Combat of Breglio, 1-2 June 1800

The combat of Breglio (1-2 June 1800) was a minor French victory (Suchet) that forced the Austrians (Elsnitz) to retreat from the Col de Tende, his best line of retreat from France into Italy. At the end of May Elsnitz had been forced to retreat from his most advanced position, on the River Var, and took up a new position on the Col de Tende, the pass that runs from Nice to Cuneo.

The pass runs north from the town of Sospel, across the Col de Brouis to the town of Breil on the Roya River (Breglio sur Roja in Italian and Briel-sur-Roya in French). The road then runs north up the Roya to Saorge, Fontan and Tende, before climbing over the 6,162ft high Col de Tende itself.

Elsnitz placed his headquarters at Breglio. Gorupp held the former French camp at Mille-Fourches, in the mountains to the west of Saorge. Lattermann was at Vintimiglio. Bellegrade and Ulm were close to the Col de Brouis.

The French attacked along most of the Austrian line. On the French left General Garnier was to cross the col de Rauss to attack Tende. In the centre Menard was sent north from Lucerman to attack Mille-Fourches and Saorgio. On the right Rochambeau was to attack the Col de Brouis in three columns - one on each flank and one straight up the pass. Further south Clausel was to pin down the Austrian left, which was still anchored on the coast.

Garnier's attack was least successful. His troops were still exhausted from earlier actions, and missed the chance to trap a large part of the Austrian army in the Roya valley.

In the centre Delaunay's brigade captured the Col de Rauss and advanced to Fontan, threatening the retreat of the Austrians at Mille-Fourches. Lesuire's brigade quickly captured the camp. Gorupp was forced to retreat back to Tende and to Fontan, leaving 600 prisoners behind. Menard pursued Gorupp all the way to the Col de Tende, where the Austrians were able to rally. Eventually Gorupp's 1,500 men managed to reach safety in Cuneo.

When the French attack began Elsnitz was at the col de Brouis, but he quickly moved back to Breglio, where he learnt about the disaster that had befallen his right wing. His best option now would have been to concentrate all of his forces, attack Menard and clear the route to the Col de Tende, but he was under orders to cover the road to Genoa, and so instead he retreated east with the two brigades from the camp at the pass. Rochambeau was free to attack Bellegarde and Ulm at Breglio, forcing them back up the valley to Saorgio, and then east into the mountains, where they took up a new position on the heights of Forcoin, only to be pushed off that line on 3 June.

In the aftermath of this defeat the Austrians were forced to make their way across the mountains towards Alessandria. Elsnitz emerged with just over 6,000 men, and was able to rejoin the main Austrian army before the battle of Marengo. Suchet was able to advance east towards Genoa, before turning north to move across the Apennines. 

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (15 January 2010), Combat of Breglio, 1-2 June 1800 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_breglio.html

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