This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 16: 1 – 7 November 1936

Week 16 sees the starts of the Siege of Madrid, which will last until the end of the war in 1939. Also, the Republican government leaves Madrid for Valencia

November 1

The Nationalist army, which has been marching north from Seville since the outbreak of war, has now reached the outskirts of Madrid. Around 90% of Republican fighters in Madrid are civilian militia, and the government has little control, as they have been set up by the trade unions and communist groups. All the small towns surrounding Madrid have now been taken by Nationalists and the Republicans are now backed into the city. Nationalist numbers are at now 25,000 but the Republicans have double the men. But the Nationalists are highly trained and battle ready, while the Republicans are not soldiers or have proper weapons and supplies. Propaganda leaflets are dropped over Madrid city by Italian planes, warning the public that Madrid will be wiped off the earth if they do not rise up and take the city for Nationalists.

The government has no faith in their side and expect General Mola and his Nationalist men to take the city, and plan to evacuate, including the Prime Minister. General Mola states to the English media that his four columns of regulares soldiers and Moroccan fighters will take the city, despite the difficulty of surrounding Madrid, and his fifth column, of powerful Spanish right-wingers, already in the city, will take inner Madrid. This strikes paranoia in the inhabitants, and starts killings between civilians as ‘traitors’ need to be found and executed.

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Troops in the city’s north of Ciudad Universitaria

November 2

The Republicans finally get air defense over Madrid. Russian Chatos planes have arrived just in time and start air strikes over surprised Nationalist ground troops. The public are unsure of the air strike and do not take cover. Several Russian planes are shot down by Italian retaliation for the Nationalists. The Madrid public fear German planes, and when a Russian pilot parachutes to safety after a strike, he is killed by a mob when he is mistaken for a German Condor Legion pilot.

The town of Brunete, only 15 miles west of central Madrid, is the scene for a battle between opposing sides. The Republicans lose the stronghold, giving the Nationalists a chance to get even closer to the city from the west.

The Republicans have one advantage. The Manzanares River runs through the city, providing a barrier, keeping the Nationalists from walking directly into the west and south of the city. The Casa del Campo, an open park area on the west of the city centre, is chosen as the main strike area, with forces crossing the Puente de los Franceses (Bridge of the Frenchmen). Republicans are already defending their bridge. The northern Ciudad Universitaria (University City) area of Madrid is also prepared for an attack, likewise Carabanchel in Madrid’s southwest, which has only a  small river defense.

Nationalist troops retreat with their wounded

November 4

The anarchists now join the Republican government, with four ministers involved. As the anarchists are the largest group of civilian militia fighting for the Republicans country-wide, they need their voices in government. The Republicans must reply of all factions coming together to save their country.

The south Madrid suburb of Getafe is occupied by the Nationalists. It is at the basin of the Manzanares River, giving easier access to troops. The Moroccan troops attack, with tanks and overhead air strikes, crushing the Republican protectors. Vicious General Verela, a man leading so many massacres, is proud to tell the media that he shall have destroyed Madrid within the week.

Only 115 Nationalists are killed in the Getafe battle, but southern suburbs are working class and heavily populated, meaning it is not a good place to engage in street battles. Verela instead plans to attack Ciudad Universitaria in the north, where the population have fled for the safety of the inner city.

Republican militia defend their barricades in the south

November 5

The Republican reinforcements of Russian planes and pilots have some success when they bomb surrounding Nationalist troops, and an impeding northern assault of the city is beaten back.

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The Republicans defend the outskirts of the city

November 6

The Nationalist troops continue their southern assault under cruel Colonel Yague, and conquer Carabanchel and take the Cerro de los Angeles hill, the geographical centre of Spain, and prime lookout area over the plains around southern Madrid. The Nationalists are now all-but in the inner city of Madrid, with Republicans ever squeezed into the capital. The new Junta de Defensa de Madrid (military government team) is set up under General Miaja and is ready to take Madrid.

Propaganda is rife

The Republican government flees to Valencia, 350kms to the east on the coast. While this means men in ‘power’ are safe, as well as the government itself, the civilians and fighters of Madrid are left to face the Nationalists, with their German and Italian fascist back-up, on their own.

A simplified map of the Madrid suburbs

November 7

The attack on Madrid begins. All major bridges are attacked by Nationalist troops, most taken easily on the first day of fighting. General Verela attacks from the north, and troops pour into the Casa del Campo and through Ciudad Universitaria. Nationalist troops fight Republican militia in man-to-man combat, and killing occurs one building at a time as Nationalists swarm the city. The death count rockets on both sides. Despite their soldiers’ training and weapons, Colonel Yague sees over 300 of his Legionnaires Moroccan troops killed on day one. Franco expects the Nationalists will have won within a day, unaware the International Brigade troops are one day from arriving from east, along with the Durruti Column anarchists from Barcelona, in time to back up huge number of Spanish militia and hold back the conquering of Madrid.

The attack begins

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the week’s events. Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. All photos are linked to source for credit

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 9: 12 – 18 September 1936

Week 9: 12 – 18 September 1936

The Nationalists march into San Sebastián

September 13

The Basques surrender San Sebastián as the Nationalists advance after their win at Irún two weeks ago. After the death and destruction of Irún, the people let the Nationalists come in without a single shot fired, but anarchists who are running want to burn the city, as in Irún. The Basques turn on one another to ensure the city isn’t destroyed, and the anarchists are killed. An estimated 30,000 (of a total of 80,000) people flee San Sebastián west towards Bilbao, the Basque Country’s biggest city. The evacuation was planned, but 600 people are murdered by the Nationalists after their victory parade, include the mayor and 17 priests who are loyal to the Basques. The Basque language is also banned.

Also…

The Republican government decide to send some of their national gold reserves to the Soviet Union. The gold will be used as security for future purchase of equipment and materials. While the Republicans need the supplies, they get less than half of the gold’s value in equipment.

September 14

The siege of Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza begins in Andújar, near Jaén, in the south. Around 1,200 Nationalist civilians guarded by Guardia Civil members have been in the hilltop Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza church since August, as the town as been held by the Republicans. The Republicans now begin the battle to take the church and capture or kill the Nationalist supporters on the hill. The Nationalist leader wants to surrender, but is overthrown for another commander, who refuses to surrender, starting the siege. Luckily (for the Nationalists) they are dropped supplies from the air so they can hold out on the hilltop, for what is the first day in an eight month battle.

The Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza before the bombings

September 14

Pope Pius XI speaks out against the the Republican Government for their actions, and its ‘satanic hate against God’ (nicely forgetting all the harm the church has done to the people). Despite the war being almost two months old, this outrage only comes after the murder of Josep Samsó of the Santa María de Mataró basilica in Barcelona. After being imprisoned, he was then taken and executed, a fate given to countless priests.

September 16

The Nationalists take the town of Ronda in the south. Ronda had been under the control of Republicans since the war’s outbreak, and many churches destroyed and priests killed. General Verela takes the town and starts the executions. Many flee to Malaga nearby, still under Republican control, and some flee into nearby hills. Rumours of the fleeing Republicans living as bandits in the hills persist for another 15 years.

The Ronda bridge over the El Tajo gorge. Both sides of the war pushed their prisoners from the edge, and the prison cell in the bridge was used for torture

September 18

Continuing on from last week’s failed negotiations in Toledo (see here if you missed it)…

For the past month, Republicans have been digging two tunnels, mining to get under the southwest tower of Toledo’s famous Alcázar, which has 1,000 Nationalists inside, refusing to surrender. The mines are done, and Prime Minister Francisco Largo Caballero detonates an early morning bomb, which destroys the tower completely. As those inside cope with the surprise attack, the Republicans launch a four-pronged attack of the Alcázar in tanks and armoured cars. The Republicans still do not get inside the Alcázar, and continue their attack for another night and day with aerial bombing. The Alcázar is now heavily damaged and the two-month siege will soon come to an end.

Timeline of the Alcazar destruction

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the week’s events. Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. All photos are linked to source for credit