This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Weeks 77-81: Teruel and Cáceres, January 1938

James Neugass accompanying Cuban volunteer Pablo Carbonell, killed in action in Teruel

January 1

It is Republicans versus Nationalists in hand-to-hand combat in the Convent of Santa Clara, where the original Nationalist garrison are held up on the western edge of Teruel. All the Nationalist fighters in the Convent are killed.

January 3

Another of the initial Nationalist hold-out spots is destroyed, the Civil Governor’s Building. They fight the Republicans floor to floor in the building, the fight witnessed and reported by Ernest Hemingway. All Nationalists in the building are eventually killed, and soon after, the Seminary of Santa Clara is overrun by Republicans when the defenders have no water or food, are low on supplies and the buildings themselves are destroyed by the fighting.

January 8

Colonel Domingo Rey d’Harcourt is still holding out, with only a Bank of Spain building in Nationalist hands inside Teruel, while the reinforcements are still kept outside of the small city. Because of the horrific cold weather, Franco’s troops cannot get into Teruel, and finally Colonel d’Harcourt and his men surrender, along with Bishop Anelmo Polanco. Teruel is officially in Republican hands. The Colonel and Bishop will be sent to Valencia, and then towards Barcelona along with the remaining 40 Nationalist men captured. All will be executed on February 7 en route to France.

January 17

The weather has finally cleared over Teruel. The Nationalist garrison inside the town, which was at 9,500 men when the Republicans first attacked, are all dead. However the 100,000 reinforcements continue to attack the city.

Republicans in Teruel

January 19

The Republicans, despite having similar numbers to the Nationalists, are concerned they cannot hold Teruel, with low supplies and equipment. The International Brigades, who have been in the area, are officially called in to help. The enormous numbers of men on both sides leads to fierce fighting and dramatic damage done to Teruel, though little gains are made for either side. Civilians in the town have now fled, or been killed in the crossfire as the Republicans become surrounded in Teruel.

January 21

The killings in Cáceres have continued though the first weeks of 1938. By the 20th, a total of 196 Republican civilians have been executed. Among the dead are forty Francoist soldiers who were accused of being secret Republicans. The killings, which started at Christmas, continued over New Year and sixteen miners were killed on The King’s Day, the Epiphany, the most celebrated Spanish day of January 6. The tiny nearby village of Navas del Madroño had 54 people killed in one day, and Malpartida de Cáceres lost twelve men. Men, women and children are lined up and executed through the region, and any orphans left over are sent to brutal Francoist orphanages. A total of 675 people are killed in this tiny region during the war, including the 196 victims of these killings, people killed over rumours and outright lies. Their bodies were not be recovered or given a memorial for nearly 80 years.

Numbers of people killed, in date order.

January 23

Back in Teruel, the Nationalists have finally pushed the Republicans off the Teruel Tooth mountain ridge over the city. The Nationalists still hold the train station and bullring in the southwest area but cannot make any more gains.

January 25

The Republicans launch a huge counteroffensive to take back the Teruel Tooth ridge and the train station, so they can be again connected to Valencia. While numbers are massive on both sides, the Nationalists cannot break into Teruel any further, and the Republicans cannot beat them back. The south of Teruel is where heavy fighting occurs. This bloody fighting without gain for either side will continue for another two weeks. If the Republicans lose Teruel, they will lose their hold over Franco being cut off from the Mediterranean.

The Lincoln Brigade stationed outside Teruel

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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 76: The Battle of Teruel 23 – 31 December 1937

December 23

Franco knows his planned Guadalajara offensive is futile, as Teruel needs all of the manpower in the area, despite anger from the German and Italian allies who want to take Madrid and end the war.

December 25

In the small city of Cáceres in the far western region of Extremadura, 34 men are murdered, some taken from the dinner table during quiet Christmas Day meals. A shooting range is set up at the barracks of the 27th Algiers infantry regiment, where sixty Guardia Civil men could kill the chosen victims. Among the victims was the socialist Mayor Antonio Canales and President of the Provincial Council Ramón González Cid. Others were local trade union members, teachers, UGT members and Republican sympathisers, some already under arrest for months. The province had been under Nationalist control since the beginning of the war, but false rumours of an uprising led to the deaths. No plans by Republican or Communist members were planning an uprising, only lies spread by local Nationalist leaders. The story of a fake coup led by Máximo Calvo  was announced by the Falange on December 23, leading to the arrests and execution of the men. It would be the start of one month of scheduled killing around the area, leading to a total 196 dead, including 14 women, all executed for non-existent crimes.

Nationalist Colonel Domingo Rey d’Harcourt has been trying to hold out while reinforcement troops arrive in Teruel. Now two generals, Antonio Aranda and José Enrique Varela have arrived, with fresh  experienced men, and the Condor Legion has arrived to attack Teruel from the air.

December 30

Nationalist men are already making gains, by getting on the La Muela (Teruel Tooth) mountain beside the town. The weather continued to close in on both sides, making defense and attack slow and dangerous.

Frozen tanks seen by Robert Capa

December 31

The Republicans have continued their assault on the four strategic buildings the Nationalist held in the town  -the Convent of Santa Clara and the Seminary of Santa Clara, the Bank of Spain building, and the Civil Governor’s Building. By the time the new year began, all the Nationalists inside the Convent of Santa Clara had been murdered.

The final day of 1937 saw the start of a vicious four-day blizzard, with frostbite that will claim lives and limbs while the fighting continues. But 1937’s final day also saw the Nationalists hold their position on the Teruel Tooth, and get into Teruel’s bullring and railway station, both at the lowest southern point of the town. With the temperature at minus 18C, machine guns are frozen, and the reinforcement Nationalist troops do not enough warm clothing to make many gains.

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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 73/74: The Battle of Teruel 1 – 15 December 1937

December 1 – 7

After a month of relatively quiet times around Spain, the next large battle is being prepared, the battle of Teruel. Teruel is a small rural city of only 20,000 people, the capital of the province of Aragon, which has been largely in Republican/anarchist hands since the outbreak of war. Aragon has also been home to the bulk of the social revolution, the anarchist uprising to empower the poor and rural Spaniards suffering under both fascist and socialist rule.

Teruel is a well-fortified city, known as a strategic point over 1000 years of battle between Christians and the Moors. Teruel is only main city that separates the Nationalists in Zaragoza, 170 kilometres north, from the Republican stronghold of Valencia, 140 kilometre to the southeast. Teruel is a mountainous place, with the city at 3000 feet above sea level, and one of the coldest places in Spain. Between the weather and walled fortress city and the forest-covered mountains, Teruel is also surrounded by the Turia and Alfambra rivers.

To attack a city like Teruel, a city with strong Republican support, but in Nationalist hands, is a huge undertaking. But like all Republicans, the men of Aragon are not well-prepared or well-armed. There is the landscape to consider with the mountains home to steep cliffs, and to the west, the La Muela de Teruel, the Teruel tooth, a sharp tooth-shaped hill against the city. Beside this steep rock is a flat area where advancing troops could easily be spotted. Teruel is also a well trenched and guarded area, as it has been on the frontline between Nationalist and Republican fighting since the outbreak of war.

Despite being in the Aragon region, the Nationalists had taken the city of Teruel, and the Republicans are determined to take the city back. It is believed that the occupying Nationalists have only 4,000 men in the area, and is surrounded by Republican-held areas. By having Teruel in the hands of the Nationalists, it became a symbol that needed to be crushed. The Minister of War in the Republican government, Indalecio Prieto, wanted to see a huge victory and have Teruel retaken for the Republic. Not only would the Nationalists lose any hold on Aragon, it would make the enemy think that the Republicans had the artillery and men they needed to win the war. But, as always, fighting within the Republican side would be an issue. Spanish Prime Minister Juan Negrin wanted to take Teruel and then move onto Catalonia, where Spain could retake control of Barcelona and its workers once more. The social revolution born in Catalonia and Aragon was on its last legs, and a victory in Teruel would bolster Republican support there. Infighting would do nothing but strain the Republicans  as they fought the Nationalists as well.

Franco’s Nationalists had been planning a new offensive in Guadalajara, outside Madrid, and a battle in Teruel would stop the Nationalists from getting towards Madrid. What no one could know was that Teruel was about to suffer its worst winter in two decades, something brutal as the average winter could see temperatures well below freezing. But the Republicans decided their attack would begin on December 15, three days before Franco’s plan to capture Guadalajara, catching the Nationalists by surprise, and diverting troops away from Madrid.

8-14 December

The under-resourced Republican army had to be made up of men from all around the regions. Juan Hernández Saravia, who had commanded the southern troops in 1936 and the Levante troops through 137 (Levante is in the eastern Valencia region), began moving men to create the Army of the East for the battle of Teruel and beyond. Saravia did not want any International Brigades to fight in Teruel; it was a Spanish battle to be fought. The Communists were ready to fight with Saravia, with the Communist General Enrique Lister back in the thick of fighting. By rearranging the Republicans around Spain, Saravia had a total of 100,000 men to capture Teruel.

In the walled city of Teruel, Colonel Domingo Rey d’Harcourt commanded the Nationalists. He had a garrison of only 4,000, half just armed civilians. Outside the city in the surrounding areas, there were another 5,000-6,000 men, mostly civilians. Despite a constant flow of news going between each side with spies and information interceptors, Franco did not send any additional troops to the area, meaning as the Republicans could get themselves ready to surround Teruel, and the Nationalists had none of their much-flaunted reinforcements or aerial back-up.

December 15

As snow begins to fall around the walled city of Teruel, General Lister and his men are sent first to surround the area. Given the overwhelming numbers, Nationalists outside Teruel are instantly forced to retreat back into the walls of the city. The Republicans quickly get themselves a prime position on Teruel’s tooth mountain and completely encircle the city. It would be the quiet opening day to what would become a symbolic, bloody and destructive battle lasting over two months, seeing much of Teruel destroyed and 140,000 men killed on both sides.

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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.