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.