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 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.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 57: 14 – 21 August 1937

August 14

The Nationalists are ready to begin their massive new siege to take the north of Spain. The Army of the North of both sides have been assembled throughout the top half of Spain. General Fidel Dávila has 90,000 troops, 25,000 of them through three Italian divisions. They also have a massive cache of weapons, plus the German Condor Legion aircraft, plus Spanish and Italian planes. Their troops are fresh and the Nationalists are ready after the end of the battle of Brunete at the end of July. The Republicans have 80,000 in the region under General Mariano Gámir Ulíbarri. However, their planes are useless, and morale is low. The Basque soldiers included in the numbers are tired and devastated from a loss of their autonomous region and their capital Bilbao, and are already considering surrendering to Italian troops in order to survive.

 The Nationalist 1st Navarrese Brigade attacks the frontlines between Valdecebollas in the Palencia region and Cuesta Labra in order to block Republican troops south of the Cantabrian mountains. This is in preparation to start capturing Republican territories in the mountain region over the coming week and capture the entire Cantabrian region and Santander city on the coast.

August 15

The Nationalist troops advance through Barruelo up to Peña Rubia, Salcedillo, Matalejos and Reinosilla, all mountainous villages, without resistance, with the exception of the Republicans fighting back at nearby Portillo de Suano.

also August 15

The Servicio de Inteligencia Militar (SIM) is created. Having SIM means that secret police activities are now in the control of the government again, rather than Communist and Soviet hands. Political meetings have now been banned in Barcelona, and the constant fighting is undermining the left-wing groups. Barcelona is the central hub for Republicans mixing, with anarchism, socialism, regionalism, and communism coming together to produce infighting. The Republican war effort is hindered by these internal arguments. Peace has not truly been restored in Barcelona since the outbreak of fighting in May.

August 16

The Nationalists take Portillo de Suano and the industrial factory area outside the town of Reinosa during the day, and take central Reinosa at dusk. Meanwhile, the Navarrese Brigade are advancing, furthering the Nationalists’ control of the region. Italian troops sent from Burgos are heading to Lanchares, 17 kilometres from Reinosa, and also San Miguel de Aguayo, a mountainous 14 kilometres trek north from Lanchares. The Cantabrian area is quickly being swallowed by Nationalist troops with little to no resistance in the sparsely populated regions.

August 17

The Republicans still hold Campoo, just 4 kilometres east of Reinosa, with 22 battalions camped there. However the Nationalists have now encircled them completely.

In Barcelona, the Socialist Party and the Communist Party sign a pact to ally as one group, to bring stability to the Republicans’ effort. The Communist party expected a merger, in line with international Communist groups. The Spanish Republican government does not like the idea of the Communists controlling the Socialist party, but the unity pact agreement leaves the groups independent but formally allied, meaning the Communists do not gain any extra control over the government.

Nationalists outside Reinosa

August 18

Nationalist forces take the town of Santirude as they surge further north through Cantabria, while the Italians claim San Pedro del Romeral and San Miguel de Luena, only 45 kilometres south of Santander itself.

August 19

Cabuérniga, Bárcena de Pie de Concha and Entrambasmestas all fall to the Nationalists.

August 20

Italian troops claim Villacarriedo and Navarrese forces advance towards Torrelavega and Cabezón de la Sal. Santander is now in sight, just 30 kilometres from Torrelavega. The Nationalists are destroying the northern part of Spain and the Republicans cannot do anything to stop them. The Nationalists have overwhelming support, troops and artillery. The Basque, Cantabrian and Asturian units cannot work together against the speed and power of the Nationalist army. The Basques, having already lost their capital Bilbao, are at the morale limits and begin to mutiny as the Nationalists sweep through Cantabria.

Franco at the Santander front

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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 55/56: 1 – 14 August 1937

August 2

Embattled Falange leader Manuel Hedilla, arrested for defying Franco on April 25, has his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment in the Canary Islands. Since the death of Rivera eight months earlier, Hedilla has been in a battle with Agustín Aznar and Sancho Dávila for the role of leader of the Falange, the fascist ultra-right wing conservatives loyal to Franco’s cause. Hedilla has been more moderate throughout the war and does not believe in the Nationalists’ widespread use of horrific violence to take control of Spain. Franco had the Falange party merge with the Carlist groups in April, belittling Hedilla’s leadership, and he was arrested for speaking out. Franco’s brother-in-law suggested Hedilla be spared execution to keep Falange factions happy. Hedilla will only serve four years of his life sentence before being quietly let go, but will go on to write critically about Franco in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

August 6

The tiny town of Torrelavega, 27 kilometres from Santander in the north, sees heavy fighting resulting in the death of 12 Republican troops. Franco is preparing another huge siege in the north and tensions are mounting.

August 7

Private Catholic worship is again permitted by the Republican government. The Catholic Church, heavily involved in the war and supporting Franco, has suffered since the Second Spanish Republic began in 1931. Between 50-80% of priests in many areas have been murdered, along with nuns, monks and church laity, any suffering horrific deaths. Churches and cathedrals have been destroyed and relics have been burned. The Church has been especially cruel to the population for centuries and resistance has led them to take up against the government and support Franco and his fascists.

flag of the Council of Aragon
August 10

The Consejo de Aragón (Council of Aragon) is dissolved by Prime Minister Negrín. Led by Joaquín Ascaso since December from a capital in Caspe (100 kms east of Zaragoza, 200km west from Barcelona), the council ran the huge Aragon province and its attempts at social revolution and anarchist values. Now that Catalonia and its capital Barcelona are back in Republican hands instead of independent leaders, the government now wants all pro-Republican areas under their control. About 700 anarchists are arrested and the council agrees to disband the following day. Those arrested will only be imprisoned a few weeks as mostly communists troops take over the region on the government’s behalf.

August 13

The Nationalist are ready to begin their massive new siege to take the north of Spain. The Army of the North of both sides have been assembled throughout the top half of Spain. General Fidel Dávila has 90,000 troops, 25,000 of them through three Italian divisions. They also have a massive cache of weapons, plus the German Condor Legion aircraft, plus Spanish and Italian planes. Their troops are fresh and the Nationalists are ready after the end of the battle of Brunete at the end of July. The Republicans have 80,000 in the region under General Mariano Gámir Ulíbarri. However, their planes are useless, and morale is low. The Basque soldiers included in the numbers are tired and devastated from a loss of their autonomous region and their capital Bilbao, and are already considering surrendering to Italian troops in order to survive.

August 14

The Nationalist 1st Navarrese Brigade attacks the frontlines between Valdecebollas in the Palencia region and Cuesta Labra in order to block Republican troops south of the Cantabrian mountains. This is in preparation to start capturing Republican territories in the mountain region over the coming week and capture the entire Cantabrian region and Santander city on the coast.

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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.