This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Weeks 125 – 128: 1 – 31 December 1938

Almost two and a half years since the start of the war, the Republican-controlled area of Spain has dwindled. The battle of the Ebro through the second half of 1938 has destroyed the Republicans, who have no hope of recovery, with low numbers of trained men still alive, no weapons, and no aid in sight. With the withdrawal of all International Brigades in October, the Republicans are left isolated. The Nationalists continue to receive weapons, aircraft and ammunition from Hitler. The Munich Agreement (the changes to the Non-Intervention Committee agreement of stopping Germany and Italy from aiding Franco) has not been enforced by any European country, so the fascists are free to finishing destroying Spain.

December 10

The Nationalists decide to keep up momentum after taking Aragon, and plan their final offensive, to take Catalonia and its capital of Barcelona. The Army of the North, led by General Dávila, is 340,000 strong, spread out along the Catalonia border from the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean. The Segre River is controlled General Grande’s Army of Urgel, with General Valiño’s Army of Maestrazgo and Moscardo’s Aragon Army as back-up. The German Condor Legion provide air cover with 500 planes, on top of  support from the Italian Cuerpo Legionario (four divisions  of 55,000 men) and General Solchaga’s Army Corps from Navarra, plus General Yagüe’s Moroccan Corps fresh from the slaughter of the Ebro. Between these groups, they bring 1,400 cannons and 300 tanks.

The Republicans are seriously overwhelmed by this offensive. General Juan Hernandez Servia has his Oriental region Army Corps, joined by Colonel Perea’s East Army and Colonel Modesto’s Ebro Army. These groups combined make 300,000 men, but they have only 17,000 rifles between them. They combine their weapons and only come up with 250 cannons and 40 tanks (most too damaged to use). The Soviets have promised a shipment of weapons to aid Spain, promising 250 planes, 250 tanks and 650 cannons, but they cannot reach France before mid-January. On top of this problem, the borders cannot allow most of it into Spain.

People strip bark from trees to cook in Madrid

Another major issue facing Catalonia is lack of food. With no international aid, rations per day for each person is only 100 grams of lentils. Both troops and civilians just want the war over, no matter what happens, even though for many, the end will be death. The problem is far from isolated to Catalonia, as all areas are suffering from lack of food, particularly Madrid, still surrounded by the rebels, and haven’t received fresh food from Valencia since late 1937.

December 23

Lleida, 1938

The initial attack planned for December 10 has been changed to December 23, when the Italian and Navarre troops cross the Mequinenza river, through Republican frontlines and advance 16 kilometres near Lleida. They are only stopped on December 25 when they meet General Lister’s V and XV Republican Corps. At the same time, General Grande and General Valiño’s troops advance on Cervera and Artesa, but are stopped by the Republican 26th division. General Yague’s Moroccan troops are still at the Ebro due to winter flooding.

The first week of battle is held within the first 50 kilometres from the Catalonia border into the province, Cervera being 47 kilometres from the initial frontlines. Within the first week, the Republicans lose 40 planes in the fighting, the death toll on both sides not calculated as the battles are spread out along the province.

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the month’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 – Weeks 121 – 124: 1 – 30 November 1938

November 3

After occupying Pandols Range on November 2, the Nationalists fighting in the battle of the Ebro finally reach the water’s edge itself. With the Republicans either slaughtered or captured, and the International Brigades withdrawn at the Prime Minister’s command, nothing is stopping the Nationalists crossing into Catalonia.

November 7

The town of Cabra, 70 kilometres southeast of Córdoba, is bombed from the air by the Republicans. Between three bombers, some six tonnes of bombs are dropped in a surprise morning attack. The bombs are dropped on the market and working class areas, with one bomb weighing 200 kilograms landing right in the morning marketplace. The Republicans catch the Nationalists off-guard, who don’t have time to react. The plan is to hit the Italian troops stationed in Cabra, and the pilots think they see military tents, but instead hit the market awnings. Around 109 civilians are killed with another 200 injured in a scathing mistake.

November 10 

The Nationalists have crossed the Ebro river to take the small town of Móra la Nova, on the east side of the river in Catalonia province. They also have Mount Picossa, the final main strategic point in the Battle of the Ebro. The Republicans have no way to stop the Nationalists now.

November 16

The remaining Nationalist forces cross the Ebro at Flix and the battle is over. The Republican army is now destroyed, losing most of its men and all of its equipment, and the Republican airforce has nothing left to fight Franco’s rebels, losing 150 planes in the fight. Both sides have suffered massive losses over the four-month battle. The estimate of deaths ranges between 50,000 to 100,000 people, with another 20,000 to 30,000 captured. The Nationalists have sacrificed many of their finest officers, while the Republicans lost their experienced men and all their weapons. Even the Nationalists need to repair all of what they had left.

Franco signs a new deal with Germany, who send in new weapons in return for mining contracts, so the Nationalists can regroup and launch an attack on Catalonia. The Republicans have long used an approach of constantly attacking Nationalist positions, rather than planning solid defense, meaning Catalonia and its capital Barcelona have no safety, and the propaganda gained from constant attacks now has no use. The one positive note of the Ebro battles is that since the Nationalists had to turn around troops and weapons to the mountains, saving Valencia from being captured.

Remaining Republican men at the end of the battle

November 25

The Republicans now have no solid army, and the Nationalists are regrouping for a December attack on Catalonia. They need to bring 340,000 men together to cover the front-line from the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean, along the Catalonia border. The Republicans need to bring together 200,000 men to defend the region, though with no weapons, the men will be unarmed. The Soviets agree to send what artillery they can, though the battle is looking to be another slaughter by the Nationalists.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Weeks 117 – 120: 1 – 31 October 1938

October 2

The Nationalists attack Hill 565 in the Sierra Pandols-Cavalls, taking the strategic post. The Republicans have held this high point since the start of the offensive. On this hillside is an old Moorish tower, which the XV International Brigades used as a general protection site, along with the many caves where men hid from sight during the fighting.  By now, most hill locations defended by the Republicans and International Brigades have been taken by the Nationalists, and many International battalions are starting to retreat from the battle, due to the command that all foreign fighters withdraw from Spain.

October 4

The intensely useless Non-Intervention Committee continues its withdraw of all foreign fighters in Spain. This is done in the hope that Franco and his fascists start to withdraw their 50,000 foreign men (and 30,000 Moroccan Legionnaires) from the battle – but why would they when they are making such sweeping gains? The Republicans start their withdrawal of the International Brigades, though many battalions have already fought their last battles and started their trek into Catalonia to leave Spain for good.

October 8

Sant Vicenç de Calders railway station, three kilometres outside the Catalonia village of  Sant Vicenç, is attacked from the air by the Italian Aviazione Legionaria. The station is an important one, where the junction lines between Barcelona to Madrid and Barcelona to Valencia meet. While the main village is nearby, the station itself is surrounded by the railway town. The bombing starts  as a civilian train from Tarragona is arriving at the station on its way to Barcelona. A single plane came from the sea, as the planes were based at Palma de Mallorca, and hit the train directly. The bombing killed 60 people and injured another 100, many trampled by the panic caused. It would not be the first attack on this strategic railway station, and is only 70 kilometres along the coast from Barcelona.

October 16

The Nationalists breach Hill 666 in the Sierra Panadols, the key point of the Pandols-Cavalls mountain range, which shall lead the Nationalists straight down to the Ebro itself. While the Republicans still hold the Sierra Pandols, they are now isolated pockets of men in caves, bravely holding out in the face of mass casualties. Some 50 kilometres north in the battle, the Republicans are also losing ground near Mequinenza, making the battle ever more difficult as the Spanish fighters are without any of their international men.

International Brigades near Falset (50 kilometres from the Ebro) 16 October as they prepare to leave Spain

October 29

The International Brigades have met their sad end after a bloody and brutal volunteer battle to save Spain. Around  10,000 foreign volunteers are still in Spain for the Republicans. The battles have had around 20,000 foreign fighters on the front-lines at their height, with some 35,000 total coming to Spain, with 15,000 killed and left behind. Of the 10,000 still in the country, half are exiles or refugees from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and other European nations such as Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Balkans, Austria, Poland, all which currently have right-wing governments, are annexed by, or under threat from, Germany.  Those remaining from Belgium and the Netherlands have lost their right as citizens for fighting for a foreign army. Those from countries not supporting the rising Fascism of Europe (England, France, the U.S and Canada, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Chile, Argentina, olivia, Ukraine, China, India, Japan, Mongolia, the Palestine Jews, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq – seriously, everyone came), were sent either immediately home, or were herded into camps north of the French border to either die there or eventually get home in time to suffer WWII. Those who chose not to return to their dangerous countries were drafted into Spanish battalions to stay on as Spaniards. Regardless of what country these men and women came from, their return home was not as heroes, as many suffered consequences of their decision to flee their countries to save Spain. None will be offered safe haven in Spain until the mid-1990’s.

Farewell parade in Barcelona 29 October

October 30

The Nationalist Army of the Maestrazgo is taken over by Morroccan General Mohammed Meziane, and they attack the Pandols-Cavalls sierra one more time, this time to end the battle to the river. Armed with the entire battalion, 100 aircraft from the Condor Legion and 175 guns, the Nationalists attack and take 19 fortified Republican positions, resulting in the deaths of 1,500 Republican troops and take another 1,000 men prisoner. With this, the Nationalists now can hike down the eastern side of the mountains to the Ebro, where its waters run along the border of Aragon in Catalonia. The Republicans are now in serious trouble, with a bloody Catalonia Offensive already planned by Franco.

Click on this great map to go to Richard Baxell’s site to learn so much more about the battles than I could ever manage to write. Baxell is an A+ expert on the war and International Brigades.

*thank you for your patience with these posts while I was delayed with the release of my latest book. 

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the month’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 – Weeks 113 – 116: 1 – 30 September 1938

September 3

The Nationalist Maestrazgo Corps  arrive at the Ebro front, drawn away from their task of capturing Valencia, to help the advance through the Sierra Cavalls and Pàndols, and then another 10 kilometres north into Corbera. The mountain range is held by the 35th, 11th and the 43rd Republican divisions. The new Eastern front Nationalists counter-attack Gandesa with a reinforcement of German 88mm guns at the same time, putting pressure on the sparse Republican men.

September 4

The Nationalists easily take the town of Corbera, while the battle in the Sierra Cavalls and Sierra Pàndols mountains ends when the Nationalist manage to break through the 11th and 43rd divisions. Only the 35th division manages to hold on, resulting in another bloody battle on Hill 705, on the sides of the Sierra Pàndols highest point. General Modesto was desperate not to lose any further ground in the mountains as thousands were slaughtered. He gave a rousing speech about holding onto every metre of ground the Republicans still had, and countless died for it. Hill 705 has seen many battles and has changed sides dozen of times (one day in August saw the hill change hands eight times) and continues to be a powerful symbol for both sides of the battle.

Republican troops in the Sierra Pànadols

September 13

The 35th division returns to its original position low in the Sierra Pàndols, taking with them the remaining survivors of the 11th division. The Ebro battle has now seen tens of thousands of men dead on both sides. The Ebro is only six weeks old and yet the Nationalists have claimed some 120 square miles of land that the Republicans first took when the crossed the Ebro and Sangre rivers. The Republicans still hold the key crossings points and yet have no way of holding back the eventual crush they know they shall face from imposing Nationalist forces.

Hill 705 on the Sierra Pànadols

September 21

Republican Prime Minister Juan Negrin gives a speech at the League of Nations, regarding the Non-Intervention Committee. The  European countries in the Committee, which has done nothing but interfere with Spain either directly or indirectly, have aided the destruction of Spain  either by supplying weapons and people, or simply sitting on their hands and doing nothing. While wet-bus-ticket Chamberlain, UK Prime Minister, thinks that meetings on the Non-Intervention Committee have been successful throughout 1938, the Committee and its discussions have been a disaster. PM Negrin says he plans to withdraw all International Brigades from the war, as a show of contempt for the Non-Intervention Committee (not that the Non-Intervention sent these troops – rather these men were fearless volunteers, 30 percent of which were killed and left behind in Spain). Many of the International Brigades are now Spaniards, or men who cannot return home to their fascist home counties without being punished/killed for their efforts, but the time has come for the foreigners in battle to leave. At the same time, the UK makes an accord with Italy for them to also remove their men and artillery from Spain, after ignoring the Committee and fighting for the Nationalists for the entire war. The Republican International Brigades have ought many brave battles and now shall be removed in what looks like a sign of defeat against the Nationalists and their German and Italian allies. Even if the Nationalists lose the Italian troops and pilots, the Germans will remain backing Franco while they prep for the coming WWII (and being part of the Non-Intervention Committee!).

September 23

The International Brigades of the XI, XIII and XV battalions, all part of the 35th division fight once last battle at Hill 705 in an attempt to break through the Nationalists, so they can link up with the Valencian reinforcements which will never come. The Nationalists have not broken over the Ebro, but they have killed almost 15,000 Republicans in a battle which will choke on for several more months.

Welsh International Brigades

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the month’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 – Weeks 104 – 107: 1 – 31 July 1938 – Two Years of War; the 80th Anniversary of Ebro

July 1

July 1938 has all eyes on Valencia, Catalonia and Aragon, and yet in the south-west, the Mérida pocket is also suffering new battles. Extremadura, the most western area of Spain, was quickly taken by the Nationalists when the war broke out, but the Mérida pocket is the sole area held by Republicans, an area west of Mérida in the La Serena region in Badajoz province. Franco wants the Mérida pocket in his control to settle the entire region. If Republicans could take Mérida, then they could cut the Nationalist zone in Extremadura in half. While the Nationalists had quietly secured the frontline along the  Zújar River in June, Franco implements a plan to circle all remaining Republican men and execute the whole lot, whose numbers could be as high as 10,000.

July 10

The Battle of the Ebro preparation is well underway. The Republican Ebro Army was formed on May 15 by the Republicans, in response to massive gains made by the Nationalists as they murder their way through the Valencia region. Lieutenant Colonel Juan Modesto took control of both the 5th and 15th Army Corps, which combined the 35th International Division (made of the XI, XIII and XV International Brigades), the 3rd Division (made of the 31st, 33rd and 60th mixed brigades) the 42nd Division (made of the 226th, 227th and 59th brigades), the 15th Army Corps (with the 16th Popular Republican Army Division of the 12th Army Corps) and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment. By mid-July many anti-aircraft weapons arrive along with 11th Division (made of the  1st, 9th and 100th mixed brigades), the 46th Division (made of the 10th, 60th and 101st mixed brigades) and the 45th Division International Division (made with the 12th”Garibaldi”, 14th “Marsellesa” and 139th mixed brigades).

July 13

The Republicans add more to their numbers with the 12th Army Corps, now led by Lieutenant Colonel Etelvino Vega. The 12th Army Corps was then made up of the 16th Division (including the  23rd and 24th mixed brigades) and the 44th Division (including  the 140th, 144th and 145th mixed brigades). The 18th Army Corps bring Lieutenant Colonel José del Barrio to lead the 27th Division (including  the 122nd “la Bruixa”, the 123rd and 124th mixed brigades), the 60th Division (with the 95th, 84th and 224th mixed brigades) and 43th Division (with the 72nd, 102nd and 130th mixed brigades). At its height, the Republican troops will number 80,000 men.

Republican soldiers at the Ebro, July 1938

July 15

The Nationalist army has been storming regions around the Ebro for months and have many huge battalions in the area. The Army of the North, controlled by  General Fidel Davila, a powerful and successful group, are flanked by the 40th, 50th and 105th Divisions of the Moroccan Army Corps under vicious General Yague. Included in the Moroccan Corps are the Legionarios, Regulares, the Carlists and Falaganists and African mercenaries, all groups well-known over the past two years for wild slaughter, torture and rape of troops and civilians. General Rafael García Valiño’s Maestrazgo Army Corps, made of the 1st Navarra Division and the 74th, 84th and 13th Divisions are also very close by, having controlled the northwest Valencia region. The numbers the Nationalists have/can access is 90,000 experienced men. 

Legionnaires on the Ebro, July, 1938

July 18

Today marks two years of civil war in Spain. The death tolls is already into the hundreds of thousands, with no spot in the country unaffected. Madrid continues to be held by the Republicans while surrounded by Nationalists, who still cannot get through the front-lines. Catalonia’s uprising with the rights of workers has long dimmed as the war nears their own streets, and the Aragonese anarchist lifestyle has been destroyed. Concentration camps have been set up to take Republicans, if they are not first executed. All major cities, except for capital Valencia, Madrid and Barcelona, rest in Nationalist hands. Europe is looking nervously at Hitler, yet not helping the people of Spain, already suffering Hitler’s power as Franco looks to join Hitler and Mussolini as Europe’s great fascist leaders. Precious few believe in the Republican cause now, which is the one card they have to play in the Battle of the Ebro, as they have the element of surprise on the Nationalist troops.

July 20

South in Extremadura, the Mérida Pocket is going to be closed by the Nationalists. General Saliquet,  based in the northern area of the Badajoz region, marches his men south into La Serena, where the Republican front-line is strong. At the same time, General Queipo de Llano has been marching his men northwest towards La Serena. This makes the Republicans embattled at both their major front-lines, and are routinely pounded by gunfire for four days.

La Serena

24 July

The Republican divisions, the VII Army Corps with the 36th and 36th Divisions from Algodar to Zújar, and the VIII Army Corps with the 38th, 63rd and 51st divisions from Zújar to Guadalmellato, are completely overtaken by Nationalist troops. The battle ends with the massive slaughter of troops throughout the Don Benito and Villanueva de la Serena areas, murdering the whole Extramaduran Republican Army. This short battle is the largest slaughter of troops in the region (as civilian slaughter  and imprisonment has been wholesale here since the outbreak of war). Nationalist men continue their march through the Mérida pocket of La Serena, eastwards into Toledo province, where the Republican 91st and 109th mixed brigades are trapped on every side. These remaining men are rounded up to be placed in the Castuera concentration camp 45 kilometres south, though most will be executed in the camp. Colonel Ricardo Burillo, leader of the Extremadura Army Corps, survives, and is dismissed after the bloody defeat of around 10,000, while the Nationalists have lost almost no one.

Republicans cross the Ebro

July 25

After a week of planning, the commanders of the 14th Republican Army Corps cross the Ebro river, to watch the Nationalists, taking their positions while other troops prepare river crossings. The Nationalists soon see what is happening, reporting to Franco that the Republicans and their International Brigades are on the bank of the river with rafts and pontoons. Franco is not concerned, aware of how weakened the Republicans have been in the area.

The early hours of July 25 are completely dark with no moon. Between Fayon and Benifallet, a 45 kilometre bend in the river, the commanders again cross the river and kill 50th Division Nationalist guards posted in the area. After fastening assault boats, the first of 90 boats cross, ten men in each boat, under darkness. All following troops  then cross on pontoon bridges at daybreak. The Nationalists are totally unprepared for this wide attack, overcome in surprise. The International Brigade attack 40 kilometres south of Benifallet at Amposta, but are overpowered within the first 18 hours of combat, with the few survivors retreating back over the Ebro.

Around 4,000 Nationalist men of the 50th division are imprisoned, while some manage to desert. The Republican 15th Army Corps carry on, and advance three miles north, while the 5th Army Corps manage a huge 21 kilometres east.

July 26

The Republicans have marched 30 kilometres south to Gandesa, and now occupy 800 square kilometres, but cannot hold Gandesa, as the Nationalists’ 13th division have the town fortified. Franco frantically deploys more troops to counter the attacks, with an extra eight divisions, 140 bombers and 100 fighters sent to the Ebro. The Nationalists hold the dams at Tremp and Camarasa, which are opened, flooding the Republican pontoons, which take two days to repair. At the same time the German Condor Legion and Italian  Aviazione Legionaria bomb the pontoon bridges, which can only be repaired at night. Due to the planes and the flooding, the Republicans have only got 22 tanks and minimal artillery over the bridges, leaving men exposed and without water and food.

International Brigades cross at Minveret

July 27

The town of Gandesa is a key target for the Republicans, which is 25 kilometres west of their first river crossing point. Gandesa is surrounded by hilly limestone terrain in the Caballs, Pandols and Fatarella ranges. The limestone hills have little shelter, leaving the men at the mercy of overhead bombers. But they push on, spread out over a 35 kilometre line, eager to take Gandesa, a pivotal town into Catalonia, so men and tanks are forced over the limestone hillsides.

Republicans in the hard terrrain

July 31

The leading Nationalist commanders want to hold their ground at Grandesa, keeping the town in their hands and stopping the Republicans, while also planning to attack them from the north. But Franco is unwilling to listen to this, as he is pleased to have the strength of the Republican army trapped within a 35 kilometre stretch. Regardless of the loss of life, Franco wants the Nationalists to regain all the ground they have lost, rather than holding Republicans in place. Franco wants them back over the Ebro and killed.

The International Brigades, who have been mixed with 15th Army Corps, have regrouped after their failed crossing at Amposta, and plan an attempt to take Hill 481, right outside the town of Gandesa. It will be a risky attack, with no cover from the air bombers. The battle still has four months to run.

British troops at Hill 481

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the month’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.