This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 44/45/46: 15 May – 5 June 1937

Sorry the delays over the Shakespeare season. Weekly posts will now return.
May 15

Prime Minister Largo Caballero resigns from his post, now having no alliance with either Anarchists, Socialists or Communists. A member of the centre-left PSOE, Juan Negrín, is appointment Prime Minister, and selects a group of ministers from all groups, Republicans, Communists, Socialists and Basque men to form the government. The CNT however are now cut out entirely from Spain’s government, despite having huge support around the country. The Anarchists are quickly losing strength and the POUM is about to be outlawed completely in Barcelona and around Spain.

May 20

The Nationalist offensive on the Basque Country is destroying the Republicans, who come up with a plan to divert Nationalist troops away from the north. Republican troops in Aragon start plans to take Huesca, and troops in Madrid decide to launch an offensive on Segovia, both to take place by the beginning of June. Bilbao in the north has not yet been taken by Nationalists, but the Republicans/Basque fighters have no reinforcements nor supplies getting into port, and need the Nationalists distracted.

May 27

The La Batalla newspaper, run by the Soviet anti-Stalin POUM ( Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) is banned in Spain by the new centre-left Negrín parliament. Other communist factions are destroying the POUM.

May 28

The temporary capital city of Valencia is bombed from the air by Nationalist planes, killing 200 people and destroying 50 buildings while attempting to bomb ships in Valencia’s large port. The bombing is done while the city is sleeping, and the Red Cross hospital is targeted during the attack.

NB: A separate post on the attack of Valencia will also be posted.

May 29

Madrid is still surrounded by Nationalist troops since the siege on the city in November 1936. Daily air raids continue to hammer the innocents civilians of the city, and Republican troops devise a plan to break out of the city and push back Nationalist front lines. Republican men, led by a Polish communist leader, use armoured vehicles to try to push back the Nationalists, but the plan is quickly beaten by strong Nationalist troops. The city has been surrounded by large battles in Jarama and Guadalajara, and now the Republicans begin plans to take Brunete, a town 25 kilometres west of the city, and Segovia 90 kilometres north, to push back front lines and relieve Madrid. In the meanwhile, the daily air raids continue from German Condor Legion planes, and Spanish men are taken to Russia to be trained in Russian planes to aid the Republicans against this onslaught.

Two Soviet bombers, on behalf of the Republican forces, bomb air bases at Ibiza, off the coast of Nationalist-held Mallorca. The planes, sent from Cartagena, bomb the German cruiser Deutschland, mistaking it for the Nationalist cruiser Canarias. The Deutschland was off the coast of Ibiza as part of the Non-Intervention Committee’s patrol. Both pilots misidentify the ship and drop bombs, killing 31 and wounding another 74.

May 31

Due to the bombing of the Deutschland, both Germany and Italy decide to leave the Non-Intervention Committee. (Pointless as both had defied the Committee from the very beginning and had been killing Spaniards throughout the entire war.) German forces fight back by attacking the port city of Almería, relatively safe during the war until now. The cruiser Admiral Scheer fires off 200 rounds, killing 19 and wounding another 55. Around 150 buildings are destroyed. All the German and Italian ships on the Mediterranean are all backing the Nationalists, not neutral at all.

Spanish prime Minister Juan Negrin defies calls to attack Germany for these killings, as he does not want open war with Germany. The League of Nations calls the attack on Almería justified for the accidental attack on the Deutschland, reminding Spain that Europe and the world do not care about their pain.

The Republican army have three divisions in the Sierra de Guadarrama, the mountains on the north side of Madrid. The 34th, 35th and 69th divisions are brought together under Colonel Domingo Moriones, and given artillery and T-26 tanks. The Guadarrama is held by Nationalist troops and the Republicans attack, and break through the front line at San Ildefonso, around 80 kilometres north of Madrid. the 69th division also take nearby Cruz de la Gallega. The XIV International Brigade head towards La Granja, which brings them close to the strategic Segovia Road and advance towards Cabeza Grande, but only through suffering serious casualties.

June 1

The Republican forces reach La Granja north of Madrid on their way to Segovia, but  the Nationalists begin to fight back with air raids on advancing Republicans on the ground. The Republicans lose the town of Cabeza Grande and casualties begin to mount.

June 3

High ranking Nationalist General Emilio Mola y Vida is killed when his Airspeed Envoy twin-engined aircraft crashes in bad weather on route to Vitoria. Mola is head of the northern Nationalist army, which has been successfully attacking the Basque Country, while Franco is able to focus on Madrid and the south. The war began with Franco, Mola and Sanjurjo all in equal power, but Sanjurjo died in a light plane crash in July 1936. Now with Mola also dead in a light plane crash, Franco is able to assume total control and no one is capable of standing up to him. Rumours that Franco had the men killed swirled, but nothing to suggest more than accidents almost a year apart was ever found. In 1948, Mola will would posthumously named a Grandee of Spain and made a Duke, the title given to his son.

Fidel Dávila is named head of the Nationalist troops in the north to continue the assault on Bilbao.

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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.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History Extra: 80 Years Since the Guernica Bombing

26 April 1937 – Guernika-Luma, a Basque town of 7,000 people, entered the history books when it was attacked by the German Condor Legion (aided by the Fascist Italian Aviazione Legionaria) fighting on behalf of Franco’s Nationalist forces. The small town of Guernica, in the Biscay region of the Basque Country was a communication hub for the Basque fighters, who had sided with the Republican forces since the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Guernica, the spiritual home to the Basque people, became a target for a sustained and pre-panned terrorist bombing, where civilians, not military targets, would be bombed, to inflict devastation and murder. Operation Rügen would go down in history as a horrific slaughter of innocents which would shock the world, and single itself out as a vile test run for what Germany would inflict throughout Europe only a few years later.

Guernica is a town just inland from the Bay of Biscay, and just 30 kilometres from the Basque capital of Bilbao. The area had been under intense stress from the War of the North, carried out by the Nationalists in the months leading up to the bombing, hot on the heels of years of struggle for the Basque people. Guernica is the home of the Gernikako Arbola (Tree of Gernika), the symbol of freedom to the Biscayan and Basque people. Guernica was also home to a manufacturing plant which produced firearms to the police and military, which became a vital resource during the Spanish Civil War, when the Basque Army supported the Republicans’ cause over Franco’s Nationalist rebels.

By April 1937, the Basque Country was under constant bombardment by the Nationalist advance, coming at them on all fronts. The small Basque Army, set up by the independent Basque Government, sought to protect the Biscaya and Guipuzcoa regions. With the Basque capital of Bilbao only 30 kilometres west, Guernica was vital in protecting the capital, and also a point where Republicans could retreat to if needed. Throughout the war, Guernica had no seen direct front-line fighting, though 23 Basque battalions were now nearby to the east. The area had no airforce protection, no air base and only room to house two battalions if needed.

The attack on the Basque Country has been planned a month earlier by Franco, in conjunction with murderous General Mola, who lead the northern army, along with the German Condor Legion. The town of Durango suffered civilian bombing on March 31, part of a test run of killing innocents, and troops starting pouring into the region. Many people sought refuse in the town of Guernica, away from the fighting. But eventually, there was nowhere else to flee as the Republian and Basque fighters were slowly beaten back by the Nationalist forces. General Mola planned a devastating attack on Guernica, all done with Franco’s blessing. They planed for 21 German and three Italian bombers, carrying 22 tonnes of bombs, to be dropped on innocent people.

Monday was market day in the town of Guernica. While market days had been largely banned or discouraged in the region for safety, people still needed supplies. Monday 26 April was a typical Monday market day which could see up to 10,000 people in the town from surrounding areas, all in the main plaza. Coupled with around 1,000 refugees from the area, the town was full, the roads more congested than usual.

At 4.30pm, the first wave of bombers came from the north from over the Bay of Biscay, along the Urdaibai estuary which connects Guernica to the sea. The initial plan was to cut off bridges to block movements in the area with two 50 kg bombs, while the Italian bombers dropped another 36 50kg bombs on people. The first wave took only a minute, destroying bridges and the San Juan church and Republican Left headquarters, as the people of the town looked to take cover in panic. For the next 90 minutes, another four waves of attack would fly over the town, this time dropping bombs at random, killing innocent people, all cowering for cover in a town overfilled with people trying to buy and sell food. Guernica had no strategic assets to be captured, nor had seen any major wartime fighting, and was totally obliterated without warning or reasoning.

The people of Guernica were given 30 minutes of silence at around 6pm, thinking the bombing was complete. But by 6.30pm, the bombers were back in formation again, spread out over 150 metres, to drop the remainder of their arsenal. Then in came German biplanes, to bomb streets leading out of the town and machine-gun down people fleeing the carnage over a brutal 15 minute period. This cruel attack on civilians would have a larger impact than Franco could have anticipated.

This short space of time saw 75 percent of the town reduced to rubble. While the raid was considered a failure, as it was supposed to have been a military, not civilian attack, to bomb the area and cut off the Republican fighters from communications and reinforcements in Bilbao. As a result for the killings, within days, the Nationalists were able to swarm the area, not that they was much left to ‘conquer’. The firearm manufacturing plant was saved, as planned, along with the Gernikako Arbola (Tree of Gernika) and its government building. The town had become a testing ground for what would go on to be labelled carpet bombing, or blitz bombing, a popular tactic by German planes.

News quickly spread about the horrific acts at Guernica. First spreading through Europe and then the rest of the world, the Nationalists were branded as murders and barbarians (which should have been obvious already) as the blatant killing of innocents became apparent. Franco quickly had to have the propaganda dialled up, and denied the Nationalists’ own involvement, and claimed the Republicans destroyed the own town and killed their own people while in retreat from ground troops. Germany claimed no knowledge of the attack, claiming to have bombed a strategic bridge, the rest nothing to do with them. No such luck; journalists in the area were quick to file stories on the truth of Guernica.

But in the aftermath, the death toll was hard to quantify. The Basque government were unable to do much in way of assistance as Nationalists forced swarmed the area, and they made no attempt to calculate the dead and injured. Many left to die in the rubble were never accounted for, likewise the number of people who fled the region, never to return.

For decades the number of killed sat at 1,654, another 889 injured. A British journalist for The Times was in the area, and also came up with similar numbers. These incorrect figures became commonly adopted as accurate, though with the Nationalists not helping the wounded when then they invaded, and without proper funerals and records, there was no official death and injury toll. Even in the 1970’s the Nationalists were still denying everything and claimed only a dozen people were killed. Without further details coming to light over the years, historians now recognise the number of dead about approximately 300. A comprehensive study in the region in the 1980’s suggested 153, based on what records survived, with another 592 people who either died or recovered in Bilbao’s nearby hospital. While in context with many atrocities which occurred in Europe over intervening years make the numbers appear ‘small’, the casualty rate per bomb was much higher than many carpet bombings to come in the future, setting Guernica apart for yet another reason.

British journalist George Steer reported the story to the world, Guernica on the front pages in England for over a week as the horrors emerged. Cartoons emerged of the Basque ‘holy city’ being crushed by Hitler and his bloody swords in the US. The fact Guernica had no military targets quickly turned on the panic in many around the world, as people realised nothing was safe anymore. Guernica became a symbol of international horror and innocent suffering as deviant fascists sought to kill and destroy all in their way.

On the 60th anniversary of the bombing, Germany formally apologised for their role in the massacre, and in 2003, Guernica was commemorated alongside Dresden at the own commemorations, for suffering such a similar attack, but far less honoured and remembered. On Guernica’s 70th anniversary, officials in Hiroshima spoke of Guernica’s legacy in line with their own experiences. It has been suggested that Guernica be the world capital for peace.

For all the historical significance, the destruction and most importantly, the death toll, Guernica is probably best known internationally due to the Picasso painting of the same name. Picasso, living in exile in Paris, had been commissioned for war painting three months prior, and when he hard of Guernica, all of Picasso’s ideas were scraped for the depiction of those suffering. To Picasso, to bomb women and children was  to victimize humanity. The painting was complete by June 3. In black and white, the painting shows innocents dying, along with the Spanish symbols of the horse and bull, as Spain is ruined, along with tiny symbols of hope trying to shine through while destruction comes from all angles. When German soldiers came into Picasso’s Paris apartment years later during WWII, and was asked if he did the work, he told the Nazi’s – ‘no, you did’. Guernica traveled the world but was not able to return to Spain until 1981 when freedom was achieved for the Spanish people. It now sits in the Reina Sofia gallery in Madrid (if you haven’t been, you should).

After the bombing of Guernica, the town was in flames, seen 10 miles (16 kilometres) away, according to George Steer, as buildings continued to crumble and crush the injured and trapped. Yet, pilots who belonged to the Condor Legion, whom Franco let practice on his own people, received a mausoleum in La Almudena in Madrid. Many vicious men from the war were revered in Spain, these plaques and statues and memorials removed over the years. To mark the 80th anniversary of Guernica, the mausoleum in La Almudena for fallen Condor Legion pilots was quietly removed, to be replaced with simple names. No more “Here rest the German pilots who fell in the struggle for a free Spain. German aviators who died for God and for Spain”. The plaque had been removed in the past but had been quietly replaced by those who still love Franco and all that happened in his name.  It has taken 80 years for this last sign of pro-German acts to be removed. The wounds on Guernica will never fully heal.

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the 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 Extra: 80 Years Since the Bombing of Durango

The Nationalists had tried everything to get into Madrid. Both the city and surroundings areas in all directions had already been bombarded by March 1937, eight months since the start of the SCW. Franco decided to turn his attention away from the broken yet defiant capital, and launched a new War on the North. General Emilio Mola y Vidal, who was named the leader of the north during the war while Franco commanded the south, decided to wipe out the Basque country. He already had launched offensives throughout the Basque region while basing himself in Burgos (160 kilometres south of the Basque city of Bilbao). Mola decided to deploy 50,000 troops and multiple German planes, but this time had a new plan – to launch ‘terror attacks’, where he would have his men attack civilians instead of military targets. This time, innocents were to be targeted, to inspire fear, to make the Republican held areas cower to the will of the Nationalists, or be hunted down and murdered.

The town of Durango was marked as the test target. Just 30 kilometres south of Bilbao, Durango was a small village, typical of the region and Spain as a whole. With 10,000 people, it was a rail stop between Bilbao and the front lines of the war. While it had no military operations, it was in Republican territory and ripe for attack. Mola wanted to burn the entire province of Vizcaya to the ground for being in Republican territory.

At 8.30am, inhabitants were at Mass at the Santa Maria basilica in the centre of town, and in the basilica arcade, where the local market was held. Five bombers, German Ju-52’s flown by the Condor Legion and Italian Savoia-Marchetti SM.8’s flown by the  Aviazione Legionaria, set out and used the basilica as the focal point. A direct hit was scored from the very beginning; the priest and 26 worshippers were bombed to pieces. The nearby cloister was also destroyed, killed all 14 nuns inside. The market was also hit directly, killing all those looking for food, others killed by falling buildings and horrific injuries from which they could not recover. A total of 281 bombs were dropped on Durango, almost 15,000kg of explosives. Just over 200 buildings were destroyed, though some have been rebuilt and their shrapnel wounds are still visible today.

The initial bombing sent the people first into panic, followed by a desperate attempt to rescue those under rubble once the bombers disappeared again. Word spread outside the village; Bilbao received news of the bombings, and send ambulances, doctors and police to help the stricken people of Durango. The tiny village of Ellorrio, ten kilometres from Durango, with no military targets at all, and just a few thousand civilians, was also bombed, like a cruel parting shot at the region.

As help from Bilbao tried to get to Durango and people rushed around their village to save as many as they could, the worst was not over. By 5.30pm that same afternoon, the planes returned, this time accompanied by eight Heinkel He-51 fighter bombers, equipped with machine guns. Bombs were dropped to stop those from Bilbao getting to Durango, and the people of the town were machine-gunned down as they tried to help the injured and those trapped in rubble. By the end of the day 250 were dead, with another 100 to die of their injuries, and 200 homes reduced to rubble.

Killings and executions were common by now in Spain; Durango itself had previously carried out executions on Nationalist sympathisers for earlier bombings of Republicans in their small town. Between this ugliness and the front line deaths, Spain was growing used to fear. But now Mola had ushered in a whole new era. Durango became the first place in Europe to be targeted to kill civilians and not military targets. A whole new world of death was born that day in Durango.

Nationalists denied their role entirely. Mola, and Franco henchman General Gonzalo Queipo de Llano said that the Republicans attacked and killed the priest, nuns and the churches of the village, as had happened in other places. They claimed their planes were looking for military targets and it was Cocialists and Communists who came out and used the opportunity to murder innocents.

By April 28, Nationalists soldier had entered Durango and taken over the area. By then, Mola and his killers had stepped up their missions and bombed Guernica (which needs a long post on its own on its commemoration date).

Where the bombs hit in the centre of the Durango old town is now a site for historical memory, and commemorated every 31 March.

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of 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 screencaps of the video and linked to source for credit.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 35/36/37: 12 March – 2 April 1937

March 12

The Republicans are finally in a position to launch an offensive. A midday offensive sees 100 Soviet Rata and Chato fighter planes launched along with two squadrons of larger Katiuska bombers, which have arrived from Albacete. The Italian Nationalists have had their planes grounded due to the fog and sleet water-logging their aircraft. Albacete is 260 kilometres south and has not suffered weather troubles.

As the planes bomb the Nationalists, the Republican divisions are able to attack on the ground with light tanks. Nationalist tankettes get jammed in the mud and are destroyed, easy targets. The Republicans fight back all through the day and forced the Nationalists back to Trijueque, seven kilometres north of Torija. The Nationalists will never regain this ground, and most of the Nationalist XI Gruppo de Banderas are killed, including their commander.

Franco had promised to start a western offensive from Jarama, launching Spanish Nationalists to support the Italians, but this offensive has not appeared. This is allowing the Republicans to have a little breathing space as they fight. The stalemate and killing at Jarama is one possible reason for the lack of support, but another is Franco’s lack of enthusiasm. It is critical in how to battle will play out. Propaganda is also beginning, with the Spanish not pleased that the Italians are launching attacks in Spain, and the Republicans, calling the International Brigades all Jews and Communists (that’s a quote from Germans in Spain, not my opinion), could beat Italians. There is still another 11 days of this battle to play out, but both military and propaganda moves are being created and setting precedents, and numbers are swelling, with the Nationalists about to swell to 50,000 men and the Republicans at 20,000.

March 13

The fog and rain which has plagued both sides abates, allowing the Italian Penne Nere division to retreat from Trijueque. The Republicans attack the towns of Trijueque and Casa del Cabo, one of the first ground successes in the battle. Lister’s 11th column ride tanks along the Zaragoza road while the 14th column under Mera manage to cross the Tajuña River and attack the town of Brihuega. The local CNT militia help Mera to cross the river with a pontoon bridge, which sends the Italians into retreat.

March 14

The Republicans are able to rest after their initial success and their airstrikes continue against the Italians. They are now 20,000 strong, protected by 70 planes and 60 tanks. The Nationalists are reinforced to a huge group of 45,000 men, 50 planes and 80 tanks. Yet, despite this imbalance, the battle is stable and mostly even through the Guadalajara region.

The Republicans capture the strategic and famous Palacio de Ibarra from the Italians at Brihuega. The XI International Brigade and the Garibaldi Battalion take it, and it becomes a symbol of propaganda. Ernest Hemingway writes of the fight and how they took control of the access road through Brihuega and the Guadalajara region. The battle again sees Italians fighting Italians in the Spanish Civil War.

Palacio de Ibarra after the battle

March 16

Fighting continues in the Brihuega region for days and the Republicans slowly make process in pushing back the Nationalist front. The tide has finally turned in the Republicans’ favour. Franco does not deploy any more troops to the campaign and many are upset the Italians are fighting their own pursuits in a Spanish war.

March 18

The weather has again been hampering efforts on both sides. The Republican 14th column still have control of their pontoon bridge on the Tajuña River. Sleet abates about midday and the Republicans are able to get their planes in the air. Through early afternoon Lister and the 14th column fight back the Italians and the Republicans have Brihuega surrounded. The strong Italian Littorio division fighting for the Nationalists are forced to retreat and the XI International Brigade beat back the last of the Nationalists and Italians from the region. While the Italians have a tactical retreat and many are saved from death, they have been roundly defeated. There are so many Nationalists in the area it takes until the following morning to either kill or capture them, or they manage to escape the slew of Republican tanks coming at them.

 Cars bombed from the air on the Zaragoza road

March 19

The Guadalajara battle is over. The Republicans have taken huge amounts of the Nationalist artillery and equipment, along with critical documents about the Italian plans in Spain once the Nationalist bases are raided. Around 650 Italians are dead, 500 captured and another 2,000 injured. Thanks to the writings of Ernest Hemingway in the area, the US media sway in the Republicans direction, and Hemingway raises $40,000US to buy ambulances for the Republicans. The US opinion has turned in the Republicans’ favour, but due to communist input in Spain, the US will not openly support the Republicans.

The Spanish government have the documents detailing the Italian involvement in the war, all details of Italy’s violation of the Non-Intervention Committee. Spain submits the papers in London, but the useless Committee refuse the papers and Spain seeks to present them before the League of Nations in Geneva. The constant attacks by Germany and Italy are having a devastating impact as they seek to spread fascism.

March 23

The Republicans at Guadalajara now have Gajenejos and Villaciviosa de Tajuña. All remaining Nationalist men are on the front lines between Ledanca and Hontanares, but the Republicans have enough of a hold on Guadalajara that these men are trapped and must leave the region for safety. These front lines will not move again.

March 31

The War of the North begins

The cruel General Mola decides to launch another offensive in northern Spain with a whopping 50,000 soldiers. Because the Nationalists cannot gain Madrid, instead they seek to take hold of the Basque Country. A new tactic is employed; the Condor Legion launch terror attacks on non-military targets, set to wipe out complete northern villages. Durango (30 kilometres southeast of Bilbao) is the first village targeted as bombs are dropped from German Ju-52 and Italian Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 planes on churches during morning Mass. As people flee the bombing, Heinkel He 51 machine-gunners fly low and fire on the public. Around 300 people are killed, and another 2,500 are injured, all civilians. Nationalists attack a cloister, killing all 14 nuns. The nearby city of Bilbao sends men, police protection and ambulances to help the town, but another air strike blocks their aid.

tiny Durango being bombed by the German planes

Durango is the first place in Europe to be bombed in such a manner, a test run for what shall lay ahead in Spain and then WWII. The tiny village of Elorrio ten kilometres southeast is also bombed the same day, also for no reason whatsoever. The Nationalists deny all claims of killing civilians, blaming Republican uprisings for the church attacks. The war has taken a new turn, using civilian Spaniards as target practice.

The Nationalist wish to wipe out the north, and it is now only twenty days away from the infamous bombing of Guernica.

A more detailed article on the bombing of Durango will be posted in a special This Week in Spanish Civil War History: Extra

April 1

Six German JU-52 bombers attack the city of Jaen, desite the fact they have no military targets. Approximately 159 people are killed and hundreds more injured, another practice raid ahead of Guernica.

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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.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 16: 1 – 7 November 1936

Week 16 sees the starts of the Siege of Madrid, which will last until the end of the war in 1939. Also, the Republican government leaves Madrid for Valencia

November 1

The Nationalist army, which has been marching north from Seville since the outbreak of war, has now reached the outskirts of Madrid. Around 90% of Republican fighters in Madrid are civilian militia, and the government has little control, as they have been set up by the trade unions and communist groups. All the small towns surrounding Madrid have now been taken by Nationalists and the Republicans are now backed into the city. Nationalist numbers are at now 25,000 but the Republicans have double the men. But the Nationalists are highly trained and battle ready, while the Republicans are not soldiers or have proper weapons and supplies. Propaganda leaflets are dropped over Madrid city by Italian planes, warning the public that Madrid will be wiped off the earth if they do not rise up and take the city for Nationalists.

The government has no faith in their side and expect General Mola and his Nationalist men to take the city, and plan to evacuate, including the Prime Minister. General Mola states to the English media that his four columns of regulares soldiers and Moroccan fighters will take the city, despite the difficulty of surrounding Madrid, and his fifth column, of powerful Spanish right-wingers, already in the city, will take inner Madrid. This strikes paranoia in the inhabitants, and starts killings between civilians as ‘traitors’ need to be found and executed.

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Troops in the city’s north of Ciudad Universitaria

November 2

The Republicans finally get air defense over Madrid. Russian Chatos planes have arrived just in time and start air strikes over surprised Nationalist ground troops. The public are unsure of the air strike and do not take cover. Several Russian planes are shot down by Italian retaliation for the Nationalists. The Madrid public fear German planes, and when a Russian pilot parachutes to safety after a strike, he is killed by a mob when he is mistaken for a German Condor Legion pilot.

The town of Brunete, only 15 miles west of central Madrid, is the scene for a battle between opposing sides. The Republicans lose the stronghold, giving the Nationalists a chance to get even closer to the city from the west.

The Republicans have one advantage. The Manzanares River runs through the city, providing a barrier, keeping the Nationalists from walking directly into the west and south of the city. The Casa del Campo, an open park area on the west of the city centre, is chosen as the main strike area, with forces crossing the Puente de los Franceses (Bridge of the Frenchmen). Republicans are already defending their bridge. The northern Ciudad Universitaria (University City) area of Madrid is also prepared for an attack, likewise Carabanchel in Madrid’s southwest, which has only a  small river defense.

Nationalist troops retreat with their wounded

November 4

The anarchists now join the Republican government, with four ministers involved. As the anarchists are the largest group of civilian militia fighting for the Republicans country-wide, they need their voices in government. The Republicans must reply of all factions coming together to save their country.

The south Madrid suburb of Getafe is occupied by the Nationalists. It is at the basin of the Manzanares River, giving easier access to troops. The Moroccan troops attack, with tanks and overhead air strikes, crushing the Republican protectors. Vicious General Verela, a man leading so many massacres, is proud to tell the media that he shall have destroyed Madrid within the week.

Only 115 Nationalists are killed in the Getafe battle, but southern suburbs are working class and heavily populated, meaning it is not a good place to engage in street battles. Verela instead plans to attack Ciudad Universitaria in the north, where the population have fled for the safety of the inner city.

Republican militia defend their barricades in the south

November 5

The Republican reinforcements of Russian planes and pilots have some success when they bomb surrounding Nationalist troops, and an impeding northern assault of the city is beaten back.

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The Republicans defend the outskirts of the city

November 6

The Nationalist troops continue their southern assault under cruel Colonel Yague, and conquer Carabanchel and take the Cerro de los Angeles hill, the geographical centre of Spain, and prime lookout area over the plains around southern Madrid. The Nationalists are now all-but in the inner city of Madrid, with Republicans ever squeezed into the capital. The new Junta de Defensa de Madrid (military government team) is set up under General Miaja and is ready to take Madrid.

Propaganda is rife

The Republican government flees to Valencia, 350kms to the east on the coast. While this means men in ‘power’ are safe, as well as the government itself, the civilians and fighters of Madrid are left to face the Nationalists, with their German and Italian fascist back-up, on their own.

A simplified map of the Madrid suburbs

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 Verela attacks from the north, and troops pour into the Casa del 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 attack begins

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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

This Week In Spanish Civil War History – Week 1: July 17 – 24 1936

Here is the first installment of a new series, a weekly post chronicling the Spanish Civil War, 80 years after the uprising in July 1936. The Spanish Civil War is a complex subject, but if you are new, here is a super simple round-up.

A country with a rocky past, but the more recent Spanish troubles started in 1931, when the monarchy was exiled, creating the Second Spanish Republic. Left-wingers won an election, but as people tried fighting for basics, like fair wages, workers’ rights, women’s rights, education etc, nothing went well, no one agreed, and right-wing conservatives and the church resisted in every which way. Power switched in every direction, but when the Republican left-wing Popular Front took power in February 1936, the military considered an uprising to restore conservative control. Tensions ran high for several months, and when several prominent left and right-wing leaders were murdered in Madrid in July, the match was lit for battle.

The Republicans, the Spanish left, consisted of the Popular Front government, combined with socialists, communists, anarchists, workers’ unions, Marxists, leaders of autonomous Spanish regions like Catalonia and Galicia, and later the International Volunteers. The Spanish right consisted of the military, the Falange fascists, the religious Carlists and the monarchists.

People quickly had to decide which side they were on, though this would have been obvious in most people’s lives already. Within days, thousands were killed for being on the ‘wrong’ side, depending on the consensus of their town or city. What happened next was three years of bloody murder, fighting and executions.

Week 1 – July 17-24 1936

July 17

A military rebellion starts in Morocco, with the Spanish Legion soldiers killing or imprisoning their Generals. Guardia Civil police try to hold back the military in Tetuán and  Larache, resulting in bloody battles. Within a day, Spanish Morocco has fallen to the rebel soldiers. Three Generals – Franco, Mola, and Sanjurjo, all recently demoted within the army, have set up much of the plans. Franco declares a state of war, a call for soldiers to rebel all over mainland Spain and take control of their towns and cities. Anyone who resists gets a bullet.

The Prime Minster, Santiago Casares Quiroga, does nothing to arm the population of Spain, instead spending all day on the phone, ensuring no military barracks decide to rise up in support of the angry Generals.

Armed workers’ militia in July 1936

July 18

Word has spread and the socialists, communists, anarchists and workers’ unions are ready to fight to preserve the Republican government. By dawn, Pamplona, Segovia, Cadiz, Avila, Salamanca and Zaragoza are already overcome by the military, with many deaths. Zaragoza was a stronghold of the anarchists, so it is a huge blow to the Republicans.

The rebel Nationalists already have 1/3 of the country under their control and systemic executions start as other locations rise to protect themselves. Unions offer to help if given weapons, but are refused. Workers strike and start building barricades in the streets.

July 19

By dawn, the prime minister has resigned, and after negotiations, José Giral takes over, giving weapons to the population to defend themselves after formally disbanding the army.

tof-02-035aWeapons handed out to the populace

Seville fights but is defeated by the rebels. Much of southern Spain is invaded and executions begin. Navarre in the north falls to the rebels in a bloody massacre. The city of Burgos has no fighting, totally in support of the military.

Jaén, San Sebastian, Santander and Malaga manage to hold back the rebels. The important cities of Madrid and Barcelona have not yet been taken by the military. Madrid is on a knife-edge as workers are armed, ready to do battle, the assault guards personnel on their side.

General Franco leaves his post in the Canary Islands to take control in Morocco. Barcelona faces battle in the streets, with armed workers and police fighting the large military contingent. The police divisions could not hold the city on their own, and arms are given to the public to help with the siege.

July 20

After two days fighting in the streets, Barcelona is won by the Republican population. In Madrid, workers lay siege to the military barracks, killing many and saving the capital city with people power, as in Barcelona.

condorsMallorca, Coruña, Vigo, Bilbao and Granada are all won by the rebels. Valencia is still in confusion, when the army did not take sides. Fighting begins as workers strike and attack the military barracks.

The rebel military leader, General Sanjurjo, flies from exile in Portugal but is killed when his plane crashes due to plane overloading.

July 21

All chances of ending the rebellion is over, although Seville is the only main city controlled by the military.

SpanishCivilWar_DivisionOfSpain_193607endAreas controlled by Republicans and nationalists in the early days of the war

The Siege of the Alcázar starts in Toledo, south of Madrid. The Alcázar (castle/fort) is filled with rebels and their hostages as Republicans fight to free the women and children inside and defeat the rebels.

July 22

The People’s Olympiad, (an event held in protest against Germany holding the Olympics) get cancelled with the outbreak of war, with many athletes in the city at the outbreak. Many were trapped in Barcelona as fighting started; some choose to fight.

The navy is loyal to the government and the Republicans. Sailors got word of the uprising and defied and killed most navy officers, saving the navy from the rebels. The air force never intended to turn against the government, but didn’t have much in the way of planes or power anyway.

808-0001-001People’s Olympiad poster

July 23

The Nationalist rebels start their own military government, the Junta de Defensa Nacional, based in right-wing Burgos. General Miguel Cabanellas is their leader.

All areas are suffering from killings and prisoner-takings, regardless of who won the uprising.

July 24

The Durruti Column, led by leader Buenaventura Durruti volunteer to leave safe Barcelona and head to Aragon to start fighting back the rebels. About 3000 workers leave in their first group to begin  a take back of rebel-held areas.

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From now on, each weekly round-up will be posted on a Monday. All photos are linked to original sources for photo credit.

This is not an in-depth analysis, merely a weekly highlight (lowlight?) round-up. Comments on any extra details anyone wishes to add are welcome.