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

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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.

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This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 58/59: 21 August – 3 September 1937

August 22

Nationalist forces take the areas of Selaya, Villacarriedo, Ontaneda and Las Fraguas in the Cantabrian region as they advance towards Santander.

August 23

Navarrese forces fighting for the Nationalists claim Mazcuerras Valley and take Mount Ibio, which all-but cuts off the main road and the rail line between Santander and Asturias. Italian forces take Puente Viesgo after facing little Republican resistance.

Fascist salutes for Nationalists in Cantabria

August 24

Republican General Gámir-Ulibarri orders the general evacuation towards Asturias. Basque fighters begin their withdrawal from the front as the Nationalists are overwhelming the Cantabrian region.

The Republicans begin a major ongoing campaign in Zaragoza, which is their main aim for recapture. Both Belchite and Quinto are heavily guarded town where fighting begins, though Belchite has around 7,000 Nationalists fortified in the the village.

Nationalists enter Santander

August 26

Santander falls to the Nationalists at last thanks to huge troops numbers and air strikes. Around 160,000 refugees are in the city, including Republican  soldiers. Many try to escape via boats, which are overcrowded and begin sinking in the Bay of Biscay. Republican General Gámir-Ulibarri flies out of the region to France, to re-enter and take up arms again. All major Republican leaders flee the area. Nationalist forces enter Santander at midday and take 17,000 prisoners, but many are executed right away.

Unknown to the Republicans, the Basque fighters have made a secret agreement with the Italian Nationalist soldiers two days earlier. They agree to surrender at Santoña near Santander (close to 30,000 troops and officials), give over their weapons and do no harm to Basque industry. The Basques head aboard two British ships waiting to take them to safety. This becomes known as the Treason of Santoña.

August 27

The Basque troops waiting to leave Santander are captured by Franco forces. They are given the choice of fighting for the Nationalists or being Italian prisoners in Santoña. 22,000 are imprisoned, with half released three months later as they start fighting for the Nationalists. Only 510 are executed. The final prisoner won’t be released until 1943.

Prisoners being held in the bull ring in Santander

August 29

The Republican Army of the East, along with the XI and XV International Brigades, a total of 80,000 men, 90 planes and 105 T26 tanks, have fighting for five days begin the offensive to capture Belchite. The centre and north units only take vacant land, though the southern units have more success and take Mediana, Quinto and Codo. The Republicans surround Belchite itself but the Nationalists are ready to hold out over the forces. The Republicans cut off the water supply to the Nationalists and the 3,800 people in Belchite. September 1

The Nationalists take Unquera in Cantabria, which borders Asturias, as the Nationalists fighting in the north begin the offensive of Asturias. They begin a slow offensive, which will see troops moving less than one kilometre per day in mountainous areas.

The Republican offensive to take the town of Belchite begins, with aerial bombing, artillery bombing and fighting on the ground. The town is surrounded but the Nationalist are desperate to keep their post.

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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.