TRA STORIA E MITO
BIOGRAFIE
PIETRO MICCA
AND THE FRENCH SIEGE
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Pietro Micca

Pietro Micca

Pietro Micca

In 1705, when Pietro Micca joined the Miner company, copper excavations had been going on since a long time.
In those years of war, extensive fortifications had been made in the main strongholds and fortresses and increased after October 1703 because of the impending danger of the French invasion, the consequence of the alliance upsetting  by Vittorio Amedeo II.
Pietro Micca had been employed in the Citadel of Turin, and it is his assignment in the Miner company that would confirm his previous knowledge of the countermining network of the fortress.
In June 1705 the young boy from Sagliano joined the company made up by those characters, who where the real masters of the fortress’ underground and who knew the tunnels under the walls bordering on the Citadel as well.
Fourteen kilometres under the town’s bastions, twenty kilometres countermining galleries in altogether.
The first “roll” or roster bearing his name dates back to 28 July 1705, and in the document the name of his father, his “homeland”, that is, his birthplace, his age and his nom de guerre, “Passepertutt” are also reported.
In fact, every soldier used to choose his nom de guerre, and by this name he would be called by his fellows and superiors.
At the end of August the stronghold of Turin was about to face the French army after a serious investment threat.
After that Vittorio Amedeo was forced to leave the defence line in Chivasso-Castagneto, the stronghold had been moved under the town of Turin.
General La Feuillade was lodging in the castle of Venaria, and from there he had siege trenches dug at the beginning of September in the area of the Citadel.
The situation of the defenders in Turin immediately appeared to be difficult, because at that time the fortifications were very far from be complete.
Fortunately for the duke of Savoy, the enemy’s attacks had already ceased on 18 September, and it was the King of France himself who decided to put the siege off within a year, despite the fact that French generals had strongly protested so that Turin enterprise was not abandoned.
The inhabitants of Turin had seven months to complete the fortifications: great L-planned “counterguards”, demi-lunes or heights along the bastion’s capital lines, another covered road, a defence line called “tagliata reale” in the inner square of the fortress and other defensive works.

Thousands of men, women and children were frantically working in the middle of winter to complete the new fortifications on time.
Underground, working in muggy, dusty and damp atmosphere poor in air, the Miners dug several mine galleries and prepared the tools to load and clog the burners, dug ventilation pits and fixed trap doors and fasteners.
When the French-Spanish army showed up in front of Turin in May 1706 to start the siege with a numerous force and a large artillery park, the works carried out within those few months had been so many that they could not recognize Turin any more. The underground system had reached outstanding results: 155 mine burners were ready (but not loaded) and several wooden branches had been opened to multiply the possibilities to attack the invaders.
Unfortunately the Miner company had got weakened: captain Bazzolino, one lieutenant, two sergeants, three corporals, forty-six miners, fifty-three fighters in altogether. They had also 150 civil masons and as many workers at their own disposal for all eventualities.

On the French side a forty-eight military engineers corps was ready to lead the advance both underground and on the surface. To fight underground there were four Miner companies, each of which was made up of about 150 men: those units had to seize or neutralize the tunnels of the Citadels, and in certain cases to destroy them.


On 5 July general De Chamarande wrote to France.
"Our main target must be fighting their mines and advancing underground; these activities will require some time, as I can assume from our miners, who had started the excavations in the morning of 25 June and cannot still give us certainties about the time required for the explosion of the mines”. A deep sense of uncertainty and sometimes of panic spread over the enemy camp about the fortress’ countermines. The countermining network was actually less efficient and secret than the French expected.

The French, despite heavy losses, managed to reach the moat outside the Citadel along a 550 metres front.
It was the middle of August 1706, and thousands of soldiers were massed in the trenches and in the breaching batteries, on a rough soil hiding the mysterious underground network of the stronghold. From that underground mines began to explode swallowing up hundreds of men, every mean was used to slow the advance of the French, who launched the first attack at the Citadel on 26 August; the result was tragic and fruitless.

After a forty days bloody advance, the outer fortifications were in the enemy’s hands, and the fearful underground countermining net was controlled by captain Bozzolino’s squads. Since 18 August the stair connecting the two gallery floors in the branch of the “Mezzaluna del Soccorso” (Demi-Lune of Rescue) had been mined due to the fear of a break-in. That passage was very close to the exit of the higher tunnel leading to the moat and might have been occupied by the enemy, whose line was perpendicular to the line of that entrance. The risk was very high. A small group of defenders had been placed in front of the outer gate and a couple of miners were watching over the stair next to the ready charge.

In the night between 29 and 30 August 1706 a large French patrol let themselves down the moat from the forward trench. They headed for the entrance of the tunnel, overcame the guards’ resistance and chaotically entered the tunnel. Suddenly an iron door shut in front of them. It was Ducal Miner Pietro Micca, who was on guard duty that night and had orders to blow the entrance up if the enemy had broken in. The axe strokes at the wood were increasing, would the door have resisted till the end of the triggering operations?
Pietro Micca enjoined his fellow to save himself, knelt by the burner and then applied the fuse. He had to choose: a good length would have meant his safety, but there was not much time and the door was about to fall down. So he applied a very short fuse, the charge blew up with an enormous boom and destroyed the high part of the stair and the adjacent gallery, eliminating the invaders. "Passepertutt" was hurled into the low gallery, where his body was found forty steps further. The stair was full of ruins, so the tunnel networks had been saved by the sacrifice of a humble soldier. Eight days later, Turin was freed from the siege.


Pietro Micca Museum

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