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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of events. Things get lost in translation – Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. The more the world remembers, the better. All photos are screencaps of the video and linked to source for credit.

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

March 12

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

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

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

March 13

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

March 14

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

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

Palacio de Ibarra after the battle

March 16

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

March 18

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

 Cars bombed from the air on the Zaragoza road

March 19

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

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

March 23

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

March 31

The War of the North begins

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

tiny Durango being bombed by the German planes

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

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

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

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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 31: 12 – 19 February 1937

February 12

Pingarrón ‘Suicide Hill’

The Soviet planes are giving the Republicans power in the area and the German Condor Legion planes have to retreat. The Nationalists still have to cut off the Madrid-Valencia road. International Brigades try to hold these last few key locations to save the road and keep it open. The volunteers are hacked into pieces by the Nationalists over a fateful day in civil war history.

Thanks, Richard, for the always great maps

all images have links directly to sites with detailed info – check them out

After a week of fighting, the Nationalists have fresh troops in reserve and bring them into the valley to attack the town of Morata. At dawn, XV International Brigade British volunteers are sent to the Morata-San Martin de la Vega road and head towards the Jarama river. They have Spanish men to one side and the 18th battalion, the Balkan Dimitrov battalion, to the other, protecting them. They attempt to take a ridge and were unaware the Nationalists have already crossed the river, so once they reach the top of the hill, they have to scatter and take positions, with the machine-gun company ready, with one company either side, and one in reserve. Three hours of fighting commences with the Nationalist Moorish soldiers, men well-trained, compared to freshly arrived volunteers. The machine guns have the wrong ammunition, and men armed with rifles have Nationalists swarming towards them. All four companies need to engage in fighting to hold back the Nationalist onslaught, but men are quickly cut down. The British have a French/Belgian battalion just to their north in the hills, but they retreat, leaving the British and Balkans exposed. As the day continues, the volunteers are forced to retreat further and further, as the death count rises. They need to retreat back down the hillside onto the plateau, but the Nationalists get over the top of the ridge and not many men make down the hillside alive.

Finally the Republican machine-gun company gets the right ammunition and they are able to start firing back at the invading Moorish men. They have taken the Pingarrón hill, now nicknamed Suicide Hill, but with machine-guns in place, the Nationalists must hide in the darkness and retreat back over hillside in the night. But the damage has been done; a day of fighting has killed half the Brigade , the British losing 375 men out of 600. Both Pingarrón Hill, ‘Suicide Hill’ and the Morata-San Martin road are still in Republican hands, but only nightfall has saved them. The Balkan, German and even fleeing French/Belgians have also suffered heavy losses. The survivors have around fifty desperately wounded man to care for, but most lose the battle. Survivors are threatened in order to get them back to the front lines before daybreak.

bb_at_jaramasome of the British battalion at Jarama

February 13

Fighting begins early in the morning. The German Thaelmann and Balkan Dimitrov battalions engage in early battle, and the British are ordered to engage and help them, with the help of the Spanish Lister brigade, also suffering heavy from losses. The Nationalists have set up strategic machine gun positions, and the Republican tanks do not appear, and only three planes arrive to help, only flying over once to drop bombs. The British battalion are forced into having to run 600 metres straight at the Nationalist machine guns and ignore their orders, knowing death would be the only outcome.

As the day goes on, the French/Belgians and the Dimitrovs are forced back by fighting, leaving the British again surrounded on three sides. The British are forced back to the road, leaving their machine gunners. All 30 men including their commander are captured.

The British send 40 men to recapture their machine gun positions, but all but six are killed. By now their commanders are captured, injured or defeated, with the battalion now very short of men.

British machine gun company captured

February 14

A fresh brigade of Nationalists arrive with tanks, and the volunteers, with a new  commander have no choice but to retreat from the road by early afternoon. The British, German, French/Belgians, Irish and the Balkans are all attacked in every direction, men slaughtered as they try to escape. The road is lost to the Nationalists and the Republican machine guns are destroyed by tanks. Men lie dead and left behind, many wounded and all tired, starving and broken.

The Colonel of the XV Brigade turns the battled men back towards the fighting, in order to hold the vital Madrid-Valencia road open, the Morata – San Martin road already lost. The brigade of 140 rally head back to the front, where Nationalists are surprised, and think reserves have arrived. They manage to hold the line and keep the Madrid-Valencia road open.

February 15

Overnight, the Nationalists pull back and the Republicans gain fresh companies of Spanish men. The Republican line is now protected and will not change in position for the rest of the war, which a stalemate developing, much like in the battle for Corunna Road a month before. But killing continues with snipers and machine guns constantly battling for position, which will never advance. The battle of Jarama is now ten days old and 20,000 men are now dead, around 13,000 are Republicans. Everyone who came to Spain to fight fascism has taken a heavy blow.

February 16

The new American Lincoln Battalion arrives at Jarama, a total of 550 men. They include a battalion of Irish men who have left the British company to join the Americans. They have trouble with finding a good leader and most have little or no training at all, but they get to spend their first five days as reserves before their own battle commences.

jcc-1

Irish men incorporated into the Lincoln Brigade

February 17

The Republicans have been commenced by two Generals, Miaja and Pozas, which causes problems in communication, and Miaja takes over alone. The Spanish Lister battalion attacks Pingarrón once again, in which half of the men killed over two days. They retreat and the Nationalists are amazed such a stupid attack was ordered towards them. The battle still has another ten bloody days to go.

Fresh Lincoln battalion fighters

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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 of the Spanish Civil War: Part 1 – Lucía Sánchez Saornil

cntLucía Sánchez Saornil was born in Madrid on 13 December 1895, and raised in poverty by her father. Sánchez got accepted into the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando (Madrid) with her passion for poetry, and by 1919 she had already been published in multiple journals, where she used a pen name. As a man, she was able to write of lesbian themes; at that time, all gay relationships (and anything related) was subject to censorship and prison time, all still illegal in Spain. This lead to Sánchez having to keep her private life very private for her safety. However, she wrote alongside many modern new authors, dedicated to promoting new literary styles, but only as a man.

1933Sánchez worked for the as a phone operator at Telefónica, and in 1931, participated in the union strike arranged by the CNT (anarchist workers union), and ignited her passion for activism. In 1933, Sánchez gained a role with the CNT in Madrid, as their Writing Secretary, and edited their own journal, right until the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Her writing quickly established her as a feminist and addressed the urgent need for better equality in Spain. At that time, gender roles were extremely strict and went unquestioned. Sánchez wrote of how motherhood should not have to define a woman and that women deserved far better treatment. The anarchist movement praised equal rights, but it seemed as all talk and no action, with men who claimed to be anarchists still sexist in the home. Women still were forced into marriage and single women required a chaperone in public. Women still received half the income of men. The working class women were not receiving any benefits promised by the Second Spanish Republic.

In 1935, Sánchez decided to form the Mujeres Libres (Free Women), along with Mercedes Comaposada, a socialist lawyer in Madrid. They argued that social revolution and women’s revolution were the same thing; that women’s issues were everyone’s issues. They started their magazine, and were soon joined by Amparo Poch y Gascon, a doctor who believed in sexual freedom and the abolishment of double standards for women. The women felt that their contribution to the CNT was not being treated equally, and that sexism was rampant. At same time, Soledad Estorach in Barcelona started the Grupo Cultural Feminino, a group committed to equality in unions. In 1936, the groups came together and formed the Agrupacion Mujeres Libres, a group which would grow to 30,000 members.

The anarchists believed that women’s equality would be naturally created after the social revolution, when the working classes received better rights. However, the Mujeres Libres believed women’s rights could begin right away, and they created networks of support and reported on sexist issues within their unions. By the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, coinciding with the Spanish revolution, Mujeres Libres were already formed and prepared, so that women could participate in war fully, both in the revolution and as militia in battle. Sánchez and her team spread propaganda, radio news, and travelled to rural women to give them support.

In order for women to be free as the Spanish Civil War and revolution progressed, the Mujeres Libres organised schools, women’s only social occasions and a women-only newspaper, so women could feel safe and confident as their political consciousness was educated. Many working class women could not read or write, so Mujeres Libres set up classes for these women to attend, and women were trained as nurses for the ever-increasing wounded from the front. At the same time, they were taught about sexual health and post-natal care, to pass on to as many women as possible. Much had been denied to working class women in the past, and they finally started to receive basic help.

Mujeres Libres did not become part of the CNT or FAI, as they wished to be an independent anarchist group. As men left to fight at the front (along with many women, who are largely forgotten by history), the Mujeres Libres had women work-ready to fill men’s roles. While still stuck in female roles like cooking for the militia and nursing the wounded, women were also being training in shooting by Mujeres Libres. Also formed was daycare for children as women empowered themselves, and the children were educated in the causes their mothers fought to achieve. Mothers, in turn, received information on child care and development, for the better of the whole family. They also published their first Mujeres Libres magazine as the war broke out, being printed until the front reached Barcelona.

Mujures Libres had much opposition, as feminism does today, believing women cannot be a good mother and a good working woman. Their roles would always be limited to parenting. Many believed that anarchism could not work if women soughtto undermine men, even though one of their aim goals was an egalitarian society with freedom for all. As Mujeres Libres flourished, so did the man tears, who got scared and voiced opposition. To this day, no one has figured out why men are so scared of women.

The revolution broke down ten months after the outbreak of war, and the ability of the Mujeres Libres faltered. The inability to work together got the better of the left-wing factions, and the strength of the Nationalists slowly ate away at freedoms gained for the working class. Fighting and killing became the only activity in all parts of Spain.

Sánchez fled to Valencia and worked as a journal editor for Threshold, and met the love of her life, America Barroso. Sánchez became a member of the SIA (international antifascist union) and worked as their General Secretary, who supplied anarchist aid to the wounded and fleeing during the war. Sánchez and Barroso were forced to flee to France in 1939 as anarchists, but were forced out of there by Nazis in 1941. Sánchez did not have the luxury of anonymity and had to live quietly in Valencia, living with her ‘wife’s’ family, as all same-sex relationships were illegal, and fascism and Catholicism were raining down. Sánchez worked as an editor and Barroso worked at the Argentine consulate, until Sánchez died of cancer in 1960, aged 75.

Sánchez was buried quietly in Valencia with a headstone which reads –

¿Pero es verdad que la esperanza ha muerto? But is it true that hope has died?

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight of the Sánchez’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

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 29: 29 January – 5 February 1937

February 2

Preparations for the Battle of Jarama, east of Madrid, are complete. The aim is to cross the Jarama river and cut off communications between Madrid and the temporary capital, Valencia, to the east. The Nationalists have 15,000 men ready, along with support of the German Condor Legion, along with tanks and machine guns. The Republicans have 30,000 men including international volunteers and are spread out ready to hold steady.

February 3

The Army of the South decides it is time to attack the city of Málaga from the west, starting from the already fallen town of Ronda. The Nationalists have 15,000 troops, and the accompanying Italian Blackshirts have another 10,000 men and plenty of supplies. The Republicans holding Málaga have around 12,000 men, only 8,000 armed. None have been trained in battle.

517px-batalla_de_malaga-svg

February 4

The Málaga Republicans are not ready to take on the Italians, who are prepared for armoured warfare, and have tanks ready while the Republicans do not even have enough bullets for their guns. The Italians make a huge gain in territory in one day and many Republicans are killed around the outskirts of the city.

February 5

The Republicans have 600 right-wing hostages kept on a ship at the port, and many are killed in revenge for air raids which are unleashed on the city. Republicans have no air defense or planes of their own. No roadblocks have been set up and no trenches have been dug. The CNT and the Communists have been running the area, but have difficulty working together. Colonel Villalba who runs the Republicans, has no ammunition to hand out and no guns to place in strategic locations for defense.  Over the days of fighting, 4,000 innocents will be killed in Málaga. There is no way Málaga can hold off the Nationalists and people prepare to flee, in what shall soon be known as the Málaga-Almería road massacre, where between 3,000-5,000 will die.

NB: A special post on the massacres of Málaga will be posted on February 7.

February 5

The Nationalist offensive begin on the west bank of the Jarama river, catching the Republicans by surprise after heavy rain. The Nationalists have highly trained men who advance with whole brigades in columns, meaning the Republicans simply overwhelmed. While the Nationalists have a good first day, they did not gain the total control as planned, and thus begins the now-infamous battle lasting three bloody weeks. (All daily events will be posted from next week)

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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 are linked to source for credit.

JANUARY SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘Boadilla’ by Esmond Romilly

In 1936 Esmond Romilly, nephew of Great Britain’s ‘War Chancellor’ Winston Churchill and outspoken pacifist, went to fight with the International Brigades for the democratically elected Spanish government against the insurgent fascist general Francisco Franco. This is the unheroic, unsentimental account he wrote immediately after the fighting, fresh and personal like no other, spiced with dry English humor.

There have been other records of the part played by the British members of the International Brigade at the siege of Madrid. But Mr. Romilly’s is the most full. He is one of the two survivors of the original ten British volunteers attached to the Thaelmann Battalion in the early days of the war. So his book has its place in the annals of the contemporary struggle for liberty. He writes easily and simply. There are occasional breaths of Hemingway, but in the later chapters especially he displays a detached casualness—unusual in so young a writer (Mr. Romilly is nineteen)—that is genuinely dramatic and moving. Without heroics he conveys the feelings of those untrained enthusiasts (the author’s military experience was confined to refusing to join his school O.T.C.) suddenly plunged into a battle fought apparently at random. Caught between a cross-fire, the little group was almost wiped out. Their bodies were never found.

cover art and blurb via amazon and spectator

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As mentioned a few weeks in ago in This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 25: 1 -7 January 1937, the battles for Corunna Road and the fight to take the town of Boadilla del Monte, just outside Madrid, were chronicled by 19-year-old English volunteer Esmond Romilly.

The book starts off by promising to account the battle of Boadilla in a straight-forward fashion, as that it does. It tells a very simple story of what happened, all written while fresh in the author’s mind in 1937, as he holidays on honeymoon in France. Romilly came from a rich family, married in another rich family, but for a few months in late 1936 and early 1937, he fought to make ‘Madrid the grave of fascism.’ He had little stamina for the war, but he was an excellent example of unprepared men thrown into a poorly planned battle, so typical of volunteers in Spain.

The book starts with a background of all the main characters that Romilly met on the trip – Joe Gough, Harry Audley, Aussie Whateley, Jerry Fontana, Lorimer Birch, Arnold Jeans, Bill Scott, Tom Mann and Martin Messer. It seems in this short time, Romilly got to know these men very well. After the battle to claim Boadilla, he would go home alone.

The early chapters show him working to get by in France as he makes his way south, arriving in Spain by ship at Valencia. The Albacete training bases had been set up by this time. Romilly describes this as playing at soldiers. He had no idea how to use a rifle, couldn’t speak any Spanish and was constantly suffering dysentery. He met many Germans, Latvians and French men, as well as his fellow Englishmen, and the story tells of the usual difficulties marching with supplies and being hot, of the whole thing having a ‘field day’ atmosphere while away from the front. Romilly has given some people assumed names, most those who were German or went to Germany after the war (it was illegal for Germans to aid the Republicans. Those returning home were jailed).

One thing that stood out was Romilly being told by French communist André Marty that the Republicans needed three things to win the war – political unity, military leaders with experience, and discipline. They had none of these.

Romilly uses assumed names for the towns of his initial battles. Battle starts in chapter 5 when out of nowhere, Romilly finds himself under fire, his first reality in the civil war just south of Madrid. As soon as they hit the front at ‘Noreno’, Romilly gets lost under darkness, and ends up walking miles the wrong way, meeting up with others, and eventually making their way to ‘Melilla’ (thought to be Villaconejos. No one know why Romilly changed the town names). Though as dawn air raids strike, the men are lucky to have gotten lost and in the wrong town.

Romilly seems to run around, never really having a clue what is going on, where they are heading or what to do. Dysentery is the one thing everyone shares, and the bitter cold of being up on the plain around Madrid really hits home, with only those prepped by anarchists in Barcelona are ready for it, as the rest of the Thaelmann Battalion have to struggle on.

The battalion team up with the Garibaldi battalion and thrown into fighting in University City on the northern tip of Madrid. Romilly recalls seeing Moorish soldiers shooting into trenches were his comrades were, their bayonets slashing at those trapped but not killed. He details his time fighting in University City very well, saying the night smelled night ‘dead men, crackling flames and drizzle’.

Romilly soon is in Madrid at the Ritz, swirling brandy and bathing again. He gets eight days’ training in the town (now suburb) of Fuencarral north of Madrid, before heading back to Majadahonda, a village (now suburb) west of Madrid. Now the battles for Corunna Road and the surrounding towns are all on, and Romilly is sent to hold the tiny town of Boadilla. Under the air raids and against the well-prepped Nationalists, the whole battle falls into total chaos, of watching close friends die and running away in blind panic. One by one, as they retreat, Romilly’s friends are killed, not by the Moorish soldiers that anticipated, but by uniformed Spaniards.

Romilly is one of only a couple who survived Boadilla. He speaks of meeting English poet John Cornford along the way, another young Englishman, with his head bandaged. Cornford never made it out alive either. The few remaining living foreigners (just over a dozen volunteers from a combined Spanish and volunteer group of 15,000 at Corunna Road battles) made it to El Pardo (just outside Madrid) where they came to grips with the brutal losses.

Romilly was diagnosed with neuralgia, damaging nerves causing excessive pain, and was sent home, where he married Jessica Mitford, and then wrote the fresh accounts of the men left in the mud at Boadilla. Romilly went on to fight in WWII but died in 1941.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 27: 15 – 22 January 1937

January 15

The third battle of Corunna Road ceases. The Nationalists have convincingly won the first and second waves of battle, and now both sides are exhausted. The XII International Brigades do not have the men or supplies to take back any of the northwest Madrid areas, and the Nationalists can’t get any further with their numbers. Both sides are now exhausted and give up in their plans. The Corunna Road route is still technically open and supplies still have a chance of getting through to Madrid, though now the city will have to rely more on the roads coming from Valencia and Aragon in the east/northeast.

Routes of soldiers prior to the battle: Spanish/Moroccans blue, Italians green, Republicans resistance red

January 17

The Nationalists form a plan to take Malaga on the southern coast. The huge losses at the Battle of Corunna Road have made the Nationalists keen to redirect their offensive, and decide to focus away from Madrid. The Nationalists have had 10,000 fresh troops arrive from Italy to the port of Cádiz, and are sent towards Malaga with their light tanks and armoured cars. Columns of Moroccan troops mixed with Spanish Carlists troops, around 15,000 men,  are sent from Seville and Granada. The Nationalists have four cruisers, the  Canarias, Baleares and Velasco ready to bomb Malaga from the sea, and the German Admiral Graf Spee is brought into the area.

The troops form the new Army of the South, run by Captain Queipo de Llano, who brings in men from the west while Antonio Muñoz Jiménez brings in men from the northeast. The Republicans hold a stretch of coastline around 25 miles long, with the port city of Malaga in the centre. In the first week, the advance of the Nationalist troops is 15 miles into the Republican held area, as the Republicans are poorly armed.

As Nationalist troops march through the Malaga region, the Republicans fail to see the groups of Nationalists are all heading directly for Malaga, so the city is not notified or prepared for the huge coming attack. Malaga is run by around 12,000 anarchist CNT militia, though only 8,000 are armed. There are rumblings between the allied CNT and communist militias, and none of the men in the area have been trained for warfare, though are keen to fight for their home. The Republicans have little ammunition, have no trenches dug, no roadblocks in place and nothing to protect them from the air.

The lack of preparation from the Republicans means the large civilian population of Malaga are now under serious threat, and a massacre is imminent.

Defence at Cerro de los Angeles

January 19

General Enrique Líster based in Madrid is in control of more International Brigades, which are going in numbers and more men are becoming trained, or are now already battle-worn. The Republicans are in short supply of both men and ammunition. General Lister leads a column of International Brigades to try to recapture Cerro de los Angeles, just south Madrid. The Nationalists took the overlooking area of Madrid in November and have been using the hill as an artillery base to shell the city. Lister and his foreign volunteers claim the hill for the Republicans are a day of fighting. Madrid is in need of this respite from constant bombardment.

Republicans atop Cerro de los Angeles, once a religious site

 

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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 are linked to source for credit.