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.

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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.

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 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

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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. 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.

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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.