Beginning of the Conflict
The upheaval began after an armistice at Venice in April 1919 ended the war between Italy and the Central Powers. The House of Savoy was widely thought to have failed its duty to protect the country, after having led it into an unwinnable war with Austria-Hungary. The Austrians were allowed to garrison Lombardy and Venetia until a treaty was signed that would formally end the war, so it was beyond this militarized zone that protests began. When the armistice was announced, nationalists, socialists, and republicans in Milan, Torino and Florence denounced the House of Savoy for leading the nation into ruin, and declared a republic on August 7. Central and Northern Italy was in uproar, and royalist garri
sons struggled to maintain order against the underground republic. Popular uprisings occurred across Italy, and sometimes mutinous army regiments split themselves and fought against each other. The republican capital of Milan was swiftly overrun by the occupying Austrian forces, who were caught in the conflict.
The Savoyard government was in disarray, unsure of who to trust. In an attempt to calm the rebellions, King Victor Emanuel and his son Umberto abdicated the throne, with no clear successor so as not to enrage the populace further by putting another military man on the throne. This was unsuccessful, and served only to demoralize the royalist troops. Tuscany fell rapidly to the rebels, as there were few garrisons there. The republicans also secured most of Parma by the end of August, and soldiers returning from Venice and the South to their homes were quickly drafted once more into the service of one of the sides.
Vienna demanded on September 13 that Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg divert troops and supplies from the occupation of France to Northern, and possibly Central, Italy. Berlin replied that there were no troops to spare. The Romagna fell to the Republicans by the end of September. Meanwhile, in the northwest, nationalist forces began to organize themselves into more than just gangs and looters. Emilio de Bono was recruited by the Republic to lead the Third Army, and began a push into Liguria against the collapsing Savoyard armies.
In a great coup for the republicans, General de Bono routed the Savoyard armies from Liguria, and the Duke of Aosta, Emanuele Filiberto, fled to Sardinia on November 2. Unfortunately for the rebel cause, the first disputes between "Red’’ and "White’’ republicans begin in early October, especially in Piedmont and Lombardy. At this point, sabotage began on both sides, as White forces destroy most of the factories in Piedmont and Liguria with help from local industrialists, before retreating eastward.
The continuing combined Republican offensive in Umbria was ground to a halt by late November, as Red and White troops refused to continue to fight together. White forces, including General de Bono, decamped to a temporary capital in Parma. Meanwhile, with the end of the assault on the Kingdom in Tuscany, the Socialists could devote greater resources to the attack on Emilia. The Battle of Parma began on December 6, and lasted three bloody weeks as the encircled Republicans were finally relieved by forces diverted from fighting the Austrians in Veneto. Ravenna at this time, however, was taken by the Austrians by sea, who prepared for a joint offensive between their forces in Venice, Milan, and Ravenna to cut off the rebels in their occupied territory from the Adriatic and each other.
The imminent risk of a full Austrian intervention motivates the first diplomatic overtures between the Republicans and Austrians. Both sides wished to prevent a fully socialist Italy, and Austria in particular required a stable government it could deal diplomatically with, but once these plans were leaked, were fuel to the fire and irreversibly divided the Republicans in Right- and Left-Wing factions. On Christmas Day of 1919, the Socialist Republic of Italy was declared in Torino. The Commune of France, still in the midst of its own civil war against the Nice junta, offered only limited support to their Syndicalist comrades, consisting mostly of a few advisers, both political and military.
War in the Marche
Meanwhile, Socialist preparations for an attack began. The Socialist leadership was eager to test their new Red Guards, formed out of the ad-hoc socialist militias and trained by former Italian officers and French advisors. As the front against the newly-delineated Whites stabilized in the north, Red Guards were dispatched to reinforce assembling militias in Tuscany for an attack (Operation Garibaldi) to take Rome and crush the capital of Italy and the Pope before foreign volunteers could arrive in Rome. Royalist soldiers had had time to prepare for the attack, however, and had prepared trenches and forward bases along a defensive line stretching from Rome through Ascoli Pisceno to Ancona. When the attack came on January 15, it was accompanied by a a terrible storm that blinded the defenders and allowed the Socialists to break the lines disastrously at Ascoli Piscena, allowing Ancona to fall by the end of January. The defenders attempted to swing the line westward to counter the Socialist invasion into the Mezzogiorno. They now were granted a reprieve, as royalist soldiers, returned from the war and called back into their units by the provisional Italian government, stopped the Socialists just south of the border and reinforced the lines in Rome. Socialists tried to continue Operation Garibaldi with a naval assault on Civitavecchia, Rome's port, but were driven off with light losses. All major socialist offenses in the south halted by March 3.
Political Disarray in the Kingdom
Though they were able to drive off the socialist forces, the Kingdom of Italy was at this time held together merely by shared dislike of the socialists. Though Duke Emanuel Philibert declared himself King of Italy on Sardinia in January of 1920, he was neither acknowledged nor obeyed by the administration in Rome. Instead, they had turned to the Duke of Genoa, civilian leader during the war, to lead them, but he had refused to take the throne. Some turned to the Pope to take up some sort of sovereignty over Rome, and Benedict XV came out of the Vatican for the first time in years. Nevertheless, the provisional government desperately needed help to fend off another socialist attack, as well as a political reorganization. Austria-Hungary was ready to provide this to both them and the republican rebels, proposing that they both unite in a decentralized, anti-socialist Italian Federation. This was not accepted immediately, but provided a basis for cooperation that would prove essential.
After the failure of Operation Garibaldi, the socialists attempted no further major offensives, contenting themselves with inching away at the Republicans in Romagna. The Austrians prepared themselves to intervene in favor of their new allies. Nevertheless, at this time the effort required to sustain the various Austrian occupations in Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Ukraine and Italy was beginning to break the Austro-Hungarian army. Still, small-scale warfare continued for a month and a half, while all sides prepared for the rumored Socialist offensive. On May 18, it finally came. Tens of thousands of socialist militias and Red Guard began enormous attacks against the Republicans, driving them out of Piedmont, Romagna, and Emilia. On May 22 the Republican, Royal, and K.u.K. governments signed an armistice and limited pact against the Syndicalists at Treviso. The exact terms of diplomatic recognition and ties were to be decided after the Socialist Republic was defeated, though they were presumably to follow the lines of a Federation. Austo-Hungarian troops raced to the front from their positions in the Alps and Veneto, and managed to barely stop the advancing socialists at the "Miracle at the Po", by destroying several bridges with air and artillery strikes, effectively cutting off the SRI from Republican territory. No further offensives by either side would be undertaken. An armistice would be signed in August, ending the fighting.
Austria-Hungary and the Italian Federation signed the Treaty of Trieste on October 4 1920, which stated that Austria would recognize the Republican government as the legitimate government of Italy north of the Po. However, this would have to exist under the framework of the Italian Federation. Thus, the Republic of Lombardy-Venetia was born, the Prime Minister of which was granted the title of Interim Head of the Council of the Italian Federation, taken from now-occupied Tuscany as a sop to White national pretensions. Large amounts of autonomy in Venetia satisfied many who simply wished for retaining local rule, while ending the conflict. Both nations announced their friendship toward each other, and Austria pledged to support the Whites should the Socialists attack again. Crucially for later events in 1926, however, Austria made no specific pledge to protect the Mezzogiorno, while garrisons did arrive in Rome, Naples, and Taranto at the time. This unstable arrangement would inevitably culminate in the War Scare of 1926, and later collapse of the Italian Federation. Concurrently, in northwestern Italy, the Nice Junta was defeated with participation of SRI and CoF troops in the offensive, in the first official joint operation between the two nations. Red Italian forces partake in small numbers in the final stages of the French Revolution in Savoy, but most are on the verge of mutiny and return to their often ruined homes. The Italian Civil War was not over, but reunification would have to wait.