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.
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This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 48: 12 – 19 June 1937

June 12

The Republican attack on Huesca begins in the hope of stalling the Nationalist attack on Bilbao. The XII International Brigade, now without their General, join Spanish Republicans under their General and storm Huesca, 300 kilometres southeast of Bilbao, and just 70 kilometres north of Zaragoza. Huesca has been held by the Nationalists through the war and while they lack the men the Republicans have, they are well dug into the area. The Republicans have 50,000 men, mostly anarchists and POUM members from Barcelona, sent after the May Days a month earlier. Thousands of Republicans men are cut down with machine guns and artillery fire in what will become a week-long offensive.

Republican/Basque fighters outside the Bilbao (via Robert Capa)

June 13

The battle of Bilbao sees fighting in the streets of the city, with Nationalist supporters rising up against their fellow Basques. The Republican/Basque army is in retreat, headed for Santander, and Nationalist sympathisers, Fifth Columnists, riot through the city and take strategic buildings. Anarchist militias, not fleeing with the army, fight back against the columnists and beat them back, with mass casualties on both sides. The Basque police force, still in the city, have to hold back the anarchist fighters as they try to storm jails to kill Nationalist prisoners.

Women flee in Bilbao (via Robert Capa)

June 14

Most of the city is now evacuated as the people of Bilbao flee ahead of the awaiting Nationalist army, who are already camped inside the Iron Ring. The government and army have completed much of their retreat and it is every man for himself as the Basque capital is about to fall.

Basque fighters outside Bilbao (via Robert Capa)

June 16

The POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) party is officially outlawed in Spain. Their leaders are rounded up mostly in Barcelona. Their official leader, Andreu Nin, is not yet found and caught.

Republican troops continue their offensive against Huesca, to draw Nationalist troops away from Bilbao. Republicans attack the villages of nearby Alerre and Chimillas, but are beaten back by the Nationalists. Around 9,000 Republican men are now dead and the offensive to take Huesca is all but over.

June 17

Andreu Nin is found in Barcelona and arrested. He, along the other POUM leaders are secretly taken by Communists to an illegal torture prison at Alcalá de Henares, just north of Madrid. Alexander Mikhailovich Orlov, a General for the KNVD (Soviet internal affairs), tortures Nin for days. It was admitted by Spain’s Education Minister, a Communist, that Nin was interrogated and would not talk. They then used torture in the form of peeling off Nin’s skin and tearing his muscles and they tried to get information out of him. Within days, Nin’s face was unrecognisable. Whatever the Communists wanted, none of the POUM either had it, or would give in.

Minster of Health Federica Monstseny, and others soon start asking the Spanish government if they know the whereabouts of Andreu Nin and his party members. A campaign named Gobierno Negrín: ¿dónde está Nin? (To the government of Negrín: where is Nin?) begins as rumours spread Nin was taken to the Soviet Union for execution, or that he was killed when the Germans tried to save him (thus making him a secret fascist). Rumours swirl Nin was either with Franco in Salamanca or with Hitler in Berlin. Nin is never seen in public again.

Bilbao is bombed with 20,000 shells as the capital city is destroyed. Basque President Aquirre makes a secret deal to send 900 Nationalist prisoners from jails and hand them to the enemy, in the hopes of saving some innocents who are being bombed.

Jaime I, a dreadnought battleship of the Spanish Navy, is destroyed in Cartagena. Bombed three times in drydock on May 21, it is beginning another round of repairs when an explosion happens without warning. Sabotage versus accident is never fully explained. All three of Spain’s dreadnought sister-ships are now destroyed.

Shells knock out bridges into Bilbao

June 18

The Basque government is ordered to destroy all its valuable factories in Bilbao, so the Nationalists cannot gain access. Bilbao has many strategic factories for the war effort and the Basque government refuses the command from the Republic Spanish government. The Basques believe European war will soon come and the Nationalists will be destroyed.

The Nationalists walk straight into Bilbao

June 19

Juan Manuel Epalza, working for the Basque government, leads 900 Nationalist prisoners out of prison in the night and hands them over the awaiting Nationalist army outside Bilbao. At dawn, the Nationalist troops walk into Bilbao without opposition. About 200,00 people have now fled, and the Nationalists start giving food to some left behind in the city. The Bay of Biscay is filled with boats as Basques try to flee the Nationalists. Many refugee boats are overcrowded and sinking, and the Nationalist Navy have ships waiting to round them up and send them home. Many boats attempt to float to France, and Non-Intervention Committee ships, mostly from Britain, watch them but do not go to their aid. Many sink are or are sent back to Spain.

Franco now has the multiple steel and mine factories in Bilbao in his hands. But he has to give two-thirds of all production to Hitler. With Hitler is making his own preparations for war, Franco owes Hitler for all the German planes, weapons and killing that has been done on Franco’s behalf.

Rumours continue about the possible death of Andreu Nin, who may or may not still be alive in Alcalá de Henares. Many do not know officially of his secret arrest yet, but are well aware the Communists have pounced.

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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.