The Guns of Albion
The success of the Gallispan campaign had not only divided the Austrians and Sardinians from one another on land, but had separated them from the third Pragmatic Ally, Britain, at sea. Vice-Admiral William Rowley
and his fleet had considerably delayed the arrival of the invading force and attenuated their flow of supplies, but it had not been enough to stop their advance entirely. Even after the Gallispan army moved inland, the blockade still had some use - British control of the sea interfered with Bourbon communications, and Campo Santo’s artillery was still languishing at Orbetello by the start of the winter of 1745. As shore bombardment could no longer reach the enemy army, however, Rowley attempted to find other ways to render service to the war effort with the firepower at his disposal.
France and Spain could obviously not be intimidated by the British Navy, only inconvenienced. Genoa, however, was another matter. The Republic’s military and logistical support was of key importance to the Bourbon invasion, and her territory was practically all littoral - there was practically no city of note which Rowley’s guns could not reach. The threat of catastrophic bombardment had sufficed to knock Naples out of the war a few years earlier, which suggested that a similar threat against Genoa and her major cities might accomplish the same object. Rowley’s instinct was to attack Spezia, not only to shock the Genoese and deny the use of this important harbor to the Bourbon war machine, but with the intent to seize and use it as a base for his own fleet’s operations. His captains, however, almost universally concluded that it was impractical; the strength of the coastal batteries was not well known and there were few ground forces available to be commandeered for such an operation. Instead, Rowley led his fleet in a demonstration against various Genoese cities - Genoa, Finale, and San Remo - but strong shore batteries prevented the British from landing a decisive blow except at San Remo, which had already been shelled by the fleet once before and was now ruined again just for good measure. Strategically, it was a pointless exercise, which accomplished only the seizure of a few supply boats and the immiseration of the local population. Genoa would not be driven out of the war by such trifling attacks.
The combination of the Bourbon victory in Lombardy, the creeping approach of rough winter seas (beginning in earnest in November), and the obvious failure of Rowley’s Ligurian tour to make any impression suggested that the time was right for the British fleet to withdraw to a safe harbor. As the Bourbon conquests had deprived the British of their old base at Villefranche, succor would have to be found elsewhere. The British installations of Gibraltar and Port Mahon were too distant from the Riviera, and the port of Livorno was judged to be insufficient in size and depth (as well as the fact that its neutrality put a damper on British operations). The most suitable friendly harbor remaining was the Bay of Oristano in western Sardinia, which was sheltered, well-protected, and controlled by an ally.
The conquest of Bastia by the Corsican “malcontents,” however, had opened up a new possibility - not Bastia, which had no harbor to speak of, but San Fiorenzo. The Bay of San Fiorenzo was sheltered and well-placed to continue activity on the Riviera, as well as being 200 miles closer to Liguria than Oristano. San Fiorenzo itself was a village of trivial size, but local infrastructure was less important to the British than satisfactory geography and the availability of local provisions which could take pressure off the victuallers. Naval stores could always be brought in from Port Mahon and Livorno. Although Medley had no experience with the Corsicans personally, the incident at Bastia with Captain Charles Watson
and his little squadron suggested that the rebels were cooperative, and the fleet had already met with some success in acquiring provisions from the malcontents at Isola Rossa. If the local conditions were not favorable, there was still time enough in the season to make sail for Oristano. On October 6th, with 15 warships and the admiral’s flag hoisted above the 90-gun Marlborough
the British sailed into the Bay of San Fiorenzo.
Word of the British arrival was quick to reach King Theodore
, then at Corti. Understandably, the king wanted to travel to San Fiorenzo himself; he spoke fluent English and had friends in the British navy and government. Given that interior Corsica had been rocked by a rebellion just a few months before, however, his relocation was strongly opposed by Count Gianpietro Gaffori
and other leaders who had convinced him to abandon Venzolasca for Corti. Eventually Theodore agreed to leave the British presence in the hands of a deputy, and chose his “nephew” Matthias von Drost
, who had recently returned from another supply run to Livorno. The only problem was that von Drost did not speak English; indeed, almost no Corsicans did. To address this deficiency, Theodore appointed the 20 year old Pasquale Paoli
, recently returned from Naples, as Drost’s secretary. Paoli had been studying at the Royal Academy of Artillery in Naples since late 1744, but rampant desertion and questions regarding the loyalty of the Neapolitan Regiment Real Corsica
had prompted the unit’s dissolution by Don Carlos
of Naples and Paoli’s return. Theodore had furnished him with a lieutenant’s commission in the royal battalion of artillery, but Paoli had also learned a fair amount of English from the Irish expatriate officers he had worked and studied with at Naples, which recommended him as Drost’s assistant and translator.
Theodore undoubtedly wanted some sort of treaty that would give official recognition to his rule, but Rowley was too well informed of his own government’s position to oblige him. Officially, the admiral told Drost, he was occupying hostile (that is, Genoese) territory, but informally he expressed his willingness to cooperate with the “malcontents” so long as they accepted his requirements. San Fiorenzo itself, as well as all the batteries and watchtowers along the perimeter of the bay from Point Cavallata to the Tower of Vecchiaja, would be vacated by the naziunali
and ceded to the British for the duration of the fleet’s stay. British sailors and marines would control these defenses and would not be subject to any sort of Corsican supervision or authority. Drost would serve as a liaison between the fleet and the “malcontents,” coordinating the procurement of provisions and naval stores (chiefly timber and pitch) from the interior, which would be purchased by the fleet at “reasonable rates.” In practice, however, because he had a better command of English and more extensive contacts in the Diqua
, Drost’s young secretary Pasquale would shoulder much of this responsibility.
Despite Rowley’s pretense of keeping the Corsicans at arm’s length, the cooperation between the “occupiers” and the “malcontents” quickly grew closer. It was sensible for the British to make use of Corsican labor to help repair and rearm the bay’s defenses, for many of the towers and batteries had suffered from neglect and over the years of war had been stripped of their armaments by either the rebels or the Genoese. British midshipmen supervised Corsican work teams moving building materials and artillery to these positions, and in November a company of Corsican royal infantry was sent from Venzolasca to San Fiorenzo to help man watchtowers and guard posts under the overall command of British officers.
British interests on Corsica were not restricted to San Fiorenzo. Southern Secretary Thomas Pelham-Holles, Duke of Newcastle
was already sympathetic to the Corsican struggle, informed as he was by the generally pro-Corsican reports from his diplomats Arthur Villettes
and Horace Mann
, but he had recently taken a special interest in reports regarding the enemy presence at Calvi and the arrival of Bourbon forces there. In fact the Franco-Spanish force at Calvi, which was less than a battalion, was probably intended merely as a way to meet treaty obligations to Genoa and stiffen the garrison against possible rebel attacks, but the British interpreted the presence of this force as a prelude to something more ambitious and sinister - perhaps the Bourbon powers intended to use Calvi as a staging point for a Genoese reconquest of Bastia and San Fiorenzo. The recapture of these presidii
would not only eject the British from their present harbor, forcing them 200 miles to the south, but would deny the British fleet access to provisions from Isola Rossa and would allow Bastia to resume its role as a safe harbor for Genoese and Spanish shipping.
Thus, despite Rowley’s own misgivings about the project - and to Drost’s considerable surprise - the admiral soon began questioning Drost as to the military resources the malcontents could mobilize for a combined land and sea assault on Calvi, the strongest fortress in northern Corsica. Drost could not give him hard numbers, but most of the first battalion of regular infantry had been moved to Isola Rossa along with their heavy artillery and could be joined by hundreds of Balagnese militia. Any attack on Calvi, however, would have to be preceded by the capture of Algajola, which had been loosely invested by Marquis Simone Fabiani
and his loyalists but remained firmly in Genoese hands. Rowley agreed, and preparations began immediately. The British sent ships to Livorno to pick up additional munitions and stores, while the Corsicans amassed troops, provisions, ammunition, and pack animals at Isola Rossa.
Rowley, however, would not remain to witness the offensive. In fact the Admiralty had sacked him back in July, presumably out of dissatisfaction with his performance, and had ordered him to return to England and relinquish command to his second, Vice-Admiral Henry Medley
, who at present was patrolling off Cadiz. Those orders, however, did not reach Rowley until October, and even then the handover was not to become official until January of 1746. In late October, in preparation for this changing of the guard, Medley left Corsica for Gibraltar along with several ships. The responsibility for the Algajola-Calvi expedition was handed off to George Townshend
, captain of the Bedford
and son of the late politician Charles Townshend, Viscount Townshend.
The capture of Algajola proved a deceptively simple first step. Although the citadel of Algajola was a fairly modern fortification, Commissioner-General Stefano de Mari
knew that Calvi was a far stronger defensive point and had accordingly concentrated most of his forces, artillery, and stores there rather than dividing his strength between two bastions. Algajola was left with only about a hundred soldiers in the garrison, most of whom were provincial infantry, not regulars. Upon the arrival of Townshend’s fleet the citadel opened fire with its guns, but in well under an hour they were silenced by a withering British reply of shot and shell. The garrison struck its colors and surrendered, although not before several dozen soldiers under Captain Gregorio Graziani
were able to slip out of the town and through the Corsican cordon, eventually escaping to Calvi. The town was turned over to Fabiani’s men, and all the Balagna now lay in royalist hands.
The attack on Calvi would pose a much greater challenge. Although of medieval origins, the citadel had been largely redesigned and rebuilt in the 17th century. Unlike most of the old Genoese coastal watchtowers built before the age of gunpowder warfare, Calvi’s citadel was a modern bastion fortress atop a rocky headland with thick, sloping walls and a considerable battery of somewhat antiquated yet still powerful artillery. It also appeared to be completely invulnerable to a landward attack. The only feasible overland approach to the town was along the bay to the east, which passed through marshy and difficult ground and could be raked by fire from a handful of armed feluccas. These ships would be swiftly blown out of the water in any confrontation with Townshend’s fleet, but could easily sit just offshore in the bay and bombard the coast at their leisure whilst being protected from the British fleet by the citadel’s guns. Even if an attack was somehow pressed along the waterfront and the town itself was captured, the only access to the citadel was by a single drawbridge which could be raked by grapeshot from multiple angles.
Bringing artillery to bear on Calvi from the sea was far easier, and Captain Townshend certainly did have artillery. His fleet now consisted of eight ships of the line - three 70-gun ships (Bedford
), two 60-gun ships (Dunkirk
), and three 50-gun ships (Antelope
) - as well as four bomb vessels (Carcass
) each equipped with one 10” and one 13” mortar firing explosive shells.
All of the ships of the line carried 24-pounders on their lower decks with the exception of the Chatham
, whose lower decks could only boast 18-pounders. Yet although his fleet was bristling with firepower, it was also fragile compared to Calvi’s citadel. Some of the Genoese guns had a shot weight of as much as 42 British pounds, and the citadel had furnaces to produce red-hot shot. If a British ship were disabled within effective range of the citadel, it would be in deadly peril.
Artillery at Calvi, September 1745 (47 guns total)
Two 60 pdr cannons*
Two 55 pdr cannons
One 52 pdr cannon
Four 45 pdr petrieri**
Two 42 pdr petrieri
Eight 40 pdr petrieri
Four 40 pdr cannons
One 28 pdr demi-cannon
One 26 pdr demi-cannon
One 30 pdr culverin
One 20 pdr demi-culverin
One 16 pdr quarter-cannon
Two 15 pdr quarter-cannons
One 12 pdr quarter-cannon
Two 10 pdr sakers
Two 9 pdr sakers
Three 8 pdr sakers
Two 6 pdr falcons
Two 5 pdr falcons
Two 4 pdr falcons
One 2½ pdr falconet
Two 2 pdr falconets
*One Genoese pound equaled approximately 0.7 British pounds.
**A “petriere” was an artillery piece which was shorter than a normal cannon and had a powder chamber much narrower than the outer part of the bore which held the ball. The lesser powder charge allowed the metal to be cast more thinly than in a normal cannon, which combined with the piece’s shorter length made it much lighter than its shot weight would suggest. They typically fired stone balls (rather than iron) at a high trajectory.
Although Rowley had envisioned a combined land and sea attack against Calvi, Townshend did not think it feasible; the land approach was too dangerous and the Corsican soldiers appeared too ramshackle and disorganized to deal with it. He decided instead to overawe the citadel with naval power alone. On the morning of November 8th he offered de Mari terms for the citadel’s surrender, which were relatively generous - all the defending forces would be repatriated to Villefranche or any other Ligurian port with no other conditions. De Mari’s response was succinct: “Civitas Calvi Semper Fidelis,
” the city's motto. Shortly thereafter, Townshend ordered the attack to begin.
The fleet engaged in a furious shootout with the Genoese gunners, with shot and shell in the thousands flying between the fleet and the citadel. The British certainly scored hits; several Genoese guns were dismounted, one of the walls of the east-facing Malfetano bastion suffered a partial collapse, and exploding mortar shells inflicted serious damage on the barracks, churches, storehouses, and other buildings within the citadel walls. One shell even penetrated one of the auxiliary magazines, although fortunately for the garrison it turned out to be a dud. Yet none of this damage was critical, and the British paid a substantial price for inflicting it. Several of his ships suffered serious damage, mainly to their upper decks and rigging. The Jersey
caught fire and was narrowly saved, while the Leopard
was dismasted and so badly thrashed by Genoese fire that it had to be towed out of range. After two hours of fighting, Townshend pulled back to avoid any more serious losses.
The day prior to the bombardment, Theodore had arrived on the scene. He had reluctantly accepted his followers’ demands that he remain at Corti rather than run off to greet the British at San Fiorenzo, but they could not keep him from Calvi. He considered this joint attack to be the pivotal moment of the nascent Anglo-Corsican alliance, and believed that failure might well doom not only the prospect of cooperation with the English but the entire rebellion. Townshend consented to meet him on the Bedford
the day after the bombardment. The captain was highly reluctant to place any trust in the Corsicans, who he saw as little more than rabble, but recent events had forced him to concede that the British would not be able to take Calvi alone. Theodore promised him all possible assistance, including at least a thousand armed men, but the king also needed help; supplies and ammunition were critical, and he had few men with any experience in artillery or siegecraft. Townshend replied that he needed to depart immediately to repair and resupply his ships, but agreed to maintain a small force at the Bay of Calvi under the command of Sir Richard Hughes
consisting of the Essex
, the Antelope
, and the heavy frigate Roebuck
to keep Calvi under blockade. A small force of sailors and marines made landfall to assist the Corsicans, who at the moment fielded a battalion of regulars under Lt. Col. Milanino Lusinchi
, most of the royal artillery battalion (such as it was), and several hundred Balagnese militiamen.
On paper at least, the Genoese garrison was rather more formidable. Most of de Mari’s men were Genoese regulars, consisting of the entire Geraldini regiment and two companies of the Franceschi regiment under the overall military command of Colonel Patrizio Geraldini
(actually “Patrick Fitzgerald”), an Irish officer in Genoese service. Yet although they were regulars, this force had with morale issues - British interdiction had made the delivery of their salaries rather spotty, and the Franceschi companies had actually been sent to Corsica as a punitive measure after their regiment had mutinied in Liguria. Supporting these regulars was a smattering of local troops and specialists: A squadron of Calvesi dragoons (gendarmes recruited from the Genoese citizenry), the remainder of Captain Graziani’s Algajolesi company, a few dozen micheletti
(salaried Corsican militiamen), and 40 bombardieri
Garrison of Calvi, November 1745
Genoese Forces (Col. Geraldini): 782 men
Geraldini Infantry, 412 men
Franceschi Infantry, 221 men
Calvesi Squadron of Dragoons, 46 men
Algajolesi Provincial Infantry, 31 men
Bombardieri, 40 men
Micheletti, 32 men
Allied Forces (Lt. Col. de Varignon): 292 men
Provence Infantry (French), 215 men
Milán Infantry (Spanish), 77 men
Also present was a small but effective “Gallispan” contingent consisting of roughly a half-battalion of French infantry from the Régiment de Provence and a single fusilier company of Spanish infantry from the Regimiento de Milán.
The commander of this force was Lieutenant Colonel de Varignon
of the Régiment de Provence. Varignon had not been furnished with artillery or gunners, although he did have a captain of the French Royal Engineers who had surveyed the defenses and supervised repairs after the British bombardment. Varignon was a brave soldier in the best tradition of French officers, but he had a low opinion of his Genoese counterparts and did not get along well with Geraldini, whom he feuded with over the question of who ought to have overall command.
In Townshend’s absence, the Corsicans and their British “advisors” reconnoitered the environs of Calvi, seeking the best route to approach the citadel by land. Unfortunately, circumventing the coastal route was only possible by hauling the heavy guns up some very formidable heights, which were also patrolled by Genoese and French sentries and held by a redoubt just north of Capo Murione which was furnished with a few light cannon. Corsican probes against these defenses were not successful, and succeeded only in strengthening the enemy presence. A different approach was needed, and would soon reveal itself.
In the months leading up to the bombardment, Lt. Col. de Varignon had made every effort to survey the defensive works and the surrounding terrain. The rocky shore southwest of the city seemed very formidable indeed, and only one tiny beach could be found there. Known as “Port Agro” by the locals, it was a narrow ravine which descended to the sea between the stony cliffs of two forbidding headlands. At its narrowest, this inlet was scarcely a hundred feet wide. Submerged rocks blocked access to the beach, and the coast was frequently struck by strong winds which caused high surges and threatened to drive any nearby ship into the rocks. Upon viewing the locale, Varignon’s engineer declared that a landing there would be quite impossible. As a consequence, no sentries were posted in the area, and the threat of an attack from the southwest was assumed to be nonexistent.
Theodore’s Corsican biographers claimed that the king discovered the cove himself, further proof of his “military genius;” it seems more likely that the British spotted it as they were patrolling off the peninsula. In either case, Hughes was skeptical at first, but after closer inspection in a longboat the captain determined that a landing at Port Agro was not impossible
, just very difficult. The British ships could not go anywhere near this dangerous lee shore, but longboats towed by small rowing craft could potentially reach the inlet. No action would be taken in this direction until Townshend’s return, but preparations continued at Algajola. Further aid arrived from an unexpected source: several cargo ships, escorted by armed galleys of the tiny Sardinian navy, arrived from Sardinia carrying salt, grain, and gunpowder under the orders of Leopoldo del Carretto di Gorzegno
, the Savoyard foreign minister, who intended to support the Anglo-Corsican operations on Corsica in any way he could. This was in no way prejudicial to the war in Lombardy, as there was no plausible way for these supplies to reach Piedmont (now completely encircled by Bourbon armies) from the isle of Sardinia anyway. Shipments of provisions and ammunition from Sardinia would continue throughout the siege, and while the quantities were not enormous they played an important role in keeping the Corsican army in action.
Upon his return with those ships that were in fighting shape, Townshend approved the Port Agro plan and the British fleet began taking on guns, supplies, and soldiers at Algajola. Only one longboat at a time could make the trip, and the danger was real; early on a British rowboat struck a submerged rock and was wrecked, killing four sailors. Nevertheless, the British took advantage of every hour of daylight to continue ferrying equipment to the magazine which was slowly building on the beach of Port Agro out of sight of the Calvesi garrison. On November 24th, a a force of British marines, sailors, and Corsican infantrymen dragged four 6-pounder guns up the rocky slope to the chapel of Madonna della Serra, where the Corsicans had made their brave but ill-fated stand against the French in 1738, and began fortifying the position. Calvi’s defenders were completely taken aback; the enemy had performed the impossible, and had completely outflanked the town's defenses. Varignon urged an immediate sally against the enemy position and offered to lead it himself, but Mari vetoed him. The Anglo-Corsican force occupied a strong position on the heights, Mari had no knowledge of the true size of their force, and he suspected that this might yet be merely a feint or diversion from an attack by the British fleet or forces along the coast. He had confidence in the security of the citadel and did not want to squander his forces by leaving the safety of its guns and rushing into a risky attack. If there was any opportunity to disrupt the Anglo-Corsican maneuver, it was soon lost as they entrenched themselves on the hill with their field guns. The heavy artillery would soon follow, and then the real siege would begin.[A]
 The bombardment of San Remo was particularly pointless, as the Sanremesi were nearly as eager to be rid of the Genoese government as the Corsicans were. They had appealed to the Imperial Aulic Council in 1729 claiming that they were imperial, not Genoese subjects, and had been subjugated illegally by the Republic.
 This includes rated vessels and bombs, but not lesser and auxiliary ships like sloops, supply ships, and bomb tenders. Additionally, not all of these 15 ships may have been present at one time owing to dispatch or cruising assignments.
 Charles Townshend was a prominent Whig politician who was the brother-in-law of Robert Walpole (having married Walpole’s sister) and served in a variety of high government posts until finally falling out with Walpole and retiring from government in 1730. He died in 1738. Captain George Townshend was a younger son (by a second marriage) and thus did not inherit the title of viscount, although being a viscount’s son he is more properly referred to as “Captain the Hon. George Townshend.”
 Townshend’s fleet also included a variety of smaller ships: the 44-gun heavy frigate Roebuck
, the 20-gun light frigate Seaford
, and the Enterprise
sloop. These vessels took no part in the bombardment and were often away on dispatch or cruising duty. Other unarmed auxiliary vessels, like the bomb tenders, were also present.
 The Regimiento de Milán was Spanish in allegiance but Italian in nationality, being one of two Italian regiments in the Spanish army at this time. Despite its name the unit was nowhere near exclusively Milanese, as since the early 18th century several Italian regiments had been merged together to create the two that still existed in the 1740s. A plurality of the soldiers were from Lombardy, but the regiment included Neapolitans, Sicilians, Sardinians, and even Corsicans (although no Corsicans serving in the company stationed at Calvi are known).
[A] This was essentially the approach of the Anglo-Corsican forces in the OTL siege of Calvi in 1794 - the French dismissed a landing at Port Agro as impossible and thus failed to defend or even observe the position. The British decided that it wasn’t impossible, and proceeded to prove it by landing their men and artillery there, hauling them up the hills, and attacking Calvi from the south in concert with Corsican forces. The 1794 siege is most famous for being the engagement in which Horatio Nelson was blinded in one eye. ITTL, Calvi is considerably weaker than it was in 1794 OTL - at that time it was held by the French instead of the rather dubious Genoese army, and the French had done a great deal of work strengthening the position. 1790s Calvi was defended by several outlying forts and batteries that did not exist in the 1740s, and the French modernized and greatly expanded the citadel’s arsenal, which by the time of the siege had more than 100 pieces of artillery (more than twice what the Genoese had in 1745). Still, besieging it is no simple feat.