16 June 1918: the Arditi of the 9th ward reconquer the Col Moschin

(To Tiziano Ciocchetti)

On the morning of 15 June 1918, during the first hours of the Battle of the Solstice (also called the Battle of Arrest) - which put a definitive end to the Austrian victory ambitions -, the 27ᵃ Austro-Hungarian Division goes beyond the lines held by the IX Corps Italian Army. After conquering the Col del Miglio, it is forced to restrain its action on the right, in front of Mount Coston and in Val Damoro. However he manages to find space on the left, where he manages to occupy the so-called "line of strongholds".

The positions of Col Fenilon (1.397 m), of Col Fagheron (1.315 m), and Col Moschin (1.278 m) fall in rapid succession, which is first circumvented and then occupied.

Although the offensive is contained, also thanks to the intervention of the artillery of the right wing of the 6ᵃ Armata, the situation remains critical, with the concrete possibility of a breakthrough that would allow the Austrians to spread to Bassano.

The daring of the IX Assault Department, initially in the reserve of the Army Corps in the Valletta degli Spini, on the morning of 15 June they are employed by the 18ᵃ Division and transferred to Casere Campeggia, here they receive the order to go to Col del Gallo , under the command of the commander of the Basilicata Brigade, Colonel Brigadier Giorgio Boccacci.

The IX Assault Department is officially constituted the 23 September 1917, within the 4ᵃ Armata as VI. At the date of the 24 December is divided into two companies, with two machine-gun sections, four pistol-machine guns sections and two flame-thrower sections, for a total of official 21 and 547 troop soldiers.

At the beginning of February of the 1918 the command of the Department passes to the major Giovanni Messe, who gives a strong impulse to the individual training and to the exercises of department, allowing the VI to become a valid combat unit.

The 20 May takes the number of IX, starting the formation of a third company, taking a platoon from each of the others (process facilitated thanks to the arrival of about 200 complement men). Then, just before the Battle of the Solstice, the IX Assault Department can deploy official 20 and 657 troop men.

The attack plan of Messe initially foresees the reconquest of Col Fagheron, to exploit it as a bridgehead to attack the Austrian positions on Col Fenilon, and then attack, finally, Col Moschin. The entire operation of the daring will be supported by artillery and supported by the I / 91 ° of the Basilicata Brigade.

The men of Messe are immediately launched to the attack, so as not to give the Austrian defenders time to strengthen their lines and at the same time exploit the effects of the artillery bombardment.

At 14 of 15 June, the 1 ° Company moves decisively against Palazzo Negri, Casa del Pastore and Casa dei Briganti, objectives these last two respectively one hundred and two hundred meters to the west of the first. Once the groups of Austrians have been eliminated and the first three machine guns captured, the company goes against the reduced quota 1.318 and seizes it just as quickly, losing however the company commander Umberto Pinca.

Meanwhile, the 2 Company of Captain Zancanaro reconquers the Fagheron. In the shelters obtained on the slope of the mountain, several nuclei of Austrian defenders are annihilated, in a bloody melee testified by the low number of prisoners.

As a result of this first phase of operations, developed and completed in no more than a quarter of an hour, the whole line from 1.318 level to Fagheron is occupied and from there it runs towards Col Spiazzoli.

While the bold of IX are rearranged on the positions reached, the I / 91 ° is arranged on its left, towards the side of the mountain that falls to the Brenta, to guarantee the continuity of the front. The dangerous Austrian penetration is thus definitively blocked and the raking of the area is completed.

At this point the major Messe pushes some patrols on reconnaissance towards the Col Fenilon and the Col Moschin, which indicate that both positions are heavily guarded.

Based on this information, the second phase of the action is planned, which also includes the II battalion of the 92 Infantry Regiment. At 20.20, Messe is informed that ten minutes later the artillery will begin the suppression roll on the Austrian Col Fenilon and Col Moschin lines, to continue until 22.00, now set for the assault.

The bold, followed by a company of the I / 91 ° and the 91 ° regimental assault platoon, begin the approach to the 21.00, under the arc of the trajectories, and when the artillery extends the shot they are ready to shoot at the 'assault. The slope rises impetuously, wrapping the summit of Fenilon in a flash. The Austrians fight with desperate courage but the fury of the assault leaves no way out and how many of the defenders are not ready to surrender are killed on the spot.

At 23.00, Col Fenilon is under the full control of the IX Assault Department, in whose hands there are five officers, eighty troops, four machine guns and numerous other materials.

I went down to tidy up the 1.318 backhand, the bold of IX are preparing for the last act. Once the ownership of Col Fenilon is secured, the Basilicata Commander intends to complete his counteroffensive with the reconquest of Col Moschin.

Messe is informed at 4.00, with the same communication in which he learns that it will be supported by the II / 92 ° of Lieutenant Colonel Tomassetti, and that the shooting will take place at 7.00, or when the artillery will extend the shooting.

With these orders, at 6.00 in the morning of 16 June, IX leaves 1.318, and reaches the road that passes at the foot of that rise and masses in the col of Col Moschin, followed by the 92 ° Battalion. For a mishap the artillery starts the barrage late and continues even after the scheduled time, however at 7.00 the daring launch themselves anyway and ten minutes later they reach the quota.

The Col Moschin is conquered in less than a quarter of an hour with the total annihilation of the Austrian garrison of which only those who are taken prisoner are saved.

Official 27 and 250 troopers are captured, along with no less than 17 machine guns and a trench cannon, and two mountain batteries with their ammunition are taken, a column of twenty mules plus other material.

Entrusted with the II / 92 ° position, the IX Assault Department returns to the reserve behind 1.318 quota where it can finally proceed to a final count of the losses suffered during the two days of combat. In addition to the death of Captain Pinca the wounding of another officer must be recorded, Captain Teobaldo Vantini, commander of the 3ᵃ Company, among the troops there are five dead and eighty wounded. However painful are contained losses which, compared to the results achieved, confirm the effectiveness of the action of the department.

Photo: Italian Army