This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 18: 14 – 21 November 1936

Week 18: 14 – 21 November 1936

Simplified if you don’t read Spanish –

Numbers are labelled by position of where which column (group) is located on November 16-17. Blue squares are Nationalist, Red are Republicans, and orange are French (and associated supporters) supporting the Republicans. Grey lines – front line. Stars – volunteers in position. Blue arrows – Nationalists making their attack. Spotted blue arrows – aircraft flights, with bombs dropped (blue dots).

November 15

Nationalist soldiers (Morrocan regaulres and Legionaires)  cross the Manzanares River and take over in Ciudad Universitaria (University City). The XIth International Brigade for the Republicans men counter attacks at the ‘Hall of Philosophy and Letters’, however the whole column make it over the river. The Republican factions take the Hall and force the Nationalists to either be killed or run for cover, with over 85% being killed as they flee.

Nationalist soldiers make it as far as  Plaza de la Moncloa inside Madrid, some as far as  Plaza de España in central Madrid before being attacks by the Durruti Column and forced out again. At this point, most bridges over the Manzanares River are now destroyed.  The Nationalists build the ‘pasarela de la puerte’ (passageway of death), a makeshift bridge, which comes under machine gun from the university all day long.

November 17

The Nationalists take the Asilo Santa Cristina Hospital. The Republican Durruti Column attack them, and stretch out to fight in University City and the Casa de Campo. But the  Durruti Column does not have enough supplies and need to retreat back to University City.

November 18

Italy and Germany both recognise Franco as the head of the new Spanish ‘government’. After over a week of battling over Madrid, the leaders all expect Madrid to be taken. Franco is ready to take all the credit but has barely lifted a finger himself in the bloody battle for control.

German aircraft are still bombarding Madrid. This is done to weaken the Republican government into surrendering (though the official government has already gone), and to hurt civilians. The Germans are throwing everything at Madrid in a bid to strengthen their ties to the new Spanish government led by Franco.

The attack north of central Madrid in University City is now three days old and is at breaking point. The Anarchist Durruti Column from Barcelona has been at the front line the whole time, and now their 3,000 strong column is down to only 400 men. The Nationalist side too have lost 1290 men. The University City suburb is largely cut off from central Madrid but neither side have any advantage.

November 19

The Durruti Column launches its dramatic big assault in University City. The Nationalists have taken the hospital and the Buenaventura Durruti men launch an attack.  The Republicans are under prepared and have little supplies; the Nationalists are not used to combat in urban areas. Fighting results in 262 Nationalist killed with no ground gained at all. The Nationalist leaders, Colonel Yague and Colonel Mola are both close to losing faith as they do not want to fight in close quarters, a fight they cannot win.

The Nationalist and Republican/International Brigades fight for control if the Hospital Clínico in the east of the University City. After heaving fighting, the sides fight with grenades and bayonets, one room and floor at a time. Both sides suffer heavy losses.

The outskirts of the city

Buenaventura Durruti is shot while on the front line in the early afternoon in the Casa de Campo.  A bullet pierces his right lung, possibly entering through his back. No one knows (or claims to not know) what actually happened. Which weapon shot him is unknown, and some speculate he was shot by his own side rather than the enemy. The true story will never be definitively uncovered.

NB: There will be a ‘This Week in Spanish Civil War History; Extra’ on Durruti on November 19, including eye-witness accounts of his death and the ‘cover-up’ story.

November 20

Buenaventura Durruti dies at 6 a.m, 16 hours after being shot in the chest. He is aged just 40 and it strikes not just a blow to end his life but also to the end of the propaganda surrounding the Durruti Column, a huge blow to the Anarchists. Durruti dies in the Ritz Hotel, which is now a makeshift hospital, and the bullet is not taken out of his heart. No autopsy is performed.

Buenaventura Durruti – anarchist fighter (and character in my next SCW novel)

November 20

Another 294 Nationalists die while fighting to take Carabanchel and Vertice Basurero to the south of Madrid. Again no gains are made in the urban assault, weakening the entire plan to take Madrid  by force.

José Antonio Primo de Rivera, son of former Spanish dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera is executed in Alicante, two days after being sentenced. Primo de Rivera has been a prisoner there since the start of the war. The Communists holding him decide to try him in a civil court before a Communist governor, as they can no longer wait a decision from the government. He is the leader of the fascist Falange party, and is killed by firing squad at dawn.  Spanish PM Largo Caballero is angered at the Communists for taking their own action, but the Republicans rely so heavily on Soviet supplies and men. The Spanish Communist party is continuing to strengthen and is becoming a state within a state.

NB: There will be a ‘This Week in Spanish Civil War History; Extra’ on Primo de Rivera on November 20.

Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera – Fascist leader

November 21

The Nationalists attack the Model prison and Don Juan barracks. Using bases by the Asilo Santa Cristina Hospital and Dr Rubio Research Institute, they manage to get as far as Parque del Oeste, but are bombed by their German counterparts.

The Commune de Paris column fighting for the Republicans recapture the Hall of Philosophy and Letters Building. Books are used to protect themselves inside. It takes around 350 pages to stop a bullet.

The siege is now days away from its end.

Books as protection seen by Robert Capa

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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

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This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 17: 7 – 14 November 1936

Week 17: 7 – 14 November 1936

(see Week 16: 1 -7 November 1936 for the Madrid lead-up and maps)

Republicans orange, Nationalists blue

November 7

The attack on Madrid begins. All major bridges are attacked by Nationalist troops, most taken easily on the first day of fighting. General Varela attacks from the north, and troops pour into the Casa de Campo and through Ciudad Universitaria. Nationalist troops fight Republican militia in man-to-man combat, and killing occurs one building at a time as Nationalists swarm the city. The death count rockets on both sides. Despite their soldiers’ training and weapons, Colonel Yague sees over 300 of his Legionnaires Moroccan troops killed on day one. Franco expects the Nationalists will have won within a day, unaware the International Brigade troops are one day from arriving from east, along with the Durruti Column anarchists from Barcelona, in time to back up huge number of Spanish militia and hold back the conquering of Madrid.

The start of the massacres in Paracuellos del Jarama, a small area in the north of Madrid. Political prisoners, most soldiers and priests arrested at the outbreak of war, are taken out of the city to be executed. Between November 7 until December 4, the 5,000 prisoners are moved, as the Republicans don’t want hostile Nationalist prisoners inside the city. Some are moved away from the front, but Paracuellos del Jarama is the site of multiple executions. Over the first few days, 1,000 prisoners, all Nationalist sympathisers, will be shot. The death toll will be unknown; many say 2,000-3,000, some up to 12,000.

International Brigades in Casa de Campo

November 8

The major launch on Madrid begins. General Mola attacks with 20,000 soldiers, mostly the Moroccan troops. The Condor Legion from Germany launches air strikes on the city. German officer Wilhelm Von Thoma leads German tanks alongside light amour support from Italy.

The Republicans have more men, and send 12,000 to Carabanchel, but the larger force of 30,000 heads to Casa de Campo. The problem lies in the detail; the Republican men have had little or no training at all, and have only ten rounds per rifle. Only sheer numbers hold off the Nationalists. Small groups of Moroccan regulares soldiers manage to get over the Manzanares River to Model Prison, which is the set target for the onslaught. One of the Republican leaders, General Miaja, took his scared men forward himself to try to force the soldiers back. Radios all over Madrid repeatedly called the classic ‘­­¡No pasarán!’ (they shall not pass!) slogan, calling everyone to help in the fight against the siege.

By evening, the first International Brigade arrives, the XIth battalion, from Albacete in the east. There were small in numbers, but they provided morale and back-up for the fighting Madrileños. The men had not finished their basic training. They were greeted on Gran Via as a Soviet Union battalion, though they were a mix of German, Polish, Italian French and small numbers of other countries.

Telegrams are sent to the War Ministry in Madrid, congratulating Franco on his victory; no Nationalists are in Madrid, and neither side has won anything.

Nationalist soldiers at the front

November 9

The Nationalists focus on taking the southern Carabanchel suburb. The Moroccan soldiers are trained in open-country fighting and not the urban battle they need to fight. Republicans, who work and live in the area, have the home ground advantage, and there are many Nationalist casualties as the Republicans again hold the enemy back.

The XI International brigade, 1,900 men, start their fighting in Casa de Campo alongside Republicans in the evening. Heavy fighting sees 2/3 of the Internationals killed, though the Nationalists do not advance into Madrid. Fighting will last for several days, with both sides suffering losses. The Nationalist no longer see Casa de Campo as a way into Madrid, though this is not just due to international fighting, but their presence is good for propaganda.

The San Fernando bridge, which flanks the left of the Nationalist-held area over the Manzanares River, is retaken by the Republicans.

Air strike damage

November 10

Ciudad Universitaria in the city’s north is under Republican control, though the Nationalists are prepping the take the area. Around 150 Nationalists are killed on the front line around the north of the city, a total of 2,369 casualties since the start of the siege.

The Durruti Column, a group of 3,000 anarchists from Barcelona, arrive in Madrid, ready to help defend Casa de Campo. They had been marching to Zaragoza to recover the city from the Nationalists, but had no success and carried on to Madrid to help. They are led by famous anarchist Buenaventura Durruti.

University City area held by Republicans

November 11

Another 1,000 Nationalist prisoners are killed in the Paracuellos del Jarama reportedly by the Fifth Column, a communist led group of Spanish militiamen, who are well-organised and well-trained, unlike most in the area. The prisoners, all taken from the Model Prison in inner Madrid, are shot and bodies are dumped, in retaliation for the Nationalists attacking the city. The killings are one of the Republicans’ sides most vicious single-acts against civilians.

The arrival of the Durruti column causes some discontent as the placement of the men is up for debate, as the anarchists and Madrid-based militia try to work together. Regardless of any tensions within Madrid, the Nationalists are still held outside Madrid for another day.

Refuge from bombing in the Madrid subway

November 12

The XII International Brigade arrives in Madrid and launches an attack on Cerro de los Ángeles hill, south of Madrid, only just taken by the Nationalists. This is to ensure the Nationalists cannot advance east of Madrid and claim the road to Valencia. The attack fails, but the road to Valencia is still secure. The brigade of Spanish, French, German and Austrian fighters are suffering from lack of training and supplies, and communication trouble, but the 1,500 strong brigade returns to the safety of Madrid, with minimal losses.

The children of Madrid

November 13-14

The battle continues in Carabanchel, and man-to-man fighting continues right in the military hospital, with the Republicans losing many men but still holding the area.

Fighting along the south and west of the city continues, with air strikes on the city combined with close combat fighting. The Nationalists are preparing to take Madrid via the northern Ciudad Universitaria area, as Casa de Campo and Carabanchel manage to hold safely. The International Brigades are basing themselves in the north now to hold the Nationalists back.

Republicans at the front

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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