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.

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This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Weeks 88/89: 16 – 31 March 1938

March 16

With the battle of Aragon in full swing, the border with France is open to allow Russian supplies to flow down to Barcelona and into Aragon to aid the Republicans. Mussolini has a new strategy, to literally win the war with fear and terror, by bombing the civilians in Barcelona.

Barcelona has no aircraft artillery and no fighter cover. None of the Spanish Republican Air Force are based in Barcelona, leaving the city exposed to the surprise attack. At around 10pm, the Italian Aviazione Legionaria arrived from Mallorca with German Heinkel He 51s and Italian Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 and Savoia-Marchetti SM.81s to begin the first of 17 air raids, at three-hour intervals. The darkness means people are caught out by the attacks.

After weeks of fighting in Aragon, the Spanish fighters and International Brigades, led by Republican commander Vicente Rojo have established a defensive in the town of Caspe (only 130 kilometres from the eastern coast), where they have been pushed back 36 kilometres from their original front lines. The Nationalist have forced the Republicans into the centre fo Caspe, with the XV International Brigades desperate to hold the small town. The Nationalists have many troops and a strong air support behind them, and this is a last chance for the Republicans to hold back the onslaught. What begins is two days of heavy and brave fighting by the International Brigades to hold the Nationalists out of Caspe.

March 17

The Italian bombing of Barcelona continues with civilian targets hit, rather than military areas. While Barcelona has an air-raid alarm system in the city, the consistency of the attacks causes confusion, as the air-raid alarm sounds at both the beginning and end an attack. With three hourly attacks, the alarms do little more than cause panic, as the beginning and end alarms are so close together there is no telling what is happening. The bombs dropped are delayed-fuse, meaning they fall through into a building, or onto a street, then detonate, destroying things at ground level. Such a brutal and unjustified attack on civilians begins to be reported around the world, with foreign leaders condemning such cruel attacks.

The XV International Brigades and their Spanish comrades are still battling in Caspe, but are eventually overcome by the Nationalist men who are better equipped. While numbers in the battle are unknown, most of the Spanish and International men are killed in fighting, and the Nationalist battalions quickly move on to continue their march towards the coast. These battles are quickly wiping out all the men and hard work done by international volunteers through the war. The Nationalists can continue their push east and north-east, with plans  to take Lleida in Catalonia, some 80 kilometres north-east.

March 18

The 17th and final bombing by the Italians hits Barcelona at 3pm. The Republican air force did not arrive until March 17, and are unable to do much to deter the heavy bombers. Overnight the working class areas of the city, where many left-wing supporters live, were badly damaged in the bombings, and the lateral force of the bombs means everything is demolished, especially innocent people. One bombs lands in the courtyard outside the  Sant Felip Neri church, murdering the 30 playing refugee children who lived there. After 44 tonnes of bombs have been dropped, between 1000 and 1300 people are dead, another 2000 wounded, while the Nationalists and their Italian allies have suffered no losses. The Foreign Minister in Italy is quoted as saying “(Mussolini) was pleased by the fact that the Italians have managed to provoke horror, by their aggression instead of complacency with their mandolins. This will send up our stock in Germany, where they love total and ruthless war.” Countries around the world denounce such behaviour, yet none step in to help.  As the bombing had no provocation, neither any need to stop, it is believed Barcelona has been used as a site to practice such terror raids on civilians, for later use on the nations as part of Germany’s escalation in Europe.

remains of the Sant Felip Neri bombing

March 20

While the fighting had been ongoing in Caspe, 27 kilometres south in Alcañiz, the Italian forces in the Nationalist camps were also gaining ground on the eastern march. Republican outposts are ill-equipped and can not fight effectively. Floods of Republican troops are fleeing through the Aragon region and also north up into Catalonia. Whole units are either collapsing in battle, or due to desertion and retreat. As the men run, both German and Italian planes were able to attack from overhead. General Karol Świerczewski, leader of International Brigades barely manages to escape the battle at Alcañiz as the Italians take over.

The Nationalists decide to pause and regroup and reorganise, as their 100,000 men are well spread out over a large region. They stop among the Ebro and Guadalope rivers, to prepare for their next attacks.

March 22

The Nationalists decided to begin a new attack, this time further 100 kilometres northwest, between Zaragoza and Huesca. This area has been part of the Republican territory since the beginning of the war, and has been part of the Aragon social revolution, where the poor and working class managed to gain control and began a new lifestyle, without government control or money, with land redistributed to help employ and feed the population. But the time has come for the area to be invaded, and the Nationalists storm the area along the 75 kilometre stretch between Zaragoza and Huesca, an east-bound flood of battle. The civilians in the area are now forced to flee or die, resulting in countless refugees leaving the Aragon region. In a single day, troops heading east from Zaragoza make it 75 kilometres to Bujaraloz and north in Huesca, they conquer 50 kilometres east towards Barbastro, with varying distances in between along the mountainous area. This strong and proud region has been cut down in only one day of battle.

Republican men outside Fraga

March 25

Cruel General Yague is leading the Nationalist battalions out of Barastro, and manage to fight their way to Fraga, 50 kilometres east from Barbastro. This marks the day that the Nationalists finally enter the region of Catalonia, with the vast majority of Aragon now totally defeated. Republicans are either being killed, captured (death would be better), or retreat with the refugees.  Fraga is only 100 kilometres from the Catalonia coast.

Republicans in Barbastro

March 27

Yague and his men now look to push on to the larger town of Lleida, but are slowed down by a strong Republican defense, lead by  Communist Valentín  ‘El Campesino’ González, who is miraculously still alive throughout all these battles. Much of the Nationalist front-line has slowed due to total lack of need to fight, with most of Aragon in their possession. But El Campesino holds the northern battle area, and Colonel Duran and his men hold the southern Maestrazgo area, all fighting bravely to allow the majority of Republicans to escape into the rugged Maestrazgo mountain area in south Aragon/northern Valencia region, where they are safe and hidden. A week the Nationalists are held off as men run for safety throughout the southern Aragon region.

Another Nationalist group, fighting the 100 kilometers north from Huesca up to the Pyrenees, also encounter little resistance. The Republicans are beginning to turn on one another; Communists refuse to share artillery with anarchists, and many Republicans retreating their posts and battalions completely. Andre Marty, who is commanding the International Brigades, is seeing the total destruction of all the work done by the volunteers over the course of the war. Men are now traitors as they flee for their lives alongside their Spanish counterparts. Men are turning on eachother, with executions performed among their fellow officers if accused of being a traitor or cowards. The Republican front-lines are falling away and the International Brigades are all but lost, left to die and rot where they fall.

All is not lost; a Republican battalion manages to hold off the Nationalists at Solchaga, some 270 kilometres west of Huesca. Due to this offensive, and the battles for Lleida and  Maestrazgo, precious Russian supplies are being received in Barcelona, where they can be distributed along the coast, to aid the Republicans when the Nationalists eventually arrive. The battle for the Mediterranean coast still has months to go, and the Republicans are getting armed and prepared. 

International Brigades encounter Italian troops in Gandesa, and 150 are killed, another 100 captured

March 31

The Aragon offensive is now largely over, with the exception of the far north along the Pyrenees, where Franco worries the French may rise up to defend themselves. The Nationalist men, tired and losing numbers, need to slow to recover, before finishing the region piece by piece over coming weeks. Soon the Levante offensive can begin, taking the Mediterranean coastline of the Catalonia and Valencia regions, but first the Segre river battle must be won, to take hold of water supplies and vital hydro dams which spreads from Segre to 170 kilometres north in the Pyrenees.

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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.