Combat of Turbigo, 31 May 1800

The combat of Turbigo (31 May 1800) was a French victory that cleared the way for Napoleon to enter Milan and split the Austrian armies in northern Italy in two (Marengo campaign). Napoleon had crossed the Great St. Bernard Pass in mid-May, and advanced south towards Ivrea, from where he could either move south towards Turin or east to Milan. While Lannes and the advance-guard were sent south, Napoleon with the main army moved east. The only major obstacle between Napoleon and Milan was the Ticino river.

Portrait of Marshal Jean Lannes, 10 April 1769-1809
Portrait of
Marshal Jean Lannes,
10 April 1769-1809

The Ticino was a fast flowing river, and potentially a major barrier to the French advance. The situation was made worse by the Oleggio canal, which took water from the river to Milan, and flowed alongside the Ticino for some distance, only turning towards Milan at Boffalora. On this occasion the terrain worked against the Austrians. General Festenberg was unwilling to risk fighting on the narrow spit of land between the river and the canal, and so it was only held by a line of outposts.

Marshal Joachim Murat
Marshal Joachim Murat

Murat began by sending part of his cavalry north towards Somma to distract the Austrians. He then marched Monnier's division to a position opposite the village of Turbigo, and Boudet's division to a position a little further south, opposite Boffalora. The French were able to get a small number of boats into a branch of the river, and a small force under adjutant-general Girard managed to cross to the left bank of the river.

This force was supported by a battalion from the 70th demi-brigade, and by the French artillery, which dominated the five Austrian guns placed to protect the river crossing. Girard attacked Festenberg's cavalry, which retreated across the canal to Turbigo.

The most advanced French troops had reached the village of Castano, to the east of Turbigo, when Austrian reinforcements under General Laudon reached the area, attracted by the cannon fire. Laudon pushed back Girard's advance guard, and recaptured Turbigo. Girard was forced to retreat south-west towards a bridge at Naviglio, but he was able to hold his ground long enough for Monnier's division to arrive. Monnier's men forced the Austrians out of Turbigo, and established a secure bridgehead over the Ticino.

After this final French success the Austrians retreated back towards and then through Milan, leaving a garrison in the citadel. On 2 June Napoleon entered the city, completing the first stage of his campaign in Italy. His next move would be south towards the Po, where he hoped to force the Austrians to attempt to fight their way through his army on ground of his own choosing.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (21 January 2010), Combat of Turbigo, 31 May 1800 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_turbigo.html

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