When Lieutenant Bruno Guttmann was sent to serve on the Isonzo River frontier between Austria and Italy in January, 1915, it was not yet a war zone. The Italians were still maintaining a neutral stance in accord with an 1882 agreement known as the Triple Alliance that they had signed with Germany and Austria. Intent on gaining lost territory for themselves, however, they put a price on their neutrality, demanding the return of South Tyrol and autonomy for the city of Trieste.
Germany pushed the Emperor Franz Josef to accede to Italy’s request, but he refused, despite rumors that the Italians might move over to the enemy. Indeed, the Italians’ demand for concessions from the Austrians served as a cover for secret negotiations with England and France. On April 26 they signed the Treaty of London and on May 23 declared war on Austria.
If the Emperor did not admit to the danger on Austria’s frontier with Italy, his military had taken no chances. Border units had been on the alert since August 1914 and Lieutenant Guttmann was among the reinforcements sent to the region at the start of the next year. Over the course of the war, twelve battles took place on the Isonzo—four in 1915, five in 1916, and three in 1917. Bruno Guttman served as a company commander in the first (June 23-July 7) and third (October 18-November 4).
The Italians mounted their offensives from the river valley, while the Austrian army took a stand back from the border on the high ground. Perched above on the surrounding mountains, they held to a defensive posture well protected by triple rows of barbed wire, land mines, and bunkers for machine guns and artillery. Above all, situated as they were on the heights, they had the visual and physical advantage as they watched the Italians clamber up the steep slopes inadequately protected by artillery support from below. But the Italians were determined and courageous and the Austrians undermanned. The result was thousands of casualties on both sides. In the two battles Bruno participated in, the Austrians lost 78,000 men. He, himself, was wounded on August 29th and spent a month in a field hospital. He returned to the Isonzo front until he was finally given home leave on November 11. Coming back to Vienna after ten months, he saw his baby daughter for the first time. Sylvia Marie Guttmann (my mother) had entered the war-torn world on February 28th.
Bruno was able to stay home for only two weeks, before being sent to serve for another six months in the Balkans. There, he took part in the routs of Montenegro and Albania. His military record ends in May 1916 with a list of the four medals he received: a bronze and a silver medal for outstanding achievements in war; a military service cross, third class, given to “officers who gave proof of exceptional circumspection, courage and determination;”and the Emperor Karl Troop Cross for at least two months service on the front and participation in a battle.