This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 65/66/67: 10 – 31 October 1937

October 10 

Franco’s Navarrese Brigade are still heading west into Asturias, and reach the small town of Cangas de Onís. The town, deep in the Picos de Europa, is only 65kms from the city of Gijón, which is preparing for invasion.

A mixture of Republican fighters and International Brigades are still keen to take ground in Aragon, and after minimal gains for heavy losses in the battle of Sabiñánigo, they again plan to attack along the Ebro river in the Zaragoza area. Fighting in the rural areas is sparse and it gains little for either side scattered through the region.

October 13

The Madrid Council, representing socialist parties and workers’ unions, confronts the Spanish government (currently in Valencia) over the influence of the PCE (Partido Comunista de España, Communist party of Spain) in the Republican government. They also protest the recent expulsion of Caballeristas, socialist parliamentary supporters of former prime minister Francisco Largo Caballero.

Caballero in Madrid

October 17

Th Consejo Soberano, the Sovereign Council of Asturias and Leon, decide to evacuate, due to the large number of Nationalist soldiers entering the region from fallen Cantabria. The Consejo Soberano is based in Gijón and officials and their families are taken out of the city for their safety. Asturian villages to the west of Gijón are abandoned, as the 1934 miners revolt is still a fresh horror for those living in the mountain areas.  Guerilla style groups form, to help protect rural areas from incoming Nationalists, but none have the numbers or resources to save anyone. These men will fight to the death and light houses on fire with dynamite if they flee.

Socialist Francisco Largo Caballero is arrested in Madrid while giving an anti-PCE speech at Pardina cinema. He is placed under house arrest in Madrid and held responsible for the Madrid Council’s anger.

The Condor Legion march through Gijon

October 21

The Nationalist Army of the North finally reaches Gijón. The fall of the city is as bad as expected; rape and murder goes uncontrolled for days as those still in the city are subjected to the Nationalists’ cruelty. Countless thousands are raped and murdered in the first few days of the invasion, and no official count of those tortured and killed is ever recorded. The soldiers plundering the city are so busy with killing, their jurisdiction is called ‘the machine gun’. Unlike many other Republican-held cities, Gijón cannot put up a fight; many have fled, many are already refugees from other cities, they is no international back-up and the atrocities committed are not well-documented or photographed. Wholesale slaughter brings Asturias’ largest city under control within days.

I do not post photos of women raped to death, or mass bodies lined up before firing squads. While the majority of these types of widespread depravity happened earlier in the war, Gijon managed to hold out longer than most main centres. Regardless of when it happened, I do not post such photos. You can search for yourself if you are into such perverse behaviour.

October 30

The Republican government has been safe in Valencia for a year. Valencia is far from the front line and is a base for many Republicans and Spain’s elite who do not side with Franco. Valencia does still suffer many air raids, and the government decides to leave Valencia and move north to Barcelona, despite the Catalonia region not being stable like Valencia.

Need to catch up? – SCW history : October 1936

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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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This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 62/63/64: 17 September – 9 October 1937

September 18

The battle of El Mazuco continues along the summits of the Peña Blancas. The German Condor Legion planes are brought in now the heavy fog has cleared, to assault the Republican hold over the Bedón river, which runs from the village of Vibaño right of the sea, only 12 kilometres away from the front line now. The Condor Legion bombed the Bedón river region in three waves from midday with both Fiat fighters and German Junkers. Sixteen battalions of Nationalists also stormed the ground with machine guns and grenades to fight the Republicans back further. The continuous onslaught will continue for four days.

September 22

The constant aerial bombardment has finally taken its toll on the El Mazuco Republicans. The crucial El Mazuco pass area is finally captured by the Nationalists and all the summits of the Peñas Blanca are in Nationalist hands. The death toll on both sides is unknown out in the inhospitable landscape. The Nationalists have been vastly slowed by the assault on El Mazuco, and had expected to be in Asturias much sooner. The Republicans west in Asturias have had precious time to regroup and prepare for the Nationalist invasion.

Those who have attempted to defend the El Mazuco pass are considered heroes after losing their honour in Santander, even though they have ultimately lost. Gijón in Asturias is the last Republican stronghold in northern Spain, and the Nationalists can now move into the area, as well as extra Nationalists being brought in from León the south.

September 22

The Battle of Sabiñánigo begins in the Aragon region. The Republicans 27th and 43th divisions go north from the Huesca region to the town of Sabiñánigo. They have around 14,000 men and heavy artillery. The Nationalists have 10,000 men in the area, the 1st Brigade and the 50th National Division. They are spread out over the region, as far north as Biescas 14 kilometres from Sabiñánigo. The battle marks the start of a slow-moving ground battle which will last seven weeks, and cost 6,000 lives for little gain for either side.

David Seymour – Magnum Photos Photographer Portfolio SPAIN. Asturias region. Volunteers of the International Brigades

September 27

The Nationalist which claimed the Peñas Blancas and the El Mazuco pass are now making steady process east to take Gijón and Asturias. They take the town of coastal Ribadesella, some 30 kilometres west from the mountain battles. Combined with Nationalist forces marching both from León, the city of Gijón, 90 kilometres west of Ribadesella, is preparing for battle.

October 1

Nationalist northern troops capture the town of Covadonga, 27 kilometres inland from Ribadesella, and only 75 kilometres southeast from Gijon. No area in the Asturian region has the men to repel the invading Nationalists and there is no opposition to the men taking the area.

Rations Coupons Used During Spain Civil War Asturias 1937

The UGT Unión General de Trabajadores, worker’s trade union, expels Francisco Largo Caballero, one-time Prime Minister of Spain. Caballero has been travelling through Spain holding allies against Communists and Stalinism. Current Prime Minister Jose Negrín makes no attempted to save Caballero, and Spanish parliament fires all parliament members with close ties to Caballero. While the Communists are strong Spain, they are not well liked among the vast majority of people in Republican or Nationalist areas. But the strength of the Communists, especially in the Barcelona area, cannot be defied.

October 5

American president Roosevelt denounces fascist aggression in Spain, though he does not outright denounce Franco, or support the Republican cause and government in any way. While many nations accept that what is happening in Spain needs to end, no one is prepared to step in and help. The rise of fascism in Nationalist Spain is denounced, as the rise of the Communism for the Republicans cause, leading many nations to steer clear of the war entirely, which shall come back to do harm, as Hitler and Mussolini could have been crushed before the start of WWII.

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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.

 

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 61: 10 – 17 September 1937

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

September 11.The Nationalists are still stuck in the valley below the El Mazuco pass, and change their plans. They spend two days heading along the mountain range to hike up Pico Turbina,  height of 1315m, a rocky cliff face with 40° slopes.  No tracks have ever been made up Pico Turbina and no mules have ever made the trek. The Nationalist men are forced to carry everything as they scale the cliffs. They are hidden in thick fog and no aircraft can see them overhead.

September 13

Constant bombardment on the northwest edge of El Muzuco has weakened the Republicans at the top, and they have to surrender the Sierra Llabres to the Nationalists. At the top of the village of El Mazuco itself, which has no defenses.

El Mazuco village © José González Fernández.

September 14

Nationalists climbing the Pico Turbina have almost reached the top of the mountain but are attacked by Republicans with hand grenades, aided by the thick fog, which prevents the Nationalists from taking the peak.

Pico Turbina

September 15

El Mazuco village is surrounded by Nationalists so the Republicans retreat back to Meré, six kilometres west along the mountains pass. Pico Turbina is taken by the Nationalists at last and nearby Peñas Blancas peak is also taken, along with the villages of Arenas Arangas.

September 16

The three summits of the Peña Blancas (Peña Blanca, Pico Turbina and El Mazuco) are all now surrounded  by the Nationalists. There are still Republican men at Pico Turbina, not yet ready to surrender. If they can hold the Nationalists on the south side of the Peña Blancas and the El Mazuco pass until winter, then the remainder of the north will be safe from the Nationalists. Casualties are unknown at this point in the wild terrain, but with the Nationalists starting with 33,000 men and the Republicans with only 5,000, the Republican hopes of the Basque, Cantabrian and Asturian men are fading fast.

nearby Arangas

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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.

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

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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.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 58/59: 21 August – 3 September 1937

August 22

Nationalist forces take the areas of Selaya, Villacarriedo, Ontaneda and Las Fraguas in the Cantabrian region as they advance towards Santander.

August 23

Navarrese forces fighting for the Nationalists claim Mazcuerras Valley and take Mount Ibio, which all-but cuts off the main road and the rail line between Santander and Asturias. Italian forces take Puente Viesgo after facing little Republican resistance.

Fascist salutes for Nationalists in Cantabria

August 24

Republican General Gámir-Ulibarri orders the general evacuation towards Asturias. Basque fighters begin their withdrawal from the front as the Nationalists are overwhelming the Cantabrian region.

The Republicans begin a major ongoing campaign in Zaragoza, which is their main aim for recapture. Both Belchite and Quinto are heavily guarded town where fighting begins, though Belchite has around 7,000 Nationalists fortified in the the village.

Nationalists enter Santander

August 26

Santander falls to the Nationalists at last thanks to huge troops numbers and air strikes. Around 160,000 refugees are in the city, including Republican  soldiers. Many try to escape via boats, which are overcrowded and begin sinking in the Bay of Biscay. Republican General Gámir-Ulibarri flies out of the region to France, to re-enter and take up arms again. All major Republican leaders flee the area. Nationalist forces enter Santander at midday and take 17,000 prisoners, but many are executed right away.

Unknown to the Republicans, the Basque fighters have made a secret agreement with the Italian Nationalist soldiers two days earlier. They agree to surrender at Santoña near Santander (close to 30,000 troops and officials), give over their weapons and do no harm to Basque industry. The Basques head aboard two British ships waiting to take them to safety. This becomes known as the Treason of Santoña.

August 27

The Basque troops waiting to leave Santander are captured by Franco forces. They are given the choice of fighting for the Nationalists or being Italian prisoners in Santoña. 22,000 are imprisoned, with half released three months later as they start fighting for the Nationalists. Only 510 are executed. The final prisoner won’t be released until 1943.

Prisoners being held in the bull ring in Santander

August 29

The Republican Army of the East, along with the XI and XV International Brigades, a total of 80,000 men, 90 planes and 105 T26 tanks, have fighting for five days begin the offensive to capture Belchite. The centre and north units only take vacant land, though the southern units have more success and take Mediana, Quinto and Codo. The Republicans surround Belchite itself but the Nationalists are ready to hold out over the forces. The Republicans cut off the water supply to the Nationalists and the 3,800 people in Belchite. September 1

The Nationalists take Unquera in Cantabria, which borders Asturias, as the Nationalists fighting in the north begin the offensive of Asturias. They begin a slow offensive, which will see troops moving less than one kilometre per day in mountainous areas.

The Republican offensive to take the town of Belchite begins, with aerial bombing, artillery bombing and fighting on the ground. The town is surrounded but the Nationalist are desperate to keep their post.

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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.