This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 34: 5 – 12 March 1937

March 5

014guadalajara

The Nationalists, fuelled with Spanish, Moorish and Italian soldiers, are preparing to attack Guadalajara, 60 kilometres north-east of Madrid. After all the failed attempts to take Madrid, and the collapse of battle at nearby Jarama, the Nationalists are keen to engage again. The Italians, fresh from taking Málaga, are ready to fight. The Nationalists have gathered 35,000 men, hundreds of artillery supplies over 100 tankettes, 32 armoured cars, 3,600 vehicles and 60 planes. Much of the tank, car and plane equipment comes from the Italians, as Mussolini strongly supports the offensive.

The Republicans are the 12th division of the Republican army with only 10,000 men, but only 5,900 rifles, 85 machine guns and 15 artillery pieces. They do have a few light tanks on their side. Guadalajara, until now has been peaceful, so no trenches, road blocks or defensive have been set up, but the Republicans know (assume), a Nationalist attack from the south is imminent. Meanwhile, the Nationalists are preparing to attack the 25 kilometre stretch of the Guadalajara-Alcalá de Henares road, south of Guadalajara, which will cut off the main road, and five other roads which stem from the area.

March 8

The Nationalists attack the front lines at Guadalajara at 7am with both air raids from 70 planes and artillery fire. They break the front lines within half an hour. The 50th Republican Brigade are broken by a barrage of 250 tankettes, extensive artillery, machine guns and trucks and heavy fire. The Italians take the towns of Alaminos, Catejon and Mirabueno on the first day. They capture 12 kilometres of ground, only slowed by heavy late winter fog, not yet at their planned locations of Brihuega and Guadalajara. They have taken the hills, and have a straight downhill roll towards Madrid, and the Republicans are overwhelmed and call for extra men and tanks.

Nationalist machine-gunners in Guadalajara

March 9

Italian tankettes with flame throwers continue the advance to Guadalajara, but the fog has not lifted, making visibility almost zero. The weather allows the surviving 5oth Republican Brigade members to escape the advancing Italians. By midday, the XI International Brigades arrives at the front – the Thaelamnn, André and Commune de Paris Brigades, all German, French and Balkans volunteers. But the Nationalists are using the Blitzkrieg technique of bombarding the enemy with short, sharp attacks on multiple fronts, which means the enemy slowly becomes surrounded. The Republicans have neither the manpower or firepower to fight this technique. By nightfall, the Nationalists have captured another 18 kilometres and the towns of Almadrones, Masegoso and Cogollor. The Nationalists are now outside the town of strategic Brihuega.
More Republican reinforcements start to arrive, with the arrivals of the Republican 49th and 12th Divisions. Between them and the XI International Brigades, they have 1850 men, 1600 rifles, five tanks and 34 machine guns. War hero General Lister arrives with the Republican 11th division at Torija, on the Madrid-Zaragoza road between the front and Guadalajara. He also places the 12th division to the west and 14th to the east of this main road to take on the Nationalists the next day.
 

March 10

The Republican forces have grown – 4350 men and 26 tanks when the XII International Brigades arrive – the Italian Garibaldi and the Polish Dabrowski battalions. The Nationalists start the day by bombarding the XI International Brigades on the ground and by air. They have no luck breaking the IB’s, despite having 26,000 men on the ground, 900 machine guns and 130 tankettes. They do capture the towns of Brihuega and Miralrio without any trouble.

Both the XI and XII International Brigades are bombarded by the Nationalists all day. The Italian Garibaldi battalion come up against Italian Nationalists at Torija, and the IB’s try to get their countrymen to defect away from the fascists. The fight stops for the day as both sides dig in, three kilometres north of  Torija, and defend themselves as leaflet drops and loudspeakers try to convince Italians not to kill one another.

Republican General Lacalle of the 12th division is forced to resign and Nino Nanetti of the Italian Communists takes over. He cites health (possibly injury) reasons, but he has been clashing with General Jurado, which has been weakening the already overwhelmed Republican strength.

March 11

The Italian Nationalists attack the XI and XII International Brigades again outside Torija and break through, taking the town and main road as the IB’s have to retreat to survive. The Spanish Soria division break through and take both the towns of Hita and Torre del Burgo to the west. Italian planes are halted due to the bad weather, the sleet and fog jamming their planes in soaking airports.

Republican T26 tank

March 12

The Republicans are finally in a position to launch an offensive. A midday offensive sees 100 Soviet Rata and Chato fighter planes launched along with two squadrons of larger Katiuska bombers, which have arrived from Albacete. The Italian Nationalists have had their planes grounded due to the fog and sleet water-logging their aircraft. Albacete is 260 kilometres south and has not suffered weather troubles.

As the planes bomb the Nationalists, the Republican divisions are able to attack on the ground with light tanks. Nationalist tankettes get jammed in the mud and are destroyed, easy targets. The Republicans fight back all through the day and forced the Nationalists back to Trijueque, seven kilometres north of Torija. The Nationalists will never regain this ground, and most of the Nationalist XI Gruppo de Banderas are killed, including their commander.

Franco had promised to start a western offensive from Jarama, launching Spanish Nationalists to support the Italians, but this offensive has not appeared. This is allowing the Republicans to have a little breathing space as they fight. The stalemate and killing at Jarama is one possible reason for the lack of support, but another is Franco’s lack of enthusiasm. It is critical in how to battle will play out. Propaganda is also beginning, with the Spanish not pleased that the Italians are launching attacks in Spain, and the Republicans, calling the International Brigades all Jews and Communists (that’s a quote from Germans in Spain, not my opinion), could beat Italians. There is still another 11 days of this battle to play out, but both military and propaganda moves are being created and setting precedents, and numbers are swelling, with the Nationalists about to peak at 50,000 men and the Republicans at 20,000.

Republicans with a captured tankette

~~

This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the week’s events. Things get lost in translation – Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. The more the world remembers, the better. All photos and captions are auto-linked to source for credit, and to provide further information.

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