The siege of Turin chapter 3: July 1706

Siege: The outer works are conquered

1 July - 22 July: the French change their method, and conquer the outer works

The bombardment phase can be considered to have been bad phase for the French. Primarily because the French had lost 50 men each day (and sometimes even 80). Secondly because La Feuillade's strategy of reducing the citadel to rubble by bombardment proved unattainable. Time had been lost on a strategy that did not work, and it was clear that another strategy had to be adopted in order to gain the city.

  • The glacis of the citadel of Turin
  • The glacis of the citadel of Turin

On the first of July the French general staff had already discussed if there other were means to capture the city than bombarding it. Of course there were: Under cover of the heavy batteries the French had continued the trenches that would soon result in the completion of a third parallel. The siege could thus still be continued in a traditional way.

Rethinking strategy would anyhow have been part of the French activities because on 8 July the Duke of Orleans arrived on site. He had been named supreme commander to replace the Duke of Vendome who had been called to the Netherlands following the French disaster at Ramillies. The duke of Orleans made a tour of the siege and was not very satisfied with the affair. He even thought of picking up Vauban's plan again to attack the fortifications on the other side of the Po, but viewing these decided that this would be reckless.

Because of this it was decided to concentrate the efforts on mine warfare. This would be done by attacking with mines, trying to localize the Piemontese mines and trying to flood these. All this finally to lead to a successful mining of the Piemontese bastions. The completion of the third parallel on 7 July gave the French the right starting positions to do this, but even before that they got into action. On 4 July the first French mine under the Freccia in front of the Opera a Corno (not on the map to the left) exploded, but failed to do any real damage.

A subsequent explosion in the night of 11-12 July did however produce the wanted effect. Due to the grave damage done to the Freccie the French were able to gain the work by assault on the 12th. Two Piemontese and a counter-offensive did not succeed in dislodging them from it. All in all the assault did cost the French 140 casualties, and the Piemontese about half of that.

The fighting over the Freccie of the citadel now got more intense. In the early morning of the 14th the French ignited two mines (blue dots) in front of the Freccia of Beato Amadeo (the southernmost of the three attacked freccie), but these produced little effect. On the other side the Piemontese were more successful when they ignited a mine (red dot) in front of the Freccia in front of the Mezzaluna di Soccorso. It caused a crater of twenty meters wide, did collapse two French mines and damaged the approaches that were further destroyed by a sortie of 60 grenadiers. The only minus for the Piemontese being that there tunnel became unusable for some days due to development of gas and smoke. The besiegers however finally achieved half-trenches against the freccie from which they continually fired at them. These Freccie, constructed of earth and wood then became unusable, and the defenders decided to leave them before they would get assaulted.

They did however plan to make the French very costly. To achieve this they hid three batches of explosives in each Freccia, and manned each with an officer and a handful of men. These had orders to retreat when the French assault began, giving the miners the opportunity to ignite the fuse, blowing the works when the French were on them. In the evening of the 21st the French did perform there assault, but guessing the intentions of the defenders, they did not assault the works from the front, but ran around them, entering them from the backside, and cutting the fuse that would have ignited the explosives. In this way the French conquered the still somewhat intact freccie in stead of some ruins, and were eyeing the strada coperta. The defenders saw that their scheme had failed terribly, and that the French would now use the freccie in their offensive. Because of this they decided to try to retake the 3 freccie by a counterattack. At 15 PM on the 22nd they ignited a mine and 500 infantry sortied. These were supported by ranging 8 battalions in line behind them while 400 cavalry sortied from the Porta Nuova. The French first retreated a bit before this force, but when reinforcements were brought up they finally succeeded in retaining the freccie. The losses incurred in this counter-attack were about 300 French and 200 Piemontese, though these lost much more officers.

23 July - To the Strada Coperta

With the freccie solidly in their hands the French could boast of a first (little) achievement. They were however critical enough of themselves to understand that occupying only some freccie after two months meant that up to that moment the advantage had been with the Piemontese. The losses on the French side by this time accounted for some 3,000 dead or wounded, 1,800 sick and on top of this a number of deserters. I do not know if one should consider this as heavy losses for two months of siege, but they probably were heavy in proportion to the results. The really tough fighting, meaning a general assault still had to begin. In order to be able to perform a general assault the French first had to mount the counterscarp, chase the defenders from the Strada Coperta, mount batteries on the ridge of the counterscarp and blast (with guns or mines) a breach in the wall of either a couvre-face or a Mezza Luna. After that they could line up and perform the general assault.

And so the French got to work again. They started by repairing the Freccie and turning them around, so that their breast-works faced the citadel. From each Freccia a powerful trench was then dug, parallel to the citadel's fortifications, connecting them and forming the 4th parallel some 200 feet from the moat. Most of the French artillery was then redeployed. While 40 pieces were left on the second parallel, 65 cannon and 40 mortars were brought forward and placed in battery upon the 4th parallel by the end of July. Protected by these mighty batteries the French infantry then dug forward again with four trenches, while the miners did their part below ground.

The defenders employed the usual techniques. At each Piazza d'Armi (Corner of) the Strada Coperta small works called 'Cofani' were built, that would enable them to fire from there on any French taking part of it. It would also enable them to better defend the rest of the Strada Coperta. In a similar fashion the moat was also cut up by little works that would enable them to better fight enemies entering it. The endangered works were reinforced with new palisades. The defenders also put a lot of effort in mine-warfare. In this and the employment of their artillery they were however hindered by a lack of powder: At the beginning of the siege there had been 40,000 barrels (about 368,000 kg) of powder in the city, and by the end of June 22,000 barrels were left. By 11 July Daun noted that 500 of these were consumed daily without counting the consumption by mines. This meant that by now the defenders were not at liberty to use their big guns and mines for fear of running out of powder somewhere in August, and this let to the French making far more progress then they would otherwise have made.

July: The French continue to pursue Victor Amadeus

While La Feuillade had been meeting with the duc d'Orleans, Aubeterre had pursued Victor Amadeus, who was at Saluzzo, by marching to Savigliano. On 7 July Aubeterre then marched his 5 battalions, 47 squadrons and 20 guns west to Saluzzo. Victor Amadeus was much to weak to fight and therefore retreated north north-west to Cavour. He left 350 dragoons that entrenched themselves in the last houses of the town. These resisted valiantly for one and a half hour before retreating with the French on their heels. Near Staffarda only half of these dragoons had crossed when they were attacked by Mauroy's brigade. Victor Amadeus then turned and taking the imperial Savoyer dragoons and some Piemontese forded the Po again. With these 250 men he then charged the enemy numbering over 1,000, causing them to flee back to Saluzzo. The French lost 250-300 men and 50 prisoners while the Piemontese lost 50, among which Emanuel di Savoy-Carignan, comte de Soissons, who had fought bravely, and was taken prisoner severely wounded.

For the moment this encounter freed Victor Amadeus from the pursuit by D'Aubeterre who halted his pursuit. Victor Amadeus then moved to Bibiana in the approaches of the Pèllice valley, sending small cavalry detachments up to the walls of circumvallation. On 12 July La Feuillade ended this by reappearing with a reinforcement of grenadiers and restarting the pursuit. Victor Amadeus retreated into the valley, where he met 3,000 Valdese Guerillas. He dismounted his cavalry and with the Valdese formed a strong defense shutting off the valley near Luserna San Giovanni. From here he could await a possible Anglo Dutch disembarkment, while his much fatigued cavalry enjoyed some well-deserved rest. On 14 July La Feuillade occupied Bignolo, Campiglione and Bricherasio, shutting of the Pèllice valley. On the 16th he sent two battalions up the Chisone valley as far as Perosa. on the 17th however his attempt to conquer the heights dominating the valley failed.

It now became clear that La Feuillade's strategy was getting very dangerous. Victor Amadeus had escaped him for more then a month while Eugen was about to make progress in the east. He therefore decided to give up his pursuit. He ordered his troops to leave most of the places they had occupied, sent his infantry to reinforce the siege force, and concentrated his cavalry near Chieri and Moncalieri. Three battalions and 5 dragoon regiments were left between Cuneo and Cherasco for some time in order to keep the garrisons at bay. This they failed to accomplish because on 23 July count di Santena left Cherasco with 800 men and succeeded in introducing supplies into Ceva. The siege being was lifted a few days later.

Victor Amadeus when becoming aware of these facts collected his cavalry, and with 1,200 Valdese re-entered Bibiana on 25 July and stayed there till 1 August. He then marched to Villafranca Piemontese and Polonghera, establishing his quarters at La Motta di Carmagnola, a small village between Carmagnola and the Po.

The East: The front on the Adige

The balance of forces gets more equal

During the previous month reinforcements had reached Eugen, and now on 1 July his army had about 36,000 infantry and 6,000 cavalry. Vendome's army now had about 36,500 infantry and 7,100 cavalry. Though Eugen was due to receive even more reinforcements, he had to act now, because the situation of Turin was getting more serious. In his headquarters at San Martino Buon Albergo he started to make the final preparations for crossing into Italy.

The deployment of forces

  • Crossing the Adige
  • Crossing the Adige

On the map one should notice that Verona and Legnago, both Venetian cities, were garrisoned by Venetian troops, barring entrance to both parties. Eugen's army was deployed as follows: 1) 6,000 infantry under general Harrach between lake Garda and the Adige, 2) 5,500 - 6,000 infantry north of Verona, 3) about 15,000 infantry and 3,500 cavalry between Verona and San Bonifacio, 4) 1,750 infantry at Bonavigo, 5) 5,000 infantry and 1,800 cavalry facing Badia, 6) 4,000 infantry and 1,500 cavalry under colonel Battée on the lower Adige facing Rovigo, 7) West of the map 700 men were guarding the passes from Tirol into Lombardia.

The French were deployed as follows 1) on a position west of that indicated on the map: General Medavi with 6,500 infantry, guarding the roads descending from Tirol into Lombardy, 2) General Albergotti with 11,500 infantry and 400 cavalry between lake Garda and Bussolengo, 3) General Muret with 7,000 infantry and 2,200 cavalry facing Verona, 4) 2,500 infantry and 2,500 cavalry on the middle Adige, 5) Under general St. Fremont 5,500 infantry and 2,000 cavalry on the Lower Adige. Next to this there was 3,500 infantry in garrisons.

Looking at the numbers and the deployment one notices that the forces were about equally strong, but that the Imperial army was almost completely concentrated on the Adige, while the French was not. The Imperials had only left 700 men west of Lake Garda while the French had 6,500 infantry under Medavi outside the theatre, and 3,500 infantry in garrisons also unable to take direct part in a dispute about crossing the Adige. This meant that on the Adige 42,600 Imperialists were facing 33,600 French.

Vendome could of course restore the balance of power on the Adige by either calling on La Feuillade to send reinforcements, or by moving Medavi to the east, or by concentrating his forces on the Mincio. All these options had their disadvantages but, considering he did not choose any of them suggest he believed the Imperial army still to be only about 30,000 strong. And believing this, he could be justified thinking he could stop a crossing of the Adige by relying on the 33,600 troops immediately under his command, and on the numerous strong field fortifications he had erected in the previous months. The latter consisted of a lot of redoubts on all fordable points of the river, and even a bridgehead on the other side of the Adige near Badia-Masi.

Crossing the Adige

The initial move of the crossing had been made by Battée who had moved to Badia, and had made obvious preparations for a crossing in the area (A). On 5 July Eugen then moved to Badia too (B), feigning to prepare to attack it. As hoped the French reacted by sending troops to Masi, and even sallied against Eugen. Battée then performed a 50 km forced march to the east (C), where with his advance guard he at Rottanova (r) crossed the Adige by surprise on 6 July. After having marched his advance guards up the right bank to Borgoforte d'Adige (b) he installled a ship-bridge there, and brought over the rest of his force. Battée then rebuffed a counterattack by Brigadier Du Bosc, who had been ordered to stop him. On 7 July Battée then reached (E) Lusia (L).

Battée now threatened the defenders of Badia - Masi with encirclement, and these panicked, leaving the bridgehead and destroying the bridge. Eugen now took these places, scaring away a troop of Venetians who wanted to retake the place for the republic. He then had the bridge repaired, and from his new headquarters at Castelbaldo (north of Badia) directed Harrach to feign an attempted crossing of the Adige to the north. To Battée he gave orders to prepare the crossing of the Canal Bianco.

Crossing the Canal Bianco

  • Crossing the Po
  • Crossing the Po

It was now up to Vendome to take countermeasures. He at first thought of a vigorous counterattack, but then decided to dig in again. As a new position he chose a line running south from Legnago, and from there along the Canal Bianco to a point near Polesella (p). From Polesella this new position then continued on the right bank of the Po. For defending the first part of this line he brought up 21 battalions and 30 squadrons (1), the other part was guarded by 2 battalions and 9 squadrons crossing the Po under general Senneterre (2).

On 12 July Battée crossed (A) the Canal Bianco by surprise near it's confluence with the Scortico at Pizzon (p). He quickly constructed a ship bridge and a protective redoubt. Eugen arrived soon after. The Imperialists then turned the few French forces present to flight, taking 200 prisoners and capturing some barges, with which a second ship-bridge was constructed (B) near Castelguglielmo (c).

Vendome now again had the choice of attacking Eugen. He however chose not to do so, fearing feint attacks made by Harrach c.s. (C) Vendome thus started to retreat (D) on 13 July , and took up a new position to cover Lombardy. In the north this ran along the Mincio from Peschiera (p) to Goito (g). Southeast of this Mantua, Ostiglia (o) and Governolo (g) were garrisoned by 11 battalions. On the right side of the Po he posted 10 battalions and 17 squadrons under general Galmoy.

Crossing the Po

Appreciating this Eugen now executed the second part of his plan. He ordered Harrach, Visconti and the prince of Anhalt to come to him (E), leaving only general Wetzel with about 6,500 men near Verona. Eugen then made a feint crossing (F), while Battée crossed 2,000 infantry on barges sailing (G) into the Po near Polesella on the 17th. These rebuffed a counterattack by 400 cavalry and then started constructing a field fortification. Covered by this a ship-bridge was quickly constructed, by which the rest of Battée's force and part of Eugen's crossed on the 18th. Battée's advance guard, fending of enemy attacks, then quickly marched to Ponte Lagoscuro (p2), capturing the bridge there, and continuing to the lower Panaro. Galmoy then seemed to plan to stand his ground there (H) with his left on Bondeno (b), his centre on Finale (f), and his right leaning on Modena. On the 19th and 20th the generals de Muret and St. Fremont passed the Po by barges with two infantry and two cavalry brigades in order to reinforce him.

Initial French countermeasures

Meanwhile on 18 July the duke of Orleans, assisted by Marsin, had taken over the command of the French army from Vendome, who was called to Flanders. Orleans started out very well by ordering La Feuillade to march to Stradella (see future chapters), leaving 20 battalions at Turin. On the 22 July a bridge across the Po near Mirasole (m) was finally completed, and Orleans crossed (K) with the main part of his army, leaving Médavi with 15 battalions and 12 squadrons to guard the Mincio.

Eugen crosses the Panaro

When Eugen had his army assembled on Pontelagoscuro and on the 22nd moved (I) to Santa Bianca however, Galmoy, de Muret and St. Fremont thought again about resisting. Appreciating that the Panaro could easily be forded due to the drought, they quickly retired (J) to Mirandola (m) and Revere (r), pursued by the Imperial cavalry that made a lot of prisoners. Eugen then moved to Finale, awaiting the troops from the north over there.

Orleans refuses to face Eugen

Orleans, in stead of preparing to fight a battle now dispersed his army into garrisons in Mantova, Ostiglia, Mirandola, Carpi, Guastalla, Modena, Reggio and others, retaining only 40 out of 73 battalions and 15 of 71 squadrons in his own hand. On the 25th La Feuillade reached Orleans' headquarters and protested against halting the siege of Turin, fearing a lot of delay. Orleans was not able to convince him of marching to Stradella, and was satisfied with La Feuillade's promise to reinforce the garrisons of Alessandria and Tortona and to send over 50 squadrons. The essential part of Orleans' design was thus annulled. Eugen would move again at the 28th, but this is described in the next chapter.