Battle of the Piave, Italy, 15-16 June 1918

The River Piave flows into the Adriatic to the north of Venice and in June 1918 formed the front line in the eastern sector of the Italian front. The battle honour Piave was awarded to the 1/7th Worcestershire for an action on the Asiago Plateau, some 25 Miles to the west of the river. The Battalion was in reserve when the Austrians launched a major attack before dawn on 15 June, supported by an intense bombardment in which every British battery position and every cross roads was targeted. Two of the battalions in the front line had been overrun and almost wiped out and a dangerous gap had opened up. The 1/6th Gloucestershire were ordered to deliver a counter-attack, supported by the 1/7th Worcestershire.

The approach to the assembly area was made under heavy artillery fire which greatly delayed the advance and the appointed position was not reached until dusk. The ground in front and all round was dense pine forest in which the enemy were known to be in great force. Two of the Glosters’ companies had been scattered in the dense wood by the enemy’s fire and had lost contact. Fresh orders were issued for an attack by 1/7th Worcestershire, supported by the two remaining companies of 1/6th Gloucestershire. On that counter-attack depended the issue of the battle. If the enemy were able to break through the line at that point, disaster must ensue for no other reserves were available.

The fight which followed in that first battle of British troops against Austrians was remarkable by reason of the absence of artillery fire. The density of the woods and the vagueness of the available information prevented either side from employing guns to support their infantry. The advance bega about 1930 hrs. firing rapidly and rushing by alternate sections, the companies pushed on through the forest. The Austrians brought machine guns into action, and burst after burst of rapid fire brought the advance to a stand-still. There ensued a fire fight of the most intense nature. Fortunately the enemy fire was mostly high and badly directed, and our casualties were in consequence comparitively light. On the other hand the musketry of the Worcestershire battalion was low and accurate, and before that deadly fire the Austrians fell fast. Afterwards on the ground over which the Battalion had fought more than 300 of the enemy were found dead.

The battle continued through the night. At 2100 the firing in the forest was as heavy as ever. In every direction the bullets of machine guns were tearing through the trees, and all movement and communication was very difficult. The loss of the 1/7th Worcestershire in their fierce fire-fight in the wood had been heavy. Out of a total battle strength of 12 officers and about 300 other ranks, the four companies of the Battalion had lost 8 officers and 83 NCOs and men. But the loss inflicted on the enemy had certainly been three times as great.

Casualties (killed in action, died of wounds, died from other causes)

Officers 29 Other ranks 453 Total 482