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.

Pod Search, a Search Engine for Podcasts, Can Help You Find Your Next Binge-Listen

Milkos/iStock via Getty Images
Milkos/iStock via Getty Images

Having too many options definitely seems like the best problem to have when it comes to picking your next top podcast obsession, but that doesn’t make it any less overwhelming. To streamline the hunt, try Pod Search—a website and mobile app that has all the information you need in order to choose a winner.

As Lifehacker reports, the user-friendly site is organized in several different ways, depending on how you’d like to operate your search. You can browse its list of about 30 categories, which range from “Storytelling” to “Crime & Law,” and each has a set of subcategories so you can get even more specific. If you trust the opinions of the general public, you can choose an already-popular podcast from the “Top Podcasts” tab. Or, if you like to be the first to recommend the next big thing to your friends, you can pick a program from the list of new podcasts.

Pod Search also has a handy tool called MyPodSearch which will pretty much do all the work of choosing the perfect podcast for you. All you have to do is check whichever categories interest you and add any additional keywords you’d like (which is optional), and MyPodSearch will deliver a list of podcasts personalized for your tastes. This is great for people who have wide-ranging interests, a proclivity for indecision, or both.

Each podcast has its own landing page with a description, audio samples, places you can listen, website and social media links for the podcast, and a list of other podcasts from the same producers. You can also create an account and bookmark podcasts for the future—so, hypothetically, you could have MyPodSearch create a personalized list for you, bookmark them all, and then have a binge-listening itinerary that’ll last you until next year.

[h/t Lifehacker]

8 Fun Facts About Muppet Babies

The Jim Henson Company
The Jim Henson Company

Before prequels were a thing, Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies imagined a world in which the felt-covered characters of Henson’s Muppets franchise—Kermit, Miss Piggy, Animal, and Fozzie Bear among them—met up as children in a nursery. Left to their own devices, the animated cast led a rich fantasy life while in diapers. For more on this 1984-1991 show, including why it’s so hard to find anywhere except YouTube, keep reading.

1. Frank Oz didn’t really want Muppet Babies.

The idea to infantilize the Muppets came from Michael Frith, a longtime collaborator of Jim Henson’s, in the early 1980s. Frith believed that regressing the characters could allow them to impart moral or educational messages to children already familiar with them. But Frank Oz, a Muppets performer (Miss Piggy) and film director, argued that the Muppets needed to maintain their subversive edge. It was Henson who found a compromise, suggesting that younger versions of the characters appear in a dream sequence for 1984’s feature film The Muppets Take Manhattan. The response to the scene was overwhelmingly positive, and Henson soon teamed with Marvel Productions and CBS for an animated series that began airing in September 1984.

2. Skeeter was the result of a gender imbalance on Muppet Babies.

Most of the principal Muppet Babies cast was made up of recognizable characters, including Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Rowlf, Gonzo, Animal, Bunsen, and Scooter. But Frith, Henson, and producers Bob Richardson and Hank Saroyan decided that the babies were skewing a little too male. Aside from Piggy and their caretaker, Nanny, there were no female characters. To balance the scales, they introduced Skeeter, Scooter’s twin sister, a brainy problem-solver.

Skeeter has made only fleeting and sporadic appearances in the Muppet franchise since, leading to speculation she might be caught up in rights issues between CBS and the Jim Henson Company, which was purchased by Disney in 2004. Fortunately, the somewhat murky situation appears to be at least partially resolved: It was recently reported Skeeter will resurface in the new computer-animated iteration of Muppet Babies, which is currently airing its second season on Disney Junior and has been renewed for a third season.

3. One of the major creative forces behind Muppet Babies was Moe Howard’s grandson.

In 1985, Muppet Babies writer Jeffrey Scott received a Humanitas Prize from the Human Family Educational and Cultural Institute for an episode of the series which the Institute declared did the best job of any kid’s show that year to “enrich the viewing public.” The episode centered on the group fearing one of them might be sent away. The prolific Scott actually wrote all 13 episodes of the first season. His father, Norman Maurer, worked at Hanna-Barbera Productions and got Scott’s foot in the door. His grandfather was Moe Howard, founder and head Stooge of The Three Stooges fame.

4. The Muppet Babies live-action segments were a result of budgetary constraints.

A hallmark of Muppet Babies is when the cast finds themselves thrust into scenes from famous films, a Walter Mitty-esque bit of fantasy fulfillment that blends live-action sequences with animation. According to Frith, devoting a portion of each episode to clips wasn’t entirely a creative choice. By inserting clips, producers could save money on animation. It was also easy for Henson to secure the rights to popular films like Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark because he was friends with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. While some believe those clips are the reason the show isn’t available to stream—sifting through the legal entanglement of reairing the segments might prove costly—that’s never been confirmed.

5. Muppet Babies never explained what the Muppets were doing in that nursery.

Given time to reflect, it seems odd that the Muppet cast would find themselves in a nursery without being supervised by their own parents. Speaking with the Detroit Free Press in 1987, Michael Frith said that the situation was purposely left vague. “I really appreciate the fact that they don’t [ask],” Frith said of his kid viewers. “Is this a day care center? Is this a foster child home? The more we talked about it, the more we felt it should just exist. The kids accept it.”

6. The voice recording sessions of Muppet Babies included copious farting.

Speaking with CNN in 2011, actor Dave Coulier (Full House) recalled that recording sessions for Muppet Babies sometimes involved flatulence. Coulier, who portrayed Animal and Bunsen, among others, said that “lots of fart humor” punctuated the recording studio. “In one scene, Fozzie [played by Greg Berg] and Animal had to climb a ladder,” he said. “As Animal was pushing Fozzie up the ladder, they were making [grunting] sounds. In mid-scene, Greg Berg farted. I looked at [actor] Frank Welker and we couldn’t contain ourselves. Uncontrollable laughter ensued. I was literally on the floor of the studio laughing.”

7. There was an offshoot of Muppet Babies called Muppet Monsters—and it never aired in full.

Following the success of Muppet Babies, CBS and Jim Henson decided to expand on the Muppets' potential as Saturday morning stars by creating a 90-minute block in 1985 titled Muppets, Babies, and Monsters. (Muppet Babies often aired consecutive half-hour installments for an hour total.) In addition to regular Muppet Babies episodes, the program featured another half-hour of Little Muppet Monsters, which featured puppets of new Muppet monster characters named Tug, Molly, and Boo. The three appeared in a framing device that introduced animated segments of adult Muppets. Only three episodes aired out of 15 produced, reportedly due to both Henson and CBS being unhappy with the finished product and Muppet Babies standing strongly on its own. The remaining episodes have yet to see the light of day.

8. Muppet Babies was turned into a live stage show.

To further incite their juvenile audience and monetize their popularity, the Muppet Babies franchise eventually wound up live and on stage. Muppet Babies Live! debuted in 1986 and featured performers in oversized costumes dancing and acting to a prerecorded track. In one skit, the cast appeared in a Snow White homage. In another, Rowlf became Rowlfgang Amagodus Mozart and played the piano. The arena show toured the country. Hank Saroyan, one of the animated show’s producers, wrote the stage show. The performer for Baby Piggy, Elizabeth Figols, also appeared in a live production of Dirty Dancing. The show ran through 1990.

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