This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 49/50: 19 June – 3 July 1937

June 21

Andreu Nin, the leader of the POUM is assassinated. After being held for four days in a secret Communist prison in Alcála de Henares and tortured, Soviet KNVD members kill Nin. Nin never gave the Soviets the information they interrogated him and his fellow members for, or never had the information.  The exact details of Nin’s killing will never be fully established. Nin had been the leader of the POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) for two years, and stood against fascism and Stalinism, and in favour of workers and peasants’ rights. Nin’s death by Soviet agents marked the demise of both the POUM and its revolutionary movement. Hundreds more are killed or imprisoned after Nin’s death. While Communists and anti-Stalinists are technically both anti-fascist and against Franco’s Nationalists, the constant fighting between leftist factions is a huge contributor to the Republicans being by Franco’s men.

June 24

Bilbao is now fully in the hands of the Nationalists and hundreds of thousands have fled either over the border into France or west towards Santander and the Galician coast. The total toll of the Bilbao battle is not established, but the defeated Republican/Basque fighters had started with 50,000 troops, the winning  Nationalists with 75,000 (including 15,000 Italians, which only around 105 killed). Nationalists give out food to some of the remaining women in the Basque region, those who were unable to flee the city. The strategic production factories of the Basque country are now in Nationalist hands.

June 27

The high point of Soviet intervention in the SCW is coming to a close. The Soviet Union has been sending regular shipments of military equipment to Spain to help the Republicans, in return for Spain sending its gold to the Soviets, who get the better end of the deal, grossly overcharging the Spanish government. At this stage, there are over 1000 Soviet tank crews on the ground in Spain and the bulk of trained pilots fighting for the Republicans are Soviet. The communist faction of the Republican clause is now strongest than ever and the diplomatic relations between the Spanish and Soviets remains strong in an effort to defeat fascism in Spain. But now shipments will become sparse and Soviet men will be withdrawn from Spain as the Nationalists continue to win and the Republicans suffer massive casualties and lose ground.

June 30

The front line around the Aragon region is a huge 450 kilometres stretch from the Pyrenees down to the city of Teruel. The Republicans have far more troops in the region and the Nationalists have not made the area a priority. The Republicans have already attacked Huesca and failed, and are yet to attack Teruel. As a large Brunete battle is being mounted west of Madrid, the Republicans decide to start planning an offensive of the historical village of Albarracín, 35 kilometres west of Teruel. That way, the Nationalists will be forced to keep troops in the Aragon region instead of attacking Brunete. The front lines on the east side of Madrid around Jarama and Guadalajara still have not moved since their offensives early in the year. The Albarracín offensive is prepared for early July.

XV International Brigades outside Brunete

July 2

The preparation for the battle of Brunete is almost complete. Brunete is 30 kilometres west of Madrid, and is chosen as it is on the Extremadura Road. The Nationalists hold the region of Extremadura and use the roads to supply troops circling Madrid. By cutting off supplies, the Republicans aim to save the city of Madrid from the Nationalists. Once Brunete is taken, then the Republicans plan to march 100 kilometres southwest to Talavera de la Reina, which has been held by the Nationalists for the whole war, nearing on one year. This will cut off Nationalist troops from the southern strongholds. Republican troops at Carabanchel, the southern suburbs of Madrid, will be launched at the same time to tie up Madrid-based Nationalists.

The Communists within the Spanish government have been pressing to take Brunete for months, and are pulling Soviet aid back at the same time, as Republican ports have been taken by Nationalists. Spanish Prime Minister Juan Negrín wants France to open its borders to allow arms shipments through, but first they must prove to the French they are capable of military action. The offensive has been well planned and with large-scale reorganisation of the Republican men and equipment. Experienced commanders are put in place and will operate a surprise attack, despite being planned for three months. Upwards of 85,000 men are placed ready to take the hilly terrain with new Soviet tanks, attacking the Nationalists who have 20,000 fewer troops in the region. The attack is planned for July 6.

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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 47: 5 -12 June 1937

June 6

The Basque Army fighters, fighting alongside the Republicans, lose their last planes when they are shot down. The German Condor Legion planes destroy all their remaining planes, leaving the Republican men in the trenches around Bilbao exposed to Nationalist bombers.

Republicans outside Segovia

Republican Colonel Moriones, who is heading the Republican forces towards Segovia, orders a full retreat. The three divisions and the XIV International Brigade men have been soundly beaten over a week of fighting when they headed from the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains towards Segovia. A total of 3,000 Republicans have been killed, including 1,000 international volunteers.

Republicans outside Segovia seen by Gerda Taro

June 7

Manuel Hedilla, who has been leading northern areas of the fascist Falange party, is tried through a court-martial. The Falange have been merged with other Nationalist supporter groups, and Hedilla is in the way of Franco assuming total control over all right-wing factions. After being arrested in April for not following procedure set out by Franco (read: doing as told) Hedilla is sentenced to death. He is saved by Franco’s brother-in-law Ramón Serrano Suñer, who gets Hedilla a life sentence instead, which turns to only four years in prison. Having sidelined Hedilla allows Franco more control of Falange members and their attacks. Hedilla will remain a pain in Franco’s neck until his death in 1970.

June 11

Nationalist fighters in the Basque country breach the ‘Iron Ring’, the circle built outside the city of Bilbao. A series of fences and underground tunnels, the miles of iron tunnels serve to protect Bilbao and allow safe movements of Republican/Basque fighters. With not enough men or supplies to maintain the Iron Ring, the Nationalists finally break through to start an assault on the Basque capital. Basque President Aquirre is at the front, and sees German Condor Legion planes bombing the Iron Ring at Mt. Urcullu. The three miles of dried forest is bombed and set alight, overwhelming the Basque men inside the protective ring. The Nationalists get through on foot and are only 10 miles from Bilbao itself. The Basque government has no choice but to start a retreat to Santander.

The Republicans to attack the city of Huesca, in order to draw Nationalist troops away from Bilbao, take a hit when Hungarian General Béla Fankl, aka Zalka Mate, aka Paul Lukacs, is killed while inspecting Republican lines outside Huesca. An artillery shell hits his car and Lukacs is wounded in the head and dies hours later, his driver killed instantly. (Some accounts name his death as June 12, during fighting, but killed in the same manner)

June 12

The Republican attack on Huesca begins in the hope of stalling the Nationalist attack on Bilbao. The XII International Brigade, now without their General, join Spanish Republicans under their General and storm Huesca, 300 kilometres southeast of Bilbao, and just 70 kilometres north of Zaragoza. Huesca has been held by the Nationalists through the war and while they lack the men the Republicans have, they are well dug into the area. The Republicans have 50,000 men, mostly anarchists and POUM members from Barcelona, sent after the May Days a month earlier. Thousands of Republicans men are cut down with machine guns and artillery fire in what will become a week-long offensive.

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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: the Bombing of Valencia – 28 May 1937

Valencia became the Spanish capital city in November 1937, when the government fled the besieged Madrid for the relative safety of the port city, 360 kilometres to the east. Valencia, safely away from a front lines of the war, the Nationalists nowhere near the city for the duration of the war. However, Valencia was not immune to both infighting between Republican and Nationalist sympathisers, and attacks from the air by Nationalist troops. Both German and Italian planes could regularly take off from Soria, 370 kilometres northwest of Valencia. Valencia was bombed repeatedly through the first half of 1937, including an air raid on May 15 which damaged the English embassy, but 28 May held a whole new level of attack.

Planned for just before dawn, Franco’s Nationalist forces planned another air raid over the city, with a plan to bomb ships in Valencia’s port. The English merchant ship, the Cabin, was struck in the port, killing seven sailors and injuring another eight. The English freighter the Pinzon, anchored in the harbour, was also hit, but the bomb failed to explode on impact. No one was injured but the ship’s bridge was damaged. The British claimed only one ship, the Pinzon, was damaged, and that the Cabin was not their ship, despite flying an English flag. It is thought it was a Spanish ship flying an English flag for safety.

Bombing bodies laid out in a makeshift morgue

Valencia was also home to a large hospital run by the Red Cross, staffed by both Spanish doctors and nurses as well as international volunteers, and supplies were brought in by these volunteers who had done fundraising in their home countries. The Red Cross hospital was clearly marked, including a large cross flag on its roof, so it could be identified and possibly spared from damage. But the Italian planes also bombed the hospital, which was full at the time of the attack. The bombing blew the injured from their hospital beds.

Another fifty buildings were destroyed in the attack, picked seemingly at random as part of the attack, killing innocents still in bed before dawn. The Paraguayan consulate was destroyed, killing seven, although the consul and his family managed to escape. The American embassy was missed, but the US Socialist leader Norman Thomas, his wife and several Americans were bombed in bed, though they managed to escape with few injuries. The American consul Milton Keys also managed to survive when his home was bombed. Valencians wait outside the morgue for news

After the attack, which lasted around 30 minutes, was done, around 200 people were believed killed, though the number is not confirmed and little attention was paid to the attack. Much of the port area of Valencia was destroyed, hampering the Republicans’ ability to receive supplies and bring in international volunteers.

The following day, the air base at Soria, where the Italian planes had returned to after the bombing, was attacked by Republican planes, who bombed and machine-gunned fifty planes on the ground. Many bombings were conducted around Spain at this time as the Germans and Italians practiced their new carpet bombing techniques. While Valencia’s attack had a large loss of life, the city managed to cope through the attack, and so the bombing is not given the same amount of attention as many other happenings at the same time.

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the bombing. 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 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 – Week 40 and 41: 17 – 30 April 1937

April 19

Franco creates the Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalista (FET y de las JONS). This brings together the horrid Falange fascists and the hard-right Catholic Carlists into one big hate group. Franco appoints himself as leader, making him both a political and military leader, paving the way for dictatorship. The Falange has many of leaders killed during the war, more than any other group, and needs leadership. These groups together can go on to control all other parties and unions. Franco, with no real alliance to any group, told all what they wanted to hear, bending to suit to take over all parties he worked with, in order to slowly assume total control. This party can dominate enough to make Spain pro-Catholic, pro-monarchy, pro-fascism, pro-conservatism, pro-ultranationalism by combining their people. It allows the small fascist Falange group to swell to a peak of 900,000 (when combined together) and the women’s unit (needed because these groups were anti-women), Sección Femenina, grows to 500,000 during the war.

April 20

The Nationalist ‘government’ in Burgos has been battling the Basque ports now for two weeks. They launch a huge bombardment of Basque port towns to stop all flow of cargo entering to help the Republican cause, as British ships have defied blockades. The Nationalist 1st Navarrese bridge battle Basque troops at Elgeta, just 20 kilometres east of the newly destroyed town of Durango (see week 37).

Basque fighters must retreat to the Iron Ring, a series of tunnels built around Bilbao, which are simple and under-defended, but have no other option, as the German Condor Legion are bombing towns and forest areas through the region.

pro-Republic Basque fighters in Elgeta, Gipuzkoa, Basque Country

April 23

The Junta de defensa, Madrid defense council, is dissolved, in an effort to reshape the protection of the city. They have been active since the outbreak of war, but now have to change tactics. The Ministry of War, who control the command of the Republican army takes over the defense of Madrid, as fighting in the city has stabilised and the frontlines are outside Madrid itself.

April 26

The German Condor Legion launch their major terrorist offensive on the small Basque town of Guernica. After experimenting on several towns in previous weeks, the Condor Legion strike the unarmed Basques with airstrikes on civilians. The town of Guernica is bombed for three hours, and no military targets are identified; the bombing is purely to kill innocents. The Basque army in the area are forced to instantly retreat and bombed upon fleeing. They attack on a Monday, market day in Guernica, to maximise the civilian death toll. Military factories are spared, along with Gernikako Arbola, the Guernica Tree, symbolising freedom outside the old government building and the Casa de Juntas, the new location (and tree). These are spared as the Nationalist want the locations for themselves once they invade. The bombing shocks the world, and Nationalists have to hide and lie about what really happened at Guernica.

A separate post about Guernica will be posted.

April 30

Nationalist-supporting Italian troops take the port town of Bermeo, but the España, a 132 metre Nationalist battleship hits one of its own mines and sinks off the coast of Santander 150 kilometres away, and never reaches the port. The España was aiding fellow destroyer Velasco in stopping a British ship of getting into port when it hit its own mine. Five seaman die as Republican planes bomb the sinking ship, but all other men were rescued by the Velasco.

As Nationalist troops close in on Bilbao, the Basque government makes a plea, asking that 20,000 children be shipped out of Spain in temporary exile. The first ship leaves a month later, 4,000 Basque refugee children to Britain, while others are sent to France, Belgium, the Soviet Union and Mexico. Many never return home.

Basque children in the French Pyrenees. Children in western countries have to suffer the Second World War during their return home. Children in Communist countries could not return for nearly 20 years

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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 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.