Feeding a global war. The First World War and the inter-allied cooperation in the field of procurement. The experience of Silvio Benigno Crespi, 1917-1919

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Abstract

The broadening of the extent of the inter-allied cooperation is one of the changes that the First World War promoted in the way of thinking and waging modern war. During the conflict, cooperation was not limited to the strictly military realm but extended to all the aspects of a global confrontation. These remarks especially apply to the Entente Powers, which very soon established specialized bodies to manage jointly the goods, funds and services that the war effort needed. These bodies played a relevant role in day-by-day procurement; however, their usefulness especially emerged in times of crisis, as happened to Italy after the defeat of Caporetto and the redeployment of the Army along the Piave line, in October-November 1917. It was in this context that Silvio Benigno Crespi (1868-1944) became High Commissioner – later Minister – for Procurement and Consumption in the first Orlando cabinet (November 5, 1917-May 22, 1918). Previously, the problem of feeding the Army and the country was dealt with in a piecemeal way both by the Salandra and Boselli cabinets, with a sting of loosely connected measures mostly intended to cope with the recurring emergencies. After Caporetto, the needs of the moment, coupled with the reflection on the causes of the defeat, led to a revision of this state of things, promoted a more effective mobilization of the national resources, and fostered a greater integration in the inter-allied institutions. Despite his long parliamentary experience, Crespi was an outsider in the political circles and carried in his relations with both the colleagues and the Allies a strong business-like attitude. This attitude, coupled with his distance from the political praxes, gained him a fame of ‘czar of the procurement’. Moreover, in discharging his office, he increasingly detached himself from the traditional liberal orthodoxy of his parliamentary action, and took as main point of reference the (re)building of the home front, deemed as essential to support the military effort. From this point of view, during his tenure of the office, Crespi pursued a double aim. On the one hand, he tried to establish a strong link with the Entente partners, on whose supplies Italy largely relied. On the other, he tried to coalesce around the Government’s choices the broadest possible consensus, whom he saw pivotal in face of the hardships of a defensive war. This second aim was pursued through the acquisition of reserves commensurate to the needs of the Army and of the civilian population, and through a balanced distribution of the sacrifices that the inevitable shortcomings imposed. The task was difficult and only partially accomplished. It was, nonetheless, a telling experience on the problems that the old liberal Italy had in adapting to the needs of the new total war, and is helpful to understand the problems that Italy met in facing, during the post war years, the anti-systemic forces that the same war set in motion.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteActa of the XLI Congress of the International Commission of Military History, “World War II and the Development of Warfare in the 20th Century”, Beijing, 30 August-4 September 2015
Pagine320-325
Numero di pagine6
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2016
EventoXLI Congress of the International Commission of Military History, “World War II and the Development of Warfare in the 20th Century”, Beijing, 30 August-4 September 2015 - Beijing
Durata: 30 ago 20154 set 2015

Convegno

ConvegnoXLI Congress of the International Commission of Military History, “World War II and the Development of Warfare in the 20th Century”, Beijing, 30 August-4 September 2015
CittàBeijing
Periodo30/8/154/9/15

Keywords

  • Politica annonaria, Italia
  • Prima guerra mondiale

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