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Civici Musei di Storia e Arte di Trieste, via Itinerari Grande Guerra 
Civici Musei di Storia e Arte di Trieste, via Itinerari Grande Guerra 

Failure at Fourth Isonzo

Civici Musei di Storia e Arte di Trieste, via Itinerari Grande Guerra 
Civici Musei di Storia e Arte di Trieste, via Itinerari Grande Guerra 

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 209th installment in the series. 

November 10-11, 1915: Failure at Fourth Isonzo 

The Third Battle of the Isonzo had scarcely ended in defeat on November 4, 1915 when Italian chief of the general staff Luigi Cadorna ordered another frontal assault on Habsburg defenses in the Fourth Battle of the Isonzo from November 10-December 2 – using the same tactics in the same place, with the same objective (the town of Gorizia), predictably producing the same results. 

After the Italians came close to a breakthrough at the end of the Third Battle of the Isonzo, Cadorna received two dozen battalions of recently mobilized troops – but this was a mixed blessing, as these fresh troops were also green and inexperienced. Furthermore artillery shells were running low, meaning the all-important opening bombardment would have to be shortened. Meanwhile the Austro-Hungarian defenders of the Habsburg Fifth Army used the weeklong pause to frantically dig new trenches, sometimes using dynamite to blast holes in the solid rock, and bring up ammunition and supplies. 

Following a brief bombardment on November 10, 1915, the Italian Second and Third Armies launched infantry assaults against the same Habsburg defensive positions on the slopes of Mounts San Michele, Mrzli, Podgora and Sabotino. Once again the attackers ran into a hail of machine gun fire as they tried to pierce the wide, deep barbed wire entanglements in front of the Habsburg trenches, almost always without success. 

Even worse (for both sides) winter was arriving in the mountains, with the first snow falling on the foothills of the Julian Alps on November 16. The snow quickly blocked narrow, winding mountain roads, disrupting supply lines and leaving troops in the frontline trenches without food for days at a time. Thousands of troops on both sides suffered frostbitten feet and hands, making them useless for combat. In places where the snow melted or the autumn rains lingered it turned the hillsides into cascades of mud; after several days in this environment one commander described his men as “walking shapes of mud.”

Despite all this, on November 26 the Italians once again almost succeeded in breaking through the Habsburg lines near the crest of Mount Mrzli – but once again Austrian reinforcements arrived just in time to plug the gap and force the Italians back. This time the scare was bad enough that Austro-Hungarian chief of the general staff Conrad von Hotzendorf swallowed his pride and asked Austria-Hungary’s contemptuous ally, Germany, for help on the Italian front. 

There was one bright spot for Italy: on November 23 the Italian First Army, facing the Habsburg Tirol force, captured the town of Rovereto in the Trentino during a diversionary attack. On the other hand on November 18 the Italians suffered a self-inflicted propaganda defeat with Cadorna’s decision to shell Gorizia, a beautiful city known as the “Nice of the Alps” inhabited by ethnic Italians, whom they were supposedly trying to “liberate.” 

By the time fighting ended in early December, the Fourth Battle of the Isonzo had cost the Italians around 50,000 casualties, including 7,500 dead, compared to around 32,000 Habsburg casualties, with 4,000 dead. 

British Advance on Baghdad 

A thousand miles to the east, the British Indian Expeditionary Force under Sir Charles Townshend was ready to resume its march on Baghdad, the capital of Ottoman Mesopotamia. 

At this point Townshend’s army seemed invincible: the mixed Anglo-Indian force had defeated the Turks at Shaiba and then captured Qurna and Amara almost effortlessly (the conquest of Amara was carried out by bluff, as Townshend arrived with a handful of troops and convinced the much larger Turkish garrison his reinforcements were just a few hours away). Another victory over the Turks at Nasiriya on the Euphrates in July secured the British left flank, clearing the way for Townshend to advance to Kut-al-Amara, which fell on September 28, 1915. 

From Kut-al-Amara Baghdad lay tantalizingly close – just 75 miles north on the Tigris River – and the string of easy victories seemed to confirm the belief of Townshend’s commanding general Sir John Nixon that the Turkish army in Mesopotamia was demoralized and nearing collapse. Thus on November 11 the IEF started on its fateful march towards Baghdad, its officers confidently expecting to be touring the bazaars of the legendary city within a few weeks. By November 20 they had occupied Lajj, about 25 miles southeast of Baghdad. 

However the British were disastrously wrong about the state of Turkish defenses in Mesopotamia. Far from collapsing, the defenders had received substantial reinforcements in the form of the Ottoman Fifth Army now based in Baghdad, soon to be under the veteran elderly German General Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz, for a decade the head of the German military mission to Turkey, who was venerated by the Turks as “Goltz Pasha.” 

The first sign of stiffening resistance came at Ctesiphon, the ruined ancient capital of the Parthian Empire, just 15 miles southeast of Baghdad. At the Battle of Ctesiphon, from November 22-24 four heavily entrenched Turkish and Arab divisions under the Fifth Army’s soon to be ex-commander, Colonel Nureddin, fought the Anglo-Indian force to a draw, inflicting heavy casualties on Townshend’s small force (above, Townshend at Ctesiphon). Townshend decided to lead his outnumbered troops back to Kut-al-Amara to receive new supplies and reinforcements – a fateful mistake. 

See the previous installment or all entries.

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The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
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Disney/Marvel

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. CUBE (1997)

This low-budget independent film may have helped inspire the current "escape room" attraction fad. Six strangers wake up in a strange room that leads only to other rooms—all of them equipped with increasingly sadistic ways of murdering occupants.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. NEXT (2007)

Nic Cage stars a a magician who can see a few minutes into the future. He's looking to profit with the skill: the FBI and others are looking to exploit it.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2 (2017)

Marvel's tale of a misfit band of space jockeys was a surprise hit in 2014. The sequel offers more Groot, more Rocket Raccoon, and the addition of Kurt Russell as a human manifestation of an entire sentient planet.

7. STARDUST (2007)

Director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel features Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as supporting players in the tale of a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) in search of a fallen star to gift to his love.

8. KING KONG (2005)

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) set his considerable sights on a remake of the 1933 classic, with the title gorilla pestered and exploited by opportunistic humans.

9. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

What will a teenage mope do when a giant rabbit tells him the world is about to end? The answer comes in this critical and cult hit, which drew attention for its moody cinematography and an arresting performance by a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal.  

10. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

Soon we'll have a movie for every single major or minor incident ever depicted in the Star Wars universe. For now, we'll have to settle for this one-off that explains how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the plans for the Death Star.

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15 Surprising Facts About Hill Street Blues
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NBC

Until the impressive record was surpassed by The West Wing in 2000, Hill Street Blues held the title of most Emmy-awarded freshman series, with eight trophies for its debut season alone (despite its basement-level ratings). The drama that chronicled the lives of the men and women working the Hill Street police station beat has been credited with changing television ever since its debut in 1981.

Among Hill Street Blues's innovations are the use of handheld cameras, a large ensemble cast, multi-episode story arcs, and a mix of high drama and comedy—elements which still permeate the small screen today. Here are 15 facts about the groundbreaking series.

1. STEVEN BOCHCO AND MICHAEL KOZOLL CREATED IT, DESPITE NOT WANTING TO DO ANOTHER COP SHOW.

MTM Enterprises was specifically hired by NBC to create a cop show, so Steven Bochco (who later co-created L.A. Law and NYPD Blue) and Michael Kozoll (co-writer of First Blood) agreed to do it—as long as the network left them “completely alone to do whatever we want,” according to Bochco. NBC agreed, and the two wrote the pilot script in 10 days.

2. IT WAS INFLUENCED BY A 1977 DOCUMENTARY.

The show's creators looked to The Police Tapes, a 1977 documentary that chronicled a South Bronx police precinct during a particularly hostile time in New York City's history, for inspiration. NBC's then-president Fred Silverman was inspired to create a cop show in the first place after seeing Fort Apache, the Bronx (1981), which stars Paul Newman as a veteran cop in a South Bronx police district.

3. BRUCE WEITZ HAD AN AGGRESSIVE AUDITION.

Bruce Weitz landed the role of undercover officer Mick Belker by playing the part. "I went to the audition dressed as how I thought the character should dress—and loud and pushy," Weitz recalled. "When I got into the room, I jumped up on [MTM co-founder] Grant Tinker's desk and went after his nose. I heard he said afterwards, 'There's no way I can't offer him the job.'"

4. JOE SPANO THOUGHT HE WAS MISCAST.

Joe Spano in 'Hill Street Blues'
NBC

Joe Spano auditioned for the role of Officer Andrew Renko, but ended up playing Lieutenant Henry Goldblume. “I was always disappointed that I didn’t end up playing Renko,” Spano told Playboy in 1983. Spano also wasn't a fan of his character's penchant for bow ties, which he claimed was Michael Kozoll's idea. "I fought it all the way," he said. "I thought it was a stereotypical thing to do. But it actually turned out to be right. You don’t play into the bow tie—you fight against it."

5. BARBARA BOSSON WAS BOCHCO’S WIFE, BUT WASN’T PLANNING ON BEING A SERIES REGULAR.

Barbara Bosson played Fay, Captain Frank Furillo’s ex-wife, who was only supposed to appear in the first episode in order to “contextualize” the captain, according to Bochco. But when Silverman watched the episode, he asked, “She’s going to be a regular, right?”

6. IT TOOK MIKE POST TWO HOURS TO WRITE THE ICONIC THEME SONG.

The composer—who also wrote the themes for The Greatest American Hero, Magnum, P.I., The A-Team, NYPD Blue, and Law & Order—was instructed by Bochco to write something “antithetical” to the visuals. Post wanted to add more orchestration to the piano piece; Bochco disagreed.

Post also spent four to five hours writing five minutes of new music for each episode of Hill Street Blues.

7. THE PILOT TESTED POORLY.

According to a network memo, among the many problems test audiences noted were that "the main characters were perceived as being not capable and having flawed personalities ... Audiences found the ending unsatisfying. There are too many loose ends ... 'Hill Street' did not come off as a real police station ... There was too much chaos in the station house, again reflecting that the police were incapable of maintaining control even on their home ground." NBC picked it up anyway.

8. RENKO WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE IN THE FIRST EPISODE, AND COFFEY WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE AT THE END OF THE FIRST SEASON.

Charles Haid had other projects lined up, so he agreed to take the part of Renko, a man destined to die almost immediately. But another series Haid was relying on didn’t get picked up, and NBC claimed Renko tested too well for him to meet an early end. Ed Marinaro's Coffey was meant to be shot and killed in “Jungle Madness,” the final episode of the first season. The ending was changed to make it a cliffhanger, and Marinaro’s character survived.

9. THEY HAD HISTORICALLY BAD SEASON ONE RATINGS.

A 'Hill Street Blues' cast photo
NBC Television/Getty Images

In its first season, Hill Street Blues show finished 87th out of 96 shows, making it the lowest-rated drama in television history to get a second season. Bochco credited the show’s renewal to two things: NBC being a last place network at the time, and the NBC sales department noticing that high-end advertisers were buying commercial time during the show.

10. THEY NEVER SPECIFIED WHERE THE SHOW WAS LOCATED, BUT IT’S PROBABLY CHICAGO.

The exterior of the Maxwell Street police station in Chicago filled in for the fictitious Hill Street precinct for the opening credits and background footage. It was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1996 and is currently the University of Illinois at Chicago police department headquarters.

11. PLENTY OF FUTURE STARS MADE EARLY APPEARANCES.

Don Cheadle, James Cromwell, Laurence Fishburne, Tim Robbins, Andy Garcia, Cuba Gooding Jr., Danny Glover, Frances McDormand, and Michael Richards all found early work on the series.

12. SAMMY DAVIS JR. WANTED ON THE SHOW.

Sammy Davis Jr.
Michael Fresco, Evening Standard, Getty Images

Unfortunately, it never happened. Sometime after Bochco wrote in a reference to the singer, Davis and Bochco ran into each other. Davis said he loved it and started jumping up and down.

13. BOCHCO HAD A WAR WITH THE CENSORS.

Loving to use puns for titles, Bochco wanted to title an episode “Moon Over Uranus,” after Cape Canaveral was just in the news. Standards and Practices said no. Bochco eventually got his way, and proceeded to name the next two season three episodes “Moon Over Uranus: The Sequel” and “Moon Over Uranus: The Final Legacy.”

14. DAVID MILCH AND DICK WOLF’S CAREERS WERE LAUNCHED FROM IT.

David Milch (co-creator of NYPD Blue and creator of Deadwood) went from Yale writing teacher to a TV script writer through his former Yale roommate, Jeff Lewis. His first script for the show was season three's “Trial by Fury” episode, which won an Emmy, a WGA Award, and a Humanitas Prize. He later became an executive producer on the show. The first TV script credited to Dick Wolf (creator of the Law & Order franchise) was the season six episode, "Somewhere Over the Rambow." His first sole credit, for “What Are Friends For?,” earned Wolf an Emmy nomination in 1986.

It’s also worth noting that journalist and author Bob Woodward received a writing credit for season seven's “Der Roachenkavalier” and David Mamet penned the same season's “A Wasted Weekend” for his first television credit.

15. DENNIS FRANZ’S CHARACTER HAD A BRIEF, COMEDIC SPIN-OFF.

Dennis Franz (later Andy Sipowicz on NYPD Blue) first played corrupt cop Sal Benedetto in five episodes, before reappearing for the final two seasons as Lt. Norman Buntz. After Hill Street Blues ended its seven-season run, Franz reprised the latter character in Beverly Hills Buntz, which ran for one season beginning in 1987. In the 30-minute dramedy, Buntz was a private investigator after quitting the police force. Only nine episodes were broadcast by NBC.

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