This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 142: 80th Anniversary of the Final Offensive 26 March – 1 April 1939

March 26

General Yagüe and his troops advance north and east from the Sierra Morena mountains, on the Andalusia/Castilla La Mancha border. Any remaining Republican soldiers in the country are ordered to drop their weapons and retreat from any remaining front-lines. Nothing can be done to stop the Nationalists now. In a single day, the Nationalist troops take 200,000 square kilometres of land and take 30,000 Republican prisoners. Escobar Huerta surrenders the city of Ciudad Real to Yagüe inside an old casino, and is then shipped off to be executed.

March 27

General Solchaga’s Navarre Corps, General Garcia Valiño’s Army of Maestrazgo, and General Gambara’s Italian troops are ordered to take the city of Toledo, which has spent much of the war on the front-line, and just 70 kilometres from Madrid. The city suffers unconditional surrender and prisoners are quickly captured. Anyone Republican must be swiftly rounded up.

Troops head from Toledo to Madrid

March 28

Republic Colonel Prada officially surrenders Madrid to the Nationalists, who have had the city surrounded for almost three years, and the Nationalists are able to enter the city without a fight. All remaining leaders of the Republicans who are in Madrid flee to Valencia in the hope of escape, including General Casado, who had been trying to negotiate a peaceful surrender with Franco.

Troops mingle with locals as they enter Madrid

March 29

The Nationalists now hold the main centre of Jaén, some 90 kilometres north  of Granada, and have also marched 250 kilometres southeast of Madrid to Albacete and Cuenca, so most of Castilla La Mancha is now occupied. The port town of Sagunto, just 30 kilometres north of Valencia city, is occupied, leaving Republicans refugees almost nowhere else to go.

March 29

The ports of Valencia, Gandia, Alicante and Cartagena are still in Republican hands, and 50,000 Republican refugees are stranded along the coast, without any Republican navy to aid them from the coming onslaught. British and French ships in the regions cannot take refugees, as their governments have recognised Franco’s control over Spain. Hundreds of Spaniards rich enough to bribe foreign ship captains are able to escape, General Casado included.

Refugees wait in Alicante

March 30

The Nationalists take Valencia, marking the final demise of the Republican effort to save their country. Gambara’s Italian troops take Alicante and its port, taking 15,000 refugees prisoner at the port. Gambara is prepared to allow political refugees to leave the country, but the Nationalists shall not allow it. At the port in Alicante, refugees start committing suicide in huge numbers, to avoid the Nationalists, who are only one day away from arriving.

The British Stanbrook leaving Alicante with rich refugees, bound for Algeria.

March 31

After taking the regions of Almeria, Murcia and Cartagena in the far south-east, all of Spain is now under Nationalist occupation. All remaining refugees in Spain are huddled in Alicante port, hoping their chance to be evacuated will still come. The Nationalist troops arrive, and the refugees are slowly lined up to be taken prisoner. But there are 20,000 terrified people, and they have to suspend capturing people until the next day, giving more the chance to commit suicide at the port before being taken away. The suicide toll runs into the hundreds.

April 1

Generalissimo Francisco Franco broadcasts what will be his last radio message of the war:

Today, after having disarmed and captured the Red Army, the Nationalist troops have secured their final military objective. The war is ended. Burgos, April 1, 1939. Year of Victory.

As of April 1, only the Soviet Union does not already recognise Franco’s government. Franco already has a new Non-Aggression Pact with Portugal and a treaty of friendship with Germany, leaving Spain to be neutral in WWII, while they recover from civil war. Within a week, Franco backs the Anti-Comintern Pact between Germany and Japan to denounce Communism. German and Italian troops leave by June 1939, in preparation for the coming European war.

The Final Offensive saw 150,000 Republic soldiers and civilian rounded up in the concentration camps, bringing the total of Republic prisoners in April 1939 to upwards of 500,000. Within just several years, over 50,000 will have already been executed. 

Franco celebrates in Madrid

After three years of bloody battles, of murder, rape, pillaging, looting, of destruction of cities, towns, communities, ways of life, ideals, and families, evil emerges the winner. All sides of political spectrum have fought, the rich against the poor, the workers against those desperate to hold onto the monarchy, religion, and landowning feudal rulers, everyone and everything has been pitted against one another for a horror show of gore and misery. Approximately one million people are dead, murdered by people of their own country. From the sprawling rural plains to the ancient cities, everything has been reduced to nothing, every way of life hacked to pieces. Civilians have been herded and lined up to be executed, women raped until they died and left sprawled in the dirt. Bodies of nuns were dug up and displayed, family members ripped from their homes in the dead of night and shot in ditches, their families still to scared to speak up eighty years later.

Nationalist victory parade in San Sebastian

While April 1st marks the end of the Spanish Civil War, the war didn’t end for many. Franco’s first decree was to ensure all Republicans would suffer for their choices. More than 1000 concentration camps were erected in Spain, holding people well into the 1950’s. Many didn’t survive the camps. How many people died between 1939 and 1975 isn’t known, but one estimate is almost one million. Fascism and staunch Catholicism wormed its way into every part of Spanish life, its people silenced as Franco systemically destroyed everyone who hated him. Right up until Franco died, he signed death warrants, a miserable old bastard who got to die warm in his bed.

With WWII starting just a few months after Spain was brought down, Franco and what he did has been largely ignored, by history and anyone not directly affected. Franco couldn’t have won the war without Hitler and Mussolini, whose European exploits shot memories of their fascist cruelty into the hearts and minds of everyone, unforgettable despotic hatred. Franco allowed the Germans and Italians to aid him, and they used Spain as their own practice killing fields, testing new methods of warfare, such as carpet bombing, testing men and artillery, preparing for the fight to take Europe. Countries such as the UK and France sat idly by, hoping to avert a European war by doing nothing, when they could have potentially stopped Germany, Italy and Spain before the Nazis took over. But not the UK, France, nor any other country in the Non-Intervention Committee bothered to help, countries overrun by Germany soon after. The Germans and Italians assumed the UK would quickly intervene when the war started, and  were surprised that nothing happened in retaliation. The US was as unhelpful in the Spanish Civil War as it was in the first two years of WWII. The only people desperate to stop all this were the Spanish Republicans, and the thousands of individuals who risked their lives to find their own way to Spain to help. Many never made it home, many who did were punished for their bravery.

I will do a separate post as to the fates of the main players of the war on both sides, as well as the struggles faced by the people in their home cities and towns in the aftermath. I will also post about the ongoing discovery of ‘disappeared’ Spaniards still being reburied, the fates of the refugees who walked into France, and what happened to the International Brigades. I will also do a post on the many sources I have used for these three years of postings.

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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 23 and 24: 19 – 31 December 1936

Heart of the heartless world,
Dear heart, the thought of you
Is the pain at my side,
The shadow that chills my view.

The wind rises in the evening,
Reminds that autumn is near.
I am afraid to lose you,
I am afraid of my fear.

On the last mile to Huesca,
The last fence for our pride,
Think so kindly, dear, that I
Sense you at my side.

And if bad luck should lay my strength
Into the shallow grave,
Remember all the good you can;
Don’t forget my love

John Cornford, English volunteer killed one day after his 21st birthday.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – a round-up to the end of the first deadly year. Week 23 and 24: 19 – 31 December 1936

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December 20

The Nationalist Aceituna Offensive through Andalusia in Spain’s south continues –

The Nationalist troops are controlling small towns throughout southern Spain. Around 4,000 men, all Moroccan soldiers and Spanish troops, take the town of Bujalance, right in the centre of southern Spain, near Córdoba.

The Nationalists are still trying to occupy the town of Boadilla del Monte, in constant battle with the XII and XIV International Brigades, just outside Madrid. General Orgaz Yoldi leading the Nationalist troops decides to end the stalemate and retreats, leaving the Corunna Road into Madrid again in Republican hands.

December 22

The same troops who occupied Bujalance move on to take control of the nearby towns of Pedro Abad and Villafranca de Córdoba. This leads the Republicans to set up the new Army of the South under General Fernando Martínez-Monje Restoy, with International Brigades dispatched to the Córdoba front.

Thousands of Italian volunteers arrive in Nationalist-held Cádiz, ready to help the Nationalists’ hold on the south of Spain.

International Brigades in December 1936

24 December

Some 600 men of the 9th company of the XIV International Brigade battle Nationalist troops at the town of Villa del Rio in Córdoba, and 400 volunteer men are killed. The remaining men move on to the nearby town of Montoro.

December 25

Thousands of Spanish fighters and international volunteers spend  Christmas  in trenches. The country is awash with refugees fleeing continuous violence all over the nation and hide through the Christmas period in refugee camps or in subway stations, many in bitter conditions.

Nationalist troops take the town of Montoro, after fighting off and killing many left from the 9th company of the XIV International Brigades.

Christmas being ‘celebrated’ on the Basque front

27 December

The two-day Battle of Lopera begins. The tiny town in the Jaén province sees the XIV International Brigades attack to take control of the area. The initial attack fails and 300 of the 3,000 initial force are quickly killed, another 600 seriously wounded. General Walter’s men have not had time to be trained in Albacete and have no communication and no air or ground support. Still, they battle the 4,000 Nationalists who have machine guns and other artillery.  Fighting continues for 36 hours before the International Brigades are forced to retreat, after gaining no ground, though 200 Nationalists are killed.

The English 10th battalion of the XIV International Brigades lose 78 of their 145 men, including Ralph Winston Fox, a British journalist, novelist and historian, famous for writing the biography of Genghis Khan. Also among the dead is poet John Cornford, great-grandson of Charles Darwin and well-known communist, just a day after he turns 21. The bodies of the volunteers still remain buried on the lonely hillside where they died.

John Cornford

The French Marseillaise 12th battalion of the Brigade have their commander, Major Gaston Delasalle, detained by André Marty, the Political Commissar of the International Brigades, and leading man in the French Communist Party. Marty accuses Delasalle of gross incompetence, resulting in the decimation of his men. Without evidence, Delasalle is also accused of being a fascist spy and of cowardice during battle. Marty arranges a quick court-martial and Delasalle is executed by firing squad. While no one speaks in Delasalle’s defence, Marty has many afraid of him and his ‘mentally sick’ behaviour, though he is regarded by most as a hero and revolutionary.

30 December

General Orgaz Yoldi receives reinforcements after the battle of Boadilla del Monte a week earlier, and readies another attack, which will become known as Battle of the Fog in early January. During this period, the Republican and the International Brigades are trying to regroup after heavy losses, and have little in the way of help.

Author George Orwell enlists himself in a Republican POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) militia to fight against fascism.

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POUM training in December

31 December

The town of Pocuna, of around 5,000 people, isolated 50km from Córdoba and 40km from Jaén, is taken by the Nationalists. Due to taking this prime location in the olive-growing region, they are able to slow their advance for a quick break as the Republicans are overwhelmingly losing the region.

Famous Spanish writer and professor Miguel de Unamuno dies at home in  Salamanca, where he has been under house arrest for speaking against Franco at Salamanca University months earlier. Both of his sons, Fernando and Ramón de Unamuno, instantly sign up to fight the fascists.

Miguel de Unamuno’s being taken from the university, where he was arrested. It was his final public outing

From January 1, posts will return to weekly.

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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 are linked to source for credit.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 7: 29 August – 4 September 1936

Week 7: 29 August – 4 September 1936

Bonus: 28 August

The battle of Monte Pelado, a mountainous area between Almudécar and Huescar, 300 kilometres west of Barcelona, is fought between the Nationalists and Republicans. The battle was significant because the Republicans, the Francisco Ascaso column, are Catalonian anarchists flanked by the Matteotti battalion, a group of Italian fighters who have freshly arrived in Spain to help. The Nationalists have around 500 soldiers on the mountain, a major gun emplacement. A four-hour dawn battle sees the Republicans win, though they suffer huge losses including prominent Italian anarchist Mario Angeloni. Many columns have been marching out of Barcelona since 17 August, now all placed west or southwest of the city, attempting to take control of major locations.

Anarchists and Italian volunteers in Monte Pelado

31 August

Just 30 kilometres north of of the town of Andújar (near Jaén), in the mountains of the national park, 1,200 right-wing supporters, including Guardia Civil members and women and children, are hiding in the Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza church sanctuary. The town was not initially taken by the Nationalists, and the Falange supporters fled into the hills to hide. They have now been hiding for over a month, surviving on stolen items in the mountains, and are ready to defend themselves in a major siege against the Republicans, which is only days from starting.

Santuario de la Virgen de la Cabeza before the battle begins

3 September

A battle begins in Talavera de la Reina, 140 kilometres west of Madrid. The Republicans have been unable to hold back Nationalist troops marching from Seville, and are constantly losing ground. The Nationalists have won hundreds of miles without any fighting, but the Republicans have 10,000 men in Talavera ready to block the troops’ way to Madrid.  The battle begins at dawn, with the Nationalists taking the train station and aerodome immediately. Many Republicans panic and flee the town, deserting their fellow fighters and the public. A full attack takes place throughout the day, and while the Nationalists lose 1,000 of their trained soldiers, they win the town, and killed 500 Republicans, and capture another 1,000 to execute or imprison. Now, the capital city of Madrid has nothing to protect it from vicious Colonel Yague and his soldiers.

Massacre at Talavera de la Reina

Two weeks after the Republicans surrounded the island of Mallorca, they have not made much progress in getting to the prime inland heart of the island. The Nationalists have soldiers and equipment, and planes to bomb the Republicans on the coastline. The Republicans retreat in a hurry, leaving behind weapons and equipment and even some of their men.

September 4

Already the Republican government is undergoing changes, and Francisco Largo Caballero replaces José Giral. The new government is made up of six Socialists, four Republicans, two Communists, plus a Republican representative of Catalonia and a Basque nationalist, bringing the two areas into the fold. The anarchists still refuse to join the government, despite fighting alongside them in battle. The CNT now have a solid voice in the government.

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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