This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Weeks 90 – 94: 1 – 30 April 1938

*Apologies for the delays in postings. Hopefully that should be the end of the delays now*

April 1

The Nationalist troops are over the border from Aragon into Catalonia in Fraga, but they want Lleida, 28 kilometres to the northeast. First they encounter a Republican stand at Caspe, where the factions of left-wing fighters have retreated while they regroup or flee for their lives. The Nationalists easily sweep the now destroyed town of Caspe with the help of aerial support, and the Republicans continue their retreat east.

April 3

All Republican front lines have now collapsed and the International Brigade support has been destroyed. The German Condor Legion and Italian Aviazione Legionaria provide aerial support as the Nationalists storm the town of Gandesa, 50 kilometres east of Caspe.  The International Brigades left decide it is time to make a stand and choose Gandesa as their town, but after two days of heavy fighting, the Nationalists managed to either bomb or shoot many of the men. Around 140 mostly British and American fighters are captured, much of them from the XV International Brigade, while the Nationalists lose no men due to their aerial attack. As the volunteers are taken prisoner, many other Republicans are given the chance to escape over the Ebro river to safety.

Meanwhile, 80 kilometres north, the Nationalists have already reached the Catalonian town of Lleida, partly with the help of the Aragon fields, which are good airstrips for the huge aerial campaign the Francoists are waging in the region.  The town of Lleida has  a short-lived battle, for they too are overwhelmed by Nationalists.

For the first time, the Nationalist troops can see the sea, around 50 kilometres east of Gandesa over mountainous terrain.

April 4

Today marks the first day of the Battle of Segre, which lasts for nine months along the edges of the Segre river. Both sides will each bring in 180,000 men into what will be one of the longest battles of the entire war. The Segre river runs along the border of Aragon and Catalonia, providing a fortunate front line for the Republicans, who need all the help they can get. The river helps to power the hydro dams close to the border at the Pyrenees, and provide much of the power and supplies for the city of Barcelona. The Republicans set up fortifications along the east bank of the Segre while the Nationalists set up along the west, marking the first of hundreds of skirmishes.

New York University students in the Lincoln battalion, in April, 1938.Photograph from AP

April 5

The small town of Balaguer, on the Catalonian side of the Segre river, suffers the first of two days of attacks by Nationalist air forces. Balaguer is only 28 kilometres north up the river from Lleida, yet Nationalist men manage to get over a bridge at Balaguer. Republicans are able to fight back and get the Nationalists back over the river. Balaguer is one of the first town to be caught up in the Segre battle.

the Battle of Lleida

April 8

In the far north, Franco’s men have managed to claim several hydro-electric dams. With the  Talarn Dam already claimed in Lleida, these plants in the Pyrenees are vital to the survival of Barcelona. With this major coup, Franco could now easily take Barcelona and Catalonia. But Franco doesn’t want this; he wants a long drawn-out defeat of the Republicans, one that will inflict maximum suffering and death, plus a huge humiliation which will destroy any rebellion against Franco’s plans.

Franco decides he wants to continue to push through southern Catalonia and the Levante area of northern Valencia to the coast, rather than risk angering France and having them enter the battle along the Pyrenees.

April 10

The bridge over the Segre river is captured again by the Nationalists at Balaguer, allowing them access over the river to the stronghold the Republicans have set up.

Republican men on the border with France in the Pyrenees

April 12

The Republicans in the Balaguer area, most only teenage boys with no training, are part of the XVIII Army Corps,  who counterattack along the edges of the Segre in what turns into three days of fighting that sees all of the young and keen men killed by the better organised Nationalists, who continue to establish themselves east of the river.

Nationalist soldier on a captured Republican tank

April 15

While things north have slowed, the Levante Offensive continued its planning as Nationalist troops under General Aranda break through and reach the coastline at Vinaròs, the most northern town in the Valencia region, rather than aiming along the Catalonian coast. While Vinaròs is a town ill-equipped and easily surrenders, it is a huge blow for the Republicans and great for Nationalist morale. The Valencian and Catalonian regions have suffered from bloody aerial attacks and internal fighting, but until now have far from the front-lines of the war. Within only four days, the Nationalist have 70 kilometres of coastline around Vinaròs.

Nationalists at Vinaros

April 19

The Aragon Offensive is finally declared over, as the region is now totally under Nationalist control. But while the Nationalists have been fighting east from Teruel to the coast, the French border has been opened for Soviet supplies to flood in, to aid the Republicans. Franco is now on the coastline and has cut off Valencia from Barcelona, but Republicans along the coast and in both regions are formidable and ready to fight back.

Cyclist battalion at the front. Levante, 1938

April 22

Another battle breaks out in Balaguer, as the Republicans fight to keep the Nationalists west of the Segre river. A week of fighting in the area sees many Republicans killed as the Nationalists finally manage to gain control over the bridge in the town. But the Republicans have not lost the area around Balaguer; they will manage to hold out for another four months, though Republican casualties will be high.

April 25

The Levante Offensive officially begins, a month after troops enter the area. The Nationalists have 125,000 troops ready to take the region with 400 aircraft, upwards of 1000 pieces of artillery and Italian support. General Varela starts to head south from Teruel in Aragon, General Aranda is in Vinaròs, and the third faction under General Valiño are in the mountainous area between these locations, all spread over a 200 kilometre area. But the terrain is difficult and wet weather means the offensive is paused after only two days. In the meantime, the Republicans in the Valencia region now have anti-aircraft guns and machine guns, fresh from the Soviet supplies, along with men who are new to fighting. It won’t be until June that these Nationalists capture any serious areas.

Nationalist troops advancing in the Levante

~~

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.

Advertisements

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 51/52: 3 – 17 July 1937

July 6

Under the cover of pre-dawn, the Republican men (between 70-85,000 total for the battle, 22,000 for the initial attack), commanded by General Miaja, sneak deep behind the Nationalist front lines, who lack troops on the ground. Rather than having men along the front lines, the Nationalists have men stationed at a series of towns north and east of Brunete (see map), their headquarters in Navalcarnero, 15kms south of Brunete. At dawn, the Republicans bombard all the towns around Brunete by air with 100 planes brought to the well-planned battle, and heavy artillery is used on the ground, catching the Nationalists off guard. General Líster and his newly reformed 11th division manage to advance 8kms through the front lines and circle around Brunete. By midday, the Republicans have the strategic town of Brunete. While the town does not have anything particular the Republicans want, it was proof they could dig into Nationalist territory and fight their enemy. This was to convince the Soviets to send more aid, and the French to open their borders to arms shipments.

The Nationalists, still commanded by General Varela, quickly pull together reinforcements around the area, and by midday as the Republicans claimed Brunete, the Nationalist 12th, 13th and 150th divisions are ready to fight back. The Nationalists have 45,000 troops in the immediate area to fight back. The Republicans quickly are met with resistance as they seek to storm south of Brunete, but are held in the town. The Republicans, flanked by the 34th and 46th divisions, attempt to break towards Quijorna, 6kms north-west of Brunete itself, but also cannot fight the sudden onslaught of Nationalists. The advance of the Republicans on the first day surprises even themselves, and the XVIII Army Corps, another 20,000 men (the 10th, 13th and 34th divisions) are not deployed, as they were not expected to be needed.

The east-located Republicans, who planned to fight from Carabanchel, the most southern suburb of Madrid, never break through the front lines, the Nationalists close into Madrid in full control of the area. The Republicans use heavy artillery bombing and still cannot break the Nationalists around Madrid.

July 7

An overnight stalemate outside the village of Villanueva de la Cañada ends at 7am when the 15th division, with the British XV International Brigades, take the town and Nationalists flee. The villages of Villanueva del Pardillo and Villafranca del Castillo, 9kms north of Villanueva de la Cañada, are still held by Nationalists. The 15th division need to head to Boadilla, 12km east of Villanueva de la Cañada, so the 10th division attacks the Nationalists on nearby Mosquito Ridge. The Republicans force the Nationalists back to Boadilla, which is only 18kms from southern Madrid.

Fires are starting to break out in the dry landscape outside Brunete due to firepower being used. Neither side make any advancements. The Republicans are keen to fight off each small resistance as they come, rather than moving around them and onto larger targets. This gives the Nationalists time to bring in fresh men.

Republican tanks seen by Gerda Taro outside Brunete

July 8

The Republican XVIII Army Corps of 20,000 men attack under darkness to cross the Guadarrama River and head east towards Boadilla and attack the Nationalists trying to hold the front lines outside Boadilla. Fighting continues after daybreak and the Republicans win, only to be repelled later in the day.

The Republicans in Madrid again attack the front lines at Carabanchel and fail. They will not attack here again as the circle around Madrid is a Nationalist priority and will not fail. The Nationalists also still hold the village of Quijorna west of Brunete. Franco sends 31 battalions, seven batteries of artillery and the entire Condor Legion (around 70 planes) from the Basque Country to help the Nationalists, finally giving the battered Basques a break.  The Republicans still have little more than their WWI artillery and guns with the troops.

International Brigades outside Boadilla

July 9

Two Republican brigades attack Quijorna, and take the village after suffering massive losses. Republican troops headed east towards Boadilla have suffered such great losses that they are now stranded, so close to the village itself. The Republican air support, while starting strong, are now outpaced by the German Condor Legion, who are taking control of the skies.

July 10

The Republican 60th division and XII International Brigades take Villanueva del Pardillo with tanks. Around 500 Nationalists are captured along with precious ammunition. Nearby Villafranca del Castillo is surrounded by Republicans by the 10th and 45th divisions.

Taken by Gerda Taro with Republican men outside Brunete

July 11

Colonel Jurado of the XVIII Army Corps plans a huge assault on Villafranca del Castillo, but falls ill and is replaced by co-leader Colonel Casado, who cancels the assault due to morale and fatigue. They are forced to engage by Republican leader General Miaja. The Nationalists are reinforced from a division arrived from Navarre and repel the assault. The Nationalists then try to take back Villanueva del Pardillo, but fail. Overhead these villages, huge air battles are being fought, up to 30 planes flying in formation against similar numbers in retaliation, with losses on both sides.

On the ground throughout the whole area, both sides are suffering horrific losses. American communist Oliver Law, commander of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, is killed while fighting on Mosquito Hill, the ridge outside the town of Boadilla, among heavy Republican losses.

July 12

France decides to open its border with Spain (the point of the Brunete attack, to show Spain’s strength), and enormous amounts of weapons and equipment is shipped into Spain over several days, vital for the Republican cause to continue. France has violated the Non-Intervention clause, but this is retaliation for the Fascist Germans and Italians constant assistance the war on behalf of Nationalists.

July 14

The Republicans are suffering huge losses, not just from fighting. The extreme heat in the area plus lack of water has injured many men. Most Republican brigades, Spanish and International, have lost between 40 to 60 percent of their men in a week. The XIV International Brigades have lost 80 percent of the men. Total losses have not yet been tallied though between 15,000 and 20,000 Republicans are now dead, the Nationalists suffering similar.

Republicans outside Boadilla

July 16

British volunteer Major George Nathan dies while commanding the XV International Brigades when a bomb detonates at his post near Boadilla. Attacks on all fronts are now minor and General Miaja of the Republican Army wants to end the offensive. The Republicans have Brunete and have cut off the Extremadura Road. The Basque country is relieved by diverted Nationalist troops and planes. The Republicans look strong in the eyes of the French and Soviets again, and their main objectives have been achieved. However the Nationalists surrounding Madrid have not yet been totally cut off from the Army of the South.

July 17

The Republicans are ill, battered, without serious supplies and suffering from their massive losses. They dig in all areas in the Brunete front and prepare for the Nationalist counterattack they know is coming. Some 38,000 Nationalists are coming.

The war is one year old today. Spain is fractured and blood had spilled in every city and village. No one is safe. No end is in sight. No saviour is coming.

Republicans dig in outside Brunete

~~

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.