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.

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This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 7: 29 August – 4 September 1936

Week 7: 29 August – 4 September 1936

Bonus: 28 August

The battle of Monte Pelado, a mountainous area between Almudécar and Huescar, 300 kilometres west of Barcelona, is fought between the Nationalists and Republicans. The battle was significant because the Republicans, the Francisco Ascaso column, are Catalonian anarchists flanked by the Matteotti battalion, a group of Italian fighters who have freshly arrived in Spain to help. The Nationalists have around 500 soldiers on the mountain, a major gun emplacement. A four-hour dawn battle sees the Republicans win, though they suffer huge losses including prominent Italian anarchist Mario Angeloni. Many columns have been marching out of Barcelona since 17 August, now all placed west or southwest of the city, attempting to take control of major locations.

Anarchists and Italian volunteers in Monte Pelado

31 August

Just 30 kilometres north of of the town of Andújar (near Jaén), in the mountains of the national park, 1,200 right-wing supporters, including Guardia Civil members and women and children, are hiding in the Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza church sanctuary. The town was not initially taken by the Nationalists, and the Falange supporters fled into the hills to hide. They have now been hiding for over a month, surviving on stolen items in the mountains, and are ready to defend themselves in a major siege against the Republicans, which is only days from starting.

Santuario de la Virgen de la Cabeza before the battle begins

3 September

A battle begins in Talavera de la Reina, 140 kilometres west of Madrid. The Republicans have been unable to hold back Nationalist troops marching from Seville, and are constantly losing ground. The Nationalists have won hundreds of miles without any fighting, but the Republicans have 10,000 men in Talavera ready to block the troops’ way to Madrid.  The battle begins at dawn, with the Nationalists taking the train station and aerodome immediately. Many Republicans panic and flee the town, deserting their fellow fighters and the public. A full attack takes place throughout the day, and while the Nationalists lose 1,000 of their trained soldiers, they win the town, and killed 500 Republicans, and capture another 1,000 to execute or imprison. Now, the capital city of Madrid has nothing to protect it from vicious Colonel Yague and his soldiers.

Massacre at Talavera de la Reina

Two weeks after the Republicans surrounded the island of Mallorca, they have not made much progress in getting to the prime inland heart of the island. The Nationalists have soldiers and equipment, and planes to bomb the Republicans on the coastline. The Republicans retreat in a hurry, leaving behind weapons and equipment and even some of their men.

September 4

Already the Republican government is undergoing changes, and Francisco Largo Caballero replaces José Giral. The new government is made up of six Socialists, four Republicans, two Communists, plus a Republican representative of Catalonia and a Basque nationalist, bringing the two areas into the fold. The anarchists still refuse to join the government, despite fighting alongside them in battle. The CNT now have a solid voice in the government.

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the week’s events. Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. All photos are linked to source for credit

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 6: 22 – 28 August 1936

Week 6: 22 – 28 August 1936

August 22

With Republicans constantly attacking with multiple militias in different areas with different affiliations, the number fighting on their side is still unconfirmed. They have around 90,000 in total, with 33,000 paramilitary, and 7,000 officers, 22 generals and their 50,000 soldiers. Meanwhile, the Nationalists have around 130,000 men – 40,000 soldiers including the Moors from Morocco accompanying 50,000 metro army and Guardia Civil. They are commanded with 17 generals and 10,000 officers. They have 60% of all Guardia Civil guards and only 40% of the assault guards, meaning the Nationalists have far superior trained men, a situation making itself clear in fighting all over the country.

August 24

Italy and Germany join the Non-Intervention agreement officially, which means they can be part of the official blockade of arms and equipment into Spain, and to the Republicans. But because both the Germans an Italians have warships in Spanish waters, they can prevent anyone else from entering Spain and helping the Republicans, while the Nationalist still have them as allies.

August 26

The Catholic Church and the Pope are behind the Nationalist cause, despite their brutal killing. With the Republicans burning churches and killing priests (many priests are ‘second sons’ of wealthy families in their area, making them even more of a target), they are being cited by international media as barbarians. The unsubstantiated claims of nuns being raped has circulated to vilify the Republicans cause, though nothing was ever proven. Meanwhile, Nationalist troops are told via radio announcements that raping women is a perk or bonus and it should be done as often as the chance arises. The soldiers have not needed any encouragement.

SpanishLeftistsShootStatueOfChrist

August 28

The fifth regiment, based out of Madrid, is now at about 6,000 men. Set up by the Antifascist Worker and Peasant Militias (MAOC), the regiment is the only one that is well organised and running efficiently, with the Communist leaders well trained. The fifth regiment is open to people other than Communists and is gaining popularity in Madrid fast, after beating back the Nationalist north of Madrid city earlier in the month.

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the week’s events. Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. All photos are linked to source for credit

This Week In Spanish Civil War History Extra: Federico García Lorca – 19 August 1936

Federico del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús García Lorca 05/06/1898 – 19/08/1936

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Federico García Lorca, born in June 1898 in the small town of Fuente Vaqueros (near Granada) is a universally known poet and writer. But just as he is recognised for his literary achievements, his name is also well known for what happened on 19 August 1936.

García Lorca grew up with his father, Federico García Rodríguez, a successful farmer, and his mother, teacher Vicenta Lorca Romero, on their farm until moving to Granada in 1909. Six years later he started at the University of Granada, and despite being a gifted musician, he started writing. Just one year later, García Lorca travelled through Spain, and self-published his first book, Impresiones y Paisajes (read my review here) based on the trip in 1918. Through his success, he moved to Madrid a year later to the Residencia de Estudiantes to study at the University of Madrid.

García Lorca studied philosophy and law, but his heart lay in writing. He struck up friendships with Salvador Dalí, Luis Buñuel, Gregorio Martina Sierra and Juan Ramón Jiménez, and published his first work of poetry two years into his studies. More poetry, essays and plays followed, with his most popular poetry Romancero Gitano published in 1928. García Lorca found inspiration in the land and the people of Spain, seeing it through less-than traditional eyes, instead finding beauty in new lights. In 1927 a play opened by Salvador Dalí had García Lorca at his side, to great acclaim, after play failures five years earlier.

Lorca (1914)
Lorca (1914)

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The mid-twenties were filled with strong collaboration between García Lorca and Dalí, though Dalí rejected García Lorca’s romantic advances. By 1928, the friendship became strained, and García’s Lorca also broke off his affair with sculpter Emilio Soriano Alarén, which enhanced García Lorca’s depression. The constant stress of being a public figure, and having to hide his true self weighed on him (same-sex relationships were technically legal between 1881- 1928, and then 1932 -1936, but in a deeply Catholic nation it wasn’t considered acceptable). He was being typecast as a gypsy poet, as gypsies were one of his predominant themes in his work. García Lorca wanted to adapt and live his art. Dalí and Luis Buñuel released a film in 1929, without García Lorca’s help, and Dalí married, leaving García Lorca feeling he was being edged out of the group and the depression only grew worse. His family shipped him to the US in 1929 to recuperate from his worries. García Lorca flirted with new styles, though his work would not be published until after his death.

García Lorca returned to Spain after a year and then in 1931 the Second Spanish Republic was born. The young writer was in charge of the Teatro Universitario La Barraca. Thanks to the new government education programme, García Lorca toured rural Spain to bring free art to the public. With little equipment and a tiny stage, the masses got to see García Lorca acting and hear his work performed. Seeing the poor populations of Spain and their reaction to their first (sometimes only ever) art performances drove García Lorca to believe art could change lives with plays about social action. The La Barraca tour created three of Garcia Lorca’s best plays – Blood Wedding, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba, all about standing up to the bourgeois.

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After taking Blood Wedding to Argentina in 1933, García Lorca was on a roll. He returned home and created Play and Theory of the Duende, and wrote about how art needed to understand death, and reasoning limitations, and then returned to his roots of romance in his poetry (after a love affair with Juan Ramírez de Lucas) with the amazing Sonnets of Dark Love. But La Barraca had their funding cut in 1934 and closed in April 1936. García Lorca kept writing over summers at home in Huerta de San Vicente outside Granada, adding to his works with When Five Years Pass and Diván del Tamarit.

But as everyone knows, García Lorca was living in a deeply troubled world. The Spanish Civil War broke out in July 1936, and García Lorca knew his work on rebelling against the wealthy and his outspoken views on right-wing politics could see him as a target. A spokesman for the people was not going to be welcome anymore. Granada was in turmoil; not one of the cities to be initially overthrown by the rebel Nationalists, but it had martial law imposed. Bombings became frequent and the huge divide between left or right (poor or rich) was so stark that fighting emerged everywhere. García Lorca was not political, but when push came to shove, he supported those with nothing, after years of seeing deprivation in his country and abroad.

García Lorca left his home and stayed with his friend Luis Rosales in central Granada, but nowhere was safe. Lorca’s brother-in-law, Granada Mayor Manuel Fernández-Montesinos was assassinated during fighting on August 18. Hours later, fascist militia turned up at the Rosales’ residence and García Lorca was arrested, no reason given. He had been visited and interrogated weeks earlier, but when a right-wing politician came and got García Lorca alongside armed men, all of García Lorca’s fears came true.

García Lorca was held overnight by armed gunmen, their whereabouts or activities murky. The following morning, García Lorca and three others – Joaquín Arcollas Cabezas, Francisco Galadí Melgar and Dióscoro Galindo González – were driven out to Fuente Grande, the middle of nowhere between the towns of Víznar and Alfacar. After digging their own  graves, García Lorca and the others were executed.

While the world was deprived of García Lorca from then on, the why’s and how’s have been debated ever since. He was shot by fascist forces, though his arrest came from CEDA, a conservative Catholic political group. Some think it was part of an elimination process of all who supported Marxism. His murderers spoke of his sexual orientation, leading that to be a theory on his killing, along with some kind of same-sex love and jealousy theory. García Lorca had friends in right and left-wing groups. He supported the left-wing government and had spoken at gatherings supporting the left. He also had communist supporters, yet was arrested in the home of a leading Falange fascist, and regularly met with Falange leader José Antonio Primo de Rivera. Francisco Franco himself ordered an investigation on the execution, but the paperwork has never been found.

Since the undignified death, countless have sought to find García Lorca’s burial place. One early search was by author Gerald Brennan himself, as documented in the wonderful The Face of Spain in 1949. Despite many attempts, García Lorca was never found in the Franco era (1939-1975).  The site of the executions was identified in 1969 by a man who said he helped García Lorca dig his grave, but it wasn’t until 1999 that digging by the University of Granada could begin. Nothing was found. García Lorca’s family long denied permission for people to dig up their relative, but relatives of another man also executed continued to push for answers, which the García Lorca family agreed to. DNA samples were taken from all families and in 2009, it was time again to find García Lorca.

 

site of 1999 excavation

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After two weeks’ work, samples were taken from a site for testing. No bones were found, and no bullets were uncovered. The grave was very shallow, about 40 cm deep, and could not have been a 70+ year-old grave-site. Three years later, another dig was launched, 500 metres from a first site, which also uncovered nothing. People who claimed to be part of the killings, hired men out killing for the Falange, claimed that García Lorca was a target after writing The House of Bernarda Alba, and the people portrayed in the story wanted him gone.

The Barranco de Viznar, a nearby spot of mass civil war graves in the wilderness, has been suggested as a site where García Lorca may lie, killed or moved there during the war. A memorial headstone lies there for García Lorca stating ‘We are all Lorca’. An olive tree at Fuente Grande has a memorial for García Lorca, where flowers are laid every year. All his family homes are now museums in Granada, along with a park named Parque Federico García Lorca. A famous statue of García Lorca stands in Plaza Santa Ana in Madrid, and his niece runs The Lorca Foundation in his honour.

me paying homage to García Lorca's life in Madrid
me paying homage to García Lorca’s life in Madrid

García Lorca’s work was banned by Franco until 1953, and then censored for the rest of the Franco era. Since then more work has been published and celebrated, along with new publications from unpublished manuscripts held dear by his family. Searches and theories on his death remain ongoing 80 years later. This month, Argentinian federal judge Maria Servini has agreed to take on the García Lorca case, sequestering paperwork on the killing of the poet, while she is also prosecuting over other civil war deaths. Perhaps one day, Federico García Lorca will be found.

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This is not a detailed analysis, instead a simplified report of Lorca’s life and death. Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. All photos are linked to source for credit.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 5: 15 – 21 August 1936

Week 5: 15 – 21 August 1936

August 15 

The Battle of Badajoz continues, a day after being taken by the Nationalists. The dawn of the day sees thousands murdered in mass executions all over the town.

See The Battle of Badajoz.

August 16

The battle of Mallorca starts. The island is under the control of the Nationalists but Republican forces storm the island from the sea and manage to get 12 kms inland with 8000 militia men. The battle will rage for another month as the Nationalists gain Italian back-up.

Troops on the shore after beginning the battle

August 18

The mayor of Granada, Manuel Fernández Montesinos, is assassinated, a week after taking office. The major city has been without a mayor for months, as the post of considered a death sentence. On the day of his assassinated, his brother-in-law, the famous writer Federico García Lorca, is arrested by Nationalist forces.

 August 19
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The legendary Federico García Lorca, along with three others, Joaquín Arcollas Cabezas, Francisco Galadí Melgar and Dióscoro Galindo González, are taken out of Granada, to Fuente Grande, between the nearby towns nearby Víznar and Alfacar, and executed.   The men were forced to dig their own graves before being shot. Lorca, a man who had friends on both sides of the battle, was reportedly killed for being gay, though all the details have never been fully explained. The bodies have never been found.

NB – there will be a ‘This Week in Spanish Civil War History Extra’ on Lorca on August 19.

Federico García Lorca

August 19

In line with the Non-Intervention Agreement, (which is being ignored by most countries who have signed) Great Britain bans all arms and aircraft sales to Spain. As the Nationalists are being armed by Germany and Italy, this harms only the Republicans, who have to go to Russia for help.

August 20

For several weeks, Republican miltia have been attempting to take back the strategic southern city of Cordoba. On August 20, 3000 troops attack the Cordoba gate 5 kms from central Cordoba, but are beaten in a three-day offensive. This sets off another month of reprisal killings in the area which stabilises the region (as most non-Nationalists are now dead).
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Gerda Taro with a Republican soldier outside Cordoba

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the week’s events. Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. All photos are linked to source for credit.