This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 60: 3 – 10 September 1937: 80 years since the Battle of Belchite

The ailing Republican battle of Zaragoza is now centred on the bombing of the village of Belchite, which has been surrounded for two days. Around 3800 civilians are trapped in the town along with 7000 Nationalists fighting, determined not to lose the area. All are suffering with the heat of summer and water in the area has been cut off by the Republicans. With troops so spread out over the Zaragoza battle area of 100 kilometres between Belchite and Zuera, exact numbers are not known, but bloody combat continues right around the small town. Much of the Republican artillery for the battle, with T-26 tanks and aircraft support, moves in to cut off the southern end of the Nationalist troops from the northern reinforcements.

September 4

While the bombardment of tiny Belchite continues, Nationalists with the Army of the North continue their trek through the mountains from the Cantabria region into Asturias, and cross the strategic point of the Deva river, with Republicans holding the area quickly having to retreat.

September 5

The advancing Nationalists capture the tiny town of Llanes, but the 33,000 troops now have to trek through the limestone cliffs of the Sierra de Cuera. These difficult regions are Asturias’ protection and the Nationalists will have to take the El Mazuco pass in order to advance any further.

El Mazuco mountains

September 6

While the bombardment of Belchite is still ongoing, the 33,000 Nationalists in the north begin the battle of El Mazuco. The Republicans, groups of Basque, Cantabrian and Asturian fighters, have only 5,000 men in the Sierra de Cuera region. El Mazuco is just five kilometres from the ocean, meaning destroyers can also be deployed to help the Nationalists, along with German Condor Legion aircraft. The Republicans, all men weakened from the lost battles of Bilbao and Santander, have no support and no way of gaining reinforcements. Only the steep cliffs will keep the Nationalists at bay.

Republican Libertad

September 7

The Nationalist cruiser Baleares battles the Republican light cruisers Méndez Núñez and Libertad off the coast of Cherchell on the Algerian coast. The Baleares comes across the Republican convoy in the dark, becoming the battle of Cherchell. Republican ships are escorting merchant ships through the dangerous area. The entire convoy flees the area while Libertad and Méndez Núñez try to hold off the larger Baleares. The two Republican ships are separated  during the day while Baleares tries to repair initial damage, but by afternoon, Baleares is hit twice by Libertad. Baleares backs away to be recused by a sister-ship in the sea, while both Nationalist and Italian planes attack the two Republican ships from the air. All ships involved are damaged and the leave the area, with only the Nationalist Baleares suffering serious damage. However, two of the cargo ships which had been travelling with the Republican convoy panicked during the nearby battle and changed course to get to Algeria. One ship runs aground, and one is captured the French and taken into the Cherchell port.

Carpet-bombing is used in the battle of El Mazuco, using both explosive and incendiary bombs throughout the day. The Republicans are trying to hold their post under Commander Higinio Carrocera, just three battalions and 24 machine-guns, and only the terrain holds back the strong Nationalist troops.

Still on September 7

The huge battle of Zaragoza is over. Republicans managed to eat 10 kilometres into the Nationalist areas, but only captured unpatrolled areas and win a few tiny villages. Exact losses on both sides are unknown (running into the thousands) but are worse for the Republicans who have also lost much of their artillery in the process. The battle of Belchite has also now come to an end, with the village completely destroyed. The Republicans and International Brigades take 2,411 prisoners and another 600 Nationalists have been wounded in the fight. After both bombing and hand-to-hand fighting, 3,000 people are dead. Those left behind manage to live in the rubble until a new town is built nearby in 1939, however the ruins will never be touched.

source

September 8

The battle through the El Mazuco mountains continues as thick fog fills in the whole area. The only fighting that can be done is hand-to-hand combat, causes massive casualties and wounds on both sides, and the Nationalists manage to capture a full two kilometres of ground.

September 9

The Republicans battalions defending El Mazuco have to retreat as the Nationalists shell their positions, but the Nationalists cannot take new ground as the men are cut down by machine gun fire from the Republicans in reply, meaning no one makes up any ground.

Area of Cabrales in the El Mazuco pass area

September 10

Still under the thick fog, the Nationalists take the hill at Biforco, below the El Mazuco Pass, but the mountain of Llabres is still in Republican hands, where they machine gun Nationalist troops and roll down barrels of explosives. The day is marked with the first delivery of hot food for the Republican men. If the Nationalists cannot take this pass, they will be forced to climb much steeper mountains to claim El Mazuco.

on the hills at El Mazuco

~~

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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