Battle of Polygon Wood – Betrayal At The Italian Front I THE GREAT WAR Week 166


During the three plus years of the war, soldiers
and their armies have tried virtually everything to win this war, to no avail. But what if you do the opposite? What if you tried to end it by losing? What if you tried treason? I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week we saw revolt in the Russian Baltic
Fleet, Russian soldiers in France, and even Egyptian laborers in France. There was action on the Libyan front, and
the Battle of Passchendaele flared to life again with a British victory that seemed to
have cracked the German elastic defense system. Those British attacks back on the 20th had
secured most of their objectives and had held them, doing enormous damage to the German
Eingreif reserves – who counterattacked using stormtroop methods – in the process. British General Sir Herbert Plumer’s planning
had done what was seemingly impossible – turning the German defense in depth system into a
disadvantage, advancing just small distances before digging in instead of trying for a
breakthrough. Now – the further the Eingreiftruppen, the
German counterattack forces, advanced, the more disorganized they grew and the less effective
they were. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George
visited the front this week to find a mood of “exaltation”. British Army Commander in Chief Sir Douglas
Haig was described as radiant. Plumer brought his artillery forward during
the week, and on the 26th launched what is known as the Battle of Polygon Wood. His Second Army would again attack, with I
ANZAC trying to take all of Polygon Wood and Zonnebeke, while the flanks maintained the
line of advance. There was a withering artillery barrage and
then the infantry attacked at 5:50 AM on a front of around 6km. They didn’t have much problem reaching their
objectives, though it wasn’t so easy on the flanks, especially to the south, where
the Germans had launched a pre-emptive attack the day before. The fighting was bitter, as you may imagine,
and the second phase, the German counterattack, soon began. Thing is, British and French aircraft had
been flying over the battlefield all day, strafing and bombing for all they were worth,
and they noticed the signs of the reserves moving in. They made no progress against artillery and
aircraft, though, and took huge casualties. The British dug in after advancing about 800
meters. Polygon Wood was a success, but the casualties
were heavy – the British took over 15,000 casualties that day on a shorter front and
with fewer divisions attacking than last week, so it was proportionally greater. The Germans looked on basically helplessly
as the British dug in, having taken more German strongpoints. What could they do in future to prevent ever
more of their defenses from falling into British hands in small “bites”? Moreover, German Quartermaster General Erich
Ludendorff wrote of the 26th (Gilbert), “A day of heavy fighting, accompanied by every
circumstance that could cause us loss. We might be able to stand the loss of ground,
but the reduction of our fighting strength was again all the heavier.” He was seriously worried by now. And he had lost one of the great German aces
this week too. On the 23rd came one of the most famous aerial
dogfights of the war, when German Werner Voss, with 47 confirmed kills, was ambushed by a
patrol of SE5s. (quoted in “Passchendaele”), “The triplane was still circling round the
middle of six SE5s… at one point I noted the triplane in the apex of a cone of tracer
bullets from at least five machines simultaneously, and each machine had two guns. By choosing to stand and fight… Voss showed an extraordinary level of dedication
and bravery… but once he did the outcome was inevitable. After about ten minutes of frantic air combat-
when most of the SE5s received bullet damage- Voss’s plane was hit and it went down in
a steep dive, hitting the ground and disappearing into a thousand fragments.” And something I haven’t had time to mention
happened recently on the Italian front. In the Sugana Valley there had been fighting
in 1915 and 1916 until the front stabilized near Carzano. It was actually kind of strategically important,
but had been quiet for over a year. So in July, an Austro-Hungarian soldier had
slipped through the wire there and presented himself to the Italians. He had a sealed envelope and said he came
to parley. The envelope contained plans of the Austrian
defenses in the region and a note signed “Paulino” that said he wanted to help the Italians. Major Cesare Finzi was the Italian head of
information there, and his data confirmed that the maps were authentic. Eventually, a meeting with Paulino was arranged. Paulino turned out to be Ljudevit Pivko, a
Slovene Lieutenant, and he was a member of a sort of secret society within his army called
the Sokol. It was a Slavic nationalist society and their
goal was for Italy to win the war. The treasonous Pivko pointed out that an Italian
breakthrough in the Sugana Valley would take Trento and, combined with an Italian attack
from the west, cut the Trentino salient in half. He thought some of his officers would support
him, as well as the Serbs, though not the Bosnian Muslims and the Croats. Finzi says that if Pivko can get support and
feed him information, maybe they can do something. Finzi was fairly unusual among Italian officers
in that he wanted to see the Austro-Hungarian Empire destroyed, not just defeated. Pivko did what he said he would and with a
network of 52 contacts by August, outlined his plan to open the front at Carzano. The Italians would attack with 30 or 40,000
men and if they could overrun the city before reinforcements arrive, they’ll have the
lower Trentino. Finzi is worried, though, that word will get
out if he goes to High Command through the normal channels, so he tries to get the ear
of Army Chief of Staff Luigi Cadorna. Cadorna, however, is busy planning the offensive
that just ended last week, so Finzi goes to his sector commander, General Etna, instead. Thing is, Austria has anticipated Cadorna’s
offensive and has taken away forces from the Tyrol to prepare for that, and Pivko says
this is a golden opportunity. Etna, however, doesn’t really take the idea
seriously, and only thinks of a small, local attack. Pivko by now has a detailed plan for the Italian
attack involving timelines, troop strength, how to sabotage the Austrian phone lines and
barbed wire, everything. The loyal Austrian troops are even going to
be drugged with opiates in their brandy and the forward troops chloroformed. Finzi finally gets Cadorna’s ear early in
September, but Cadorna takes Etna’s recommendation for a limited sortie along the Sugana Valley
without the concurrent attack from the west, frustrating Finzi. Meanwhile, Pivko’s plot is denounced by
a Czech acquaintance, but the authorities end up arresting the accuser for lying. Austrian Emperor Karl even said to Pivko in
person shortly afterward, “I regret that somebody wished to cast a shadow over one
of my most valiant officers.” (White War). On September 15th, Pivko brings news that
his battalion will soon be transferred, so the Italians need to attack NOW. Finzi says it’ll happen within two days
and Brigadier Zincone, in command of the troops, agrees to this. The Italians have seven well-equipped army
Corps, a huge advantage. The Austrian side of the plan goes off like
clockwork and the road across no-mans land is open for the taking. However, the Italian troops don’t trust
their Austrian guides, and though the advance troops take Carzano, the main force hasn’t
arrived and the road is deserted. It turns out that Zincone has sent his men
single file along a twisting lateral trench instead of up the undefended road. As dawn approaches, the main Italian thrust
still hasn’t arrived. In fact, Zincone suspends the operation, calls
back his men, and abandons the forward troops and their guides. Pivko and 300 Bosnians are taken prisoner
by the Italians, and the forward troops surrender to the Austrians. There is an enquiry into the matter, and Etna
and Zincone are relieved of command. The whole thing was a fiasco, and Cadorna
even said long after the war that nothing during the whole war had angered him as much
as Carzano. He had good reason to be angry, for what could
have been a decisive breakthrough and a huge morale boost became instead a complete debacle,
because of incompetence within the high command structure of the Italian army. And as the week ends, British forces defeat
the Ottomans on the Euphrates River near Ramadiya, capturing the Ottoman commander, 3,455 prisoners,
and 13 big guns. So, all in all, a good week for the British
in the Far East and the west, and a rough week for the Germans. And a fa#iled attempt to give Italy an advantage
by treason against Austria-Hungary, though that was actually last week. Something else happened this week. Well, today now in 2017. Today is September 28th, which means it’s
my birthday, and actually, today when this episode comes out is my 50th birthday, which
means I am exactly half as old as the events that I’m talking about. When you think about it like that, this stuff
didn’t really happen all that long ago at all. Let’s hope we learned something. And happy birthday to me. If you want to learn more about Cadorna, one
of the secret stars of our show, you can click right here for our biography episode about
him. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Bernd
Schumacher. Thank you for your support on Patreon, we
couldn’t do this show without you.

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100 thoughts on “Battle of Polygon Wood – Betrayal At The Italian Front I THE GREAT WAR Week 166”

  1. bmach829 says:

    Happy birthday

  2. Stefano Savini says:

    Happy Birthday Indy ! Thank you and all the guys of the channel for the great job you do!

  3. Trev Mahoney says:

    Quality Indy I have found you're series fascinating

  4. Trev Mahoney says:

    Happy Birthday Indy

  5. Lukas Cehlar says:

    Happy Birthday Indy! Love you! :3

  6. fhsreelfilms says:

    Happy Birthday, Indy!  It also means you're as old as Bilbo Baggins at the start of "The Hobbit."

  7. captain fatfoot says:

    Pepe officially endorses this channep

  8. baronet68 says:

    Happy Birthday Indy!!!!!

  9. Vincent Celeste says:

    it is the mini cadorna 😛 clever.

  10. primpal08 says:

    Happy belated birthday.

  11. Hans Stigsson says:

    Congratulations Indy!

  12. Weehoo 2 says:

    Oh what up, mines Sep 29

  13. Joseph Corsmeier says:

    Happy birthday, young man!

  14. Hasib kurdish says:

    What about kurds? Kurdistan

  15. Hasib kurdish says:

    Hes wearing thise clothes since 2014

  16. Nicholas Caruso says:

    Happy belated birthday on 10/4/17

  17. Kyler says:

    I thought Indy was in his early 40s.

  18. MozartofMayhem says:

    Dude we have the same b-day

  19. Reese Holder says:

    I thought you were mayber 34, Wayne Marshal! (Indy

  20. Moonscript says:

    Happy big 50 Indy! Sorry I'm a bit late!

  21. Awesome Face says:

    Only just found this channel, very impressed and matter-of-fact approach is awesome. Love 'pure' history like this, keep it up! Maybe you should start a world war 2 channel when you finish? Would love to see the conflict week-by-week.

  22. Dominic Stewart says:

    Happy Birthday Indy!!! I think for the 31st October you should watch a great Australian movie called "The Lighthorseman "
    Love the show!!!

  23. telsah1 says:

    Happy Birthday Indy and thanks for another great lesson. Very interesting.

  24. Ciprian Stanescu says:

    Happy birthday Indy! Keep up the great work

  25. Bandwagon Games says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, INDY!!! (Where's the Youtube equivalent of Facebook?)

  26. Manuel Apollo says:

    Buon compleanno ☺

  27. skiteufr says:

    Happy Birthday Indy !!!!

  28. Genghis Don says:

    happy birthday Indie!

  29. Joel Shewmaker says:

    Is nobody commenting on that brilliant Conrad von Hötzenglitter at the end? I really liked that touch.

  30. martin vasilevki says:

    My birthday is at 22th September

  31. Jack Fontana says:

    Happy Birthday Indy!  I just want to know if you climbed all of the 237 steps at the U.S. Memorial tower at Montfaucon?  I just returned from there. Awesome!

  32. c grable says:

    Just curious, why are the video clips blurred on the left and right side, why not have the whole frame in focus?

  33. David Dumitrescu says:

    Happy birthday :)))

  34. James Jacocks says:

    Did Luigi Cardozo really want to win or just to stay in command?  We have those types in our political theater too.  Ambitious men?  Very commendable.

  35. Luka Jovanovic says:

    I am watching this show for like two years now and am only now realizing that me and Indy are born on the same dates. The more you know

  36. crypt clown says:

    Dear god, every week we talk about the incompetence of the leaders, someone even asked in out of the trenches once if it was fair, "what else could they have done". Now i see this! Basically someone gave the Italians a "you win card" and they said "NOPE".
    If you can't win on easy mode its no wonder the war was such a horrible bloody slug fest.

  37. Daniel Atkins says:

    Happy belated birthday love the channel

  38. Redescobrindo a Primeira Guerra says:

    The best You Tube's Channel

    O Melhor canal do You tube

  39. Redescobrindo a Primeira Guerra says:

    Happy Birthday Indy

  40. Charalampos Tsakirides-Palanes says:

    Happy Birthday! You are 50?! You barely look older than 30!

  41. Joel TheFish says:

    Happy Birthday Indy!

  42. Petronius Arbiter II says:

    The British offensive at Polygon wood quickly ran into great difficulty. On the flanks, they were often blocked by scores of obtuse triangles and innumerable parallelograms. Then the main offensive found it nearly impossible to pick their way through the unforeseen pentagons and, worst of all, a great flood of terrifying irregular trapezoids.

  43. Mr Krabs says:

    Trying to end it by losing huh. Reminds me of Augustus the Strong and how Extra Credits portrayed him to be

  44. Misan7hrope says:

    Happy birthday Indy!

  45. menger leh says:

    Happy birthday Lndy 🎂

  46. Christophe says:

    Happy Birthday Indy from France !!! (a "little" late hoho) Great Work "The Great War" team ! I live in Jonchery-sur-Vesle in the Champagne-Ardenne region near Reims were the great war raged, there is a British military cemetary in my village and a plaque to comemorate the first airial combat in human history wich took place a few km away from my village, also, the Comandant Jean de Rose is from my village, he founded the French fighting air corps, apparently the grand father of the actual ruler of Monaco served here too, do you have any stories to tell about all that ? My nursery school in on a slope, because the retreating germans booby traped their amo depo so that it blew up when the advancing Brits arrived, when they build a new building bombs were excavated. Been folowing your chanel for a long time. Cheers !

  47. joe Ashley says:

    Happy birthday indy i would have guessed 37

  48. warwick936 says:

    My son was born today on the same day as Indy.. must be a blessing

  49. mullet smith says:

    damn I thought U were in ur 40s happy bday indy

  50. LuvBorderCollies says:

    You're absolutely right about it wasn't that long ago. My grandparents lived through it (which means I'm a bit older than Indy). But doing geneology work dealing with generations vs individual years, suddenly 1776 is like a couple weeks ago. Getting into the 1400's I start feeling a little age. 😉

  51. AcidProphecy says:

    Happy Belated Birthday!

  52. VampieOrange 3 says:

    Mine is 29th

  53. Vespelian says:

    A belated happy birthday to you Indy. I only caught your show last month and have been bingeing to catch up. Nearly there now. I hope it'll all be over by Christmas.

  54. MasterTallness says:

    What a fascinating story. It's incredible how many times failures in high command led to failures on the field in this war.

  55. Back4Fungame says:

    alles gute indy

  56. Eric Gleeson says:

    Lookin good for 50, I would have guessed early-mid 40s

  57. steven smith says:

    At this point if i were king of Italy cadorna would have had a heart attack/been poisoned.

  58. Matthew Pallister says:

    Happy birthday

  59. Venge Ance says:

    Italians, unable to win even when their enemy cooperates.

  60. Spooker Red Menace says:

    Happy Birthday Indy!

  61. 94leonidas says:

    Happy late Birthday! Great video!

  62. Bogdan Gabriel Onete says:

    When Cadorna himself accuses his generals of incompetence AND IS RIGHT, you know the Italian army is just a hopeless pile of dung, and the poor bastards in that army really had it rough

  63. Onyx1916 says:


    I died laughing.

  64. Jason Black-Joseph says:

    Happy belated birthday!!

  65. Nikeayuiop says:

    Feliz cumpleaños Indy

  66. Heavy4th says:

    You know you suck when even Cadorna thinks you’re incompetent.

  67. Edd Grs says:

    The Hötz, not so good at military tactics, but man, can he throw a party !

  68. Daniel Pizzuto says:


  69. Agustín Morales says:


  70. Kwame Waters says:

    Happy belated birthday

  71. Harun Suaidi says:

    Are you sure Cadorna was not Austria-Hungary agent?

  72. James Dean says:

    Indy your 50?! You look way younger.

  73. Amitabha Kusari says:

    Ok, I was holding back but I think now, that the Italian army, if not worst, was the stupidest in World War 1, and their high ranking leaders were officially more incompetent than Conrad, or Enver, or Haig. Or even the f***ing Provisional government in Russia.

  74. Anmol Chimni says:

    Happy belated birthday

  75. mickzeh 89 says:

    nah, no way you were 50. more like 35.

  76. BleedingUranium says:

    I'm very very late, but happy birthday, Indy! 😀

  77. Learned Lynx46482 says:


  78. Liquid Bacon says:

    Woah my birthday is also on September 28, nice

  79. wannahuckaloogy5 says:

    50 eh? I guessed him at 40

  80. nefersbedjieb says:

    Ah! Treason… That how the Romans conquered Lusitania.

  81. Richard Filipčík says:

    I'm watching this video on September 28th, on my birthday, and I'm finding out that it's Indy's birthday as well. Isn't that cool? Happy b-day, Indy!

  82. Ludvig Martinelle says:

    Happy birthday!

  83. Chris Gerardy says:

    Happy Birthday Indy!

  84. Ubah Donald says:

    You share the same birthday with my brother, that's fantastic!!!!

  85. kourii says:

    Wow, I never would have guessed Indy was 50. Looks more like 40 to me

  86. Jack Gallagher says:

    My birthday is also on September 28th!!! Indy and I have the same birthday YESSSS!!!!!!!!!! I love the universe.

  87. Greg Farmer says:

    Happy Birthday Indi, the show is one of my favorite.

  88. Anthony Hacking says:

    Happy birthday, bit late but great wishes, love the series you do

  89. Dave S. says:

    I predict Italian military competency won't improve by the next war

  90. Reversal89 says:

    Happy bday!!!!!

  91. patpatto says:

    Happy Birthday 🎊

  92. CHAMPGAZ says:

    Omg when you said today is the 28th of September i was like Aayyy that’s my birthday!! And then you said it was yours as well!! Hahah make my day. Thank you so much for the amazing delivery of this content by the way !

  93. Niko Williams says:

    Happy Bday you awesome man you !

  94. CAVeMUG says:

    Wait hol up right quick.I know this came out a few years ago but Indy is fifty in this one?!Damn…I honestly thought you were in ya at least thirties my man.

  95. Luke DS says:

    I really think all the most absurd aspects of the war are most apparent on the Italian front. No explanation as to why is needed.

    Having a small but still surprising portion of ones army eaten by wolves, or an entire 'modern army' attempting to march through a frozen desert without sufficient food and partly clad in cardboard and paper are still the most shocking and inexcusable debacles though. I'm talking about the attempted crossing of the Carpathian's and the Caucasus respectively.

    Some people in places of power and or responsibility were clearly not living in the world of reality. I have to wonder if that was really always their fault, perhaps they suffered from a real mental illness that caused them delusion. Or perhaps something a little more subtle that inhibited their organisational skills and ability to cope with the responsibility of outfitting and commanding a large force.
    I would be surprised if some of these commanders didn't have ASD, ADD or schizophrenia. We will likely never know.

  96. Meanderthal says:

    My Great Uncle was killed at the Battle of Polygon Wood. I’ve been to Ypres many times and never knew until recently. RIP Bill

  97. Coffee and Chill says:

    Cadorna was the best austrohungarian general of the whole war

  98. rollo rob says:

    Happy birthday

  99. Narmatonia says:

    Indy's 50? Maybe they put alot of makeup on him but I wouldn't have put him over 40 if i had to guess

  100. ThatGuyChrs says:

    Since Indy's Birthday is coming up again; I'd like to say he doesn't look a day over the age of 40 imo

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