Combat of Tarvisio, 18 May 1809

The combat of Tarvisio (18 May 1809) was minor victory during the French advance after their victory over an Austrian army led by Archduke John on the Piave River on 8 May.

Portrait of Marshal Jacques Macdonald, Duke of Taranto, 1765-1840
Portrait of
Marshal Jacques Macdonald,
Duke of Taranto, 1765-1840

In the aftermath of that battle both armies had split. The Archduke, with the Austrian right and centre, retreated towards modern Austria, while the left went towards Trieste and modern Slovenia. Prince Eugène, the French commander and viceroy of the Kingdom of Italy, took most of his army after the Archduke, while General Macdonald was sent towards Trieste.

The Archduke took up a strong position at Tarvisio (Tarvis), in the far north-eastern corner of modern Italy (now on the main road across the border to Klagenfurt am Wörthersee). This position was defended by a fort at Malborghetto, a few miles to the west, but on 18 May, after a defence of three days, this fort surrendered.

Prince Eugène was aware that the Austrians were in a potentially very strong position at Tarvisio. In order to prevent the Archduke from reorganising his shaken army, Eugène decided to try and outflank this new position, and force the Austrians to retreat without a fight. Fontanelli's Italian division was ordered to the right, to threaten the Archduke's line of retreat east towards Weissenfels. In the centre Dessiax, supported by Broussier's division, was to threaten the Austrian position on the road to Tarvisio. On the right Baraguey-d'Hilliers was to try and outflank the Austrian route to Villach (now the first major town across the Austrian border).

The French plan was a total success. The Austrians attempted to stand and fight, but were forced to abandon their positions after suffering significant losses, and the Archduke was forced to continue his retreat. By 20 May Eugène had reached Klagenfurt, and by the time the war ended he had won further victories at St. Michael (25 May) and Raab (14 June) and had made a significant contribution to the French victory.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (30 June 2010), Combat of Tarvisio, 18 May 1809 ,

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