Book Review: The Italian Army and the First World War


by John Gooch

New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. xiv, 386. Illus., maps, tables, appends, notes, biblio., index. $29.99. ISBN: 0521149371

The Trials, Tribulations, and Triumphs of the Italian Army in the Great War

Prof. Gooch, who has written extensively on European military history, particularly Italian, opens with a short, overview of the early history of the Italian Royal Army through the outbreak of the “July Crisis” of 1914. Surprisingly concise, he managed to cover the formation of the Italian Army, its prewar ties to its allies Germany and Austria-Hungary, and its wartime experiences against the Turks in 1911-1912.   

Gooch then discuss  Italian political and military activities during the “July Crisis.” He does an excellent job of explaining the practical and legal reasons Italy chose not to commit itself to the cause of the Central Powers, followed by a discussion of why the country committed itself to the Allied camp in early 1915. Gooch gives us a look at the poor state of the Italian Army, lacking adequate matériel, inadequately trained, and poorly led.

Gooch then devotes a chapter to each of the war years, 1915-1918. In each chapter he examines the growth of the army, its gradual improvements in equipment, organization, and tactics, and, of course, operations, which frequently took unfolded under the most horrendous environmental conditions. There then follows a chapter on the immediate postwar period, covering occupation missions, demobilization, and reorganization.  Gooch profiles a great many individuals, notably chiefs-of-the-general staff Cardona and Diaz, but also politicians, generals, staff officers, and even the occasional common soldier, some of whom will pop up again in a later war, such as Mussolini and Badoglio. 

Gooch’s underlying thesis, well documented and hard to argue with, is that the Italian Army was very unprepared for a major war but gradually developed into a capable fighting force, though that this achievement has been largely overlooked in most treatments of the war. 

The Italian Army and the First World War, a volume in the outstanding new Cambridge series “Armies of the Great War”, is a good read for anyone interested in the Great War, and particularly the “forgotten” theatres, as well as for students of the Italian Army.


Note: The Italian Army and the First World War is also available in hardcover, $85.00, ISBN 978-1-107-03053-4, and in PDF format, $24.00, ISBN 9781-1399-8910-7.

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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