Tuesday, March 15, 2011

COLD WARS 2011, Battle of Bassano, 8 September 1796 AAR

PEL Listing; 

NAP - Battle of Bassano, 1796: Event F-139; 28mm 6 PM [GMs Tom Garnett/Rob Walter]

The Battle of Bassano:

Was fought on 8 September 1796, during the French Revolutionary Wars, in the territory of the Republic of Venice, between a French army under Napoleon Bonaparte and Austrian forces led by Count Dagobert von Wurmser. The battle ended in a French victory. The Austrians abandoned their artillery and baggage, losing supplies, cannons, and battle standards to the French. This engagement occurred during the second Austrian relief attempt of the Siege of Mantua.


In 1796, there were only three practicable routes between Trento and the Po River basin. The first route lay west of Lake Garda. The second route was the road down the Adige valley east of Lake Garda and north of Verona. The third route went east through Levico Terme and Borgo Valsugana, then followed the Brenta River valley (Valsugana) southward to Bassano del Grappa. An army that held both Trento and Bassano could move troops and supplies between the two places free from French interference.


Austrian Plans

The first relief of Mantua failed at the battles of Lonato and Castiglione in early August. The defeat caused Wurmser to retreat north up the Adige River valley. Meanwhile, the French reinvested the Austrian garrison of Mantua.

Ordered by Emperor Francis II to relieve Mantua at once, Feldmarschall Wurmser and his new chief-of-staff Feldmarschal-Leutnant (FML) Franz von Lauer drew up a strategy. Leaving FML Paul Davidovich and 13,700 soldiers to defend Trento and the approaches to the Tyrol, Wurmser directed two divisions east then south down the Brenta valley. When he joined the large division of Johann Mészáros at Bassano, he would have 20,000 men. From Bassano, Wurmser would move on Mantua, while Davidovich probed the enemy defenses from the north, looking for a favorable opportunity to support his superior. Lauer predicted that the French, having suffered recent losses, would be unable to react in time. Unknown to the Austrians, the French government desired that General Bonaparte cross the Alps to join the army of General Jean Moreau in southern Germany.

Fench Plans

Bonaparte posted General of Division (MG) Claude Vaubois with 10,000 men on the west side of Lake Garda. MG André Masséna defended the Adige River valley with 13,000 troops and MG Pierre Augereau covered Verona with 10,000 more. MG Charles Kilmaine maintained the blockade of Mantua with MG Jean Sahuguet's division of 8,000 soldiers and held a 2,000 man reserve at Verona.
Bonaparte struck first, sending Masséna and Augereau north toward Trento. Meanwhile, Vaubois advanced past Lake Idro to Riva at the north end of Lake Garda. Vaubois and Masséna converged on Rovereto on the Adige. At the Battle of Rovereto on 4 September, the French routed Davidovich's outnumbered troops, inflicting 3,000 casualties at a cost of 750 killed and wounded.

Finding that Wurmser had moved toward Bassano, Bonaparte abandoned the plan to link with Moreau. Leaving Vaubois to observe the fleeing Austrians in the upper Adige valley, the French army commander decided to take a bold but risky course of action. Cutting loose from his supply line, he ordered Augereau, followed by Masséna, to the east into the Brenta valley. On 7 September, Augereau's 8,200 soldiers overwhelmed the 4,000 Austrians of Wurmser's rear guard at Primolano (6 km north of Cismon del Grappa), capturing 1,500 men. The victorious French then followed the valley as it turned south toward Bassano.

Battle of Bassano
Part of the French Revolutionary War
Chiesa copy.jpg
The church of San Giovanni on the outskirts of Bassano, Bonaparte's headquarters during the battle
Date8 September 1796
LocationBassanoVenetia, present-day Italy
ResultFrench victory
France First French RepublicHabsburg Monarchy Habsburg Austria
Commanders and leaders
Napoleon BonaparteDagobert von Wurmser
Casualties and losses
400 killed, wounded or missing600 killed or wounded,
2,000-4,000 captured,
30 cannons, 8 standards,


Austrian Army

FM Dagobert von Wurmser (43,000 available)

  • Main Army: Wurmser (19,348)
  • Corps: FML Paul Davidovich (13,695, not including Loudon and Graffen)
  • Mantua Garrison: Joseph Canto de Irles (17,259, fit for duty: 10,271)
    • Brigade: GM Ferdinand Minckwitz (6 bns)
    • Brigade: GM Leberecht Spiegel (4 bns)
    • Brigade: OB Sola (3 bns)
    • Brigade: OB Sturioni (4 bns, 4 sqns)
    • Brigade: OB Philipp Brentano (6 bns)

French Army

Historical Information:

The battle of Bassano (8 September 1796) was a French victory won at the point where the River Brenta emerged from its mountain valley onto the plains north-west of Venice, and which ended the second Austrian attempt to lift the siege of Mantua. That attempt had begun at the start of September when Field Marshal Würmser led two divisions down the Brenta valley from Trento. His aim was to join up with a third division (General Mészáros) at Bassano, and then turn south-west towards Legnago and Mantua.

At exactly the same time Napoleon had begun an advance up the Adige valley, heading for Germany to join up with the Army of the Rhine. When he reached Trento Napoleon discovered Würmser's plan. Rather than retrace his steps down the Adige valley, Napoleon decide to follow Würmser down the Brenta, taking advantage of his army's superior speed to catch him. One French division (Vaubois) was left around Trento to watch Davidovich's covering army.

Surprised by the speed of the French advance, Wurmser was only able to gather up 11,000 men before the collision took place.

On 8 September, 20,000 French soldiers fell upon Wurmser from the north. First, they attacked the 3,800-man Austrian rearguard under FML Peter Quasdanovich and General-Major (GM) Adam Bajalics. Bonaparte sent Masséna down the west bank of the Brenta and Augereau down the east bank. Overwhelmed by repeated attacks and pursued by Colonel Joachim Murat's cavalry, the rearguard collapsed and Bajalics was captured. Wurmser deployed one brigade on the west bank, a second brigade on the east bank, and a third brigade in Bassano. Colonel Jean Lannes led a successful charge which broke the Austrian lines and burst into the town. Quasdanovich later assumed command over the defeated Austrians who retreated east, but 3,500 soldiers of FML Karl Sebottendorf's division fell back to the south with their army commander.

The French suffered 400 killed, wounded, and missing. Wurmser lost 600 killed and wounded. Between 2,000 and 4,000 Austrians, eight colors and 30 artillery pieces were captured. The vigorous French pursuit also seized a bridging train plus 200 limbers and ammunition wagons.

Austrian Relief of Mantua, 1796-97;

By the end of 6 September the Austrians were badly strung out. Mészáros had been sent ahead to Vicenza, Sebottendorf's division was at Bassano, and Quosdanovich was at Primolano, fourteen miles inside the mountains. Early on the next day Napoleon's leading units caught up with Quosdanovich (battle of Primolano, 7 September 1796), taking several hundred prisoners. After this first success the French spent the rest of the day completing their march through the mountains, and on the morning of 8 September they were ready to attack the Austrian positions around Bassano.

When Würmser discovered that Napoleon was close behind him he decided to continue his march towards Vicenza. Quosdanovich and General Adam Bajalich were left behind to cover the approaches to Bassano, taking up positions about a mile upstream of the town, just at the start of the high ground. Behind them the river curves around to the west, with Bassano on the east bank.
At dawn on 8 September the French advanced down both banks of the river,
Masséna on the western (right) bank and Augereau on the eastern (left) bank. Both French attacks were successful. Masséna forced Bajalich back to the bridge at Bassano, splitting the Austrian force in two. Augereau forced his way into the town, where the Austrian retreat turned chaotic. Quosdanovich was forced to retreat east to Treviso, while Würmser and the larger part of the army escaped south west to Vicenza.

The French claimed to have taken 5,000 prisoners at Bassano, probably more Austrians than had actually been involved. On the day before the battle Würmser's merged army had been 20,000 strong. Six days later he reached Mantua with around 12,000 men. 1,700-2,000 had been left at Legnago, and a larger force escaped with Quosdanovich, suggesting that the figure was somewhat lower, but even so Napoleon had taken at least 3,000 prisoners, split the Austrian army in two, and foiled the second Austrian attempt to lift the siege of Mantua.

In the aftermath of the battle Würmser managed to reach safety at Mantua, despite pausing for a day at Legnago. On 14-15 September he turned and fought another battle outside the defences (
battle of San Giorgio), but was defeated again and had to take refuge inside the besieged city.