This Week in Spanish Civil War History – November 1937: The Halfway Point

In a war which lasted almost three full years, November 1937 is the approximate halfway point in the destruction of Spain. Spain was already a deeply divided nation, struggling with multiple inside forces and serious social and economic issues, and while civil war is tragic, Spain had come to a point where it was inevitable. The working class was deeply oppressed and dire need for salvation, which could come from nowhere but within. Franco’s initial coup in July 1936 was thwarted only by the men and women who rose up in haste, without training or preparation, in a  desperate attempt to free themselves and save their country from fascism.

(Before we continue, this is a quick round-up of posts I have done throughout the war, not a detailed breakdown. Ease up on the posts saying I wasn’t specific enough. You have been warned. All links open a new tab so you don’t lose the timeline of the events).

The opening weeks of the war saw Spaniards forced to take sides, to align themselves with the military taking control of their cities and towns, often with the Guardia Civil on their side, or instead arm themselves as best they could and align themselves with the Spanish government, the Republican side, to try to hold off the rebels. Within weeks the battle lines were strong; much of southern Spain was conquered by a marching army of rebels, with massive bloodshed in cities and countryside alike. Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona were firmly Republican and fighting within themselves, while in the north, the Basques, Cantabrians, Asturians and Galicians fought to maintain their autonomy over the rebels. Slaughter occurred in Santander and Asturias as rebels initially overpowered these centres, only to be beaten back again. Much north of Madrid beneath these independent areas backed Franco and the killing continued. Click here to read Weeks 1 and 2:  July 1936

August saw thousands slaughtered in the summer heat. The battle of Badajoz saw up to 4000 killed in days. Cordoba suffered massive fighting and killing as troops stormed the southern city. The famous poet Federico García Lorca was taken and murdered outside Granada. While Madrid continued to defend itself, the nearby town of Talavera de la Reina suffered mass slaughter. Click here to read all of August 1936

September saw the huge attack on the Alcazar of Toledo, as well as the formation of the International Brigades, all foreign volunteers who decided to flood into Spain in an effort to stop fascism taking hold. Major nations such as England, France and the US decided to say out while Hitler and Mussolini decided to back their fascist mate Franco.

Through October and November the killings continued, the Spanish government collapsed, and the Catalonia and Aragon regions in the northeast began life as anarchist regions, creating their social revolution where control was handed back to the people. The siege of Madrid began as Franco fought to take the capital and end the war, and the Russians provided tanks and equipment to aid the socialist/anarchist/worker unions/communist Republicans. In the north, and Asturias took heavy losses as they were bombed from the air by German planes. After leaving Barcelona, Buenaventura Durruti was killed in Madrid, a huge set-back for the social revolution in the northwest. Also in Madrid,  Falange leader José Antonio Primo de Rivera is executed.

By the time the year ended, Madrid had been heavily bombed but not taken by the rebels, and the International Brigades had set up and integrated (as well as they could) into the Republican troops. The Republicans were not taking much ground but continuing to hold main centres in the east, along with Madrid. Click here to read all about December 1936

January and February held battles fought in heavy fog and rain, including much fighting outside Madrid, and Jarama, just northwest of the capital. Militias in Catalonia and Aragon held fast to their social revolution, while the Basques suffered heavy losses again as they held off the rebels. In Málaga in the south, the city was invaded when they could not defend themselves, sending thousands to flee along to the coast to relatively safe Almeria. Thousands were slaughtered as they walked the perilous road, where refugees were exposed, then bombed and shot as they fled. Click here to read about the Málaga/Almería massacre.

The bloody battles of Jarama and Guadalajara continued through March, and in April, 32,000 children started being shipped from the Basque country overseas in order to save their lives. The rebel army of the north is intensifying its efforts, with the now-infamous bombing of Durango and Guernica.

May saw the intense bombing of the new Republican capital city of Valencia, along with the fighting in the May Day fighting in Barcelona. June was an especially brutal month, with huge frontlines drawn up along the region of Aragon, battles in the Sierra de Guadarrama outside Madrid, Bilbao in the Basque Country was bombed and invaded, and in Barcelona, leader Andreu Nín was kidnapped and murdered in a Madrid prison.

Battles around Madrid, in Boadilla, Sierra de Guadarrama and Brunete saw huge fighting and casualties for both sides as the war reached its first anniversary. Legendary war photographer Gerda Taro was killed outside Brunete, and no nation except Russia comes to the Republicans’ aid as they are slaughtered by the fascists and their Moorish soldiers.

August 1937 focussed on the north. With the Basque region taken by the rebels, they turned east to take Santander in the Cantabria region. By September, the fascists again moved east again to take Gíjon in the Asturias region, with heavy mountainous battles taking place on cliffs that had kept Asturias safe from invaders for centuries. By October, Asturias was defeated by the northern army and could keep going west to claim Galicia, and Valencia is stripped of its title of capital of Spain in favour safer Barcelona. The Republican alliances of multiple militias fell apart, and many are fired from government and imprisoned, political alliances were ruined, and the dislike for the powerful communists pulled the left apart. The social revolution has suffered setbacks, including heavy battles and losses in the Aragon region, and there was breakdown of working class support in Barcelona.

By November 1937, the frontlines have moved little in some time, with the exception of the conquering of the northern regions. Madrid remains in Republican hands, along with the Valencia, Aragon, Catalonia and Almería region in the east. All regions have suffered serious losses, but little ground is gained in seriously bloody battles.The north is now under Franco’s control, along with all the south and the western Extremadura region. The strong left-wing cities of Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia are targets for the well-trained fascist brigades. The month of November saw little of major battles taking place, as both sides are exhausted from the fighting, and small breakouts of fighting yield little results for either side. The new target for the fascists is Teruel, a strong city in the Aragon region, which is about to see one of the war’s biggest fights go down in a particularly brutal winter.

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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 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.