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 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.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History Extra: Battle of Badajoz – 14 August 1936

The Battle of Badajoz was one of the first leading battles, and victories, for the right-wing Nationalist rebels in the Spanish Civil War. Won on 14 August 1936, the massacre at Badajoz has long been used as propaganda against the cruel Franco forces.

Where-is-Badajoz-on-map-SpainThe war was almost one month old. Areas controlled by Nationalist armies were fractured between north and south, and needed to connect their territories. Badajoz, a town of around 41,000, on the border with Portugal, became a prime target. Nationalist forces set out north from Seville on their way towards central Madrid. By August 10, Colonel Juan Yague (a notorious killer, especially of innocents) and his 2250 troops had taken the town of Mérida, just 60 km east from Badajoz. Yague had orders to take Badajoz to help link their north and south frontiers and have the area next to the Portuguese border under their control.

Badajoz was already flooded by refugees from all directions from killings happening in both towns and in the country. Some rich right-wing landowners were even holding days when they and their friends would go killing peasants while on horseback. Killings and reprisals killings were uncontrolled and widespread. For three days, Badajoz suffered aerial bombing from planes donated to the Nationalist troops from Italy and Germany. The town’s mood was one of impending doom.

d98360eac2749741688f3a491ad31773Badajoz from the air 1936

After dawn on 14 August, the Nationalists stormed the north gate of the city, Puerta de Los Carros, and the south gate, Puerta de la Trinidad. While the Republicans managed to hold back the soldiers at the south gate, the brutal Moorish troops won at the north gate, breaching the city and overcoming the barracks inside. An ugly battle ensued, with the Nationalists killing with bayonets and knives as they overtook the whole town. Many Republican militia defected to join the Nationalist troops, and many surrendered. Everyone in sight was killed throughout the day, even when surrendering. All the leaders of the town and Republican militia, including the mayor, had left the town early in the day and made it to Portugal, abandoning the people to their deaths.

The Nationalist troops took much delight in slaughtering as many people as possible, including unarmed women and children. Their leaders had been promoting the use of rape against women as a weapon from the outbreak of war as well. Anyone who wasn’t immediately killed on sight was rounded up. While many were marched to the local bullring and executed by firing squads, many were simple killed on the street. Estimates of between 1000 and 1800 people were executed on the first day of fighting. In one main street, Calle San Juan, around 300 bodies were left there after execution. Through the night and into the next day, anyone even suspected of being a left-wing sympathiser was taken from their homes and sent to the bullring for execution. Journalists ran censored stories about the massacre, including a Portuguese journalist, who fled home with the story, refusing to ever set foot in Badajoz ever again after witnessing torture and execution.

The true death toll of the Badajoz massacre remains unknown, but estimated somewhere between 1300 and 4000 people. No official death toll was taken. Most were killed by firing squad or machine gun fire in the bullring, to the point where prisoners stood ankle-deep in blood with other bodies as they were murdered. Reports of mutilation were made, though exact behaviour is unknown. It was suggested that some were killed bullfight style, chased around and stabbed in the back and then mutilated. The Moorish troops were well-known for their vicious and sadistic nature. Up to 10% of the town died in this one battle.

14a1-cuartelmontanaAn early photo of inside the bullring

The battle of Badajoz gave one of the war’s most famous quotes, when Colonel Yague, who by then had earned his ‘Butcher of Badajoz’ nickname, told an American journalist (with much pride) – “Of course we shot them. What do you expect? Was I supposed to take 4,000 reds with me as my column advanced, racing against time? Was I expected to turn them loose in my rear and let them make Badajoz red again?” While the battle is labelled as fighting during a war, much has been said about reclassifying it genocide or a crime against humanity, which it most certainly was.

Around the Badajoz region, another 2000 people were killed by the marching soldiers, mostly farmers. While the Republicans were labelled ‘reds’, the Nationalists were now known as the ‘white terror’. Sadly this was only the start of a long civil war.

fusilamientos_badajoz_1936Firing squad against the wall outside the bullring

The leaders of the defense committee and the mayor were found in Portugal and returned home to face execution a short time later. This battle would be far from Badajoz’s only major battle during the war. But this initial massacre linked the north and south elements of the Nationalists, strengthening their advance on the country.

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This is not a detailed analysis, instead a simplified report of events in Badajoz. Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. All photos are linked to source for credit. Against usual preference, I chose to add the firing squad photos as it is a painfully accurate reflection of the event.

This Week In Spanish Civil War History – Week 4: 8 -14 August 1936

Week 4: 8 – 14 August 1936

August 8

France closes its border with Spain, preventing weapons entering the country, but also cutting off escape for refugees fleeing the violence.

The island of Mallorca has been in rebel Nationalist hands since the outbreak of fighting. Menorca has remained Republican. The islands of Ibiza and Formentera have localised fighting and the Republicans regain control of both islands. They are one of the first places to change hands since the initial outbreak.

MUS-FAPC2020_500Mallorca damage from bombing

August 9

Church killings continue. Even prior to the outbreak of war, churches have been burned, possessions destroyed and priests and nuns murdered. Republicans are continuing their fight against church oppression, killing priests and nuns in all locations, especially in Catalonia, Valencia and Aragon. A Republican supporter dresses in the Archbishop of Toledo’s clothing for fun, and gets murdered by a drunk Republican soldier, who mistakes him for a priest.

(there are countless photos of church destruction, murder, and of priests/nuns corpses dug up for display available. I am not pro-religion, but I still do not wish to post them here)

August 10

The soldiers, which set off from Seville the previous week, take Merida with bloody killings. The Republicans quickly try to take the city back, but are again defeated. The soldiers are on their way to Madrid, but are meeting resistance. The major location of Badajoz now lies between the Nationalists and Madrid, and is currently in Republican hands.

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Nationalists storm Merida

August 12

The Republicans set up checas, investigation commissions, to root out any right-wingers inside their strongholds. Many people suspected are given fake Falangist cards and shot, others denounced by their servants, enemies or debtors. Countless mistakes are made as old grudges we carried out and countless killed. The anarchists do not believe in these commissions and simply shoot enemies, real or perceived. Right-wingers are in hiding, dressed as workers, or hiding in embassies to avoid these killings.

August 14

The town of Badajoz, in the west near Portugal, is captured by marching Nationalists troops. The battle and occupation see 4,000 people killed. The invasion commanded by Juan Yague, unites two major Nationalists areas, increasing their dominance in battle. The battle of Badajoz becomes a representation of the Nationalist power and vicious murdering and raping of Spaniards, and the use of the Moors, the Moroccan troops, is highlighted in the cruel and inhuman attack. The  initial attack begins the intense killing in  the town over the coming weeks.

timthumb.php(there are many photos of the battle of Badajoz, many of bodies and executions, which I have chosen not to add here)

 NB -there will be a separate post to commemorate the battle of Badajoz

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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 3: 1 -7 August 1936

Week 3: 1 – 7 August 1936

August 1

France changes its mind and doesn’t want to support the Republicans, after being pressured by Britain, who don’t want to intervene in a war. The two governments, along with Italy, Portugal, Germany, and Russia, forge a Non-Intervention Committee and sign an agreement of non-intervention in the civil war. This will become a major error and huge turning point.

Spanish King Alfonso XIII, who has been in exile for five years, begs Mussolini for help and they send more planes and trained pilots to the Nationalist rebels, paid for by a Spanish billionaire known for illegal and dodgy deals. But two planes crash on their way to Morocco to collect troops, making the news, showing Italy has already broken their non-intervention plan. Still, other major countries sit on their hands and refuse to assist.

sa01-09-001The Non-Intervention agreement

August 2

Troops head out of Seville, having secured the city and made it their southern base, marching towards Madrid, over 550 kilometres away. The leaders plan to attack major areas like Badajoz, Toledo and Talavera along the way.

August 3

The shipment of refugee children is already underway, with children being sent to other European countries such and Belgium, France and Britain for their safety.

Nr:185498 9SP-1936-0-0-A1-35 Spanischer B¸rgerkrieg 1936-39. - Ankunft von Fl¸chtlingskindern aus Spanien auf dem Bahnhof von Gent (Belgien).- Foto, 1936. Photo: AKG Berlin Teutonenstr. 22 / D-14129 Berlin Tel. 030-803 40 54 / Fax 030-803 35 99 Bankverbindung Dresdner Bank Berlin BLZ 100 800 00 Konto 462732500 USt.Id DE 136 62841
Children leave for Belgium

August 4

As the war as broken down much authority, the collectivisation of Spain is strengthening, particularly in Catalonia and Aragon. Workers are grouping together and gaining control of land and businesses, mostly under the guidance of the CNT and FAI anarchist organisations. Worker control is being established, training and education is being given, state and church control is being eliminated, all while looking to defeat the rebels.

300px-Milicianas_em_1936_por_Gerda_TaroWomen start training in the militia outside Barcelona

August 6

North of Madrid in the Sierra de Guadarrama, Josep Sunyol i Garriga, the deputy of the Catalonian Republican left party and also the president of the Barcelona Football Club, is murdered by Nationalist troops. Sunyol is a politician, leader and journalist, having founded a left-wing newspaper in the 1920’s. He was captured during fighting and shot, and then dumped in a shallow unmarked grave (and wouldn’t be found for 60 years. This system of taking left-wing sympathisers, from battles or just their homes, murdering them without a word and dumping them in the wilderness is the start of what will result in 100,000 – 200,000 Spaniards ‘disappearing’, many still not found today).

indexJosep Sunyol

Francisco Franco makes his move, and leaves Morocco and flies to Seville, to be on the ground as his troops continue their bloody march towards Madrid, the start of severe killing through Spain’s south and west.

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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.