Ninth Isonzo, Strikes Rock Petrograd

Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 255th installment in the series.  

October 31, 1916: Ninth Isonzo, Strikes Rock Petrograd 

After the surprising Italian victory during the Sixth Battle of the Isonzo, Italian chief of the general staff Luigi Cadorna tried to maintain the momentum and achieve a breakthrough by employing the same tactics in the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Battles of the Isonzo. But success proved fleeting, and the bloody stasis of trench warfare soon settled over the Isonzo front again. 

Although they wouldn’t know this until later, the Italians came tantalizingly close to a breakthrough on several occasions, thanks to the lessons of the Sixth Isonzo. For the Ninth Isonzo, lasting from October 31-November 4, 1916, Cadorna amassed a huge amount of artillery against a relatively narrow length of front covering the high, desolate Carso Plateau, with around 1,350 guns giving them a three-to-one advantage here.  The Italian Second and Third Armies also enjoyed a massive advantage in manpower over Svetozar Boreović’s Habsburg Fifth Army.  

After a blistering six-day bombardment beginning October 25, at 12:30 p.m. on October 31, Italian Third Army commander, the Duke of Aosta, began launching the first limited attacks to probe the Habsburg front lines for chinks in the enemy defenses. With this intelligence in hand, the Italian bombardment resumed on November 1, followed by an all-out infantry assault.

While the Italian Second Army mounted a diversionary attack to the north around Gorizia, the Third Army infantry poured forward from their trenches (top, Italian troops go over the top). Superior numbers and firepower yielded initial success, as the Italians scaled the heights of the Carso Plateau and pushed the outnumbered Habsburg troops back again and again.

Once again it seemed like the Italians were about to achieve the longed-for breakthrough, clearing the way to the great prize, Trieste. In fact the beleaguered Habsburg defenders were forced to fall back to their second line of trenches further east – which in this stretch of the front were only backup defenses separating the Italians from the Dual Monarchy’s interior provinces. 

With the Habsburg VII Corps under commander Archduke Joseph about to give way, on November 3, 1916 the situation was saved by the bravery and elan of a small group of ordinary soldiers – the 4th Battalion of the 61st Regiment, an ethnically mixed unit composed of Austrians, Hungarian Magyars, Romanians, and Serbs. Led by a 30-year-old mid-ranking officer, Captain Peter Roosz, the battalion surpassed all expectations in a desperate battle ranging across the Carso Plateau, repelling Italian forces six times its size – contradicting the stereotypical image of the Habsburg Army as demoralized and riven by ethnic strife. 

After this remarkable performance, the situation was finally stabilized by the arrival of a reserve division from the Eastern Front, transferred by Habsburg chief of the general staff Conrad von Hotzendorf with the reluctant acquiescence of his new German counterpart, Paul von Hindenburg. With these reinforcements in place, a final Italian assault on November 4 was sent reeling with very heavy losses, and Cadorna was forced to call off the attack.

The Ninth Battle of the Isonzo had cost the Italians 39,000 casualties, including killed, wounded, missing and prisoners, versus 33,000 for the Habsburgs. Including the previous Seventh and Eighth Battles of the Isonzo, the total came to 75,000 Italian casualties and 63,000 Habsburg. Overall, by November 1916 Austria-Hungary (which also bore the brunt of the Russian Brusilov Offensive that summer) had suffered over four million casualties, including around a million dead, 1.8 million wounded, and 1.5 million taken prisoner. For its part Italy had sustained well over half a million casualties over a year and half of fighting, with around 185,000 dead and 475,000 wounded by the end of 1916. 

Strikes Rock Petrograd 

As the year 1916 wound down and fall gave way to winter, the situation on the “home front” was looking grim across Europe, as civilians on both sides of the war faced growing shortages of essential items including food, clothing, medicine and fuel. Nowhere was the suffering worse than in Russia, where food shortages, inflation, hording and price gouging left more and more ordinary people close to starvation. 

Indeed the relative success of the Brusilov Offensive in the summer of 1916, which came at the cost of 1.4 million Russian casualties, did nothing to assuage growing anger over the general mismanagement of the economy and war effort, widely blamed on official corruption and above all the feckless incompetence of the opaque, unaccountable tsarist regime. Even illiterate peasants were aware of the sinister influence wielded by the malign “holy man” Rasputin over the mystically-inclined Tsarina Alexandra, who in turn encouraged the autocratic impulses of her husband Nicholas II, with disastrous results – managing to alienate both the Duma (Russia’s parliament) and the monarchy’s natural allies in the Orthodox Church.

On October 30-31, spiraling food prices and stagnant wages triggered a wave of strikes by industrial workers across the capital Petrograd and its suburbs – this time with a distinctly revolutionary flavor. In his diary entry on October 31, 1916, the French ambassador to Russia, Maurice Paleologue, noted that some unknown power seemed to be at work: “For the last two days all the factories in Petrograd have been on strike. The workmen left the shops without giving any reason, and simply on an order issued by some mysterious committee.”

Even worse, the strikes revealed that the pillars of the regime’s authority were crumbling. A French industrialist with a factory in Petrograd told Paleologue an alarming account of events during the strike, in a conversation also recorded by the ambassador in his diary:

“While work was in full swing this afternoon, a party of strikers from the Baranovsky works besieged our establishment, shouting: ‘Down with the French! No more war!...  The police had meanwhile arrived and soon realized that they could not cope with the situation. A squad of gendarmes then succeeded in forcing a way through the crowd, and went to fetch two infantry regiments which are in barracks quite near. The two regiments appeared a few minutes later, but instead of raising the siege of our factory they fired on the police.” “On the police!” “Yes, Monsieur l'Ambassadeur; you can see the bullet marks on our walls… A stand-up fight followed. At length we heard the gallop of the Cossacks, four regiments of them. They charged the infantrymen and drove them back to their barracks at the point of the lance.”

This turn of events – with ordinary soldiers not only refusing to fire on their own people, but turning on the police instead – was an unmistakable sign that revolution was in the offing. Needless to say, the execution a week later of 150 soldiers who had fired on police did nothing to calm the situation. Already, by December 1916 anywhere from one million to 1.5 million Russian soldiers had deserted, further stoking revolutionary fervor behind the front. The Russian autocracy was living on borrowed time. 

See the previous installment or all entries.

11 Fun Facts About Dolly Parton

Brendon Thorne, Getty Images
Brendon Thorne, Getty Images

Over the past 50-some years, Dolly Parton has gone from a chipper country starlet to a worldwide icon of music and movies whose fans consistently pack a theme park designed (and named) in her honor. Dolly Parton is loved, lauded, and larger than life. But even her most devoted admirers might not know all there is to this Backwoods Barbie.

1. You won't find Dolly Parton on a Dollywood roller coaster.

Her theme park Dollywood offers a wide variety of attractions for all ages. Though she's owned it for more than 30 years, Parton has declined to partake in any of its rides. "My daddy used to say, 'I could never be a sailor. I could never be a miner. I could never be a pilot,' I am the same way," she once explained. "I have motion sickness. I could never ride some of these rides. I used to get sick on the school bus."

2. Dolly Parton once entered a Dolly Parton look-alike contest—and lost.


Getty Images

Apparently Parton doesn't do drag well. “At a Halloween contest years ago on Santa Monica Boulevard, where all the guys were dressed up like me, I just over-exaggerated my look and went in and just walked up on stage," she told ABC. "I didn’t win. I didn’t even come in close, I don’t think.”

3. Dolly Parton spent a fortune to recreate her childhood home.

Parton and her 11 siblings were raised in a small house in the mountains of Tennessee that lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. When Parton bought the place, she hired her brother Bobby to restore it to the way it looked when they were kids. "But we wanted it to be functional," she recounted on The Nate Berkus Show, "So I spent a couple million dollars making it look like I spent $50 on it! Even like in the bathroom, I made the bathroom so it looked like an outdoor toilet.” You do you, Dolly.

4. Dolly Parton won't apologize for Rhinestone.


Getty Images

Parton is well-known for her hit movies Steel Magnolias and 9 to 5, less so for the 1984 flop Rhinestone. The comedy musical about a country singer and a New York cabbie was critically reviled and fled from theaters in just four weeks. But while her co-star Sylvester Stallone has publicly regretted the vehicle, Parton declared in her autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business that she counts Rhinestone's soundtrack as some of her best work, especially "What a Heartache."

5. Dolly Parton is Miley Cyrus's godmother ... sort of.

"I'm her honorary godmother. I've known her since she was a baby," Parton told ABC of her close relationship with Miley Cyrus. "Her father (Billy Ray Cyrus) is a friend of mine. And when she was born, he said, 'You just have to be her godmother,' and I said, 'I accept.' We never did do a big ceremony, but I'm so proud of her, love her, and she's just like one of my own." Parton also played Aunt Dolly on Cyrus's series Hannah Montana.

6. Dolly Parton received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan.

A photo of Dolly Parton on stage
Getty Images

In the mid-2000s, Dollywood joined the ranks of family amusement parks participating in "Gay Days," a time when families with LGBTQ members are encouraged to celebrate together in a welcoming community environment. This riled the KKK, but their threats didn't scare Dolly. "I still get threats," she has admitted. "But like I said, I'm in business. I just don't feel like I have to explain myself. I love everybody."

7. Dolly Parton started her own "library" to promote literacy, and has given away more than 100 million books.

In 1995, the pop culture icon founded Dolly Parton's Imagination Library with the goal of encouraging literacy in her home state of Tennessee. Over the years, the program—built to mail children age-appropriate books—spread nationwide, as well as to Canada, the UK, and Australia. When word of the Imagination Library hit Reddit, the swarms of parents eager to sign their kids up crashed the Imagination Library site. It is now back on track, accepting new registrations and donations.

8. There's a statue of Dolly Parton in her hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee.

A stone's throw from Dollywood, Sevierville, Tennessee is where Parton grew up. Between stimulating tourism and her philanthropy, this proud native has given a lot back to her hometown. And Sevierville residents returned that appreciation with a life-sized bronze Dolly that sits barefoot, beaming, and cradling a guitar, just outside the county courthouse. The sculpture, made by local artist Jim Gray, was dedicated on May 3, 1987. Today it is the most popular stop on Sevierville's walking tour.

9. The cloned sheep Dolly was named after Dolly Parton.

In 1995 scientists successfully created a clone from an adult mammal's somatic cell. This game-changing breakthrough in biology was named Dolly. But what about Parton inspired this honor? Her own groundbreaking career? Some signature witticism or beloved lyric? Nope. It was her legendary bustline. English embryologist Ian Wilmut revealed, "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's."

10. Dolly Parton turned down an offer from Elvis Presley.

After Parton made her own hit out of "I Will Always Love You," Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, reached out in hopes of having Presley cover it. But part of the deal demanded Parton surrender half of the publishing rights to the song. "Other people were saying, 'You're nuts. It's Elvis Presley. I'd give him all of it!'" Parton admitted, "But I said, 'I can't do that. Something in my heart says don't do that.' And I didn't do it and they didn't do it." It may have been for the best. Whitney Houston's cover for The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992 was a massive hit that has paid off again and again for Parton.

11. In 2018, Dolly Parton earned two Guinness World Records.

Parton is no stranger to breaking records. And on January 17, 2018 it was announced that she holds not one but two spot in the Guinness World Records 2018 edition: One for Most Decades With a Top 20 Hit on the US Hot Country Songs Chart (she beat out George Jones, Reba McEntire, and Elvis Presley for the honor) and the other for Most Hits on US Hot Country Songs Chart By a Female Artist (with a total of 107). Parton said she was "humbled and blessed."

7 Weird Super Bowl Halftime Acts

Al Bello, Getty Images
Al Bello, Getty Images

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez seem like natural choices to perform the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl, but the event didn’t always feature musical acts from major pop stars. Michael Jackson kicked off the trend at Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, but prior to that, halftime shows weren’t a platform for the hottest celebrities of the time. They centered around themes instead, and may have featured appearances from Peanuts characters, Jazzercisers, or a magician dressed like Elvis. In honor of Super Bowl LIV on February 2, we’ve rounded up some of the weirdest acts in halftime show history.

1. Return of the Mickey Mouse Club

The era of Super Bowl halftimes before wardrobe malfunctions, illuminati conspiracy theories, and Left Shark was a more innocent time. For 1977’s event, the Walt Disney Company produced a show that doubled as a squeaky-clean promotion of its brand. Themed “Peace, Joy, and Love,” the Super Bowl XI halftime show opened with a 250-piece band rendition of “It’s a Small World (After All).” Disney also used the platform to showcase its recently revamped Mickey Mouse Club.

2. 88 Grand Pianos and 300 Jazzercisers

The theme of the halftime show at Super Bowl XXII in 1988 was “Something Grand.” Naturally, it featured 88 tuxedoed pianists playing 88 grand pianos. Rounding out the program were 400 swing band performers, 300 Jazzercisers, 44 Rockettes, two marching bands, and Chubby Checker telling everyone to “Twist Again."

3. Elvis Impersonator Performs the World’s Largest Card Trick

Many of the music industry's most successful pop stars—like Prince, Madonna, and, uh, Milli Vanilli—were at the height of their fame in 1989, but none of them appeared at Super Bowl XXIII. Instead, the NFL hired an Elvis Presley-impersonating magician to perform. The show, titled “BeBop Bamboozled,” was a tribute to the 1950s, and it featured Elvis Presto performing “the world’s largest card trick.” It also may have included the world's largest eye exam: The show boasted 3D effects, and viewers were urged to pick up special glasses before the game. If the visuals didn't pop like they were supposed to, people were told to see an eye doctor.

4. The Peanuts Salute New Orleans

Super Bowl XXIV featured one of the last halftime acts that was completely devoid of any musical megastars. The biggest celebrity at the 1990 halftime show was Snoopy. Part of the show’s theme was the “40th Anniversary of 'Peanuts,'” and to celebrate the milestone, performers dressed as Peanuts characters and danced on stage. The other half of the theme was “Salute to New Orleans”—not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the comic strip.

5. A Tribute to the Winter Olympics

Super Bowl XXVI preceded the 1992 Winter Olympics—a fact that was made very clear by the event’s halftime. The show was titled “Winter Magic” and it paid tribute to the winter games with ice skaters, snowmobiles, and a cameo from the 1980 U.S. hockey team. Other acts, like a group of parachute-pants-wearing children performing the “Frosty the Snowman Rap,” were more generally winter-themed than specific to the Olympics. About 22 million viewers changed the channel during halftime to watch In Living Color’s Super Bowl special, which may have convinced the NFL to hire Michael Jackson the following year.

6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye

“Peace, Joy, and Love” wasn’t the only Disney-helmed Super Bowl halftime. In 1995, Disney produced a halftime show called “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye” to tease the new Disneyland ride of the same name. It centered around a skit in which actors playing Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood stole the Vince Lombardi Trophy from an exotic temple, and it included choreographed stunts, fiery special effects, and a snake. Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett were also there.

7. The Blues Brothers, Minus John Belushi

The 1990s marked an odd period for halftime shows as they moved from schlocky themed variety shows to major music events. Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 perfectly encapsulates this transition period. James Brown and ZZ Top performed, but the headliners were the Blues Brothers. John Belushi had been dead for more than a decade by that point, so Jim Belushi took his place beside Dan Aykroyd. John Goodman was also there to promote the upcoming movie Blues Brother 2000. The flashy advertisement didn’t have the impact they had hoped for and the film was a massive flop when it premiered.

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