This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Weeks 90 – 94: 1 – 30 April 1938

*Apologies for the delays in postings. Hopefully that should be the end of the delays now*

April 1

The Nationalist troops are over the border from Aragon into Catalonia in Fraga, but they want Lleida, 28 kilometres to the northeast. First they encounter a Republican stand at Caspe, where the factions of left-wing fighters have retreated while they regroup or flee for their lives. The Nationalists easily sweep the now destroyed town of Caspe with the help of aerial support, and the Republicans continue their retreat east.

April 3

All Republican front lines have now collapsed and the International Brigade support has been destroyed. The German Condor Legion and Italian Aviazione Legionaria provide aerial support as the Nationalists storm the town of Gandesa, 50 kilometres east of Caspe.  The International Brigades left decide it is time to make a stand and choose Gandesa as their town, but after two days of heavy fighting, the Nationalists managed to either bomb or shoot many of the men. Around 140 mostly British and American fighters are captured, much of them from the XV International Brigade, while the Nationalists lose no men due to their aerial attack. As the volunteers are taken prisoner, many other Republicans are given the chance to escape over the Ebro river to safety.

Meanwhile, 80 kilometres north, the Nationalists have already reached the Catalonian town of Lleida, partly with the help of the Aragon fields, which are good airstrips for the huge aerial campaign the Francoists are waging in the region.  The town of Lleida has  a short-lived battle, for they too are overwhelmed by Nationalists.

For the first time, the Nationalist troops can see the sea, around 50 kilometres east of Gandesa over mountainous terrain.

April 4

Today marks the first day of the Battle of Segre, which lasts for nine months along the edges of the Segre river. Both sides will each bring in 180,000 men into what will be one of the longest battles of the entire war. The Segre river runs along the border of Aragon and Catalonia, providing a fortunate front line for the Republicans, who need all the help they can get. The river helps to power the hydro dams close to the border at the Pyrenees, and provide much of the power and supplies for the city of Barcelona. The Republicans set up fortifications along the east bank of the Segre while the Nationalists set up along the west, marking the first of hundreds of skirmishes.

New York University students in the Lincoln battalion, in April, 1938.Photograph from AP

April 5

The small town of Balaguer, on the Catalonian side of the Segre river, suffers the first of two days of attacks by Nationalist air forces. Balaguer is only 28 kilometres north up the river from Lleida, yet Nationalist men manage to get over a bridge at Balaguer. Republicans are able to fight back and get the Nationalists back over the river. Balaguer is one of the first town to be caught up in the Segre battle.

the Battle of Lleida

April 8

In the far north, Franco’s men have managed to claim several hydro-electric dams. With the  Talarn Dam already claimed in Lleida, these plants in the Pyrenees are vital to the survival of Barcelona. With this major coup, Franco could now easily take Barcelona and Catalonia. But Franco doesn’t want this; he wants a long drawn-out defeat of the Republicans, one that will inflict maximum suffering and death, plus a huge humiliation which will destroy any rebellion against Franco’s plans.

Franco decides he wants to continue to push through southern Catalonia and the Levante area of northern Valencia to the coast, rather than risk angering France and having them enter the battle along the Pyrenees.

April 10

The bridge over the Segre river is captured again by the Nationalists at Balaguer, allowing them access over the river to the stronghold the Republicans have set up.

Republican men on the border with France in the Pyrenees

April 12

The Republicans in the Balaguer area, most only teenage boys with no training, are part of the XVIII Army Corps,  who counterattack along the edges of the Segre in what turns into three days of fighting that sees all of the young and keen men killed by the better organised Nationalists, who continue to establish themselves east of the river.

Nationalist soldier on a captured Republican tank

April 15

While things north have slowed, the Levante Offensive continued its planning as Nationalist troops under General Aranda break through and reach the coastline at Vinaròs, the most northern town in the Valencia region, rather than aiming along the Catalonian coast. While Vinaròs is a town ill-equipped and easily surrenders, it is a huge blow for the Republicans and great for Nationalist morale. The Valencian and Catalonian regions have suffered from bloody aerial attacks and internal fighting, but until now have far from the front-lines of the war. Within only four days, the Nationalist have 70 kilometres of coastline around Vinaròs.

Nationalists at Vinaros

April 19

The Aragon Offensive is finally declared over, as the region is now totally under Nationalist control. But while the Nationalists have been fighting east from Teruel to the coast, the French border has been opened for Soviet supplies to flood in, to aid the Republicans. Franco is now on the coastline and has cut off Valencia from Barcelona, but Republicans along the coast and in both regions are formidable and ready to fight back.

Cyclist battalion at the front. Levante, 1938

April 22

Another battle breaks out in Balaguer, as the Republicans fight to keep the Nationalists west of the Segre river. A week of fighting in the area sees many Republicans killed as the Nationalists finally manage to gain control over the bridge in the town. But the Republicans have not lost the area around Balaguer; they will manage to hold out for another four months, though Republican casualties will be high.

April 25

The Levante Offensive officially begins, a month after troops enter the area. The Nationalists have 125,000 troops ready to take the region with 400 aircraft, upwards of 1000 pieces of artillery and Italian support. General Varela starts to head south from Teruel in Aragon, General Aranda is in Vinaròs, and the third faction under General Valiño are in the mountainous area between these locations, all spread over a 200 kilometre area. But the terrain is difficult and wet weather means the offensive is paused after only two days. In the meantime, the Republicans in the Valencia region now have anti-aircraft guns and machine guns, fresh from the Soviet supplies, along with men who are new to fighting. It won’t be until June that these Nationalists capture any serious areas.

Nationalist troops advancing in the Levante

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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 – 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.

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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 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.

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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 65/66/67: 10 – 31 October 1937

October 10 

Franco’s Navarrese Brigade are still heading west into Asturias, and reach the small town of Cangas de Onís. The town, deep in the Picos de Europa, is only 65kms from the city of Gijón, which is preparing for invasion.

A mixture of Republican fighters and International Brigades are still keen to take ground in Aragon, and after minimal gains for heavy losses in the battle of Sabiñánigo, they again plan to attack along the Ebro river in the Zaragoza area. Fighting in the rural areas is sparse and it gains little for either side scattered through the region.

October 13

The Madrid Council, representing socialist parties and workers’ unions, confronts the Spanish government (currently in Valencia) over the influence of the PCE (Partido Comunista de España, Communist party of Spain) in the Republican government. They also protest the recent expulsion of Caballeristas, socialist parliamentary supporters of former prime minister Francisco Largo Caballero.

Caballero in Madrid

October 17

Th Consejo Soberano, the Sovereign Council of Asturias and Leon, decide to evacuate, due to the large number of Nationalist soldiers entering the region from fallen Cantabria. The Consejo Soberano is based in Gijón and officials and their families are taken out of the city for their safety. Asturian villages to the west of Gijón are abandoned, as the 1934 miners revolt is still a fresh horror for those living in the mountain areas.  Guerilla style groups form, to help protect rural areas from incoming Nationalists, but none have the numbers or resources to save anyone. These men will fight to the death and light houses on fire with dynamite if they flee.

Socialist Francisco Largo Caballero is arrested in Madrid while giving an anti-PCE speech at Pardina cinema. He is placed under house arrest in Madrid and held responsible for the Madrid Council’s anger.

The Condor Legion march through Gijon

October 21

The Nationalist Army of the North finally reaches Gijón. The fall of the city is as bad as expected; rape and murder goes uncontrolled for days as those still in the city are subjected to the Nationalists’ cruelty. Countless thousands are raped and murdered in the first few days of the invasion, and no official count of those tortured and killed is ever recorded. The soldiers plundering the city are so busy with killing, their jurisdiction is called ‘the machine gun’. Unlike many other Republican-held cities, Gijón cannot put up a fight; many have fled, many are already refugees from other cities, they is no international back-up and the atrocities committed are not well-documented or photographed. Wholesale slaughter brings Asturias’ largest city under control within days.

I do not post photos of women raped to death, or mass bodies lined up before firing squads. While the majority of these types of widespread depravity happened earlier in the war, Gijon managed to hold out longer than most main centres. Regardless of when it happened, I do not post such photos. You can search for yourself if you are into such perverse behaviour.

October 30

The Republican government has been safe in Valencia for a year. Valencia is far from the front line and is a base for many Republicans and Spain’s elite who do not side with Franco. Valencia does still suffer many air raids, and the government decides to leave Valencia and move north to Barcelona, despite the Catalonia region not being stable like Valencia.

Need to catch up? – SCW history : October 1936

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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 57: 14 – 21 August 1937

August 14

The Nationalists are ready to begin their massive new siege to take the north of Spain. The Army of the North of both sides have been assembled throughout the top half of Spain. General Fidel Dávila has 90,000 troops, 25,000 of them through three Italian divisions. They also have a massive cache of weapons, plus the German Condor Legion aircraft, plus Spanish and Italian planes. Their troops are fresh and the Nationalists are ready after the end of the battle of Brunete at the end of July. The Republicans have 80,000 in the region under General Mariano Gámir Ulíbarri. However, their planes are useless, and morale is low. The Basque soldiers included in the numbers are tired and devastated from a loss of their autonomous region and their capital Bilbao, and are already considering surrendering to Italian troops in order to survive.

 The Nationalist 1st Navarrese Brigade attacks the frontlines between Valdecebollas in the Palencia region and Cuesta Labra in order to block Republican troops south of the Cantabrian mountains. This is in preparation to start capturing Republican territories in the mountain region over the coming week and capture the entire Cantabrian region and Santander city on the coast.

August 15

The Nationalist troops advance through Barruelo up to Peña Rubia, Salcedillo, Matalejos and Reinosilla, all mountainous villages, without resistance, with the exception of the Republicans fighting back at nearby Portillo de Suano.

also August 15

The Servicio de Inteligencia Militar (SIM) is created. Having SIM means that secret police activities are now in the control of the government again, rather than Communist and Soviet hands. Political meetings have now been banned in Barcelona, and the constant fighting is undermining the left-wing groups. Barcelona is the central hub for Republicans mixing, with anarchism, socialism, regionalism, and communism coming together to produce infighting. The Republican war effort is hindered by these internal arguments. Peace has not truly been restored in Barcelona since the outbreak of fighting in May.

August 16

The Nationalists take Portillo de Suano and the industrial factory area outside the town of Reinosa during the day, and take central Reinosa at dusk. Meanwhile, the Navarrese Brigade are advancing, furthering the Nationalists’ control of the region. Italian troops sent from Burgos are heading to Lanchares, 17 kilometres from Reinosa, and also San Miguel de Aguayo, a mountainous 14 kilometres trek north from Lanchares. The Cantabrian area is quickly being swallowed by Nationalist troops with little to no resistance in the sparsely populated regions.

August 17

The Republicans still hold Campoo, just 4 kilometres east of Reinosa, with 22 battalions camped there. However the Nationalists have now encircled them completely.

In Barcelona, the Socialist Party and the Communist Party sign a pact to ally as one group, to bring stability to the Republicans’ effort. The Communist party expected a merger, in line with international Communist groups. The Spanish Republican government does not like the idea of the Communists controlling the Socialist party, but the unity pact agreement leaves the groups independent but formally allied, meaning the Communists do not gain any extra control over the government.

Nationalists outside Reinosa

August 18

Nationalist forces take the town of Santirude as they surge further north through Cantabria, while the Italians claim San Pedro del Romeral and San Miguel de Luena, only 45 kilometres south of Santander itself.

August 19

Cabuérniga, Bárcena de Pie de Concha and Entrambasmestas all fall to the Nationalists.

August 20

Italian troops claim Villacarriedo and Navarrese forces advance towards Torrelavega and Cabezón de la Sal. Santander is now in sight, just 30 kilometres from Torrelavega. The Nationalists are destroying the northern part of Spain and the Republicans cannot do anything to stop them. The Nationalists have overwhelming support, troops and artillery. The Basque, Cantabrian and Asturian units cannot work together against the speed and power of the Nationalist army. The Basques, having already lost their capital Bilbao, are at the morale limits and begin to mutiny as the Nationalists sweep through Cantabria.

Franco at the Santander front

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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.