This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 40 and 41: 17 – 30 April 1937

April 19

Franco creates the Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalista (FET y de las JONS). This brings together the horrid Falange fascists and the hard-right Catholic Carlists into one big hate group. Franco appoints himself as leader, making him both a political and military leader, paving the way for dictatorship. The Falange has many of leaders killed during the war, more than any other group, and needs leadership. These groups together can go on to control all other parties and unions. Franco, with no real alliance to any group, told all what they wanted to hear, bending to suit to take over all parties he worked with, in order to slowly assume total control. This party can dominate enough to make Spain pro-Catholic, pro-monarchy, pro-fascism, pro-conservatism, pro-ultranationalism by combining their people. It allows the small fascist Falange group to swell to a peak of 900,000 (when combined together) and the women’s unit (needed because these groups were anti-women), Sección Femenina, grows to 500,000 during the war.

April 20

The Nationalist ‘government’ in Burgos has been battling the Basque ports now for two weeks. They launch a huge bombardment of Basque port towns to stop all flow of cargo entering to help the Republican cause, as British ships have defied blockades. The Nationalist 1st Navarrese bridge battle Basque troops at Elgeta, just 20 kilometres east of the newly destroyed town of Durango (see week 37).

Basque fighters must retreat to the Iron Ring, a series of tunnels built around Bilbao, which are simple and under-defended, but have no other option, as the German Condor Legion are bombing towns and forest areas through the region.

pro-Republic Basque fighters in Elgeta, Gipuzkoa, Basque Country

April 23

The Junta de defensa, Madrid defense council, is dissolved, in an effort to reshape the protection of the city. They have been active since the outbreak of war, but now have to change tactics. The Ministry of War, who control the command of the Republican army takes over the defense of Madrid, as fighting in the city has stabilised and the frontlines are outside Madrid itself.

April 26

The German Condor Legion launch their major terrorist offensive on the small Basque town of Guernica. After experimenting on several towns in previous weeks, the Condor Legion strike the unarmed Basques with airstrikes on civilians. The town of Guernica is bombed for three hours, and no military targets are identified; the bombing is purely to kill innocents. The Basque army in the area are forced to instantly retreat and bombed upon fleeing. They attack on a Monday, market day in Guernica, to maximise the civilian death toll. Military factories are spared, along with Gernikako Arbola, the Guernica Tree, symbolising freedom outside the old government building and the Casa de Juntas, the new location (and tree). These are spared as the Nationalist want the locations for themselves once they invade. The bombing shocks the world, and Nationalists have to hide and lie about what really happened at Guernica.

A separate post about Guernica will be posted.

April 30

Nationalist-supporting Italian troops take the port town of Bermeo, but the España, a 132 metre Nationalist battleship hits one of its own mines and sinks off the coast of Santander 150 kilometres away, and never reaches the port. The España was aiding fellow destroyer Velasco in stopping a British ship of getting into port when it hit its own mine. Five seaman die as Republican planes bomb the sinking ship, but all other men were rescued by the Velasco.

As Nationalist troops close in on Bilbao, the Basque government makes a plea, asking that 20,000 children be shipped out of Spain in temporary exile. The first ship leaves a month later, 4,000 Basque refugee children to Britain, while others are sent to France, Belgium, the Soviet Union and Mexico. Many never return home.

Basque children in the French Pyrenees. Children in western countries have to suffer the Second World War during their return home. Children in Communist countries could not return for nearly 20 years

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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 Extra: 80 Years Since the Bombing of Durango

The Nationalists had tried everything to get into Madrid. Both the city and surroundings areas in all directions had already been bombarded by March 1937, eight months since the start of the SCW. Franco decided to turn his attention away from the broken yet defiant capital, and launched a new War on the North. General Emilio Mola y Vidal, who was named the leader of the north during the war while Franco commanded the south, decided to wipe out the Basque country. He already had launched offensives throughout the Basque region while basing himself in Burgos (160 kilometres south of the Basque city of Bilbao). Mola decided to deploy 50,000 troops and multiple German planes, but this time had a new plan – to launch ‘terror attacks’, where he would have his men attack civilians instead of military targets. This time, innocents were to be targeted, to inspire fear, to make the Republican held areas cower to the will of the Nationalists, or be hunted down and murdered.

The town of Durango was marked as the test target. Just 30 kilometres south of Bilbao, Durango was a small village, typical of the region and Spain as a whole. With 10,000 people, it was a rail stop between Bilbao and the front lines of the war. While it had no military operations, it was in Republican territory and ripe for attack. Mola wanted to burn the entire province of Vizcaya to the ground for being in Republican territory.

At 8.30am, inhabitants were at Mass at the Santa Maria basilica in the centre of town, and in the basilica arcade, where the local market was held. Five bombers, German Ju-52’s flown by the Condor Legion and Italian Savoia-Marchetti SM.8’s flown by the  Aviazione Legionaria, set out and used the basilica as the focal point. A direct hit was scored from the very beginning; the priest and 26 worshippers were bombed to pieces. The nearby cloister was also destroyed, killed all 14 nuns inside. The market was also hit directly, killing all those looking for food, others killed by falling buildings and horrific injuries from which they could not recover. A total of 281 bombs were dropped on Durango, almost 15,000kg of explosives. Just over 200 buildings were destroyed, though some have been rebuilt and their shrapnel wounds are still visible today.

The initial bombing sent the people first into panic, followed by a desperate attempt to rescue those under rubble once the bombers disappeared again. Word spread outside the village; Bilbao received news of the bombings, and send ambulances, doctors and police to help the stricken people of Durango. The tiny village of Ellorrio, ten kilometres from Durango, with no military targets at all, and just a few thousand civilians, was also bombed, like a cruel parting shot at the region.

As help from Bilbao tried to get to Durango and people rushed around their village to save as many as they could, the worst was not over. By 5.30pm that same afternoon, the planes returned, this time accompanied by eight Heinkel He-51 fighter bombers, equipped with machine guns. Bombs were dropped to stop those from Bilbao getting to Durango, and the people of the town were machine-gunned down as they tried to help the injured and those trapped in rubble. By the end of the day 250 were dead, with another 100 to die of their injuries, and 200 homes reduced to rubble.

Killings and executions were common by now in Spain; Durango itself had previously carried out executions on Nationalist sympathisers for earlier bombings of Republicans in their small town. Between this ugliness and the front line deaths, Spain was growing used to fear. But now Mola had ushered in a whole new era. Durango became the first place in Europe to be targeted to kill civilians and not military targets. A whole new world of death was born that day in Durango.

Nationalists denied their role entirely. Mola, and Franco henchman General Gonzalo Queipo de Llano said that the Republicans attacked and killed the priest, nuns and the churches of the village, as had happened in other places. They claimed their planes were looking for military targets and it was Cocialists and Communists who came out and used the opportunity to murder innocents.

By April 28, Nationalists soldier had entered Durango and taken over the area. By then, Mola and his killers had stepped up their missions and bombed Guernica (which needs a long post on its own on its commemoration date).

Where the bombs hit in the centre of the Durango old town is now a site for historical memory, and commemorated every 31 March.

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of events. Things get lost in translation – Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. The more the world remembers, the better. All photos are screencaps of the video and linked to source for credit.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 11: 26 September – 2 October 1936

Week 11: 26 September – 2 October 1936

September 26

The Generalitat de Catalunya (government of Catalonia, based out of the capital of Barcelona) increases in size to incorporate more factions fighting for the Republican case. The anarchist CNT-FAI (workers unions) sends ministers, along with the communist POUM (Marxist workers group).

September 27

After a siege lasting over two months, Toledo is finally won by the Nationalists. The Legionnaires and Moroccan soldiers (Moros, as they are nicknamed) who have been murdering their way north, reach the city, and 100 men take Toledo, ending the siege on the Alcázar. A group of anarchists set fire to their own buildings and are burned alive so they are not captured and executed. The invading soldiers take the hospital, killing doctors and nurses, as well as the patients. All the Republican hostages that were taken at the start of the siege by Nationalist leader Colonel Moscardo are already found to have been long killed, and all Republicans are either killed or flee the area.

A full ‘This Week In Spanish Civil War History: Extra’ will be published on September 27

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Generals Verela, Franco and Moscardo in Toledo after the rebels capture the city

Also…

The Non-intervention Committee is doing a stellar job of not doing nothing to help Spaniards, and doesn’t bother to argue with Portugal over their continued support for the Nationalists. Germany and Italy are also sending weapons and equipment in defiance of the Non-Intervention agreement and the committee doesn’t lift a finger.

September 28

Generalissimo Francisco Franco is named head of the Spanish State by the Junta de Defensa Nacional (Nationalist militarised government) in Burgos, even though Spain has a Prime Minister and government still functioning in Madrid.

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Franco: A small man with a heinous attitude and a penchant for massacre (and rumour has it, sporting mangled testicles)

September 29

The Battle of Cape Spartel breaks out over control of the Strait of Gibraltar. The navy has been pro-Republican, but Nationalists have held the Galician naval base since the outbreak of war. A Republican ship is sunk and others badly damaged, and just one escapes the battle as the Nationalists also now control this crucial sea passage.

The Almirante Ferrándiz just prior to sinking in battle

September 30

Enrique Pla y Deniel, the Bishop of Salamanca, publishes his famous pastoral letter titled ‘The Two Cities’. He praises the decision of the rebel Nationalists to rise up and start the war. He defends the actions of the rebels and the need to destroy Republicans. He states the war is not a civil war, but a crusade to restore order and crush the ‘heretics’ in government. He also issues a pastoral latter claiming Franco as Spain’s leader, and sends him a telegram to congratulate him for the ‘glorious resurrection of Christian Spain’.

Enrique Pla y Deniel – a bishop with a small mind and a heart filled with hate and control, Catholic style

October 1

The Brigadas Internacionales (International Brigades) are officially formed. It gives a name and organisation to work with the foreign volunteers flocking to Spain to help out. People from 53 nations want to give their help to the Republican cause against the rebels. The group will swell to up to 35,000 fighters, plus 10,000 non-combat roles and up to 5,000 foreign CNT or POUM members. These brave individuals are true heroes, risking their lives for strangers in a strange land, thinking they can save the world from fascism while governments sit idle.

The famous International Brigades become official

Also…

Francisco Franco officially declares himself the Generalissimo in public, and settles into life as the controller of a country out of control. This formally gives him power over the entire Nationalist cause.

And…

The Republican government gives the Basque Country full autonomy, and Jose Antonio Aguirre is elected as leader of Euzkadi a week later. The Basque country is getting little support or outside help, surrounded, and already partly invaded, by the rebels. Autonomy gives them more control over their moves and their own army as they fight to control their region.

Jose Antonio Aguirre – politician, activist, leader

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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)