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 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.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 49/50: 19 June – 3 July 1937

June 21

Andreu Nin, the leader of the POUM is assassinated. After being held for four days in a secret Communist prison in Alcála de Henares and tortured, Soviet KNVD members kill Nin. Nin never gave the Soviets the information they interrogated him and his fellow members for, or never had the information.  The exact details of Nin’s killing will never be fully established. Nin had been the leader of the POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) for two years, and stood against fascism and Stalinism, and in favour of workers and peasants’ rights. Nin’s death by Soviet agents marked the demise of both the POUM and its revolutionary movement. Hundreds more are killed or imprisoned after Nin’s death. While Communists and anti-Stalinists are technically both anti-fascist and against Franco’s Nationalists, the constant fighting between leftist factions is a huge contributor to the Republicans being by Franco’s men.

June 24

Bilbao is now fully in the hands of the Nationalists and hundreds of thousands have fled either over the border into France or west towards Santander and the Galician coast. The total toll of the Bilbao battle is not established, but the defeated Republican/Basque fighters had started with 50,000 troops, the winning  Nationalists with 75,000 (including 15,000 Italians, which only around 105 killed). Nationalists give out food to some of the remaining women in the Basque region, those who were unable to flee the city. The strategic production factories of the Basque country are now in Nationalist hands.

June 27

The high point of Soviet intervention in the SCW is coming to a close. The Soviet Union has been sending regular shipments of military equipment to Spain to help the Republicans, in return for Spain sending its gold to the Soviets, who get the better end of the deal, grossly overcharging the Spanish government. At this stage, there are over 1000 Soviet tank crews on the ground in Spain and the bulk of trained pilots fighting for the Republicans are Soviet. The communist faction of the Republican clause is now strongest than ever and the diplomatic relations between the Spanish and Soviets remains strong in an effort to defeat fascism in Spain. But now shipments will become sparse and Soviet men will be withdrawn from Spain as the Nationalists continue to win and the Republicans suffer massive casualties and lose ground.

June 30

The front line around the Aragon region is a huge 450 kilometres stretch from the Pyrenees down to the city of Teruel. The Republicans have far more troops in the region and the Nationalists have not made the area a priority. The Republicans have already attacked Huesca and failed, and are yet to attack Teruel. As a large Brunete battle is being mounted west of Madrid, the Republicans decide to start planning an offensive of the historical village of Albarracín, 35 kilometres west of Teruel. That way, the Nationalists will be forced to keep troops in the Aragon region instead of attacking Brunete. The front lines on the east side of Madrid around Jarama and Guadalajara still have not moved since their offensives early in the year. The Albarracín offensive is prepared for early July.

XV International Brigades outside Brunete

July 2

The preparation for the battle of Brunete is almost complete. Brunete is 30 kilometres west of Madrid, and is chosen as it is on the Extremadura Road. The Nationalists hold the region of Extremadura and use the roads to supply troops circling Madrid. By cutting off supplies, the Republicans aim to save the city of Madrid from the Nationalists. Once Brunete is taken, then the Republicans plan to march 100 kilometres southwest to Talavera de la Reina, which has been held by the Nationalists for the whole war, nearing on one year. This will cut off Nationalist troops from the southern strongholds. Republican troops at Carabanchel, the southern suburbs of Madrid, will be launched at the same time to tie up Madrid-based Nationalists.

The Communists within the Spanish government have been pressing to take Brunete for months, and are pulling Soviet aid back at the same time, as Republican ports have been taken by Nationalists. Spanish Prime Minister Juan Negrín wants France to open its borders to allow arms shipments through, but first they must prove to the French they are capable of military action. The offensive has been well planned and with large-scale reorganisation of the Republican men and equipment. Experienced commanders are put in place and will operate a surprise attack, despite being planned for three months. Upwards of 85,000 men are placed ready to take the hilly terrain with new Soviet tanks, attacking the Nationalists who have 20,000 fewer troops in the region. The attack is planned for July 6.

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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 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.