Battle of Madonna dell'Olmo

Battle of Madonna dell'Olmo

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Madonna dell'Olmo(1744)
partof=the War of the Austrian Succession
date=September 30, 1744
place=Cuneo, Italy
result=Franco-Spanish victory
combatant1=flagicon|France|restauration [1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Edition, New York 1910, Vol.X, p.460: "The oriflamme and the Chape de St Martin were succeeded at the end of the 16th century, when Henry III., the last of the house of Valois, came to the throne, by the white standard powdered with fleurs-de-lis. This in turn gave place to the famous tricolour."George Ripley, Charles Anderson Dana, "The American Cyclopaedia", New York, 1874, p. 250, "...the standard of France was white, sprinkled with golden fleur de lis...". * [] The original Banner of France was strewn with fleurs-de-lis. ] France
flagicon|Spain|1701 Spain
combatant2=flagicon|Sardinia|kingdom Sardinia
commander1=flagicon|France|restauration Prince of Conti
flagicon|Spain|1701 Infante Philip
flagicon|Spain|1701 Marquis De La Mina
commander2=flagicon|Sardinia|kingdom Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia
casualties1=2,700 dead or wounded
casualties2=4,400 dead, wounded, or captured|

The Battle of Madonna dell'Olmo (also "Battle of Cuneo") yielded a phyrric victory for the armies of France and Spain over the Kingdom of Sardinia in the War of the Austrian Succession. It was fought on the outskirts of Cuneo on September 30, 1744.


The battle of Cuneo was brought about by a difference in Franco-Spanish policy during the middle part of 1744. Spain wished for an advance along the coast of Italy through Genoa to occupy the lands around Parma which it already had been decided were going to be the future realm of Infante Philip, the third son of King Philip V of Spain and his wife, Elizabeth Farnese. The chief aim of France was to humble Piedmont-Sardinia and to force her to detach herself from Austria, or, better yet, force her to drop out of the war entirely. The French commander, the Prince of Conti, would not accept the Spanish plan of attack because he thought it was unsound, while the Spanish queen, Elizabeth Farnese, would brook no opposition to what she believed should be the key thrust of the joint Bourbon armies. In the end, a compromise was negotiated. Spain's plan was not to be followed until after the humbling of Piedmont-Sardinia, after which the joint armies would march into Lombardy to secure the Infante Philip his new realm.

Franco-Spanish advance to Cuneo

The principle plan for invading Piedmont was devised by Lt-Gen Pierre Joseph de Bourcet who was France's leading expert in Alpine warfare. The main problem for any army invading Piedmont was the problem of surmounting the Alpine passes that guarded it's approaches. Even a small number of defenders could be successful of blocking an advance. De Bourcets plan was that with a numerical superiority of 33,000 to 25,000 the best result would be to separate the attacking force into several columns which would then attack outlying outposts in a multi-pronged advance. Using infiltration tactics it would be easy to envelop the Piedmontese positions and would also give an advantage that attacks could be launched where most unexpected. Finally by putting pressure all along the whole front it was reasoned that the Piedmontese defence perimeter would crack at one point and then the columns would re-unite and push through the gap.

With this in mind the Franco-Spanish army began to regroup in the Dauphine region in June. Once concentrated the attacking columns lay on a front between Briancion and St. Etienne. On the 5th of July the Gallispan army broke camp and headed in nine separate columns towards the heart of Piedmont. Despite bickering between Conti and La Mina the campaign experience several early triumphs for the Franco-Spanish Army. Entering the Stura valley the route passed through a twenty foot wide defile known as the Barricades. Following De Bourcets advice troops to the North and the South of the position emerged throughout the mountains onto the rear of the Piedmont position and rather than being caught in a trap the Piedmontese evacuated the valley without a fight. In accordance with instructions the Franco-Spanish army now converged on the Stura Valley in order to take advantage of the gap in Charles Emmanual's defences.

A second triumph appeared on the 19th of July when the Franco-Spanish Army won the Battle of Casteldelfino and to cap it all the town of Demonte, the last outpost before Cuneo surrendered to Conti on the 17th August 1744.

The Siege of Cuneo

With King Frederick of Prussia advancing into Bohemia, Charles Emmanual knew that the bulk of the troops needed for the defence of Cuneo would have to come from his own domains. With that in mind he held back his army of 25,000 near Saluzzo to await developments. To safeguard Cuneo he appointed Major-General Frederick de Leutrum - who had performed well at Campo Santo - to command the garrison and called out the Kingdoms Miltia which could act as a superb guerilla force.

The siege of Cuneo began on the night of 12/13th of September. Conti's plan involved three armies - one to besiege, one to oppose Charles Emmanual's Army and another to patrol the surrounding lands. Although De Leutram showed great ingenuity - lighting the sky to illuminate the trenches for his cannon and continuously mounting sorties - by the 28th September Conti's army was closing in on the fortress. It was at this point that the King of Sardinia decided to act.

Charles Emmanuals Plan

Charles Emmanual had already decided that with his opponents numerical superiority a more ambitious plan was needed to relieve Cuneo. With this in mind the King proposed five separate aims for his army:

1. A pitched battle with the Franco-Spanish Army2. To send in supplies to Cuneo and evacuate the wounded3. To attack Bourbon outposts around Cuneo4. For De Leutram to lead a sortie to destroy the siege works east of the Gesso river5. For his militia to attack the Franco-Spanish lines of communication in the Stura Valley

The brilliance of this plan was that as long as the first aim kept Conti and La Mina preoccupied with the main Sardinian Army and completely unaware of the other four aims then the King would not need to win the coming battle. With the other aims fulfilled and Winter and the snow closing in the French and Spanish would be forced to disengage from the siege and retreat into France. The King of Sardinia was playing for time.

The Battle

Late in September Charles Emmanual advanced his army from Saluzzo towards Cuneo while at the same time Conti moved his army towards the Piedmontese. By the close of day on the 29th September Conti occupied a position between Caraglio and Madonna dell'Olmo whilst on the morning of the 30th Charles Emmanual moved his army into position opposite Conti's.

The engagement began around 12noon when the Croats (on loan from Austria) in the Sardinian Army charged towards Madonna dell'Olmo. The Croat attack however was repulsed by the Spanish and even Charles Emmanual's grenadiers could make no headway. On the opposite flank the French could not get to grips with the Piedmontese due to a ditch and some barricades barring the way. In the centre however Conti made excellent use of his artillery which provided cover for a French Infantry attack. The battle for the centre lay in the balance until Charles Emmanual, realising that he would not be able to capture Madonna dell'Olmo ordered an orderly retreat. By nightfall the two armies had disengaged.

Out of a total number of 25,000 the King of Sardinia had lost 4,400 men whilst the Bourbon losses were a little over half their enemies at 2,700 men killed or wounded. Furthermore Conti still had his army intact.


Although victory had gone to the Franco-Spanish army it became apparent that evening that Charles Emmanuals brilliantly conceived plan had fulfilled most of its objectives. Although the Bourbon outposts around Cuneo were intact the siege works had been destroyed, the garrison re-supplied and reinforced and Conti's communications had been cut. Further problems followed in that when it began to rain on the first of October, the trenches flooded and roads were wiped out. At a council of war on 11th of October it was decided that with winter approaching and the Franco-Spanish Army even further from their goal that the army should retreat before the Winter snows closed the passes behind them. By the 19th of November the Franco-Spanish army had recrossed the Alps. On the 20th it began to snow.

Voltaire concluded, "it is almost always the fate of those who campaign in the Alps without being masters of the territory; to lose their armies even in victory."



"Browning, R - The War of The Austrian Succession" pgs.187-189 Bibliography pgs.403-431

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