This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Weeks 108 – 112: 1 – 31 August 1938

Sorry for the massive delay in posts as I published my latest book. All will be caught up in the next few days. HERE is July if you have forgotten the timeline.

August 1

The XV International Brigade and the Republican mixed 15th Army Corps launch their attack of Hill 481 outside Gandesa. The Republicans have large numbers but suffer massive casualties as the Nationalists have air support over the hillside into Gandesa. The Nationalists are prepared to defend Hill 481 at the expense of making any gains.

The battle lasts for several days, resulting in the Republican troops trapped along the edge of the Segre river. While crossing the river would give the Nationalists a free advance towards Barcelona, Franco orders the men to stay and ensure the slaughter of the Republican army.  The Republicans order their men to stand their ground, and are executed if they try to retreat. The Nationalists kill their way through the Republicans with solid artillery and air cover.

The early August battle is fought WWI western front style, with both sides battling in long trenches, neither gaining or losing significant ground while the casualty numbers pile up. In the first few days of the month, the Nationalists’ 500 cannons pound the Republicans with 13,000 rounds while their 200 aircraft dropped another 10,000 bombs. The Republicans had only machine guns and mortar fire, but refused to give up their access across the river.

Nationalist men heading towards the Segre

August 5

With the land rock-hard in the height of summer, and the temperatures hovering about 40C, water and food shortages begin to become another battle for Republican men. Bodies are piling up, and cannot be buried, while the wounded can only be sent over the river at night, causing the death count to rise further. The German and Italian air cover continue to fly dawn to dusk, only hindered by the Republicans’ 75 planes, half of which are poor quality aircraft. Over the past six weeks, the Republicans have lost half of their planes in battle and most of their Soviet pilots, the only ones trained in flying and fighting, had either died or retreated from battle. By August 5, the Republican crossings over the Ebro have been bombed, and supply lines all over the battle are destroyed, leaving men on barren hillsides to be bombed from the air, or shot from high points around the Sierra Cavalls.

A Republican cave hospital

August 6

After almost a week of defence and systemic bombing, the Nationalists launch their own counter-offensive, this time to retake Republican areas. The northern area of the Ebro battle, a 20-kilometre line between Mequinenza and  Fayón, is bombed by the German Condor Legion carrying 50 tonnes of bombs, over four days, to break their supply line and Republican defence. The Republicans have no way of defending themselves, with their airforce tied up at Gandesa.

The Nationalists outside Gandesa

August 11

The Republicans camped by the river outside Mequinenza are unable to cross back over the river, which marks the border between Aragon and Catalonia. Some 900 men are killed in the bombing and over 200 machine guns have been destroyed, leaving the stretch of river exceptionally vulnerable.  The attack then changes to attack the 11th division, lead by the Republican General Lister, who has no reinforcements or artillery to defend them, leaving the river further unprotected.

August 14

The Nationalists have the Ebro Army still battling to cross, while the Eastern front is ready to cross the Segre river into Catalonia. Yet Republicans still hold the Sierra Cavalls beside the river, though the Nationalists take the hilltop of the Santa Magdalena near the town of Vilalba dels Arcs, 40 kilometres south of Mequinenza, getting closer to the Ebro on foot.

August 18

The Nationalists, who have captured the northern dams, open the dams and flood the Ebro, which again washes away the Republican pontoons, leaving troops stranded and the supply line cut as they struggle to hold their ground in the mountains.

Franco in the Sierra Cavalls

August 19

The last five days of fighting has allowed the Nationalist General Yague to move his six divisions and the Condor Legion to the area of Gaeta, 10 kilometres north of Gandesa. The new Republican counter-offensive has now completely stalled, and yet the Nationalists are only making very slow progress. The weather conditions are making war near impossible on the rocky plains as the temperatures remains at 40C on a regular basis. The Republicans have had their crossings of the Ebro lost and yet the Nationalists are also not advancing into Catalonia.

August 29

In a fit of anger and frustration, Mussolini, who had been aided the Nationalists with men, planes, points, artillery and cash, is angry that the Nationalists have still not gained into Catalonia, and announces “today, 29 August, I predict the defeat of Franco. That man does not know to make war or doesn’t want to.” (if only!)

August 31

Nationalist General Valiño and his Maestrazgo Corps are ordered by Franco to head north to battle for the Sierra Cavalls. The highest point, Punta Redona, is held by the Republicans and only 12 kilometres from the Ebro. The whole mountain range is held by the 35th, 43rd and 11th Republican divisions, and the Nationalist Maestrazgo Corps bring in eight division with 100 tanks and 500 aircraft, ready to destroy the Republican area.

The Sierra Cavalls outside Gandesa

September and October 1938 will be done tomorrow.

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the month’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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