The siege of Turin chapter 4: August 1706

Loss of the Strada Coperta, First General Assault

1-2 August: French success at the Opera a Corno

  • Photograph of the Citadel
  • Gate of the citadel of Turin

On 1 August the French had reached the strada coperta of the Opera a Corno. In the evening of 2 August they made a feint against the citadel, and then attacked this strada coperta. The defenders counterattacked, but were not succesful in driving them out, the French holding on to the western piazza d'armi. These then lit the palisades, but the defenders had already erected another and found refuge behind it. The French satisfied with silencing the artillery of the Opera A Corno then refocused all their energy on the citadel.

1-20 August: At the citadel the Strada Coperta is taken

  • The Strada coperta is taken
  • The Strada coperta is taken

After completing the fourth parallel (map= 4) at a distance of about 200 feet from the strada coperta of the citadel, the French had prepared for taking it. Two cannon batteries had been firing at the mezzalune of San Maurizio and San Lazarro (map= 1), another two fired at the central mezzaluna del Soccorso (map= 2), and others were firing at the counterguards of Beato Amadeo and San Maurizio. Fourty mortars were also doing their part (map= 3), the bombardment reaching its peak when after the success at the Opera a Corno guns were brought over from there. The bombardment did a lot of damage, but was not as effective as hoped.

The damage done to the defenses did however induce La Feuillade to attempt an assault on the strada coperta of the citadel. In the evening of 5 August 20 grenadier companies, supported by artillery assaulted (map= blue arrows). The defenders were not able to resist, and soon the assailants occupied the strada coperta and the three exterior piazze d'armi. The defenders however soon counterattacked, and two hours before daylight a grenadier force succeeded in retaking (map= 6) the strada coperta except for the three outside piazze d'armi. Losses were about 300 for the French, and more then a hundred for the Piemontese.

Having achieved this small victory La Feuillade seemed certain of taking Turin by the end of October and wrote in this way to Versailles. From the occupied Piazze d'armi trenches were dug (7) parallel to the crest of the counterscarp, slowly occupying it for a second time and enabling them to take aim at the bastions. In the measure they reoccupied the strada coperta, batteries were then placed there to shoot breaches in the bastions on 14, 18 and 19 August (8). This did also lead to the conquest of the piazze d'armi facing the mezzaluna del Soccorso in the night of 19-20 August (9). Upon these last conquered piazze d'armi two final breachshooting batteries were then placed (the two orange lines), but it seems they were not ready by the time of the first assault."

The fact that things progressed so slowly of course gave rise to the usual complaints against the engineers and artillerists. The effective resistance of the defenders however was a more determinant factor in this than the attitude of those. Apart from the efforts of the defending infantry Daun had redeployed some 20 light artillery pieces to a well covered place in order to counter battery the breach battery. The gunners employed in this proved quite adept, and succeeded in first delaying the construction of the breach batteries, and after that in forcing them to cease their fire on multiple occasions.

The mine warfare was even more succesful for the defenders, who profited from their excellently prepared works. On 14 August they had blasted away a battery of four pieces firing at the bastion of San Maurizio, and on 16 August they blew up a battery firing at the mezzaluna di Soccorso. The French on their side succeeded in penetrating the Piemontese mines in several places, but this did not lead to any major success in the end.

After some time however, the French did succeed in shooting a breach in the Mezzaluna di Soccorso, the falling debris soon making the breach crossable. The defenders, apart from making repairs each night, also cleared away much of the rubble each night by using the mineshafts. But, though delaying French progress, these efforts could not stop the French from shooting a crossable breach.

21 August: The first general assault

Up till the 21 August the French had lost about 10,000 men from all causes. The defenders had lost about as much in proportion (about 2,500). Eugen had crossed the Adige and started his march to Turin, while Orleans was doing the same. The besiegers were by now also able to try a general assault. Things were thus coming to a climax. The besiegers could choose between continuing in the same fashion for a while, or trying to assault the citadel. Waiting would increase the chances of being succesful, but also increase the chance of failing to reduce the town before Eugen arrived.

Daun had understood that a general assault was pending, and had ordered the erection of 'traverse', small works perpendicular to the sides of the controguardie, giving the defenders cover in case the points of these would be taken. In the moat itself he ordered the construction of capponiere, small redoubts of earth and wood enabling the defenders to fight from cover inside the moat. He furthermore shut off with trenches and palisades all the points where the moat passed between the works. La Feuillade increased the bombardment (guns=1, mortars=2), which especially after the conquest of the inner Piazze d'Armi was getting more effective in shooting breaches (3), though I do not yet no if all 5 breaches existed during the first general assault. Because of the powder shortage the French were winning this struggle, but in the morning of the 24th they suffered a big reverse. Four mines placed below the four batteries firing on the Mezzaluna del Soccorso were ignited, completely destroying these, and leaving only 3 of 16 pieces in place. In the following night the besiegers redeployed 4 pieces, but when they opened fire in the morning of the 25th a new explosion buried two of them.

It seems that because 25 August was St. Louis day, it was the planned day for a general assault, and that La Feuillade delayed it because of the disaster suffered by his batteries. As a preparation of the general assault the French had prepared means to securely get into the moat. The moat was about 7 meters below the strada coperta, and to get into it, 6 sets of stairs were dug behind the masonry facing the moat (the grey squares). This enabled the besiegers to get into moat unhindered, and also to fire at the defenders inside the moat through loops cut into this wall. As an added advantage they in this way killed and hindered the defenders clearing away the rubble inside the moat, and this led to an increase in the debris heaped up below the breaches opening up a kind of way up to them.

  • Map of the first general assault
  • The first general assault

At 20:30 PM on 26 August, while twenty mortars were bombarding the three works, two mines were ignited below the walls of the Mezzaluna del Soccorso. These tumbled lots of the maconry of the Mezzaluna and filled up the moat somewhat more. Columns of infantry then appeared from the steps with ladders and fascines, moving towards the breaches of the Mezzaluna and the adjoining controguardie. The defenders who had up to then thought the breaches still unscalable were not prepared and had only the usual guard on these works. The French thus succeeded in quickly occupying bridgeheads on the works and fortifying them with materials they had brought along. The defenders of the two counterguards now profited from the works cutting these by hiding behind them and preventing the French from entirely conquering them (yellow lines). The defenders of the Mezzaluna retreated to the inner mezzaluna and stood their ground there (yellow lines).

Reinforcements now came up. Musket volleys from the inner line of the mezzaluna now began to decimate the attackers on the outer ring while cannon fire from the bastions started to interrupt the passage of the moat. Grenadiers then assaulted with the bayonet (4), the first attack failing because the French having fallen back to the point of the mezzaluna got reinforcements. The second attack however succeeded in driving the French from the mezzaluna. The Piemontese now ran into some bad luck when a powder store on the mezzaluna blew up (5) killing a lot of them. The ensuing chaos was the only thing that prevented the French from appreciating the opportunity the explosion provided.

The defenders were however still entrenched on the tips of the counterguards (gray lines) and firing on the mezzaluna from there. The counterattacks launched that same night failed. On the morning of the 27th four columns of 100 grenadiers each then retried, attacking with the bayonet at about 9:30 (yellow arrows). These succeeded in retaking the tips of the counterguards, terminating the affair after about 13 hours of fighting.

When these last two fruits of their efforts had also been lost it became clear that the French had suffered a crushing defeat. The Piemontese lost about 400 soldiers and 35 officers, mostly by the powder explosion. The French losses are unknown and were probably somewhere between 1,200 and 2,000. To some this might indicate that the French, with there numerical superiority could just try again in a few days. This was however very unlikely, because it was unlikely that the same troops might be induced to repeat such a bloody and completely fruitless attack in the same circumstances. It thus seemed the besiegers would loose because of the assault.

!One should note that though one can be quite certain of the text of these pages, the actual locations of some events one the map are sometimes only guesses.!

The East: From the Modenese to the Tanaro

Eugen moves west

  • Map of maneuvers in the Modenese
  • maneuvers in the Modenese

As mentioned in the previous chapters the French had garrisoned Ostiglia, Mirandola, Carpi, Guastalla, Modena, Reggio and a lot of other towns in Eugen's way. Eugen, after having crossed the Panaro line, had started to advance again on 28 July. The French had formed a new line (1) to stop him along the lower Sécchia, and (probably) one of its arms running between Carpi and Corrégio. Eugen passed the Sécchia line in much the same way as he crossed the other lines, by just swinging around the French flank (A) at San Martino. Orleans reacted to this by retreating his army behind the Parmigiana canal between Bondanello (b) and Reggiolo (r). This second position of the French army, dug in behind the canal is represented as 2 on the map.

Sensing the indecidedness of the French Army Eugen on 31 July marched (C) to the canal to see whether he could chase it across the Po. This was not to be, because it was clear that the enemy was in such a strong position behind the canal that an attack was to risky. This manoeuvre did however induce Orleans to retreat even further in the night of 1-2 August, to a position centering on Gualtieri.

Eugen 'secures' his communications

Eugen now thought about the march ahead to Turin. For this it would be handy to have some places to assure his communications to Tirol, and to receive his excess luggage and wounded. On 2 August he laid siege to Carpi (E), a relatively weak place defended by 400 French. Carpi surrendered on 5 August, and Corrégio (F) surrendered soon after without a shot being fired. Having achieved this Eugen arrived at Réggio (G) on 9 August. Réggio was quite somewhat stronger than the other two. The example the French army had given the garrison up till then, was perhaps the reason that it capitulated after only five days on 14 August.

Meanwhile Imperial reinforcements had arrived near Verona. Together with the troops already there these started an offensive against the Mincio, inducing Orleans to send troops to the aid of Médavi. Eugen now seemed to have a lot of options. For one he could of course have tried to round of his conquests by conquering the two strong fortresses of Modena and Mirandola, giving a much stronger foundation to his communications with Tirol. On the other hand the communications send by Daun told him about an impending powder shortage. Other thoughts were a possible expedition to Naples, or the conquest of Modena because its duke had been an ally of the emperor since 1703. Insensitive to these alluring thoughts Eugen opted for pursuing his prime objective, that was the liberation of Turin.

Eugen marches to Turin

  • Map of passing Stradella
  • Passing Stradella

Only one day after the capitulation of Réggio, Eugen started (H) his final march on Turin on 15 August. The first night was spent at San Donato near Parma. Eugen then rested his army on the 16th, moving to Fontevivo (on the first map it is actually a little bit more to the west) on the 17th. On the 18th he camped at Chiaravalle, on the 19th at Cadeo, where the army rested the whole day on the 20th. An advance guard of 8 battalions and 3 cavalry regiments under command of Kriechbaum, did however proceed on the 20th. On 21 August the main army marched to Rottofreno and camped there. On the 22nd it passed the Stradella narrows and camped between Stradella and Broni. On the 22nd Eugen then personally rode up to Kriechbaum with part of the cavalry, pushing onward to Castelnuovo. The main army meanwhile reached Voghera, where it was assembled and rested.

Until now things had gone ludicrously easy, this is best illustrated by the fact that the Imperial army had followed a route parallel to the modern provincial roads numbers 9 and 10, only making a slight detour at Piacenza. It had not encountered any enemies, and above all the easily defendable Stradella narrows had not been blocked. It was thus quite logical to expect that the French army had prepared something to hinder the Imperialists now that they had to cross between the fortress towns of Alessandria and Tortona. Eugen therefore sent forward three cavalry detachments to reconnoiter the terrain ahead. After reports had come in that the enemy was nowhere to be seen, Eugen then made his next move.

On the 25th the main force reached Castelnuovo Scrivia. From there he crossed between the fortresses, reaching Bosco on the 26th where Eugen met Piemontese communications officers. From Bosco the Bormida was crossed on the 27th near Borgoratto. As a result of the cooperation with the Piemontese the Imperial Army crossed the Tanaro on the 29th near Isola over a bridge prepared by them. The advance guard of the Imperials would reach up to Villafranca on the same day. From there all soldiers unable to serve and all the baggage that was not indispensable were send to Cherasco and Alba. In the evening of the 29th Eugen rode with an escort to Villanova d'Asti, where he met 200 cavalry sent by Victor Amadeus. With these he rode back to Carmagnola in order to meet the duke of Savoy. The main Imperial army then marched on parallel routes to Villastellone on the 30th and 31st. Victor Amadeus, who had called on every available man to follow him, marched there too.

The Duke of Orleans had meanwhile not done very much. While Carpi and Reggio where falling he had stayed in his camp near Guastalla, not aiding the garrisons at all. The main problem that Orleans had was that La Feuillade did not feel at all compulsed to obey him. On top of this Orleans was concerned that Eugen could have other designs. On the 11th he proposed to La Feuillade that they should either stop Eugen on the Tanaro, or that they should fight him near Chieri. La Feuillade, who had already sent most of his cavalry to Lombardy refused to do this. Orleans, on learning that Eugen had taken Reggio, then repassed to the left bank of the Po. Orleans had the intention to reach Piacenza before Eugen did, and then join with La Feuillade at an opportune moment.

Orleans was however distracted by general Wetzel's 6,000 men and the prince of Hessen-Kassel, who had arrived recently with 4,000. Wetzel had advanced to Valeggio on the Mincio (not on the map), and had reconnoitered west of the Mincio. Hessen Cassel had then joined him on the 16th, and hoping to aid Eugen, moved to Volta Mantovana. From there Wetzel, with 3,000 men started to besiege Goito. Learning of this, Orleans started with sending reinforcements to Médavi. Even when his army was already marching west, Orleans then himself marched to Goito with a detachment on the 19th. En route to Goito Orleans however learned that the place had surrendered after two days. Orleans then decided to do everything to reach Turin before Eugen.

Orleans thus marched west. On the 23rd his infantry was on the left bank near Pavia, while his cavalry was on the right bank. On the 24th his cavalry passed between Alessandria and Valenza, and 10 battalions under general Senneterre reinforced Alessandria. No serious action was then taken against Eugen, and the whole army of Orleans moved to Turin the last troops arriving on the 31st. (I do have doubts as to the exact route on the map) The 10 battalions of Senneterre would join it on 5 September.