Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Volbarno is a very attractive little town in the mountains north west of Lonato. The river Chiese runs through the town and crossed by an 14th century bridge. On 4 August 1796 it was the scene of desperate fighting as elements of Quasdanovich’s 1st column attempted to retreat following their defeat at Lonato.

Quasdanovich commanded the Austrian column which advanced through the mountains to the west of Lake Garda. It was defeated during the battle of Lonato and began to retreat along the same route. There was confused fighting in the mountains as the French attempted to cut off the retreat.
To reach safety the Austrians would have to cross the river Chiese. When they reached the bridge at Volbarno they found the northern bank occupied by the French. Despite repeated attempts they were unable to force the bridge. This photo was taken on the French held side of the river

Jan is standing in the middle of the bridge looking towards the northern bank. The French held this part of the town and the hills behind.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Our first battlefield was Lonato, a short drive from our campsite on Lake Garda. This was our first experience of map reading in Italy and a warning that it would not be easy. We had a road map of the area so we could find the town quite easy. Our destination was the castle, but we could find no signs. We spoke no Italian, so asking for directions was out of the question. Eventually we parked the car and explored on foot, finally finding a narrow road which led uphill to the castle.

The area south of Lake Garda was the scene of Bonaparte’s Italian Campaign from June 1796 to January 1797. The French had defeated the Austrian’s in a series of battles. The Austrians had retreated, but left a strong garrison in the walled city of Mantua. The French laid siege to the city, and the Austrians made a number of attempts to relieve it. The first attempt was led by Wurmster in June 1796.

Wurmster advanced down both sides of Lake Garda, with Quasdanoivh in command on the west bank. To join forces with Wurmster he would have to take Lonato.

On 4 August Bonaparte has his headquarters in the castle, which was held by 1000 men. An Austrian force of 2500 approached and demanded that the castle surrender. Bonaparte bluffed that the Austrians were in the middle of his whole army and gave the eight minutes to surrender of be destroyed. They surrendered!

The castle is open to the public and well worth a visit. I could find no record or mention of 1796, but it is an ideal platform to viewing the area of the campaign.

This photo is the left hand section of the panorama from the castle walls looking north towards Salo. The main Austrian advance on 31 July was through the hill on the left as they marched from Salo to Desenzano. The French held both Lonato and Desenzano and halted the Austrian advance.

This is the centre of the panorama looking towards Desenzano. On 3 August the Austrian’s advanced from Desenzano and captured the castle of Lonato for a short period. The French counter attack recaptured the castle and sent the Austrian’s reeling towards Desenzano.

This is the right hand section of the panorama looking towards Sirmione (and our camp site). There was no fighting in this area during the battle for Lonato, however the main battle of Castiglione was fought over this ground, with the Austrian’s advancing from Perschia on the far right.

We arrived at the castle just as it opened at 1000, and were disappointed when it closed for a two hour lunch break at 1300. We used the time to walk around the outside of the castle and then down to the town itself

We bought bread, cheese and a bottle of wine in the town, and returned to the castle where we found a shaded spot for lunch.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Planning for Napoleon in Italy

In September 2000 we spent 14 days exploring the battlefields of Bonaparte’s Italian Campaign of 1796. This was our most ambitious undertaking yet. It involved many months of preparation and a two day car journey of 950 miles each way. The total mileage covered was 2052 and the entire holiday cost jut £1029.

The weather was excellent and we spent the entire two weeks in shorts. We rented a mobile home on a campsite right on the shore of Lake Garda with excellent views of the lake the mountains beyond. After long and busy days exploring battlefields we ate our meals outside the caravan and drank our wine until it was dark. Most nights we were in bed by 9pm.

We visited the battlefields of Lonato, Castiglione, Rivoli, Caldero and Arcola. We also visited the towns of Verona, Mantua, Perschia, Salo, Sirmione and Garda. The only drawback was the heavy traffic around the lake, but we avoided this whenever possible.

We walked the ground of Castiglione, Arcola and Rivoli reading vivid descriptions of the battles and enjoying every minute of the holiday. Probably the best and most successful of our battlefield holidays.

And the thing which made all of this possible was a lucky find when visiting a Napoleonic show in London. We had never been before, and I can’t even remember the name of the show. It was a one day event featuring a large selection of new and second hand Napoleonic books and attended by a small selection of reenactors. At one of the book stands we met a young Austrian called Bernhard Voykowitsch, who was selling copies of his first book called “Castiglione 1796” ,

I have said before that the most difficult part of exploring battlefields is finding a good guide. This is particularly true of the Italian battlefields, because there is very little available in English. This book was everything we could have asked for. Filled with photographs and detailed maps of the battles, plus an easy to read description of the characters involved and each phase of the campaign. It even had three pages devoted to the battlefield today and notes on how to explore. As soon as I read the book I knew we had found our next battlefield project.