The state of morale of the troops is not very high.Rino Alessi, 29 June 1917
In 1917 the elements that sustained and supported Italy’s war began to come apart. The two Russian revolutions in February and October removed an important strategic distraction and tilted the balance of forces in her theatre of war against her. The western Allies were unable or unwilling to take up the strategic slack: the French army was more or less immobile after the mutinies in April and May, and the British army remained obdurately focused on the western front. On the home front political fissures began to widen – partly as a result of the events in Russia – and social discontent deepened as inequalities and shortages grew more evident and more painful. At the same time, apparently oblivious to the possibility of a mismatch between appetites and capabilities, an ambitious colonial ministry added to the list of aims for which the war was being fought.
At the front, what would turn out to be the last two battles of the Isonzo in May and August gave the generals grounds to believe that their tactical and operational methods – which with one exception remained more or less unchanged – might yet produce victory. Two months later a catalogue of errors, misjudgements and mistakes would put Italy in jeopardy. For the army, 1917 was the worst year of the war. Deaths in action rose from 66,000 in 1915 to 118,880 in 1916 and then to 152,790 in 1917 before falling in 1918 to 40,250. The numbers of wounded too reached a plateau, climbing from 190,400 in 1915 to 285,620 in 1916 and then to 367,200 in 1917 before falling to 103,420 the following year. Although they had not by any means lost their capacity to fight, the soldiers were tired and starting to feel dispirited. ‘Today we’ve been at war for two years and we’re at the same place we started, except for having taken Gorizia and lost a slice of the Trentino – and several hundred thousand dead,’ Paolo Caccia Dominioni noted at the start of third campaigning season. Cadorna had no doubts as to the source of the disobedience he perceived to be germinating within the army. It was being stimulated by ‘poisonous propaganda’ against the war in Sicily, Tuscany, Emilia Romagna and Lombardy.