Page 3785

3785 THE TWENTIETH CENTURY-THE GREAT WAR.

southward. Within four days, the victors

had captured Caporetto, had taken about

60,000 Italians and over 500 cannon, and

had crossed the frontier into Italy.

The whole Italian line in the east had to

give way. Guns and war material had to

be abandoned, and the Italian troops streamed

westward, with the exultant enemy in close

pursuit. Teutonic aeroplanes harassed the

retreating armies, pouring streams of machine

gun bullets into the columns of marching

troops and the transport trains, and bombing

the bridges, while German and Austrian artillery sought out the roads and threw gas shells

into places where they would do the most

damage. It was one of the most disastrous

defeats of the whole war, and only the heroism of the Italian rear guards, who sacrificed

themselves in order to save the main armies,

prevented the complete destruction of the

Italian forces. On October 28, the victors

recaptured Goritzia for which Italy, the year

before, had made great sacrifices. Two days

later the victors reached Udine, the Italian

main headquarters.

It was no longer a question of taking Trieste

and invading Austria-Hungary. Italy herself was being invaded, and throughout the

Allied world the fear arose that it was once

more to be the old story of Poland, of Servia

and Montenegro, of Roumania. Venice was

in danger, as were Verona and Milan, and

the whole of the Lombard plain. For a time

it was thought that perhaps the Italians

would be able to make a stand behind the

Tagliamento River, but their disorganization was too great, guns were lacking, and

the line had to be given up. By. scores of

encircling movements, detachments of the

victors increased the number taken, and, on

November I, Berlin reported the capture of

a total of 180,000 prisoners and 1,500 guns.

Onward swept the victorious Teutons,

crossing the Tagliamento at many places and

pushing forward toward Venice and the rich

Italian plains. The next possible stand was

the line of the Livenza, but this stream is

small, and, furthermore, there was danger of

its being outflanked from the north. But

some 10 to 20 miles further west ran the

Piave, a much larger stream, on whose right

bank trenches had been constructed by

troops receiving their training before going

to the front. It was this line which the

Italians elected to defend. Upon their success depended the fate of Venice, perhaps

of Italy.

Hitherto, when the Allies had been threatened with destruction, France and England

had debated, procrastinated, and acted too

late. The world wondered whether it would

once more be the case with Italy. But at

the head of the British nation there was

now a man who understood the value of

quick decisions in warfare, who knew that

"Time and von Hindenburg wait for no

man." Lloyd George hastened to Paris.

French and British soldiers were started

toward Italy. Taking General Robertson,

General Smuts, the Prince of Wales, the

Premier of France, and others, Lloyd George

hurried over the Alps into Italy to give

assurance to that hard pressed nation that

relief was at hand. There can be no question

but that this quick action did much to