This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 38 and 39: 3 – 17 April 1937

April 3

The CNT (Anarchist workers’ unions) and the PCE (Spanish Communist Party) are constantly in opposition. The PCE are advocating against social revolution, while the CNT are convinced social revolution should continue. The CNT also do not wish to support pro-parliamentary democracy, unlike the PCE. To the CNT, fighting for social revolution is the same as fighting against fascism. The large province of Aragon is still controlled by the CNT, and many regions through Spain are also strong in CNT support.

April 8

The PCE and the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers) sign an agreement to work together in support of parliament democracy. This brings the PSOE in direct conflict with the CNT.

Nationalist troops outside Madrid attack the Casa del Campo and the town of Garabitas, which has been safe in Republicans since fighting ended in November. No progress is made on either side.

April 14

The Second Spanish Republic celebrates the sixth anniversary of the exile of the monarchy. There is little to celebrate with the war making little progress and social revolution in disarray. The government is not back in Madrid after fleeing during the siege of Madrid in November.

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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.

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This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 34: 5 – 12 March 1937

March 5

014guadalajara

The Nationalists, fuelled with Spanish, Moorish and Italian soldiers, are preparing to attack Guadalajara, 60 kilometres north-east of Madrid. After all the failed attempts to take Madrid, and the collapse of battle at nearby Jarama, the Nationalists are keen to engage again. The Italians, fresh from taking Málaga, are ready to fight. The Nationalists have gathered 35,000 men, hundreds of artillery supplies over 100 tankettes, 32 armoured cars, 3,600 vehicles and 60 planes. Much of the tank, car and plane equipment comes from the Italians, as Mussolini strongly supports the offensive.

The Republicans are the 12th division of the Republican army with only 10,000 men, but only 5,900 rifles, 85 machine guns and 15 artillery pieces. They do have a few light tanks on their side. Guadalajara, until now has been peaceful, so no trenches, road blocks or defensive have been set up, but the Republicans know (assume), a Nationalist attack from the south is imminent. Meanwhile, the Nationalists are preparing to attack the 25 kilometre stretch of the Guadalajara-Alcalá de Henares road, south of Guadalajara, which will cut off the main road, and five other roads which stem from the area.

March 8

The Nationalists attack the front lines at Guadalajara at 7am with both air raids from 70 planes and artillery fire. They break the front lines within half an hour. The 50th Republican Brigade are broken by a barrage of 250 tankettes, extensive artillery, machine guns and trucks and heavy fire. The Italians take the towns of Alaminos, Catejon and Mirabueno on the first day. They capture 12 kilometres of ground, only slowed by heavy late winter fog, not yet at their planned locations of Brihuega and Guadalajara. They have taken the hills, and have a straight downhill roll towards Madrid, and the Republicans are overwhelmed and call for extra men and tanks.

Nationalist machine-gunners in Guadalajara

March 9

Italian tankettes with flame throwers continue the advance to Guadalajara, but the fog has not lifted, making visibility almost zero. The weather allows the surviving 5oth Republican Brigade members to escape the advancing Italians. By midday, the XI International Brigades arrives at the front – the Thaelamnn, André and Commune de Paris Brigades, all German, French and Balkans volunteers. But the Nationalists are using the Blitzkrieg technique of bombarding the enemy with short, sharp attacks on multiple fronts, which means the enemy slowly becomes surrounded. The Republicans have neither the manpower or firepower to fight this technique. By nightfall, the Nationalists have captured another 18 kilometres and the towns of Almadrones, Masegoso and Cogollor. The Nationalists are now outside the town of strategic Brihuega.
More Republican reinforcements start to arrive, with the arrivals of the Republican 49th and 12th Divisions. Between them and the XI International Brigades, they have 1850 men, 1600 rifles, five tanks and 34 machine guns. War hero General Lister arrives with the Republican 11th division at Torija, on the Madrid-Zaragoza road between the front and Guadalajara. He also places the 12th division to the west and 14th to the east of this main road to take on the Nationalists the next day.
 

March 10

The Republican forces have grown – 4350 men and 26 tanks when the XII International Brigades arrive – the Italian Garibaldi and the Polish Dabrowski battalions. The Nationalists start the day by bombarding the XI International Brigades on the ground and by air. They have no luck breaking the IB’s, despite having 26,000 men on the ground, 900 machine guns and 130 tankettes. They do capture the towns of Brihuega and Miralrio without any trouble.

Both the XI and XII International Brigades are bombarded by the Nationalists all day. The Italian Garibaldi battalion come up against Italian Nationalists at Torija, and the IB’s try to get their countrymen to defect away from the fascists. The fight stops for the day as both sides dig in, three kilometres north of  Torija, and defend themselves as leaflet drops and loudspeakers try to convince Italians not to kill one another.

Republican General Lacalle of the 12th division is forced to resign and Nino Nanetti of the Italian Communists takes over. He cites health (possibly injury) reasons, but he has been clashing with General Jurado, which has been weakening the already overwhelmed Republican strength.

March 11

The Italian Nationalists attack the XI and XII International Brigades again outside Torija and break through, taking the town and main road as the IB’s have to retreat to survive. The Spanish Soria division break through and take both the towns of Hita and Torre del Burgo to the west. Italian planes are halted due to the bad weather, the sleet and fog jamming their planes in soaking airports.

Republican T26 tank

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 peak at 50,000 men and the Republicans at 20,000.

Republicans with a captured tankette

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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.

Women in the Spanish Civil War: Part 2 – Federica Montseny Mañé

A name synonymous with anarchism and feminism during the Spanish Civil War is Federica Montseny. With a powerful voice and even more powerful convictions, the anarchist cause owes a great deal to Montseny.

Federica Montseny Mañé was born February 12, 1905 in Madrid, the only surviving child of strong anarchist parents. Her mother, teacher Teresa Mañé Miravet (aka Soledad Gustavo) was an anarchist activist, and her father was Juan Montseny Carret (alias Federico Urales) a tunneling worker turned propagandist and anti-authoritarian writer, who had spent time exiled for his beliefs (hence the need for aliases). Together they were editors of La Revista magazine for anarchists from 1898 until 1905 before moving home to Barcelona in 1912 to write libertarian propaganda.

Montseny’s parents were enthusiastic in education, which stayed with their daughter her whole life. As well as the usual basic subjects, Montseny was also educated in arts, politics, dance, philosophy, languages, history and classics. She grew up in a rural environment, and became strong in self-reliance, independence and freedoms not many girls were able to enjoy. She became a writer at an early age, and found her youth of being concerned with herself changed to wanting to share her independence and free thinking with the population. In a country where social, political and feminist freedoms were largely non-existent, anarchism was a way for Montseny to express her views. As with many feminists throughout time, she believed that equal rights cannot exist until women’s rights are addressed. Montseny could see from an early age that women were oppressed in Spain for a variety of social and economic reasons, and social revolution was in dire need.

Montseny published her first novel, Horas trágicas (Tragic Hours) in 1920, at the age of only 15, and another 50 would follow. She was living in a time of huge social upheaval, peppered with violence as workers rose up to the government and landowners alike. She fought to insist women gain the right to choose who to marry, if at all, if and when to have a family, and a woman’s right to choose the father of her children. She also fought for women to be educated in women’s health and pregnancy, which most women were denied. As women were given all responsibility for pregnancy and raising of a baby, Montseny believed that a woman should be given education in order to fill that role as best as possible.

Another view Montseny advocated was free love, rather than the usual view of marriage, which oppressed women in Spain during the era. She entered into a relationship with Josep Esgleas Jaume (aka Germinal Esgleas) and while they would never marry, they remained together for life, with a daughter born prior to the Spanish Civil War, a son during, and a daughter after the war.

The Second Spanish Republic came to Spain in 1931, which paved the way for revolution, and many organisations, such as anarchism, were given more power and confidence that true social changes could be made. The Socialist Republic pushed for changes, with Montseny there to help arrange regional and nationwide meetings to collectivise the people and their needs and ideas. She travelled across Spain, discussing  workers’ rights, women’s rights, how people could stand up to their government, and the need for all to come together for social revolution.

The trouble was that women were still not given any rights during this time. Women were not supposed to travel on their own, or be doing anything that was not controlled by a man. Attending rallies alongside men and spending time with men without a husband or father meant she was not always given the time she deserved – the same as the men advocating for rights. When the government turned conservative in 1933, changes stumbled, and with fascism creeping into Europe, people like Montseny could see the trouble awaiting them.

Montseny supported the Popular Front government went they won the 1936 election, though as an anarchist, this was not an easy decision. Anarchism was not part of the collective group of left-wing parties in the Popular Front at the time. When war broke out in July 1936, it was clear that a violent strike against the rebels was needed for both survival and to protect the left-wing government from fascists.

In November 1936, Montseny was chosen by Prime Minister Largo Caballero to be Minister of Health and Public Assistance, and she joined the Popular Front, despite anarchism still not supporting the government. She was the fourth female government minister in western Europe, (after one in Denmark and two in Finland). While in times of peace this would have been an excellent role for her, during war it was a struggle. Hospitals, doctors and nurses were overrun with wounded and dying from the front lines, and people were refugees in their own war-torn country, moving constantly to try to stay alive. Food and medical supplies were far too sparse to help, and the number of orphans quickly skyrocketed. Health problems broke out as people did not have access to clean water and sanitation. The front lines needed all supplies available, fighting in ‘peaceful’ areas was constant, and the Popular Front began to collapse as the factions brought together fell apart. The anarchists/powerful CNT were reluctant supporters, and the Communists could not agree with either group. All the programmes that the Minister of Health could oversee were in complete disarray.

Despite the situation, Montseny pressed on, and kept up with her support for women’s social revolution. She joined the Mujeres Libres, which arranged schooling for children as their mothers fought in the war effort, were trained with useful skills and educated on multiple subjects. She fought to ensure women who wanted out of prostitution (let’s face it – all of them) could be helped, educated and trained for new roles in society, in a time where women were needed everywhere. New mothers were cared for and pregnant women were also educated in women’s health. She went to anarchist Juan Garcia Oliver, Minister for Justice, to make sure children of unwed mothers were made legitimate, as neither the women or their children deserved to be treated with such disrespect by society. Under her charge, abortion was made legal (Franco destroyed this law immediately after the war).

But with factions on the left collapsing as the war pressed on, Communist pressure  forced Montseny from her post in May 1937. She returned to anarchism, even though many hated her for ever leaving, and continued to help in the war effort to kill fascism. As the war went on, she was forced to accept food packages from friends in the Netherlands. When Barcelona was bombed in 1938, she feared either that or raids by Franco supporters would see her and her family killed. When the Nationalists finally broke Barcelona in January 1939, she, her partner, their daughter, their newborn son and both of her parents fled north through the snow, walking to France. Montseny’s mother died on route, which forced Montseny to leave her body, and the country, behind. Many refugees were now in France, and kept in internment camps, where death swept through those displaced. They lived near Paris, trying to help Spanish refugees, but then the Nazis invaded, forcing them to hide in Toulouse.

Franco was after Montseny specifically now, wanting to execute all those who opposed him and the Nationalists during the war. In 1942, the same time Montseny’s father died in an internment camp, Franco asked the French government to help catch Montseny for extradition. But Montseny was pregnant and the French government refused to send a pregnant woman home to be killed. Spanish refugees were trapped in France, the French pinning them in, and allied countries were of no help.

Montseny and her family were forced to stay in Toulouse, where on top of her 51 novels, Montseny finished 22 nonfiction works, and wrote regularly for two French magazines, despite only learning the language after her exile. She did not return to Barcelona in 1977, two years after Franco was dead.

Montseny addresses the first CNT meeting in Barcelona since the war, in 1977

Montseny did not stay in Spain; she continued with her life in Toulouse, publishing her final book, Mis primeros cuarenta años (My First Forty Years) in 1987, and died aged 88 in 1994. She lamented that she was unable to instill her ideals about gender into her children, in particular her son, as the change in generational shifts came too late.

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight of the Montseny’s life. Things get lost in translation – Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. The more the world remembers, the better. All photos are linked to source for credit

The Beginners Guide to the 40th Anniversary of Franco’s Death – ‘History’ Remains Fluid

El Caudillo. The Generalissimo. Supreme patriotic military hero by the Grace of God. Whatever you want to call him, Franco was a short man with a penchant for moustaches and murder. When people think of dictators, they think of Franco’s mate Hitler, or more current dictators such as Mugabe or the North Koreans with bad haircuts. Some would say Franco was a coward in comparison, or more moderate. If you turn from the word dictator and instead to fascism, the dictionary will give you Franco as a definition. Call Franco whatever you like, but November 20 is the day to celebrate his slow and painful death. The day in 1975 when cava and champagne bottles were popping faster than overheated popcorn. That day, Spaniards, at home and in exile, could finally shake off their not-so wonderful leader.

Born in December 1892 in Galicia, Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teódulo Franco Bahamonde was one in a long line of relatives in the navy. But instead Franco chose the army in 1907, and worked his way through the ranks through wars in Morocco, and was shot in the stomach in 1916, and lost a testicle (it is rumoured). He continued fighting and winning medals, and by the mid-twenties, he was ranked high enough to be before the King in Madrid. The royal family got run out of the country when the Second Spanish Republic took hold in 1931, but it wasn’t until Franco’s cozy position at the army academy in Zaragoza being extinguished did Franco start getting angry. Posted to the Balearic Islands for a few years, Franco got a taste of killing his own people during the miner’s strike in Asturias in 1934. He crushed innocents defending their rights, and the left and right side of politics only continued to divide as bitterness set into the young Republic. After the 1936 elections, all went to hell, and Franco found himself leading an army from Morocco into Spain to depose the Republican government.

Fast forward through three years of brutal civil war though 1936-1939 (if I explain that in detail, we will be here forever), and Franco’s Nationalist army, backed by fascists, Carlists, monarchists, any right-wing nutball group really, had defeated the Republicans, with the communists, anarchists and general plucky young men and women from Spain and overseas fighting for freedom. After gross atrocities, upwards of 200,000 people were killed. Franco was the leader of Spain, a nation decimated by force and hate. The short, moustached, one-testicled Hitler lover was in control.

Spain was no picnic. So many fled the country, many to France, Mexico, Cuba, Argentina… basically anywhere but Spain. Artists, teachers, bright minds, and those of the left-wing all ran for their lives. Spain skipped the Second World War after basically being in pieces, claiming neutrality, though Franco loved Hitler’s style of hating. While Franco was claiming that Spain had struck gold and all would be well, 200,000 people starved to death in the first half of the 1940’s. The whole decade was spent rounding up people who had supported the Republican side of the civil war, and up to 50,000 were killed, or put in concentration camps, or just ‘disappeared’.

Franco was brutal and bizarre. He could be easily played with wild schemes. But his own plan, being anti-Communist, won him love from the United States. They were allowed to set up military bases, Spain got money and their love for Hitler, Mussolini, etc was swept under the carpet. Spain and its technocrats were keen to move on and make Spain wealthy and prosperous again, though naturally, all spoils only went to the people at the top of the food chain. Spain’s Años de Desarrollo, years of development began through 1961-1973, with Franco promoting tourism, bullfighting, flamenco, everything super-Spanish. Financially, things got much better, but since everyone was doing so poorly, ‘much better’ still wasn’t great. Many Spaniards were still living overseas. Riots broke out at universities, women were still horribly oppressed, with divorce, abortions and birth control illegal. They couldn’t have bank accounts without male oversight, and couldn’t even leave a violent husband, real middle-ages style of living. The church was sticking its evil nose into everything, being gay was illegal, local languages were banned, and nuns loved hitting kids in schools and orphanages.

By 1969, Franco was getting old and handing more power to the lecherous bastards who profited from his reign. It was time to choose an heir. Franco had one daughter (though that has been questioned, given the testicle incident, but never mind), and Franco chose Juan Carlos de Bourbon, grandson to the Spanish King exiled to France in 1931. The young man, dutifully married to a Greek princess, would be modelled and educated in the ways of Francoism – basically being a murderous douche.

Even as Franco was getting super old in the 1970’s, he was still being real bastard, handing down executions just months before his death. Young people were rising up, wanting change in their country, and groups such as ETA wanted their regions’ independence back, as did Catalonia, Galicia, Valencia – basically everyone. In the final months of Franco’s reign, countries were having protests against his execution decisions, Mexico tried to have Spain kicked from the UN, and the Pope wasn’t interested in him anymore, which isn’t cool for a Catholic nation. But on October 1st, Franco have a hate speech from his palace and left in tears. From that moment, his number was up.

Pneumonia, heart attacks and then internal bleeding took hold. Machines kept the old man alive and drugged. Doctors worked day and night for the man who let people be shot by firing squads or starve to death. But after 35 days of pumping life into a frail old man, on November 20, 1975, Franco finally passed away.

The parties started, in Spain and all around the world, where Spaniards had waited for the day. Half a million people went to see his body, just to see the proof for themselves (this figure remains disputed, like all figures during Spain’s 20th century). Spain, which had been lying dormant, could live again. The protege, Juan Carlos, was crowned King, and tossed Francoism aside, opting for democracy. None of that was an easy ride as the road to the Transition began.

The trouble is, those killed during and after the war are still buried in their makeshift graves. Those lecherous wannabes who circled Franco did not lose their place in politics, and among the wealthy and elite. Those who were evil were all given amnesty, to smooth the road for democracy. Justice was never served; Spain’s hard questions remained unanswered for so many. Those who did wrong have grown old, as those who were harmed. The varying levels of independence of Spain’s 17 regions still causes headaches. Does Spain still need to ask questions of its past, or is the future hard enough?

Either way, pop a cork off champagne today, at least to celebrate the freedom Spaniards would have felt on 20 November, 1975.

Read more of what has changed in Spain since Franco’s death, and what is to come – Spaniards aim for a new democracy and end to Franco’s long shadow

Read more about Valle de los Caídos, Franco’s super creepy tomb, where monks will be praying for him today (yes, that’s a thing!)

Read more about Franco’s war, reign, and death in the Secrets of Spain  novel trilogy

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