This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 23 and 24: 19 – 31 December 1936

Heart of the heartless world,
Dear heart, the thought of you
Is the pain at my side,
The shadow that chills my view.

The wind rises in the evening,
Reminds that autumn is near.
I am afraid to lose you,
I am afraid of my fear.

On the last mile to Huesca,
The last fence for our pride,
Think so kindly, dear, that I
Sense you at my side.

And if bad luck should lay my strength
Into the shallow grave,
Remember all the good you can;
Don’t forget my love

John Cornford, English volunteer killed one day after his 21st birthday.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – a round-up to the end of the first deadly year. Week 23 and 24: 19 – 31 December 1936

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December 20

The Nationalist Aceituna Offensive through Andalusia in Spain’s south continues –

The Nationalist troops are controlling small towns throughout southern Spain. Around 4,000 men, all Moroccan soldiers and Spanish troops, take the town of Bujalance, right in the centre of southern Spain, near Córdoba.

The Nationalists are still trying to occupy the town of Boadilla del Monte, in constant battle with the XII and XIV International Brigades, just outside Madrid. General Orgaz Yoldi leading the Nationalist troops decides to end the stalemate and retreats, leaving the Corunna Road into Madrid again in Republican hands.

December 22

The same troops who occupied Bujalance move on to take control of the nearby towns of Pedro Abad and Villafranca de Córdoba. This leads the Republicans to set up the new Army of the South under General Fernando Martínez-Monje Restoy, with International Brigades dispatched to the Córdoba front.

Thousands of Italian volunteers arrive in Nationalist-held Cádiz, ready to help the Nationalists’ hold on the south of Spain.

International Brigades in December 1936

24 December

Some 600 men of the 9th company of the XIV International Brigade battle Nationalist troops at the town of Villa del Rio in Córdoba, and 400 volunteer men are killed. The remaining men move on to the nearby town of Montoro.

December 25

Thousands of Spanish fighters and international volunteers spend  Christmas  in trenches. The country is awash with refugees fleeing continuous violence all over the nation and hide through the Christmas period in refugee camps or in subway stations, many in bitter conditions.

Nationalist troops take the town of Montoro, after fighting off and killing many left from the 9th company of the XIV International Brigades.

Christmas being ‘celebrated’ on the Basque front

27 December

The two-day Battle of Lopera begins. The tiny town in the Jaén province sees the XIV International Brigades attack to take control of the area. The initial attack fails and 300 of the 3,000 initial force are quickly killed, another 600 seriously wounded. General Walter’s men have not had time to be trained in Albacete and have no communication and no air or ground support. Still, they battle the 4,000 Nationalists who have machine guns and other artillery.  Fighting continues for 36 hours before the International Brigades are forced to retreat, after gaining no ground, though 200 Nationalists are killed.

The English 10th battalion of the XIV International Brigades lose 78 of their 145 men, including Ralph Winston Fox, a British journalist, novelist and historian, famous for writing the biography of Genghis Khan. Also among the dead is poet John Cornford, great-grandson of Charles Darwin and well-known communist, just a day after he turns 21. The bodies of the volunteers still remain buried on the lonely hillside where they died.

John Cornford

The French Marseillaise 12th battalion of the Brigade have their commander, Major Gaston Delasalle, detained by André Marty, the Political Commissar of the International Brigades, and leading man in the French Communist Party. Marty accuses Delasalle of gross incompetence, resulting in the decimation of his men. Without evidence, Delasalle is also accused of being a fascist spy and of cowardice during battle. Marty arranges a quick court-martial and Delasalle is executed by firing squad. While no one speaks in Delasalle’s defence, Marty has many afraid of him and his ‘mentally sick’ behaviour, though he is regarded by most as a hero and revolutionary.

30 December

General Orgaz Yoldi receives reinforcements after the battle of Boadilla del Monte a week earlier, and readies another attack, which will become known as Battle of the Fog in early January. During this period, the Republican and the International Brigades are trying to regroup after heavy losses, and have little in the way of help.

Author George Orwell enlists himself in a Republican POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) militia to fight against fascism.

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POUM training in December

31 December

The town of Pocuna, of around 5,000 people, isolated 50km from Córdoba and 40km from Jaén, is taken by the Nationalists. Due to taking this prime location in the olive-growing region, they are able to slow their advance for a quick break as the Republicans are overwhelmingly losing the region.

Famous Spanish writer and professor Miguel de Unamuno dies at home in  Salamanca, where he has been under house arrest for speaking against Franco at Salamanca University months earlier. Both of his sons, Fernando and Ramón de Unamuno, instantly sign up to fight the fascists.

Miguel de Unamuno’s being taken from the university, where he was arrested. It was his final public outing

From January 1, posts will return to weekly.

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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 are linked to source for credit.

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This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 21 and 22: 5 – 19 December 1936

Week 21 and 22: 5 – 19 December 1936

December 11

Germany, Italy and Portugal are still helping the Nationalist rebel cause despite signing the Non-Intervention Agreement. Julio Alvarez del Vayo, Spain’s delegate to the League of Nations, gives a speech in Geneva, arguing they must pull out from supporting the rebel cause. He also blasts the democractic nations still holding to the Non-Intervention pact for isolating the elected Spanish government. The committee for non-intervention and its signees are either helping the invaders or sitting back for personal comfort, making the whole situation worse.

Julio Álvarez del Vayo

December 13

The Aceituna Campaign starts when the Nationalists try to take the town of Andújar, near Jaén in Spain’s south. They attack with 4,000 troops, occupying 2,600 square kilometres and quickly take the small town Lopera. It is the start of a three-week campaign, with the first week seeing little advance as the Nationalists occupy uninhabited country areas in preparation to take protected towns. Part of the campaign includes saving the 1,200 fascists trapped in the Siege of Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza, a hilltop monastery which has been a sanctuary since the outbreak of war. By now, troops are around 20 kilometres from the monastery but no help is provided to the civilians inside (though they have been getting air drops of supplies since August).

A great many number of people were displaced around the Andújar region in 1936

December 13

Hot on the heels of the first campaign, The Second Battle of Corunna Road starts north of Madrid. The Nationalists have already tried to cut the Corunna Road so nothing can get in or out of Madrid but failed, and launch another attack. The battle will last for over a month before the Nationalist control the road but still cannot cut Madrid off from the rest of Spain.

SPAIN. Madrid. November-December 1936. Republican soldiers.

Republicans take a break (morale and sanity were low by this time) – Robert Capa

December 14

Troops, tanks and machine guns are used by the Nationalists to take the town of Boadilla del Monte (now a suburb of Madrid), as part of the Battle for Corunna Road. Russian tanks and International Brigades on behalf of the Republicans fight back and take the town back, but are surrounded by the Nationalists. The fighting continues until December 19 when the Nationalists retreat to focus on other areas in the Corunna Road area.

Snipers (wo)manning the Aragon front

December 17

A new government, Consejo de Aragon, is established in the northeast anarchist stronghold of the Aragon region. The front line keeping Aragon safe is an anarchist and socialist coalition. Villages have already started their revolution, changing to live under anarchist ideals, with self-organization, collectives to run farms and factories, and public shared rule. Money is replaced with anarchist approved coupons in some areas, and land and wealth is distributed evenly between all. This area is the most radically changed by self-governing revolution.

Agarian collective workers in Aragon

 

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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 are linked to source for credit.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 19 and 20: 21 November – 5 December 1936

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Weeks 19 and 20: 21 November – 5 December 1936

“I will destroy Madrid rather than leave it to the Marxists” – Francisco Franco, November 1936

November 21

The Nationalists attack the Model prison and Don Juan barracks. Using bases by the Asilo Santa Cristina Hospital and Dr Rubio Research Institute, they manage to get as far as Parque del Oeste, but are bombed by their German counterparts.

The Commune de Paris column fighting for the Republicans recapture the Hall of Philosophy and Letters Building. Books are used to protect themselves inside. It takes around 350 pages to stop a bullet.

November 22

The ground assault in Madrid has failed and the Nationalists now only have their German pilots to bomb the city constantly, in an effort to weaken the Republican lines.

Carabanchel barricades after the fighting

November 23

Battle of Madrid ends with both sides decimated. Franco pulls back from the outskirts of the city with huge losses and no way into Madrid. The death toll on both sides is unknown after two weeks of killing, though around 2,000 civilians in the city have been killed, and some estimates say a total of 10,000 are dead on both sides. The aerial bombing has been a huge failure; while much of city has suffered serious damage, it hasn’t killed many people and the population are not afraid. The worst aerial bombing of Madrid is now over for the remainder of the war, as Republican supplies increase and pilots gain experience in fighting back. The Nationalists’ plans of storming their way into Madrid and taking the country is over, and now a war will have to rage for another 2.5 years. The Republicans hold the city with  the front line the Manazares River, around the Casa de Campo and Ciudad Universtaria in the north and the Carabanchel suburb in the south.

Madrid is left to clean up

November 27

Operation Ursula, a group a German submarines have been active in the Mediterranean. They had been out in the Atlantic for around a week, but enter the Med on around November 27 to take over patrols done by Italian submarines. They primarily survey Alicante and Cartagena, but have constant trouble identifying any targets coming and going from the ports and have constantly failing torpedos. The submarine operation is a total failure; only one Spanish submarine is sunk, and that was an internal error, though the Germans attempt to claim it as their success. They will sail out of the Mediterranean on December 3.

November 29

The First Battle of the Corunna Road starts, with the Nationalists retreating northwest from Madrid, so try to cut off the city by holding Corunna Road. The Republicans are ready and attack soldiers on the road, and keep the road open for Republican movements.  The fighting lasts for five days as Nationalists try to cut off water and electric supplies from the Sierra de Guadarrama to Madrid. Some 3,000 soldiers under Colonel Varela fight a single Republican brigade and lose, forcing a retreat. They take the small towns of Boadilla del Monte and Villanueva de la Cañada and wait to make another attack on the region.

November 30

The Villarreal Offensive starts, and fighting will last for a month. Basque soldiers, fighting on behalf of the Republicans want to launch an attack Vitoria, in order to pull Nationalist soldiers away from Madrid. The Basques have 4,300 men from the Basque Army and now want to take Villarreal.

The Basques are keen to fight but have little supplies and no aerial back-up. The Nationalists only have 600 men but they have machine guns, plenty of supplies, civilians on their side, and their planes from Burgos have already spotted incoming Basques.

The Basques move into the mountains around Vitoria and surround Villarreal, 3 kilometers from Vitoria. Heavy ground fighting sees 1,000 Basques killed and they do not take Villarreal. The first two weeks of battle sees constant fighting with no outcome, as back-up will not arrive until December 13.

Retreat is a common outcome for both sides at present

*Apologies for the delay, I have been in hospital. Posts will be two-weekly through December.

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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 are linked to source for credit.