This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 76: The Battle of Teruel 23 – 31 December 1937

December 23

Franco knows his planned Guadalajara offensive is futile, as Teruel needs all of the manpower in the area, despite anger from the German and Italian allies who want to take Madrid and end the war.

December 25

In the small city of Cáceres in the far western region of Extremadura, 34 men are murdered, some taken from the dinner table during quiet Christmas Day meals. A shooting range is set up at the barracks of the 27th Algiers infantry regiment, where sixty Guardia Civil men could kill the chosen victims. Among the victims was the socialist Mayor Antonio Canales and President of the Provincial Council Ramón González Cid. Others were local trade union members, teachers, UGT members and Republican sympathisers, some already under arrest for months. The province had been under Nationalist control since the beginning of the war, but false rumours of an uprising led to the deaths. No plans by Republican or Communist members were planning an uprising, only lies spread by local Nationalist leaders. The story of a fake coup led by Máximo Calvo  was announced by the Falange on December 23, leading to the arrests and execution of the men. It would be the start of one month of scheduled killing around the area, leading to a total 196 dead, including 14 women, all executed for non-existent crimes.

Nationalist Colonel Domingo Rey d’Harcourt has been trying to hold out while reinforcement troops arrive in Teruel. Now two generals, Antonio Aranda and José Enrique Varela have arrived, with fresh  experienced men, and the Condor Legion has arrived to attack Teruel from the air.

December 30

Nationalist men are already making gains, by getting on the La Muela (Teruel Tooth) mountain beside the town. The weather continued to close in on both sides, making defense and attack slow and dangerous.

Frozen tanks seen by Robert Capa

December 31

The Republicans have continued their assault on the four strategic buildings the Nationalist held in the town  -the Convent of Santa Clara and the Seminary of Santa Clara, the Bank of Spain building, and the Civil Governor’s Building. By the time the new year began, all the Nationalists inside the Convent of Santa Clara had been murdered.

The final day of 1937 saw the start of a vicious four-day blizzard, with frostbite that will claim lives and limbs while the fighting continues. But 1937’s final day also saw the Nationalists hold their position on the Teruel Tooth, and get into Teruel’s bullring and railway station, both at the lowest southern point of the town. With the temperature at minus 18C, machine guns are frozen, and the reinforcement Nationalist troops do not enough warm clothing to make many gains.


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 75: The Battle of Teruel 15 -23 December 1937

December 15

Enrique Lister’s Republican brigade attacks Teruel in falling snow. Teruel has around 4,000 Nationalists holding the main town, half just civilians. Another 5,000 are in the surrounding area. The Republicans now have almost 100,000 men, half the Army of the Levante and the other the Army of the East. By the end of the day, they have surrounded Teruel, and have the critical location of La Muela, the Teruel Tooth, the highest ridge overlooking the town.
civilian evacuation from Teruel

December 17

The Nationalists, headed by Colonel Domingo Rey d’Harcourt, are struggling to hold their position in the town. The Nationalist men outside the town walls are called in to help keep the Republicans at bay, and the Nationalists have to surrender their attempts to reclaim La Muela.

Republican soldier on duty

December 19

Franco has been planning a major battle at Guadalajara outside Madrid, but now postpones his plan so the Teruel troops can receive back-up. The German and Italian allies are unhappy with this decision, as they wanted to strike a final huge blow and march into Madrid and end the war. Franco now knows he cannot end the war this way and has to win by a war of attrition. Franco is determined that no city or town will fall to the Republicans once captured by Nationalists, and keeping Teruel becomes critical in saving face as well as ground.

Hemingway arrives in Teruel

December 21

Without any aerial bombardment or major artillery, the Republicans march into Teruel, as they simply have more men in the battle. Colonel Domingo Rey d’Harcourt and his remaining men retreat into the southern edge of the town, and hope to hold four main buildings – the Convent of Santa Clara and the Seminary of Santa Clara, the Bank of Spain building, and the Civil Governor’s Building. The Nationalists are down to around 4,000 men after only a week of fighting. The fighting is down to hand to hand combat, men being bayoneted after the building they hide inside is pounded with artillery. Ernest Hemingway  and Herbert Matthews enter Teruel with the Republican troops to report on the fighting, giving the battle a large following.

Republicans outside Teruel

December 23

The Nationalists are still holding their four main locations, but the rest of Teruel is held but the Republicans. Franco decides that a Guadalajara offensive is now impossible. Franco tells Colonel Rey d’Harcourt  to hold out no matter the human cost, as the Guadalajara troops are on their way to Teruel, which will take six days. The weather in Teruel continues to get worse, the depths of winter being awful, even by Teruel’s icy standards. It will be the coldest winter in 40 years, with men sleeping in four feet of snow to hold their position. Frozen guns and frostbite are rife. Franco is sending General Antonio Aranda and General José Enrique Varela, two very vicious and successful leaders, with what will become 100,000 men, enough to match the Republican garrison.

Republicans head into Teruel


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. All pictures in this post ar courtesy of Magnum Photos, taken by Robert Capa.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 73/74: The Battle of Teruel 1 – 15 December 1937

December 1 – 7

After a month of relatively quiet times around Spain, the next large battle is being prepared, the battle of Teruel. Teruel is a small rural city of only 20,000 people, the capital of the province of Aragon, which has been largely in Republican/anarchist hands since the outbreak of war. Aragon has also been home to the bulk of the social revolution, the anarchist uprising to empower the poor and rural Spaniards suffering under both fascist and socialist rule.

Teruel is a well-fortified city, known as a strategic point over 1000 years of battle between Christians and the Moors. Teruel is only main city that separates the Nationalists in Zaragoza, 170 kilometres north, from the Republican stronghold of Valencia, 140 kilometre to the southeast. Teruel is a mountainous place, with the city at 3000 feet above sea level, and one of the coldest places in Spain. Between the weather and walled fortress city and the forest-covered mountains, Teruel is also surrounded by the Turia and Alfambra rivers.

To attack a city like Teruel, a city with strong Republican support, but in Nationalist hands, is a huge undertaking. But like all Republicans, the men of Aragon are not well-prepared or well-armed. There is the landscape to consider with the mountains home to steep cliffs, and to the west, the La Muela de Teruel, the Teruel tooth, a sharp tooth-shaped hill against the city. Beside this steep rock is a flat area where advancing troops could easily be spotted. Teruel is also a well trenched and guarded area, as it has been on the frontline between Nationalist and Republican fighting since the outbreak of war.

Despite being in the Aragon region, the Nationalists had taken the city of Teruel, and the Republicans are determined to take the city back. It is believed that the occupying Nationalists have only 4,000 men in the area, and is surrounded by Republican-held areas. By having Teruel in the hands of the Nationalists, it became a symbol that needed to be crushed. The Minister of War in the Republican government, Indalecio Prieto, wanted to see a huge victory and have Teruel retaken for the Republic. Not only would the Nationalists lose any hold on Aragon, it would make the enemy think that the Republicans had the artillery and men they needed to win the war. But, as always, fighting within the Republican side would be an issue. Spanish Prime Minister Juan Negrin wanted to take Teruel and then move onto Catalonia, where Spain could retake control of Barcelona and its workers once more. The social revolution born in Catalonia and Aragon was on its last legs, and a victory in Teruel would bolster Republican support there. Infighting would do nothing but strain the Republicans  as they fought the Nationalists as well.

Franco’s Nationalists had been planning a new offensive in Guadalajara, outside Madrid, and a battle in Teruel would stop the Nationalists from getting towards Madrid. What no one could know was that Teruel was about to suffer its worst winter in two decades, something brutal as the average winter could see temperatures well below freezing. But the Republicans decided their attack would begin on December 15, three days before Franco’s plan to capture Guadalajara, catching the Nationalists by surprise, and diverting troops away from Madrid.

8-14 December

The under-resourced Republican army had to be made up of men from all around the regions. Juan Hernández Saravia, who had commanded the southern troops in 1936 and the Levante troops through 137 (Levante is in the eastern Valencia region), began moving men to create the Army of the East for the battle of Teruel and beyond. Saravia did not want any International Brigades to fight in Teruel; it was a Spanish battle to be fought. The Communists were ready to fight with Saravia, with the Communist General Enrique Lister back in the thick of fighting. By rearranging the Republicans around Spain, Saravia had a total of 100,000 men to capture Teruel.

In the walled city of Teruel, Colonel Domingo Rey d’Harcourt commanded the Nationalists. He had a garrison of only 4,000, half just armed civilians. Outside the city in the surrounding areas, there were another 5,000-6,000 men, mostly civilians. Despite a constant flow of news going between each side with spies and information interceptors, Franco did not send any additional troops to the area, meaning as the Republicans could get themselves ready to surround Teruel, and the Nationalists had none of their much-flaunted reinforcements or aerial back-up.

December 15

As snow begins to fall around the walled city of Teruel, General Lister and his men are sent first to surround the area. Given the overwhelming numbers, Nationalists outside Teruel are instantly forced to retreat back into the walls of the city. The Republicans quickly get themselves a prime position on Teruel’s tooth mountain and completely encircle the city. It would be the quiet opening day to what would become a symbolic, bloody and destructive battle lasting over two months, seeing much of Teruel destroyed and 140,000 men killed on both sides.


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.