In This Article Italy in the First World War

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • The Path to War and the Decision for Intervention
  • Armed Forces before the War
  • The Italian Front, General Military Histories
  • Memoirs and Personal Accounts
  • War and Society
  • Italy and the Allies
  • Prisoners of War, Internees, Refugees, Occupied Areas
  • Postwar and Fascism
  • The Great War and National Identity
  • The Battlefield Today

Military History Italy in the First World War
by
Pier Paolo Battistelli
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0179

Introduction

Approaching the historiography of Italy in the First World War (also known as the “Great War”) and the Italian campaigns requires examining a number of issues. First, the 1915–1918 Italian war against Austria-Hungary and her German ally was a sideshow war within the wide context of the war. Eventually, it became known as the “Italian war,” in spite of Italy’s involvement on other fronts and the eventual involvement of the Allied troops in Italy. The obvious consequence is that most of the literature on Italy in World War I is in Italian, which is also the consequence of the language gap. Because of this, English-speaking historians lacking Italian language skills have paid rather scant attention to the subject, until recently. Second, the Great War is also a historiographical issue. Early works were influenced by the rise to power of Fascism in 1922 and by its subsequent alliance with Germany. The post–World War II historiography is another main issue, in which the widespread rejection of the idea of war contributed to the Great War being relegated into some sort of historical background, with one remarkable exception. The use of the Great War by the pacifist wave in the 1960s and 1970s, showing the horrors and mistakes of the war, led to a popular, antimilitaristic view that contributed to generating the myth of widespread mass executions of Italian soldiers by the hands of their own officers. This view was also influenced by movies, such as Francesco Rosi’s Uomini Contro, that was loosely based on Emilio Lussu’s book of memoirs and somehow linked to Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory. The development of social and economic history nevertheless saw historians beginning to pay attention to other aspects of the war, such as focusing on the Italian society and economy. With time, the Great War, now known as “World War I,” became more of a “regional” affair because most of the research and publishing about it was located in the northeastern part of Italy where the war was actually fought. In any case, due to the increased interest in the 100th anniversary of Italy’s entry into World War I, the literature on Italy and the Great War is flourishing both in quantity and in quality, increasingly so among English-speaking historians. The large amount of records available in the Italian archives, like the war diary of the “Comando Supremo” still largely to be explored even though already partly used by historians, will certainly provide a more than adequate supply of sources for further research.

General Overviews

As of the early 2000s, the best overview so far is Isnenghi and Rochat 2014, including its updated bibliographical essay. Isnenghi and Ceschin 2008 provides an alternative view, covering in greater detail personalities, social groups, and the role of media. As of the mid-2010s, Melograni 1969 is the only analysis of Italian politics during World War I, ideally complemented by Labanca 2014, a collection of essays, and Tranfaglia 1995, an overall work that includes the rise of Fascism. Unfortunately, as of the mid-2010s, Italian historians have made no real attempt to provide a detailed, general overview of the Italian war in English, which is the most noticeable gap.

  • Isnenghi, Mario, and Daniele Ceschin, eds. Gli italiani in guerra. Vol. 3, La Grande Guerra: Dall’intervento alla “vittoria mutilata” [Italians at war. Vol. 3, The Great War: From intervention to the “mutilated victory”]. 2 vols. Turin, Italy: UTET, 2008.

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    Part of a five-volume series on the Italian wars, providing an overall view of events, key figures, social groups, historical places, and the role of the media, starting with the Risorgimento movement. This volume covers the period spanning from Italy’s intervention in World War I to the immediate postwar period.

  • Isnenghi, Mario, and Giorgio Rochat. La Grande Guerra: 1914–1918 [The Great War: 1914–1918]. Bologna, Italy: Il Mulino, 2014.

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    Originally published in 1993, this constantly updated history of World War I, mostly focused on Italy, deals with issues of military history, the role of the army and the armed forces in general, and the social, political, and economic aspects of the war. The bibliographical essay by Daniele Ceschin and Lisa Bregantin (“note bibliografiche alla quarte edizione [Bibliographical notes to the 4th edition],” pp. 553–571.) represents the best and most detailed introduction to the historiography on Italy in the Great War.

  • Labanca, Nicola, ed. Dizionario storico della prima guerra mondiale [Historical dictionary of the First World War]. Rome and Bari, Italy: Laterza, 2014.

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    Not actually a dictionary, but rather a collection of essays divided into six sections: the decision for intervention, the Italian war in general, mobilization of the country, the home front, the image of war, and the postwar period. Ideally complemented by La guerra italo-austriaca, 1915–1918 [The Italian-Austrian war, 1915–1918], edited by Nicola Labanca and Oswald Überegger (Bologna, Italy: Il Mulino, 2014).

  • Melograni, Piero. Storia politica della Grande Guerra, 1915–1918 [A political history of the Great War, 1915–1918]. Bari, Italy: Laterza, 1969.

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    A basic work focusing on the Italian political history during World War I only requiring an update. Reprinted, with a new introduction by the author (Milan: Mondadori, 2014).

  • Tranfaglia, Nicola. La prima guerra mondiale e Il Fascismo [The First World War and Fascism]. Turin, Italy: UTET, 1995.

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    Part of a multivolume history of Italy, it offers another general perspective on Italy in World War I and the aftermath.

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