The siege of Turin chapter 2: May - June 1706

Siege: Opening phases, the bombardment

12 May: The French army arrives before Turin

  • Map of the fortifications and siege of Turin in 1706
  • Map of the fortifications
  • and siege of Turin in 1706

On 12 May 1706 La Feuillade marched his army on the plain north of the city. On the 13th his army then further deployed so it's left touched the Po and the right the Dora. On the 14th 8,000 workers then started to construct a line of countervallation in front of the army while other workers constructed three bridges over the Dora in order to be able to cross it. Victor Amadeus however was not intending to sit idle during these operations, and wanted to delay the crossing of the Po and the Dora as long as possible. He therefore collected some troops and cannon and started to disturb the French works. On the 16th he bombarded the extreme left of the French from across the Po, and threw them back by a cavalry raid from Turin, inducing them to fly and stop their work for a while. On the 19th he then bombarded the extreme right wing from across the Dora raising alarm in the French army.

These attacks induced La Feuillade to operate with caution, and to wait with crossing the Dora till the line of countervallation (the brown line facing the city) in front of his camp was in a defendable state. On the 21st he then prepared to leave D'Arène in this position with 18 battalions and 10 squadrons. Covering the crossing with cannons he then crossed the stream with the rest of the army on the 22nd. The Savoyard cavalry charged the advance guard repeatedly, but was of course unable to stop La Feuillade from reaching the Po south of Turin. Victor Amadeus was obliged to retreat to Moncalieri, hindering the French from the other side of the Po, and in order to prepare to dispute its crossing. La Feuillade however did not plan to cross the Po just yet. He preferred to get the siege underway before completely encircling the town.

27 May - 19 June: The trenches are opened and the city is surrounded

When the second wall of countervallation running from the Dora to the Po was ready the siege could get underway. On 27 Mai a very big trench (L on the map) was started at about 1100 meters from the city. This to serve for the traffic of the troops approaching the city. In the night of 2-3 June 4,000 workers, covered by a strong force then began the 2200 meter long first parallel (1 on the map) at about 500 meters from the city. De Chamarande and D'Estaing led the construction of this parallel that was covered by fortifying a house on its right end. For counterbattery purposes they then posted 12 mortars on it, and started the construction of two small fortresses in front of it.

This first parallel was finished quite easily. From it three trenches to the citadel, one to the Opera a Corno, and one to the Freccia de Porta Susa were begun. In the night of 8-9 June the French then started to connect these trenches to complete the second parallel (2 on the map). On it they placed batteries to bombard the city.

While the siege was making steady progress and the bombardment had begun, La Feuillade gave thought to encircling the city completely. He ordered generals D'Estaing and Guerchy to take 7,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry and cross the Po at Chivasso. This they did in the night of 14-15 June, marching up to Gassino where they were to await further instructions. Victor Amadeus sent 5 regiments to the redoubts in the hills near Torino in order to fight the French, or at least delay any advances. These plans were crossed when he learned that La Feuillade himself had crossed at Chivasso with another 4,000 cavalry. La Feuillade swiftly occupied Bardassano, Sciolze and Montaldo, and then marched to Moncalieri. D'Estaing marched up to Castino (near Chieri), reaching it in the evening of the 16th. In the morning of the 17th he then too marched to Moncalierei, where he met La Feuillade who had also crossed with a strong detachment at Chivasso. Appreciating that the French were trying to encircle him by spanning a wide arc around the Torinese hills, Victor Amadeus ordered his infantry back to the fortifications of Turin and ordered his cavalry to hold out as long as possible at Moncalieri in order to preserve communications with the south. Its commander, the imperial general Fels, however hastily retreated to Carmagnola on the 16th. This left Moncalieri exposed to the French and the town soon to be surrounded.

Victor Amadeus was not only crossed by this hasty retreat, it also risked him getting locked up in Turin. At first Victor Amadeus had thought it wise to stay in Turin in order to lead the defense of the city. Just before Fels' retreat he had therefore sent away his family while planning to stay on himself. Learning of the retreat of Fels he then rethought is position, and concluded it was better to stay outside of the town. There were sound reasons for this: The command of his cavalry would be in capable hands, and with it he could harass the French from the outside. He could wage some kind of war from the unoccupied territories southwest of Turin. Finally he hoped to aid Eugen in coming to Turin, and or at least link up with him and speed his course.

Victor Amadeus left Turin on the 17th. La Feuillade first occupied the pass of Moncalieri and, sensing Victor Amadeus had eluded him, thought it wise to occupy Chieri. The commander of Chieri, San Martino, was clever enough to conclude a capitulation whereby he could leave unharmed taking the town militia with him. The Cavoretto castle and Moncalieri were then taken by the French on the 19th, finally closing the communications of Turin.

8 June - 30 June: The bombardment

  • Map of the bombardment of Turin in 1706
  • Map of the bombardment of Turin in 1706

Reaching a position where they would complete a second parallel the French were close enough to place guns in a position to bombard the city. The first of these initiated the bombardment on 8 June. Upon completion of the second parallel the first repartition on it consisted of two batteries of 20 cannon, one battery of 6 cannon firing incendiary ammunition and one battery of 24 mortars, later more cannon were brought forward. While the bombardment of the city was executed by the artillery the French infantry steadily dug on in order to get a third parallel in place.

To Victor Amadeus these moves had made clear the French intentions of attacking the west side of the city and the citadel. He reacted by moving cannon to the west of the city and by constructing a freccie in front of the Opera a Corno, and a redoubt in front of the Porta di Susa. Other measures were focused on protecting the civilian population. Lots of citizens were resettled in the eastern part of the town, while objects liable to ignite were also moved, fire patrols and nightwatches were organized etc. etc.

The Piemontese infantry was of course also employed in delaying the approach of the trenches. For this the Piemontese employed a specific strategy. Almost every night the Piemontese performed one or more small sorties of 30, 50 or sometimes more then a 100 infantry armed with grenades, accompanied by Guastatori, and sometimes some cavalry. They were often led by high-ranking officers, and aimed at hindering and or destroying the work of the besiegers, and at a more general level aimed at keeping the besiegers in constant restlessness.

The Piemontese field artillery was employed not only in counter-battery from its positions on the bastions, but also took offensive action. They e.g. employed a fieldbattery in front of the Linea di Valdocco, enfilading the French parallel from the north, and did the same on the other side by sortying with a field battery from the Porta Nuova. On a lot of nights they also brought a field-battery of three pieces forward to the extremities of the defenses, and from there fired at the French working on their trenches. On the 27th these would be most succesful by heavily damaging two new batteries, the French having to go through much trouble to repair them.

The artillery barrage would steadily increase as more guns were brought up. By 19 June both parties were operating over a 100 guns, the French firing up to 8,300 balls a day, and the Piemontese up to 4,500. The duel peaked at 24 June and then continued on a somewhat slower pace. With most of its guns employed in counter-battery the advantage of duel was with the Piemontese, the French losing more then 20 men a day while the Piemontese on average lost only half. In terms of hardware a lot of French pieces were damaged or blasted of their mounts, particularly on the 26th when one of the French powder magazines blew up, damaging 15 or 16 pieces. Due to all these Piemontese efforts only 30 French cannon were still able to fire by 30 June.

This however did not mean that this first bombardment of the town had failed completely. It did inflict heavy damage on the town, though partly from stray balls, ruining many buildings and forcing the population to flee to the eastern part. According to the plan however, the bombardment would throw the citadel into confusion, scare away the defenders from the walls by enfilading fire, and inflict heavy damage to the fortifications. These expected effects would not be fully realized. This failure can be ascribed to the excellent design of the Torinese fortifications as well as to the insufficient attitude of the French artillerists. In general their aim was too high, causing them to miss the thickest parts of the breastworks. In a few days the bombardment did however succeed in causing so much damage that each night more than 300 workers had to be employed in repairing the damage.

18 June - 30 June La Feillade hunts Victor Amadeus

Let us now return to where Victor Amadeus left Turin for the south on the 17th, promising to help it from the outside. Opposed to him were the besieging force proper under De Chamarande, a powerful detachment led by La Feuillade that was taking Moncalieri, a weaker force near Saluzzo, and one near Asti. Victor Amadeus at first thought about profiting from this situation by raiding the besiegers under De Chamarande, but soon appreciated that this was impossible. La Feuillade, thinking he could end the war by a masterstroke, came looking for him in stead. Leaving De Chamarande in command of the siege, he took 12 battalions, 60 squadrons, 36 guns and 6 mortars and started to pursue him. He also ordered the militia of Montferrato and the Spanish garrison of Finale forward to cut him off from the sea by besieging Ceva. Victor Amadeus, after linking up with his cavalry at Carmagnola, now had to think of saving himself first.

The region south-west of Turin was the only area that was still under Victor Amadeus' command. But, in this region only Cherasco had a garrison of regulars, consisting of two battalions and some cavalry. Victor Amadeus arrived at Cherasco on 21 June, closely pursued by French cavalry. He then prepared to dispute the passage of the Stura to the French, but these took other measures. A small force of 500 men under D'Estaing was sent to reinforce the siege of the castle of Asti, another was sent to build a bridge across the Tanaro to cut Victor Amadeus' communications with Asti, and a third detachment under brigadier Mauroy of 1000 cavalry and 300 grenadiers was sent to prepare a crossing at Fossano. This forced Victor Amadeus to choose between saving either Asti (on the way to Eugen) or Cuneo, a well-fortified place. Victor Amadeus choose to save Cuneo, and marching upstream to Fossano, reached it on 26 June. La Feuillade, who also arrived there with his main force then had some of his men cross the Stura upstream, inducing Victor Amadeus to a more hasty retreat towards Cuneo. Asti subsquenlty fell on 13 July.

La Feuillade's actions in this chase were not that consistent with catching Victor Amadeus. Having vainly besieged Cherasco, he left his cavalry near Victor Amadeus and marched to Mondovi, whose inhabitants rendered the town immediately. Having done this he sent two battalions and 6 guns to the siege of Ceva. He then marched his army up the banks of the Stura towards Cuneo, hoping to catch Victor Amadeus or at least push him into the Tenda hills. This prince however simply reinforced Cuneo with a dragoon regiment and 500 dismounted cavalry, and broke the trap riding his force back north! to Saluzzo. La Feuillade, having to meet with the new commander the duc d'Orleans went to Turin, leaving the command to Aubeterre with orders not to pause in the hunt for Victor Amadeus.

The East: The front on the Adige

May - June: Eugen rebuilds his army

Since the relocation of his army to the east of the Adige Eugen had been working on repairing the losses suffered at Calcinato. When La Feuillade arrived before Turin on 12 May Eugen however still had only about 26,000 infantry and 2,800 cavalry, far to less to try anything against the 40,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalry of the enemy.

After Eugen's move to the east of Lake Garda, Vendome had left a detachment to guard against an Imperial attack on Lombardy from the west of Lake Garda, and had redeployed his main force between the Mincio and the Adige. After having learned that Eugen was in a very strong defensive position, he started to construct strong field fortifications in order to rebuff any future attempt by Eugen to cross the Adige.