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.

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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.

SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘Adventures of a Doctor’ by E. Martínez Alonso

Martínez

Adventures of a Doctor by Eduardo Martínez Alonso seems to be so rare, I can’t find any cover art or a blurb about this book. I managed to purchase a damaged copy from the New Zealand parliamentary library, and when they tossed this book to me for a mere $6 (about €3.60), they obviously didn’t know what a treasure they had. Eduardo Martínez is quite an extraordinary man with a story that seems to have been largely lost. With the market flooded with 1001 Spanish civil war books, it comes as a great surprise that this book doesn’t get more recognition.

The story starts with the author born in Vigo, Galicia in 1903. His father was from Uruguay, and was the consul in Vigo. As a young boy, Martínez travelled to his father’s homeland, along with his family (he was one of eleven children, and talks of his mother constantly having to nurse his siblings). The story tells of life in northern Spain in the era, and exploits with his brothers and attending a boarding school with mixed success. In 1912, Martínez’s father received a post to Glasgow, and the whole family moved north for a new life. Martínez dreamed of working in hotels or on ships, able to meet people and travel far and wide. He became bilingual at a young age, seeing the benefit of speaking Spanish, English, French and more. But it was his father who said he would be a doctor, not a sailor. As each of the eight boys grew and carved out professions (sisters, of course, were to be wives and caregivers), the prophecy of the hard-working consul came true. The family and Martínez recalls the first world war, his school years and an eventual trip back to Uruguay.

As a trained doctor, Martinez moved to Madrid with his grandmother, and speaks of seeing Anna Pavlova dance at Teatro Real, with the King and Queen in attendance.  He quickly took up a post at Red Cross Hospital, and met Queen Ena, British wife of King Alfonso XIII, and the Duchess of Lecera, who were delighted to have an English-speaking doctor. News travelled of an English-speaking doctor in favour with the queen, and Martínez was in hot demand. Just eighteen months later, Martinez graduated from San Carlos Medical Facility and while meeting the King and Queen socially and professionally, was appointed the medical adviser to the royal family. This proved to be an amazing and dangerous post.

When the Second Spanish Republic was founded in 1931, Martínez was in the palace in Madrid with the royal family as they were deposed. He tells of sitting casually with Queen and princesses as the monarchy fell. As the family were forced into exile and as Spain underwent revolution, Martínez’s position as a monarchist him an easy target. As civil war came five years later, things changed dramatically. Martínez got his family out of Spain in July 1936, or off to the safety of Vigo, and knew he would be in danger as a former royal family aide. Through his work for the Red Cross, he was ordered by a Communist faction to work as a doctor for the Republican side of the war.

On Saturday morning the shooting started. We sat in a bar and heard the crackling of machine guns, the burst of hand grenades, and I saw smoke arising from many quarters of Madrid. By Monday morning a general strike had been called. Everything was paralysed except murder, arson, and rape. The Spanish civil war had commenced – Pg 70

Martínez talks of watching a church burning as priceless works of art were set alight along with the riches of the churches of Madrid. He saw a priest thrown on the flames but was unable to save his life when he pulled the screaming body from the blaze. Most priests were taken out to Casa del Campo to be shot. Men were burning priests but trying to revive pigeons which fell from bell towers, overcome by smoke. Martínez had an apartment in Madrid, and he hid as many people  as he could throughout the war. Nuns and priest were hidden, and forced to serve meals to men who sat and spoke of vicious murders they had committed against the clergy.

Martínez was posted to a town outside Badajoz, Cabeza del Buey,  in the south-west, working for the Communists. While running the hospital, a young nurse, Guadalupe, suggested they flee and work for Franco’s troops instead, but Martínez seemed convinced that he would be killed at some stage, regardless of where he was posted, and claimed no political alliances. In Cabeza del Buey, he was forced to attend mass executions of seemingly innocent men, and despair at violent speeches about revolution and vengeance. He performed many surgeries and saved lives in the  most atrocious conditions. But with no warning, Martínez was shipped off, with Guadalupe, and sent to Ocaña, just outside Aranjuez, to work in the prison there, and be a prisoner himself. As he had in Cabeza del Buey, Martinez managed to get some nuns freed from prison to work as nurses, and treated patients while living in a cell himself. Between dire conditions and deadly activities, a patient told Martínez that his turn to be executed was near. An in understated manner, Martínez talked of his prison escape to Valencia in March 1937, were he managed to procure a fake passport and get aboard the Maine, a ship bound for Marseilles. 

Martínez quickly got himself back in Spain, despite the dangers. He chose to cross the lines and work for the ‘white’ side of Spain, Franco’s rebel army. Red Spain (the Republicans), he felt, thought nothing of him, his work, and long suspected their cause would lose the war, one they never had a chance to win. Posted to Burgos, Valladolid and then San Sebastien, Martínez  then found himself working on the front lines as Franco’s army continued to advance into enemy territory. Towns fell one by one as Martínez fought to save lives, but writes in such a  humble, unassuming manner. Once in Zaragoza, Martínez worked hard to care for patients at the hospitals, and pioneered the use of closed casts on wounds, a procedure first tried with less success twenty years earlier. Despite the smell offending wealthy female volunteers, Martínez’s experiment helped the lives of many patients otherwise in agony as they recovered. He was then moved on to his own mobile surgical unit in Teruel in 1938.

Martínez was there on the ground when troops stopped in Sarrión, 100kms north-west of Valencia, as the war finally came to its brutal end. On April 1st, 1939, the war was over and declared won by Franco in this small town, and after helping a man and his son to Valencia, Martínez sought out all those who had helped him during the war, and moved back to Madrid. No sooner than Martínez had helped his friends and former nurses, and begged for clemency for some condemned to death by the new regime, the second world war broke out. With some family in Vigo and some Britain, travelling on multiple passports, danger was again faced. As Hitler plowed through Europe, Madrid suffered greatly after the civil war and Martínez went to work at Miranda de Ebro, near Burgos, to help war refugees from all nations. With such a humble attitude, he glossed over his feat to aid refugees out of Spain, saving their lives, until in 1942, when his ferrying of innocents was discovered and he was forced to flee Spain. His time working with British Naval Attaché, Captain Alan Hillgarth is barely touched upon, but should surely serve as an incredible tale of a man saving lives at great risk to his own. This two-year period alone could serve as a story all of its own. Just his dramatic escape would serve as its own story, but the author covers it in a few sentences, and neglects to mention he fled with a new wife. He also failed to mention his first marriage which produced two children, but was annulled after Franco took power in 1939 (His wife was a British woman who went home without him). I only found about either marriage after studying the doctor further myself. There are no clues to whom these women are at any point in the book. His personal life is never touched upon.

Again, Martínez talks little of his involvement with the rest of the world war, after being detained when first arriving in Britain (no idea if his Spanish wife was also detained), but worked as a spy for Britain throughout and barely talks about it. He worked at Queen Mary Hospital after the war and oversaw great new procedural advances, meeting some of Europe’s finest surgeons, but then returned home to Madrid. Life was hard in the beleaguered nation, and he again went to work at Red Cross Hospital, specialising in chest surgery. He then moved on to working as the doctor for the Castellana Hilton, newly opened in 1953. He recounts stories of wealthy Americans, and famous movies stars (unnamed) alike, who came to Madrid for all sorts of reasons. He spoke with frustration at his patients demanding penicillin shots, not wanting to discuss why they need this medication. Many guests, male and female, had a penchant for sleeping around and wanting medicine to atone their sins, either before or just after the liaisons which bore infections. One guest talks of being raped and demanding penicillin, though the story is far from convincing to the doctor. Sexual liberation had come to the foreign guests at the Hilton, and expected Martínez’s penicillin to cover it up. He makes his disdain clear for these patients and the abuse of this groundbreaking medication, and of the myriad of alcoholics he was forced to attend to, when little could really be done for them.

The book is written in the manner of a doctor – no-nonsense, no fussing with detail, just the raw facts given out without prejudice. Martínez is a man with the story worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, but it wouldn’t be his style. This book was written in 1961, and Martinez lived until 1972. It shows what really stood out to the doctor in his life, because details are excluded, and there are many secret operations he simply never wanted to discuss. He is free and easy with dates – because I know the civil war, I could piece together the timelines of the book, but needed to look up world war details and the opening of the Madrid Hilton, just to give myself an idea of how much time passed between chapters.

Martinez’s daughter, Patricia Martínez De Vicente, has written several books in Spanish about her father, notably La Clave Embassy: La Increíble Historia De Un Médico Español Que Salvó a Miles De Perseguidos Por El Nazismo. The stories not told by her father in his memoir are a whole other side to this man who worked tirelessly for others, and had a strong ability to do good, without any need to be recognised.  To read his book is a gift, and I will be also reading his daughter’s books.

*above photo taken just prior to release from the Spanish army, 1939. Photo supplied in the book (page 112)