This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Weeks 125 – 128: 1 – 31 December 1938

Almost two and a half years since the start of the war, the Republican-controlled area of Spain has dwindled. The battle of the Ebro through the second half of 1938 has destroyed the Republicans, who have no hope of recovery, with low numbers of trained men still alive, no weapons, and no aid in sight. With the withdrawal of all International Brigades in October, the Republicans are left isolated. The Nationalists continue to receive weapons, aircraft and ammunition from Hitler. The Munich Agreement (the changes to the Non-Intervention Committee agreement of stopping Germany and Italy from aiding Franco) has not been enforced by any European country, so the fascists are free to finishing destroying Spain.

December 10

The Nationalists decide to keep up momentum after taking Aragon, and plan their final offensive, to take Catalonia and its capital of Barcelona. The Army of the North, led by General Dávila, is 340,000 strong, spread out along the Catalonia border from the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean. The Segre River is controlled General Grande’s Army of Urgel, with General Valiño’s Army of Maestrazgo and Moscardo’s Aragon Army as back-up. The German Condor Legion provide air cover with 500 planes, on top of  support from the Italian Cuerpo Legionario (four divisions  of 55,000 men) and General Solchaga’s Army Corps from Navarra, plus General Yagüe’s Moroccan Corps fresh from the slaughter of the Ebro. Between these groups, they bring 1,400 cannons and 300 tanks.

The Republicans are seriously overwhelmed by this offensive. General Juan Hernandez Servia has his Oriental region Army Corps, joined by Colonel Perea’s East Army and Colonel Modesto’s Ebro Army. These groups combined make 300,000 men, but they have only 17,000 rifles between them. They combine their weapons and only come up with 250 cannons and 40 tanks (most too damaged to use). The Soviets have promised a shipment of weapons to aid Spain, promising 250 planes, 250 tanks and 650 cannons, but they cannot reach France before mid-January. On top of this problem, the borders cannot allow most of it into Spain.

People strip bark from trees to cook in Madrid

Another major issue facing Catalonia is lack of food. With no international aid, rations per day for each person is only 100 grams of lentils. Both troops and civilians just want the war over, no matter what happens, even though for many, the end will be death. The problem is far from isolated to Catalonia, as all areas are suffering from lack of food, particularly Madrid, still surrounded by the rebels, and haven’t received fresh food from Valencia since late 1937.

December 23

Lleida, 1938

The initial attack planned for December 10 has been changed to December 23, when the Italian and Navarre troops cross the Mequinenza river, through Republican frontlines and advance 16 kilometres near Lleida. They are only stopped on December 25 when they meet General Lister’s V and XV Republican Corps. At the same time, General Grande and General Valiño’s troops advance on Cervera and Artesa, but are stopped by the Republican 26th division. General Yague’s Moroccan troops are still at the Ebro due to winter flooding.

The first week of battle is held within the first 50 kilometres from the Catalonia border into the province, Cervera being 47 kilometres from the initial frontlines. Within the first week, the Republicans lose 40 planes in the fighting, the death toll on both sides not calculated as the battles are spread out along the province.

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

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Weeks 121 – 124: 1 – 30 November 1938

November 3

After occupying Pandols Range on November 2, the Nationalists fighting in the battle of the Ebro finally reach the water’s edge itself. With the Republicans either slaughtered or captured, and the International Brigades withdrawn at the Prime Minister’s command, nothing is stopping the Nationalists crossing into Catalonia.

November 7

The town of Cabra, 70 kilometres southeast of Córdoba, is bombed from the air by the Republicans. Between three bombers, some six tonnes of bombs are dropped in a surprise morning attack. The bombs are dropped on the market and working class areas, with one bomb weighing 200 kilograms landing right in the morning marketplace. The Republicans catch the Nationalists off-guard, who don’t have time to react. The plan is to hit the Italian troops stationed in Cabra, and the pilots think they see military tents, but instead hit the market awnings. Around 109 civilians are killed with another 200 injured in a scathing mistake.

November 10 

The Nationalists have crossed the Ebro river to take the small town of Móra la Nova, on the east side of the river in Catalonia province. They also have Mount Picossa, the final main strategic point in the Battle of the Ebro. The Republicans have no way to stop the Nationalists now.

November 16

The remaining Nationalist forces cross the Ebro at Flix and the battle is over. The Republican army is now destroyed, losing most of its men and all of its equipment, and the Republican airforce has nothing left to fight Franco’s rebels, losing 150 planes in the fight. Both sides have suffered massive losses over the four-month battle. The estimate of deaths ranges between 50,000 to 100,000 people, with another 20,000 to 30,000 captured. The Nationalists have sacrificed many of their finest officers, while the Republicans lost their experienced men and all their weapons. Even the Nationalists need to repair all of what they had left.

Franco signs a new deal with Germany, who send in new weapons in return for mining contracts, so the Nationalists can regroup and launch an attack on Catalonia. The Republicans have long used an approach of constantly attacking Nationalist positions, rather than planning solid defense, meaning Catalonia and its capital Barcelona have no safety, and the propaganda gained from constant attacks now has no use. The one positive note of the Ebro battles is that since the Nationalists had to turn around troops and weapons to the mountains, saving Valencia from being captured.

Remaining Republican men at the end of the battle

November 25

The Republicans now have no solid army, and the Nationalists are regrouping for a December attack on Catalonia. They need to bring 340,000 men together to cover the front-line from the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean, along the Catalonia border. The Republicans need to bring together 200,000 men to defend the region, though with no weapons, the men will be unarmed. The Soviets agree to send what artillery they can, though the battle is looking to be another slaughter by the Nationalists.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Weeks 117 – 120: 1 – 31 October 1938

October 2

The Nationalists attack Hill 565 in the Sierra Pandols-Cavalls, taking the strategic post. The Republicans have held this high point since the start of the offensive. On this hillside is an old Moorish tower, which the XV International Brigades used as a general protection site, along with the many caves where men hid from sight during the fighting.  By now, most hill locations defended by the Republicans and International Brigades have been taken by the Nationalists, and many International battalions are starting to retreat from the battle, due to the command that all foreign fighters withdraw from Spain.

October 4

The intensely useless Non-Intervention Committee continues its withdraw of all foreign fighters in Spain. This is done in the hope that Franco and his fascists start to withdraw their 50,000 foreign men (and 30,000 Moroccan Legionnaires) from the battle – but why would they when they are making such sweeping gains? The Republicans start their withdrawal of the International Brigades, though many battalions have already fought their last battles and started their trek into Catalonia to leave Spain for good.

October 8

Sant Vicenç de Calders railway station, three kilometres outside the Catalonia village of  Sant Vicenç, is attacked from the air by the Italian Aviazione Legionaria. The station is an important one, where the junction lines between Barcelona to Madrid and Barcelona to Valencia meet. While the main village is nearby, the station itself is surrounded by the railway town. The bombing starts  as a civilian train from Tarragona is arriving at the station on its way to Barcelona. A single plane came from the sea, as the planes were based at Palma de Mallorca, and hit the train directly. The bombing killed 60 people and injured another 100, many trampled by the panic caused. It would not be the first attack on this strategic railway station, and is only 70 kilometres along the coast from Barcelona.

October 16

The Nationalists breach Hill 666 in the Sierra Panadols, the key point of the Pandols-Cavalls mountain range, which shall lead the Nationalists straight down to the Ebro itself. While the Republicans still hold the Sierra Pandols, they are now isolated pockets of men in caves, bravely holding out in the face of mass casualties. Some 50 kilometres north in the battle, the Republicans are also losing ground near Mequinenza, making the battle ever more difficult as the Spanish fighters are without any of their international men.

International Brigades near Falset (50 kilometres from the Ebro) 16 October as they prepare to leave Spain

October 29

The International Brigades have met their sad end after a bloody and brutal volunteer battle to save Spain. Around  10,000 foreign volunteers are still in Spain for the Republicans. The battles have had around 20,000 foreign fighters on the front-lines at their height, with some 35,000 total coming to Spain, with 15,000 killed and left behind. Of the 10,000 still in the country, half are exiles or refugees from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and other European nations such as Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Balkans, Austria, Poland, all which currently have right-wing governments, are annexed by, or under threat from, Germany.  Those remaining from Belgium and the Netherlands have lost their right as citizens for fighting for a foreign army. Those from countries not supporting the rising Fascism of Europe (England, France, the U.S and Canada, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Chile, Argentina, olivia, Ukraine, China, India, Japan, Mongolia, the Palestine Jews, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq – seriously, everyone came), were sent either immediately home, or were herded into camps north of the French border to either die there or eventually get home in time to suffer WWII. Those who chose not to return to their dangerous countries were drafted into Spanish battalions to stay on as Spaniards. Regardless of what country these men and women came from, their return home was not as heroes, as many suffered consequences of their decision to flee their countries to save Spain. None will be offered safe haven in Spain until the mid-1990’s.

Farewell parade in Barcelona 29 October

October 30

The Nationalist Army of the Maestrazgo is taken over by Morroccan General Mohammed Meziane, and they attack the Pandols-Cavalls sierra one more time, this time to end the battle to the river. Armed with the entire battalion, 100 aircraft from the Condor Legion and 175 guns, the Nationalists attack and take 19 fortified Republican positions, resulting in the deaths of 1,500 Republican troops and take another 1,000 men prisoner. With this, the Nationalists now can hike down the eastern side of the mountains to the Ebro, where its waters run along the border of Aragon in Catalonia. The Republicans are now in serious trouble, with a bloody Catalonia Offensive already planned by Franco.

Click on this great map to go to Richard Baxell’s site to learn so much more about the battles than I could ever manage to write. Baxell is an A+ expert on the war and International Brigades.

*thank you for your patience with these posts while I was delayed with the release of my latest book. 

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

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Weeks 113 – 116: 1 – 30 September 1938

September 3

The Nationalist Maestrazgo Corps  arrive at the Ebro front, drawn away from their task of capturing Valencia, to help the advance through the Sierra Cavalls and Pàndols, and then another 10 kilometres north into Corbera. The mountain range is held by the 35th, 11th and the 43rd Republican divisions. The new Eastern front Nationalists counter-attack Gandesa with a reinforcement of German 88mm guns at the same time, putting pressure on the sparse Republican men.

September 4

The Nationalists easily take the town of Corbera, while the battle in the Sierra Cavalls and Sierra Pàndols mountains ends when the Nationalist manage to break through the 11th and 43rd divisions. Only the 35th division manages to hold on, resulting in another bloody battle on Hill 705, on the sides of the Sierra Pàndols highest point. General Modesto was desperate not to lose any further ground in the mountains as thousands were slaughtered. He gave a rousing speech about holding onto every metre of ground the Republicans still had, and countless died for it. Hill 705 has seen many battles and has changed sides dozen of times (one day in August saw the hill change hands eight times) and continues to be a powerful symbol for both sides of the battle.

Republican troops in the Sierra Pànadols

September 13

The 35th division returns to its original position low in the Sierra Pàndols, taking with them the remaining survivors of the 11th division. The Ebro battle has now seen tens of thousands of men dead on both sides. The Ebro is only six weeks old and yet the Nationalists have claimed some 120 square miles of land that the Republicans first took when the crossed the Ebro and Sangre rivers. The Republicans still hold the key crossings points and yet have no way of holding back the eventual crush they know they shall face from imposing Nationalist forces.

Hill 705 on the Sierra Pànadols

September 21

Republican Prime Minister Juan Negrin gives a speech at the League of Nations, regarding the Non-Intervention Committee. The  European countries in the Committee, which has done nothing but interfere with Spain either directly or indirectly, have aided the destruction of Spain  either by supplying weapons and people, or simply sitting on their hands and doing nothing. While wet-bus-ticket Chamberlain, UK Prime Minister, thinks that meetings on the Non-Intervention Committee have been successful throughout 1938, the Committee and its discussions have been a disaster. PM Negrin says he plans to withdraw all International Brigades from the war, as a show of contempt for the Non-Intervention Committee (not that the Non-Intervention sent these troops – rather these men were fearless volunteers, 30 percent of which were killed and left behind in Spain). Many of the International Brigades are now Spaniards, or men who cannot return home to their fascist home counties without being punished/killed for their efforts, but the time has come for the foreigners in battle to leave. At the same time, the UK makes an accord with Italy for them to also remove their men and artillery from Spain, after ignoring the Committee and fighting for the Nationalists for the entire war. The Republican International Brigades have ought many brave battles and now shall be removed in what looks like a sign of defeat against the Nationalists and their German and Italian allies. Even if the Nationalists lose the Italian troops and pilots, the Germans will remain backing Franco while they prep for the coming WWII (and being part of the Non-Intervention Committee!).

September 23

The International Brigades of the XI, XIII and XV battalions, all part of the 35th division fight once last battle at Hill 705 in an attempt to break through the Nationalists, so they can link up with the Valencian reinforcements which will never come. The Nationalists have not broken over the Ebro, but they have killed almost 15,000 Republicans in a battle which will choke on for several more months.

Welsh International Brigades

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

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Weeks 108 – 112: 1 – 31 August 1938

Sorry for the massive delay in posts as I published my latest book. All will be caught up in the next few days. HERE is July if you have forgotten the timeline.

August 1

The XV International Brigade and the Republican mixed 15th Army Corps launch their attack of Hill 481 outside Gandesa. The Republicans have large numbers but suffer massive casualties as the Nationalists have air support over the hillside into Gandesa. The Nationalists are prepared to defend Hill 481 at the expense of making any gains.

The battle lasts for several days, resulting in the Republican troops trapped along the edge of the Segre river. While crossing the river would give the Nationalists a free advance towards Barcelona, Franco orders the men to stay and ensure the slaughter of the Republican army.  The Republicans order their men to stand their ground, and are executed if they try to retreat. The Nationalists kill their way through the Republicans with solid artillery and air cover.

The early August battle is fought WWI western front style, with both sides battling in long trenches, neither gaining or losing significant ground while the casualty numbers pile up. In the first few days of the month, the Nationalists’ 500 cannons pound the Republicans with 13,000 rounds while their 200 aircraft dropped another 10,000 bombs. The Republicans had only machine guns and mortar fire, but refused to give up their access across the river.

Nationalist men heading towards the Segre

August 5

With the land rock-hard in the height of summer, and the temperatures hovering about 40C, water and food shortages begin to become another battle for Republican men. Bodies are piling up, and cannot be buried, while the wounded can only be sent over the river at night, causing the death count to rise further. The German and Italian air cover continue to fly dawn to dusk, only hindered by the Republicans’ 75 planes, half of which are poor quality aircraft. Over the past six weeks, the Republicans have lost half of their planes in battle and most of their Soviet pilots, the only ones trained in flying and fighting, had either died or retreated from battle. By August 5, the Republican crossings over the Ebro have been bombed, and supply lines all over the battle are destroyed, leaving men on barren hillsides to be bombed from the air, or shot from high points around the Sierra Cavalls.

A Republican cave hospital

August 6

After almost a week of defence and systemic bombing, the Nationalists launch their own counter-offensive, this time to retake Republican areas. The northern area of the Ebro battle, a 20-kilometre line between Mequinenza and  Fayón, is bombed by the German Condor Legion carrying 50 tonnes of bombs, over four days, to break their supply line and Republican defence. The Republicans have no way of defending themselves, with their airforce tied up at Gandesa.

The Nationalists outside Gandesa

August 11

The Republicans camped by the river outside Mequinenza are unable to cross back over the river, which marks the border between Aragon and Catalonia. Some 900 men are killed in the bombing and over 200 machine guns have been destroyed, leaving the stretch of river exceptionally vulnerable.  The attack then changes to attack the 11th division, lead by the Republican General Lister, who has no reinforcements or artillery to defend them, leaving the river further unprotected.

August 14

The Nationalists have the Ebro Army still battling to cross, while the Eastern front is ready to cross the Segre river into Catalonia. Yet Republicans still hold the Sierra Cavalls beside the river, though the Nationalists take the hilltop of the Santa Magdalena near the town of Vilalba dels Arcs, 40 kilometres south of Mequinenza, getting closer to the Ebro on foot.

August 18

The Nationalists, who have captured the northern dams, open the dams and flood the Ebro, which again washes away the Republican pontoons, leaving troops stranded and the supply line cut as they struggle to hold their ground in the mountains.

Franco in the Sierra Cavalls

August 19

The last five days of fighting has allowed the Nationalist General Yague to move his six divisions and the Condor Legion to the area of Gaeta, 10 kilometres north of Gandesa. The new Republican counter-offensive has now completely stalled, and yet the Nationalists are only making very slow progress. The weather conditions are making war near impossible on the rocky plains as the temperatures remains at 40C on a regular basis. The Republicans have had their crossings of the Ebro lost and yet the Nationalists are also not advancing into Catalonia.

August 29

In a fit of anger and frustration, Mussolini, who had been aided the Nationalists with men, planes, points, artillery and cash, is angry that the Nationalists have still not gained into Catalonia, and announces “today, 29 August, I predict the defeat of Franco. That man does not know to make war or doesn’t want to.” (if only!)

August 31

Nationalist General Valiño and his Maestrazgo Corps are ordered by Franco to head north to battle for the Sierra Cavalls. The highest point, Punta Redona, is held by the Republicans and only 12 kilometres from the Ebro. The whole mountain range is held by the 35th, 43rd and 11th Republican divisions, and the Nationalist Maestrazgo Corps bring in eight division with 100 tanks and 500 aircraft, ready to destroy the Republican area.

The Sierra Cavalls outside Gandesa

September and October 1938 will be done tomorrow.

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