Royal Garrison Artillery, First Published in 1919. To The High Cause of Anglo-Italian Friendship and Understanding

    Preface

    So far as I know, no British soldier who served on the Italian Front has yet published a book about his experiences. Ten British Batteries went to Italy in the spring of 1917 and passed through memorable days. But their story has not yet been told. Nor, except in the language of official dispatches, has that of the British Divisions which went to Italy six months later, some of which remained and took part in the final and decisive phases of the war against Austria. Something more should soon be written concerning the doings of the British troops in Italy, for they deserve to stand out clearly in the history of the war.

    This little book of mine is only an account, more or less in the form of a Diary, of what one British soldier saw and felt, who served for eighteen months on the Italian Front as a Subaltern officer in a Siege Battery. But it was my luck to see a good deal during that time. Mine had been the first British Battery to come into action and open fire on the Italian Front. And, as my story will show, it was either the first or among the first on most other important occasions, except in the Caporetto retreat, and then it was the last.

    I have camouflaged the names of all persons mentioned throughout the book, except those of Cabinet Ministers, Generals and a few other notabilities.
    IN the days of lace-ruffles, perukes and brocade
    Brown Bess was a partner whom none could despise
    An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade,
    With a habit of looking men straight in the eyes
    At Blenheim and Ramillies fops would confess
    They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.

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    Default Re: The Americans in Italy during WW1

    Thank you Leccy, very interesting this memory.

    A few people remember, anyway, that also the Italians helped the Anglo-French in the spring of 1918, when the 2° Corpo d'Armata of Gen. Albricci with 40000 men was sent to France and fought very well at Bligny. It was accompanied by a group of heavy bombers Ca 33s, expressely requested by French high command.

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    Default Re: The Americans in Italy during WW1

    This is a lovely thread.
    I am a Brit, but my wife is Italian, and whilst I have had an interest in history especially military and a passion for aircraft of WW2 and at the top was always the wonderful Mosquito!!!! I thought I knew something about the first WW in Italy, so I was amazed to learn about the role of the allies here.

    I should say I met my wife 20 years ago and she comes from the area of all the fighting (Monte Grappa/Monte Tomba/Piave), and all the other locations are so close by.

    There are loads of remnants and stories around here - I am there now for 5 weeks - and have visited many war graves, trenches, tunnels and caves etc. All those years ago I was disappointed to note that at every memorial event all the nations that took part attended except the British, and in fact at first could find no evidence of the 150,000 troops (5 Battalions) that fought here on the War Graves Commission website. I met MPs and wrote endlessly to the MOD and the WGC about the injustice. They do not attend because "the weather is not nice that time of year", but at least they have updated the WGC website and all references are now easy to find.

    I have found only one book on the British in Italy in WW1, so well written and conscience. "The British Army in Italy 1917-1919" by John and Eileen Wilkes.

    Leccy I shall read your on-line book at leisure and am looking forward to it.

    I have a friend in CastelTesino, deep in the invaded territories who is authorised to search war sites, recover and decommission ammunition, bury the dead with full honours and has a huge collection of hardware. Most of the museums have been well stocked with his findings. It is interesting to note that the British were very well thought of by the Italians whilst the French not so well. This was Gen Robinson who helped out the Italian High Command and got on so well with them. When he was sent back to the Western Front there was much anger in Italy. The praise for the British went on for quite some time, and it is interesting, in the book I mention their conclusion for the change in attitude may well have come as a result of Mussolini. The success of the Vitorio Venito campaign can be traced back to a British Gen. Babington who asked if he could take the island of Papadopoli in the middle of the Piave.... This enabled the British offensive as part of the pincer movement of 25th October to be a success whereas the French were annihilated - they say the river ran red and bones are still found. The British were so successful they were able to penetrate far further than planned and made the Italian centre attack a success.

    Hope this is of interest, I now need to take the kids swimming.

    Best

    Jonathan

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    Default Re: The Americans in Italy during WW1

    My grandfather also served in Italy in WW1 in the Royal Field Artillery. 332nd Inf Regt was in the same Corps during the final battle and for some reason he saved a local newspaper reporting on the part taken by 332nd, written by US soldiers who were there. If anyone is interested, I transcribed the 2 pieces and put them on a website dedicated to my grandfather's service. www.bertspires.co.uk. They make interesting reading. I passed the newspaper on to the son of a 332nd veteran who showed an interest and was better able to interpret the rest of the newspaper which was in Italian.

    Ted

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    Default Re: The Americans in Italy during WW1

    Really interesting your site and your grandfather diaries Ted. Thanks for sharing.

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    Default Re: The Americans in Italy during WW1

    Quote Originally Posted by eddison5 View Post
    My grandfather also served in Italy in WW1 in the Royal Field Artillery. 332nd Inf Regt was in the same Corps during the final battle and for some reason he saved a local newspaper reporting on the part taken by 332nd, written by US soldiers who were there. If anyone is interested, I transcribed the 2 pieces and put them on a website dedicated to my grandfather's service. www.bertspires.co.uk. They make interesting reading. I passed the newspaper on to the son of a 332nd veteran who showed an interest and was better able to interpret the rest of the newspaper which was in Italian.

    Ted
    Great stuff Ted
    Asiago was where the Brits got their first real taste of blood. Sadly due to poor inteligenece and experience fighting in the rocky mountain terrain the Britts were hammered to start with, then pushed the Austrians back after some very brave and bloody fighting. The problem was they had taken over unfinished Italian trenches which were too shallow, and they had hung telegraph wires from trees. The exploding shells shot large amounts of stone shrappnel which ripped the telegraph cables and the hapless troops to shreds. He would have seen a bloody battle.

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    Default Re: The Americans in Italy during WW1

    Ted
    The two islands (if it is Papadopoli) in the Vitorio Venetto map are VERY significant. The attack was the final blow by the Italians and was inspired by the successes in France and the intervention of the US. They were under a lot of pressure to create a second front to relieve allies in France, which if they had done nothing would have put them in a bad position at the negotiating table after the war.

    The idea was to fain an attack across the mountain ridge at Mt Grappa and Monte Tomba, whilst the French held the river Piave at the foot of the mountains. The Italian 10th and then the Brits further south. The US held the river bank from the British sector to Venice. The plan was for the Brits and French to attack across the river in a pincer attack. The Italian 10th would then pour across between the two and head for what is now Vitoria Venetto. However it was realised by the Brits that with the fast flowing, icey and wide river of the Piava, they would be sloughtered. It was decided to put troops on these islands 2 weeks ahead of the attack. The British troops held the islands whilst standing in trenches full of ice water and pouring rain. The allies wanted to pull them out but they insisted on staying. The weather changed on 24 Oct 1918 and the attack took place. The French were sloughtered as predicted (you can still find the bones), but the Brits were so successful that they penetrated far further than expected making the attack a great success.

    Reading the Lord Caven letter, articles 9 onwards cover above.

    Really lovely to read something from someone who lived through this and contributed.

    I have a friend in Italy, in the mountains who is licensed to examin battlefields and exhume bodies in the mountains. 70% of all the meusium artifacts come from him,and he has an ammazing colection. I am sure he would be very interested in your grandads artifacts. If I see him when I go to Italy next I shall show him the lbk to your website. See if he can identify the locations and battles.
    Last edited by Jonathan Harrison; 02-06-2014 at 04:42 PM.

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    Default Re: The Americans in Italy during WW1

    Please does anybody know if and when King George V visited the Italian front? Surely he went to Italy in 1923, visiting the battlefields and the British war graves, but did he go to Italy during the war years?

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    Default Re: The Americans in Italy during WW1

    I have not read of any war-time visit by George V. Perhaps the Royal Presence of the Prince of Wales was regarded as sufficient.

    Ted

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    Default Re: The Americans in Italy during WW1

    Hi. King George visited British cemeteries in 1923, april 23.Click image for larger version. 

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    https://ww1photographs.wordpress.com...-sette-comuni/

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    Default Re: The Americans in Italy during WW1


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