At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Luigi Cadorna – Marshall of Italy

Tough military leader was blamed for losing crucial battle


General Luigi Cadorna was Chief of Staff  of the Italian Army in the First World War
General Luigi Cadorna was Chief of Staff
of the Italian Army in the First World War
Luigi Cadorna, a military General who was made a Marshall of Italy, was born on this day in 1850 in Verbania, on the shore of Lake Maggiore in the Piedmont region.

Cadorna is most remembered for his role as Chief of Staff of the Italian Army during the first part of the First World War.

His father was General Raffaele Cadorna, the Piedmontese military leader whose capture of Rome in 1870 completed the unification of Italy.

Sent by his father to a military school in Milan from the age of 10, he entered the Turin Military Academy when he was 15 and, after graduating at the age of 18, was commissioned as a second lieutenant of artillery.

He participated in the occupation of Rome in 1870 as part of the force commanded by his father.

After becoming a Major, Cadorna was appointed to the staff of General Pianelli and became Chief of Staff of the Verona Divisional Command.

From 1892 he was the Colonel commanding the 10th Regiment of Bersaglieri, where he acquired a reputation for strict discipline and harsh punishment.

He was promoted to lieutenant general in 1898 and subsequently held a number of senior command positions.

General Cadorno (fourth from the right) inspecting Italian troops ahead of the second Isonzo offensive
General Cadorno (fourth from the right) inspecting Italian
troops ahead of the second Isonzo offensive
By 1915, when Italy was about to enter the First World War, Cadorna was on the verge of retiring and had a history of differences with his political and military superiors.

But he was offered the post of Chief of Staff and took Italy into the war with 36 infantry divisions composed of 875,000 men, armed with only a small number of modern artillery pieces.

Large numbers of men and equipment had been deployed to Tripolitania in Libya, leaving the home army disorganised and short of equipment.

Cadorna launched four offensives along the Isonzo river with the aim of capturing Gorizia from the Austrians, but they all failed, leaving 250,000 Italian casualties.

Cadorna would ultimately fight 11 unsuccessful battles in unsuitable terrain between 1915 and 1917.

In October 1917, a combined Austro-Hungarian army advanced, defeating Cadorna’s troops at Caporetto. The troops managed to get as far as the Piave River, because Cadorna’s tactics had provided little defence in depth.

General Armando Diaz led the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian army after replacing Cadorna
General Armando Diaz led the defeat of the
Austro-Hungarian army after replacing Cadorna
The Italian army fled in disarray and seemed on the verge of total collapse, with 275,000 soldiers captured.

During the battle, Cadorna had ordered the execution of all officers whose units retreated.

Italy’s allies, Britain and France, insisted on the dismissal of Cadorna and sent 11 divisions to reinforce the Italian front.

Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando appointed General Armando Diaz as Chief of General Staff and Cadorna was reassigned to be the Italian representative at the Allied Supreme War Council set up in Versailles.

The restored Italian defensive line held firm during the Battle of the Piave River, providing a springboard for the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, where the Austro-Hungarian army was finally defeated.

After the war, the Italian Government held an inquiry into the defeat at Caporetto and the published report was critical of Cadorna.

He wrote in his memoirs that he was not responsible for the defeat, despite having fled to Padua during the battle.

In 1924, after Benito Mussolini seized power, Cadorna was made a Field Marshall (Maresciallo d’Italia), an honour recognising his service to Italy before and during the war. Cadorna died in Bordighera in 1928 at the age of 78.  His body was entombed in a mausoleum designed by the architect Marcello Piacentini by the waterside at Verbania.

His son, Raffaele Cadorna, also became a General, fighting in the First and Second World Wars. He became famous for his actions as one of the commanders of the Italian Resistance, fighting against the Germans who were still occupying northern Italy after 1943.

A picture taken from Verbania at sunset with the Cadorna Mausoleum in the foreground and Isolina di San Giovanni
A picture taken from Verbania at sunset with the Cadorna
Mausoleum in the foreground and Isolina di San Giovanni
Travel tip:

Verbania, where Luigi Cadorna was born, is a town on the shore of Lake Maggiore, about 91km (57 miles) northwest of Milan and about 40km (25 miles) from Locarno in Switzerland. Verbania is also known as Verbania Pallanza, following its merger with Intra, Pallanza and Suna in 1939. It faces the city of Stresa across the lake. A small island a few metres from the shore, known as the Isolino di San Giovanni, is famous for having been the home of Arturo Toscanini, between 1927 and 1952. 

Milano Cadorna railway station is named after Luigi Cadorna
Milano Cadorna railway station is named after Luigi Cadorna
Travel tip:


Milano Cadorna railway station in Piazzale Luigi Cadorna, near the Castello Sforzesco, provides a permanent reminder of the General to all rail commuters. The original station building was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War and the current building was restored, along with the square, in 1999. Piazzale Cadorna is now a Milan transport hub with an underground station, tram stops and 11 bus stops.

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