The Second Battle of the Piave River took place on the Italian Front of World War One. It was a decisive victory for the Italian Army against the forces of Austria-Hungary. Although its effects were not immediately apparent, it soon became clear that it was only a matter of time before the Austro-Hungarian forces would collapse.
The Italians had by now been thoroughly admitted to the inner circle of the Entente. Much effort was expended on improving standards of training and inculcating a working knowledge of the new tactics. Thus Armando Diaz, the Italian Chief of Staff, reorganized his lines to secure defense in depth. He prepared defense works not only on the Piave but also covering the Brenta, Adige and Po rivers. In addition, a leaf was taken out of the Belgian book, in that preparations were made to inundate the floodplains should disaster loom at the hands of the Austrians.
For the Italians it was fortunate that they had prepared their defenses, as the Germans demanded that their Austrian allies launch one last great attack to try and defeat the Italians. The Austrians had recently undergone a change in command, and the new Austrian Chief of Staff, General Arthur Arz von Straussenburg, was also keen to try to finish off the Italians. The offensive commenced, with a two-pronged assault, one into the main Piave defensive positions and the second thrusting down from the Trent front towards the Brenta.
The Italians were augmented by the three British and two French divisions that still remained on the front – and perhaps even more importantly, by their 450 guns. It was a close-run thing all along the line, but the Austrian attacks could not break through. Even when they made small gains, the Italians counterattacked vigorously, and Austrian morale began to crumble as they were left utterly frustrated.
Progress on the second day was no easier. Conrad was in retreat; his batteries were out of the fight. Boroević ordered his commanders to hunker down while forces were transferred from the north. Meanwhile the Piave rose again, washing away many of the pontoons. Supplying the bridgeheads across the torrent became even more dangerous. The Austrians were too close to exhaustion and their supplies too uncertain for a sustained battle to run in their favor. An Italian counterattack made the Austrian positions across the river untenable.
Emperor Karl ordered the right bank of the Piave to be abandoned. Both sides were exhausted, and the maneuver was completed without much fighting. Early in July, Italian units capped the achievement by seizing the swampy delta at the mouth of the Piave which the Austrians had held since Caporetto. The rejoicing was widespread and spontaneous.
For a period all remained calm, but behind the lines Diaz was preparing for an offensive against the increasingly demoralized Austrians. As the Germans began to collapse on the Western Front, this left the Austrians distraught, all their hopes for victory having been pinned on the Germans. Alone, they were all but helpless by late 1918.