Battle of Villafranca (1744)


Battle of Villafranca (1744)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Villafranca


caption=
partof=the War of the Austrian Succession
date=April 20, 1744
place=Villafranca, Piedmont (present-day Villefranche-sur-Mer, France)
result=Franco-Spanish victory
combatant1=flagicon|France|restauration France
flagicon|Spain|1701 Spain
combatant2=flagicon|Sardinia|kingdom Sardinia
flagicon|UK|1606 Britain
commander1=Infante Philip of Spain
Prince of Conti
commander2=Charles Emmanuel III
Thomas Mathews
strength1=40,000
strength2=12,000
casualties1=14,000
casualties2=5,000|

The Battle of Villafranca unfolded on April 20, 1744, during the War of the Austrian Succession. The armies of France and Spain, advancing into Sardinia, famously forced the pass of Villafranca, defeating its Anglo-Sardinian defenders.

ituation in Italy

1744 had opened bleakly for the Spaniards in Italy. To the south the Austrians were steadily driving back General Montemar's army. Naples was threatened. Britain, boasting naval superiority in the Mediterranean, intervened on the side of Austria, and the Royal Navy everywhere harassed Spain's allies and frustrated Spanish war shipping. Genoa was blocked off by a British squadron, and Switzerland kept her borders closed to the passage of troops. Marching overland through allied France, the Infante Philip had easily conquered Savoy, but, starved of supplies, had been unable to advance against the Sardinians in the Alps.

On February 22, the Bourbon navies defeated the British off the coast of Toulon. The retreat of Admiral Matthews' fleet left the sea lanes temporarily under French and Spanish control. Supplies poured into Philip's camp. 20,000 Frenchmen under Louis François I, Prince of Conti were then dispatched to combine with Philip's 20,000 Spaniards, their goal being to force a passage into Lombardy and to unite with the Spanish army in the south.

On April 1, the allies crossed the Var and advanced into Nice, which fell without a fight. Villafranca lay before them.

The battle

The Sardinians, led by King Charles Emmanuel, entrenched themselves along the heights of Villafranca. Their natural defences were formidable: the attackers, hemmed in by cliffs and precipices, faced a difficult climb up over rocks and boulders, in plain sight of Sardinian guns. Charles Emmanuel thought his position unassailable.

Admiral Matthews, meanwhile, had returned to the area and landed a contingent of British regulars, marines, and artillery specialists to bolster the Sardinian defence. This force joined the Sardinians on the heights, their guns bearing down on the French against whom they had only recently declared war (Britain had been fighting a war against Spain since 1739). Voltaire would later quip, "even in the Alps we could still find Englishmen to fight us."

Conti was undaunted and the French and Spaniards successfully stormed the heights, forcing the Sardinians into flight and very nearly capturing Matthews and his entourage.

Aftermath

That same day, the French and Spaniards took the fortress of Montalban by storm. For the young Conti, this marked the beginning of a distinguished military career as one of France's leading officers. The allies continued to engage the Sardinians in the months that followed, but by the end of the campaigning season, the Austrians still barred the road to Spanish territory in the south. Conti was recalled to the German theatre in 1745.

References


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