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.

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This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Weeks 108 – 112: 1 – 31 August 1938

Sorry for the massive delay in posts as I published my latest book. All will be caught up in the next few days. HERE is July if you have forgotten the timeline.

August 1

The XV International Brigade and the Republican mixed 15th Army Corps launch their attack of Hill 481 outside Gandesa. The Republicans have large numbers but suffer massive casualties as the Nationalists have air support over the hillside into Gandesa. The Nationalists are prepared to defend Hill 481 at the expense of making any gains.

The battle lasts for several days, resulting in the Republican troops trapped along the edge of the Segre river. While crossing the river would give the Nationalists a free advance towards Barcelona, Franco orders the men to stay and ensure the slaughter of the Republican army.  The Republicans order their men to stand their ground, and are executed if they try to retreat. The Nationalists kill their way through the Republicans with solid artillery and air cover.

The early August battle is fought WWI western front style, with both sides battling in long trenches, neither gaining or losing significant ground while the casualty numbers pile up. In the first few days of the month, the Nationalists’ 500 cannons pound the Republicans with 13,000 rounds while their 200 aircraft dropped another 10,000 bombs. The Republicans had only machine guns and mortar fire, but refused to give up their access across the river.

Nationalist men heading towards the Segre

August 5

With the land rock-hard in the height of summer, and the temperatures hovering about 40C, water and food shortages begin to become another battle for Republican men. Bodies are piling up, and cannot be buried, while the wounded can only be sent over the river at night, causing the death count to rise further. The German and Italian air cover continue to fly dawn to dusk, only hindered by the Republicans’ 75 planes, half of which are poor quality aircraft. Over the past six weeks, the Republicans have lost half of their planes in battle and most of their Soviet pilots, the only ones trained in flying and fighting, had either died or retreated from battle. By August 5, the Republican crossings over the Ebro have been bombed, and supply lines all over the battle are destroyed, leaving men on barren hillsides to be bombed from the air, or shot from high points around the Sierra Cavalls.

A Republican cave hospital

August 6

After almost a week of defence and systemic bombing, the Nationalists launch their own counter-offensive, this time to retake Republican areas. The northern area of the Ebro battle, a 20-kilometre line between Mequinenza and  Fayón, is bombed by the German Condor Legion carrying 50 tonnes of bombs, over four days, to break their supply line and Republican defence. The Republicans have no way of defending themselves, with their airforce tied up at Gandesa.

The Nationalists outside Gandesa

August 11

The Republicans camped by the river outside Mequinenza are unable to cross back over the river, which marks the border between Aragon and Catalonia. Some 900 men are killed in the bombing and over 200 machine guns have been destroyed, leaving the stretch of river exceptionally vulnerable.  The attack then changes to attack the 11th division, lead by the Republican General Lister, who has no reinforcements or artillery to defend them, leaving the river further unprotected.

August 14

The Nationalists have the Ebro Army still battling to cross, while the Eastern front is ready to cross the Segre river into Catalonia. Yet Republicans still hold the Sierra Cavalls beside the river, though the Nationalists take the hilltop of the Santa Magdalena near the town of Vilalba dels Arcs, 40 kilometres south of Mequinenza, getting closer to the Ebro on foot.

August 18

The Nationalists, who have captured the northern dams, open the dams and flood the Ebro, which again washes away the Republican pontoons, leaving troops stranded and the supply line cut as they struggle to hold their ground in the mountains.

Franco in the Sierra Cavalls

August 19

The last five days of fighting has allowed the Nationalist General Yague to move his six divisions and the Condor Legion to the area of Gaeta, 10 kilometres north of Gandesa. The new Republican counter-offensive has now completely stalled, and yet the Nationalists are only making very slow progress. The weather conditions are making war near impossible on the rocky plains as the temperatures remains at 40C on a regular basis. The Republicans have had their crossings of the Ebro lost and yet the Nationalists are also not advancing into Catalonia.

August 29

In a fit of anger and frustration, Mussolini, who had been aided the Nationalists with men, planes, points, artillery and cash, is angry that the Nationalists have still not gained into Catalonia, and announces “today, 29 August, I predict the defeat of Franco. That man does not know to make war or doesn’t want to.” (if only!)

August 31

Nationalist General Valiño and his Maestrazgo Corps are ordered by Franco to head north to battle for the Sierra Cavalls. The highest point, Punta Redona, is held by the Republicans and only 12 kilometres from the Ebro. The whole mountain range is held by the 35th, 43rd and 11th Republican divisions, and the Nationalist Maestrazgo Corps bring in eight division with 100 tanks and 500 aircraft, ready to destroy the Republican area.

The Sierra Cavalls outside Gandesa

September and October 1938 will be done tomorrow.

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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 95 – 99: 1 – 31 May 1938

May was considered a quiet month in terms of gains in the war, it was certainly not quiet. After the heavy battle of the Aragon offensive, the Levante Offensive was proving to be slow-going for troops on either side due to weather and terrain. Madrid was being bombed constantly, as those defending the city were cold and suffering from lack of food and ammunition. Franco accepted he could not just take the city, but continued to bomb slowly, restricting the Madrid defenders piece by piece. Barcelona was still reeling from bombings earlier in the year, and plagued by constant infighting between Republican factions. Northern Spain was completely dominated by the 1937 invasion by the Nationalists. Seville had been captured on day one of the war and was locked down in fascist hell, as was nearby Granada. Salamanca further north suffered a similar fate, while across in Valencia and Alicante, they were far from the frontlines but their ports were subject to attack by air. Almeria was filled with refugees from southern Spain who had nowhere to turn. People in the cities were suffering from lack of food, safe shelter and medical care, while rural homes and small villages had the additional struggles with weather, poor crops, lack of supplies and trade and constant skirmishes of fighting.

May 1 – Bielsa Pocket Offensive

By the end of April, the Nationalists had reached the Mediterranean coast, breaking through at Vinaros, the most northern town of the coastal Valencia region. The Aragon Offensive had stretched through the entire Aragon region, leaving just one pocket, the town of Bielsa, under Republican control. The tiny town on the border with France is home to around 4,000 people living in the Pineta valley by the Alto Cinca river. The 43rd division, led by Antonio “El Esquinazado (The Dodger)” Beltran, a group of 7,000 men, have only four guns and no chance of any reinforcements or air cover. Meanwhile, the Nationalists in the surrounding area have double the men, with plenty of weapons and enormous air support.

The one thing which saves the Bielsa pocket is the difficult terrain, which surrounds the valley which leads directly into the Pyrenees. The Republicans, with almost no ammunition, manage to hold off the Nationalists in outbreaks of attack, backed up by bad weather. The Bielsa pocket managed to stay unharmed through April in snow and fog, but the weather begins to clear in May, so the Republicans start evacuating the 4,000 residents of the valley over the Pyrenees and safely into France. The troops manage to hold the Nationalists back as the civilians make the trek into France, but the Republicans do not flee and continue to fight to hold the Bielsa pocket, as it represents a huge morale boost for Republicans everywhere. Despite the overwhelming odds, the Republicans would hold the Bielsa pocket well into June. Some of the soldiers and nurses  choose to return to the Nationalist regions after aiding refugees, but almost 6,000 remain to fight.

The Pineta Valley north of Bielsa, where the refugees trekked to safety in France
The Republican 43rd division

May 11 – Levante Offensive

The Levante Offensive, which started on April 25, is continuing in difficult terrain. Due to the bad weather of April, all attacks were halted, giving the Republicans time to receive their new artillery, shipped over the French border courtesy of the Russians.  They were fitted out with Soviet Supermosca (I-16 Type 10) fighters with four machine-guns, 40 Grumman FF fighters and anti-aircraft guns. The Nationalists wish to make it south to Castellon, some 80 kilometres south from their first break into the region.

Nationalist faction tracking south through the Levante through three different divisions

The Nationalist Galician troops start heading south along the coast, the Castile troops head east from Teruel and the Maestrazgo troops headed southeast through the mountains in the centre. The Republicans, with their new equipment, are able to slow the inevitable march of the troops south, with none of the groups reaching Castellon by the end of May. Individual skirmishes break out through the month but casualty numbers are not recorded, though it is estimated  that in May, around 10,000 Nationalist men are killed, with only around 2,500 Republican casualties.

May 22 – Balaguer Offensive

The battle of Balaguer had been continuing since its first outbreak in early April. Francoist men had held the Segre river and the bridgehead into the town, when the Republicans were forced to remain in retreat on the east side of the river. On May 22, the Republicans again try to launch an offensive to take the Balaguer bridgehead, resulting in fighting going for a full seven days, but the Nationalist men are better trained, equipped and prepared.

Frontline through from Bielsa in the Aragon far north, down through the Levante – May 1938

Some of the Republican soldiers are only in their mid-teens and have received no training. By the end of the week of fighting, the Republicans have to withdraw and leave their casualties behind. Numbers of casualties during the constant outbreaks around Balaguer are not recorded, instead considered part of the overall push towards defeating Catalonia. The Republicans at Balaguer have successfully held the Nationalists as they slowly head into Catalonia, fearful of angering nearby France. The Balaguer Offensive will not end until January 1939.

The website on the Balaguer offensive of very thorough and has many photos and details of the battles and how it looks today. Click on the photos to access the site.

May 25 – Alicante bombing

After the Aragon Offensive, Franco changes tactics to destroy the Republican maritime trade and along with it, their morale. The Italian Aviazione Legionaria and the German Condor Legion plan to undertake bombings of the remaining Republican-held cities. Valencia, Gandia, Barcelona, Murcia, Alicante, Granollers and other Spanish towns are made targets.

Aerial attack on Alicante

Nine Italian Aviazione Legionaria bombers attack Alicante. Alicante has been far safer than any other Spanish city and has no working air-raid alarm and the anti-aircraft artillery is unusable.  Ninety bombs are dropped, many into the market and central city area. The deaths of civilians range between 275 and 393, some 100 of them unable to be unidentified due to damage. The Italians have no problems bombing purely civilian targets, just as the Germans have done.

Italy had already accepted to withdraw from Spain at the end of the war and to allow the Mediterranean to be safe and back to normal. But while saying this, they then sent another 3,000 men to Spain to fight and started bombing Mediterranean ports.

May 31 – Granollers bombing

Five Italian Aviazione Legionaria bombers attack Granollers. The town is only 30 kilometres north of Barcelona and has no military targets and is not a port town. One hundred kilograms of bombs, around 40 individual bombs, land in the city.  As the bombing lands in the city centre, most of the dead are women and children at the market. The death toll is estimated at between 100 and 224, as not everyone missing was found after the attack. 

Granollers after the bombing May 31, 1938

Only now does the rest of Europe stop to pause over the bombings of civilian targets, after more than a year of specific bombings. The British government sends two officers to carry out enquiry, who report that the bombings are being planned and carried out only to install terror.  The British government pairs with the Vatican, who appeal to Burgos (Franco’s Spanish capital), plus Rome and Berlin. Rome blames Burgos for ordering the attack, despite Alicante and Granollers being Italian attacks.  Italy’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Mussolini’s son-in-law Gian Galeazzo Ciano promises to look into the bombings, and calls Berlin to report – “actually, we have, of course, done nothing, and have no intention of doing anything either.”

List of cities to be targeted by the Italians, as found in an Italian notebook dated January – September 1938

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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.