Why was Italy's WWI performance so poor?

It is often claimed that Italy had the worst performance of World War I. Even though its major adversary Austria-Hungary was mostly engaged fighting the Russians, they had no major victories until October 1918 (when the Habsburg empire was already falling apart). And Italy was nearly knocked out of the war at Caparetto a year earlier. But why was Italy so weak? Unlike Austria, Russia, and the Ottomans they were a united nation state with no recent history of rebellions. Why wasn’t Italy’s performance better?

It’s not the whole answer but a part of it is the incompetent leadership; Chief of Staff Luigi Cadorna was one of the worst military commanders of the 20th century. In the Battle of Caporetto, he vastly underestimated the enemy with catastrophic result.

Cadorna’s most recent “victory” was coming in worst in the SDMB’s own Worst Military Leader Elimination Game. And he was up against a real rogue’s gallery of incompetents.

Because the Italians were the least motivated soldiers in the war. Soldiers from other countries could at least tell themselves they were fighting for some cause. The Italians knew their country had no stake in the war and they were just being sacrificed for insignificant political gains.

Italy hope to win signficant territory from Austria-Hungary by entering the war on the allied side. Under the Treaty of London Italy was to get the Trentino, much of the Tyrol, Trieste, a chunk of the Dalmatian coast, a protectorate over Albania, some of the German colonies in Africa and Asia, and possibly some territory from Turkey. Whether or not you regard this territorial gain as a justified war aim, it was definitely an aim, and it’s not correct to say that Italy had no stake in the war. In the event they did get Trentino, South Tyrol, Trieste and a chunk of the Dalmatian coast and the islands off it.

The big fucking mountain probably did not help either.

It was a secret agreement between Italy and its allies. so the average Italian soldier on the line had no idea he was fighting for land. All the soldiers knew was that their government had made some kind of deal with Britain and France and they were sent off to the battlefield. And even if they had known the terms of the deal, I think most soldiers are going to see a difference between fighting for some cause like protecting your homeland or making the world safe for democracy and fighting for what is essentially a land grab.

It wasn’t “essentially a land grab”, or at any rate it wasn’t so perceived in Italy at the time. Remember the kingdom of Italy had been painfully assembled by, among other things, incorporating ethnically and culturally Italian areas which, up to then, had been ruled by the Austrians. And, in 1914, this process was well within living memory, and was regarded by many as unfinished business, since there were still Italian areas under Austrian rule - the Trentino, Trieste, etc. Plus there were other areas to which Italy had inherited a historic claim, e.g. the former Venetian territories on the Adriatic coast, which Austria had managed to hang on to when Venice itself was incorporated into the Italian kingdom.

Yes, the Treaty of London was secret, but it was no secret that Italy joined the war in the expectation of completing the process of risorgimento by acquring the remaining culturally or historically Italian territories. And while this wasn’t uncontroversial, there was signficant support for this objective both from nationalists and from liberals.

The White War by Mark Thompson is a very good book on the subject.

TL;DR answer to the OP question: spectacularly poor leadership.

They did just as poorly in WWII.

Treacherous terrain didnt help.

I don’t know who told you that, but perhaps they were talking about WW2? In WW2 they put in a performance well below what they should have been capable of on paper. In WW1, their performance was respectable. I’d even say that between 1917 and 1924 they were fielding the 4th strongest military in the world.

I don’t know who told you that, but perhaps they were talking about WW2? In WW2 they put in a performance well below what they should have been capable of on paper. In WW1, their performance was respectable. I’d even say that between 1917 and 1924 they were fielding the 4th and later 3rd strongest military in the world (although, to be fair… Russia was a mess and Germany was restricted). Between 1915 and 1917, the general in charge was poor, but their soldiers fought well. They were fighting up an icy mountain at temperatures that reached 30 below 0 under heavy artillery fire. They even had one of the better generals of the war leading them. Armando Diaz is underrated IMO.

Terrain-the Austrians held the high ground. the Italians had to launch their attacks from valleys-and the Austrians could see all their preparations. Gen. Cadorna was pretty bad as well. Plus, the Austrians had better and more accurate rifles. The other thing was, Italy gained next to nothing from the war, so the population was quite bitter about this.

I am unconvinced the performance of soldiers has much to do with their investment in the cause. American soldiers performed quite well in Iraq despite it being a nonsensical cause, and quite a lot of them were fully aware of it. Arab soldiers have performed atrociously in wars against Israel despite being convinced of the nobility of their cause.

Soldier performance is a function of the quality of their training and leadership.

Morale plays apart too.

Poor leadership at the top (Cadorna really did fit the stereotype of the Great War butcher general) and being on the offensive all the time. The other side merely had to hold onto what they had, in terrain suited to the defence.


Worst Military Leader (game thread) – Even though I’m not that big of a history buff, I still enjoyed reading all 500+ posts the first time I saw that thread linked (and I might read it again now – I’m kinda bored).

They did?