23 FEBRUARY 1895, Page 13


IN May, 1866, whi!e the hulk of the Austrian forces were being assembled in Bohemia for resistance to the Prussians, the Archduke Albrecht was entrusted with the defence of the Austrian Empire against the attacks of the new Kingdom of Italy. He had not an easy task. Victor Emanuel had a quarter of a million of men in the field, without having withdrawn necessary garrisons from any of his fortresses. The Archduke had a field army of ninety-five thousand men, of whom about seventy-five thousand were effectives, and this force could not be increased, for it was impracticable at the outset of a campaign against Italy to diminish the garrisons of the fortresses in Venetia. The frontier line across which attack was to be expected ran from the Lake of Garda for thirty miles due south, first along the Mincio to the upper lake at Mantua, and thence to the Po at Borgoforte. From Borgoforte it followed the Po to its mouth, about ninety miles. Behind the Mincio, which is an equable stream of no great volume and easily bridged, runs the swifter and more variable Adige, its course from Verona being to the south-east for some forty miles, when it turns due east and runs parallel to the Po, at about twelve miles' distance from that river, to the sea. The Austrians held the fortresses of Peschiera and Mantua on the Minch), and of Verona and Legnago on the upper Adige. The Mincio, if passed by the Italians, must be crossed by them in the space between Peschiera and Mantua, a space reduced by the neces- sity for avoiding the rayon of the fortresses, to about fifteen miles. The belt formed by the parallel beds of the lower Po and the lower Adige is intersected by two smaller streams or navigable canals parallel with the large rivers ; it has few roads, and is quite impracticable for an army at both its eastern and western ends by reason of the marshy nature of the ground. The only practicable space is in the central region extending for a few miles on either side of the high road from Ferrara to Padua, which itself passes through Rovigo, a small Austrian fortress garrisoned at this time by eighteen hundred men. An Italian attack must come either across the upper Mincio, or across the Po and the Adige, near Ferrara. The Archduke promptly resolved that his best plan in either case would be to allow the Italian force to cross, and then strike a prompt blow against it with his whole army. If the enemy should advance from both directions at the same time, he would strike at one army and neglect the other, being sure that the delay which the enemy must suffer in bridging and passing the upper Adige, over which he himself had secured passages at Verona and Legnago, would insure him against the risk of being caught between the two armies.

The success of an attack by an inferior force depends to some extent upon its being unexpected. The first thing, therefore, was to prevent the Italians from learning his movements. The Archduke ordered the frontier to be her- metically sealed, an operation in which the Austrians were adepts, and which was carried out with complete success. He then, in tht middle of June, collected his whole army/ behind to the east of that part of the Adige of which Legnago is the centre, had the line of the Mincio watched by a few squadrons and rifle companies, and that of the Po by small parties from the garrisons of Legnago and Rovigo. He learned that of the twenty divisions of the Italian Army, twelve were in Lombardy under Victor Emanuel, and eight in the neighbourhood of Bologna and Ferrara under Cialdini. A double attack was evidently intended ; that of the King across the Mincio would be the principal one both in force and in importance ; that of Cialdini must be considerably delayed by the difficulties of bridging four streams and of besieging or evading Revigo. Accordingly, the Archduke resolved to move his army to Verona, ready to attack the King on his crossing the Mincio. On June 20th, the King of Italy declared war, and announced that he should commence hostilities on the 23rd. The Archduke allowed his army to rest in its central position until the 22nd. On that day he moved it to the neighbourhood of Verona. The country between the Mincio and the Adige is a flat plain, except in the corner near Peschiera. Here a belt of low broken hills, about seven miles wide, runs down from the north, in continuation of those that flank the Lake of Garda, and overlooks the left bank of the Mincio for some six miles below its exit from the lake. The Archduke intended to place his army on these hills early on June 24th, and then immediately to move south to the attack of the Italian army as soon as it should have crossed the Mincio. But learning on the 23rd that the Italian army was then crossing the river, he sent on that evening on to the northern portion of the hill plateau his reserve division and his 5th Corps, holding his 7th and 9th Corps a mile or two west of Verona ready to follow at dawn. On the 23rd the Italian main army had passed the river with seven of its twelve divisions, leaving the remainder partly "to observe Mantua" and partly in readiness to follow later. But the movement was so arranged that the troops were spread out in the plain to the south of the hills, and only a small force was on the western edge of the plateau, quite close to the Mincio, a few miles below Peschiera.

By about 8 o'clock on the morning of the 24th the whole Austrian army, concentrated on the plateau, was moving south on a broad front. Its left flank was covered by a cavalry brigade in the plain. The Italian army was still spread over the plain, some three of its divisions threading their way into the hills, the King, General La Marmora, and all the general officers being in happy oblivion of the Austrian army, which they imagined to be many miles away beyond the Adige. Firing was heard in the hills. "The forts of Peschiera," said General La Marmora, little dreaming that seventy thousand Austrians were just beginning to sweep his isolated divisions from the plateau. A little later the Italian divisions of infantry, which were leisurely moving in front of Villafranca (in the plain opposite the south-east corner of the plateau), were suddenly fired upon by artillery in their front, and desperately charged by a few squadrons of Austrian cavalry. The cavalry suffered severely, and the infantry were not materially damaged. But Generals, officers, and men were so startled and petrified by the sudden appearance of an enemy, and by the boldness and vigour of his charge, that all seem to have lost their heads. Twenty thousand men stood spellbound at Villafranca, doing nothing for the rest of the day. General La Marmora was convinced by this charge that the Austrian army was coming from the east across the plain to attack his right flank. Instead of sending to learn the meaning of the firing in the hills on his left flank, he galloped off the field to bring up the corps that was observing Mantua, only to find when he reached it what he ought to have known before he started,—that it could not be marched to the battlefield in time. He was the King's Chief of the Staff ; and when he had disappeared, there was no one to direct the battle, which was left, as battles too often are, to conduct itself. The Italian divisional Generals, as they one after another discovered that there was a serious battle going on upon the plateau, moved their forces up to the help of their comrades. But these spasmodic an- concerted reinforcements were of no avail against the repeated assaults of the Austrian army, of which the Generals had

received clear instructions, and which was watched all day, and carefully directed, by the Archduke. Shortly before sun- set, the Austrians stormed the last Italian position, the village of Custozza, on one of the southern spurs of the plateau. From here, in the roseate glow of an unusually magnificent sunset, the Austrians looked down upon the wide plain between Villafranca and Valcggio, and watched the spectacle of a hundred thousand men surging towards the river in the hurry and confusion of retreat. They were looking upon a beaten army.

There was no pursuit. All the Austrian troaps bad been engaged ; all had ben on the move since dawn ; all were exhausted ; and all lay that night where they were. The Italian army next day continued its retreat, and Cialdini was ordered by telegraph to abandon his enterprise on the lower Po, and hasten to the rescue of the King's force. On July 1st, the Archduke crossed the Mincio, not for pursuit, but merely to be ready in a favourable position to meet a second advance of the Italians. On July 2nd the defeat of Kiiniggriitz changed the whole situation. A few days later the Archduke was ordered to return to Vienna, and to move all available troops from Italy for the defence of the capital.

The battle of Custozza, or the thirty-six hours campaign that falls between dawn on the 23rd and sunset on the 24th of June, contains the whole career of the Archduke Albrecht as a military commander in war. It has given him a high rank among the commanders of the nineteenth century. The Archduke's arrangements from the beginning are admitted to be models. Nothing could be better than the choice of the region for the first concentration; the measures for observing the rivers ; the march to the right and the direction of the attack. The plan of the battle was judicious, and its super- vision, in circumstances that could not be foreseen, cool, wary, and determined. Willisen thought it a fault that more em- phasis was not given to the blow of the Austrian right wing. This, however, seems to have been due not to the Archduke's plan, but to the bungling of subordinates. The action was no doubt too dispersed to produce the most decisive result, the material ruin of the enemy by the barring of his retreat. The explanation may perhaps be that the Archduke moved from his camps behind the Adige half-a-day too late. Had the whole army been on the hifis near Peschiera on the evening of the 24th, the action would have been more compact. The Italians had given three days' notice of the opening of hostilities. The Archduke took this to mean that they would be free to enter Austrian territory at noon on the 23rd. The Italians understood themselves to be at liberty to cross the border at 6 a.m. on the 23rd. As his intention was to take them by surprise, the Archduke did not wish his army to be in position a moment too soon; and thus he may have been led to a slight delay which marred the decisiveness of his victory. That he did not pursue is probably to be attributed to his foresight of what would happen in Bohemia, rather than to lack of energy or boldness.

This brief review of what he did will show that the Arch- duke was a great commander. There is no need to compare or contrast him with others ; he had but one opportunity, which be used splendidly. It is more interesting, and happily less speculative, to ask bow be gained the powers which he dis- played in this brief campaign. The answer is that he had been well trained, —that is, he had taught himself war by hard study, and had had the advantage of the best teaching. His father, the Archduke Charles, was one of the greatest teachers of war ; perhaps he had no superior except Napoleon. In the retirement of his later years the military education of his sons was his chief care. After the Archduke Charles died (1847), the Archduke Albrecht served in the Italian War of 1848-89 under Radetzky, and distinguished himself in the defence of Verona as well as in the subsequent actions. He could not have had two better masters. Both the study of his father's campaigns and the experience of his own early service had made him familiar with the theatre in which in 1866 he was called upon to act.

The Archduke Albrecht gave to the world the lesson which he thought the most important that could be drawn from his experience. He published in 1869 a short paper on "Responsi- bility in War," which ought to be familiar to every politician. The gist of it is that failure in war brings with it immeasur- able consequences to a nation, and that it can be avoided, if at all, only by full devotion to their duty of self-preparation on the part of all who may have to bear any responsibility in connection with it,—officers, Generals, commanders, and, above all, the statesmen whose duty it is to see that the national forces are duly prepared, that is, that competent leaders have been found in plenty of time, and have been given authority to train their subordinates.