A Nationalist army approaches Málaga. The situation in Málaga epitomizes the worst conditions existing in the Republican zone: perhaps 600 hostages are held on a prison ship in the harbor, and groups of them are shot in reprisal for the air raids over the port. The sailors’ committees in the fleet and the city administration are divided in mortal rivalry between the CNT and the Communist Party of Spain. Like all Republican cities, there is no anti-aircraft defense. Its militiamen, mostly anarchists, and not yet reorganized into the new Popular Army, built no trenches or roadblocks, because they consider this cowardice. The government assigns Colonel Villalba, a professional officer, to organize the defense, but without guns to place on the heights, without ammunition to give his soldiers, and without the slightest possibility of controlling the rivalries within the city, there is virtually nothing he can do. The invading force consists of some 10,000 Moors, 5,000 Requetés (right-wing militiamen), 5,000 Italians and plentiful supplies of trucks and artillery. They have only a few tanks and planes, but they can use these with maximum effectiveness in the virtual absence of effective deterrents.
Battle of Jarama – Wikipedia (February 6 – February 27, 1937)
Nationalists start a powerful offensive in the Jarama Valley. Nationalist General Orgaz is in command of around 40,000 troops, most of them Spanish Foreign Legion and Moroccan cavalry, supported by anti-tank artillery, two battalions of German-operated heavy machine guns (German ground troops under the command of the Condor Legion), German-operated tanks and planes (Condor Legion), and 600 Blueshirts under the command of the right-wing Eoin O’Duffy. The Nationalists want to cut the main Madrid-Valencia highway. General Pozas, commander of the new Central Army of the Republic, is planning his own offensive against the Nationalist line and is therefore massing men and material in the same area. Due to their own planned offensive, the Republicans fail to fortify their high ground, and the Nationalist offensive takes them completely by surprise. The hills are quickly lost, as are the two principal bridges. The Republican guards on the bridges are killed in the night by Moorish commando units. The guards on the Pindoque Bridge manage to mine the bridge during the attack, but it remains usable for enemy tanks and trucks.
Some 100,000 people flee Málaga in a disorganized mass exodus along the coast road to Almería. The road is blocked by slow vehicles and wounded people; and for the next two weeks, the Nationalist air force and navy bomb and strafe the road at will. German warships, despite the Non-Intervention Committee take part in the shelling, sometimes in the presence of Royal Navy ships which do nothing to intervene.
Arthur Koestler, Spanish Testament (1938)
The city was betrayed by its leaders – deserted, delivered up to the slaughter. The rebel cruisers bombarded us and the ships of the Republic did not come. The rebel ‘planes sowed panic and destruction, and the ‘planes of the Republic did not come. The rebels had artillery, armoured cars and tanks, and the arms and war material of the Republic did not come. The rebels advanced from all directions and the bridge on the only road connecting Malaga with the Republic had been broken for four months. The rebels maintained an iron discipline and machine-gunned their troops into battle, while the defenders of Malaga had no disci pline, no leaders, and no certainty that the Republic was backing them up. Italians, Moors and Foreign Legionaries fought with the professional bravery of mercenaries against the people in a cause that was not theirs; and the soldiers of the people, who were fight ing for a cause that was their own, turned tail and ran away.
Málaga falls to Franco’s troops. The militia fighters has managed to resist gunfire, but broke at the totally unfamiliar sight of tanks. The Nationalists immediately set about taking huge numbers of prisoners and executing them. The death penalty is handed out for the slighest supposed offence. For example, participation in a strike several years previously is grounds for execution. The Italian military authorities are horrified at the number of executions and the mutilations practiced on the corpses and those who were wounded, as well as the mass rape of women. Battle of Málaga – Wikipedia
- Moving documentary here (online with English subtitles) of how the dictatorship tried to erase the memory of a generation and how the decendents are trying to find out what happened. Centred especially on Malaga
Nationalists continue to advance in the Jarama Valley, despite being slowed down by Soviet tanks. The air is controlled by the Condor Legion.
The XIV and XV International Brigades strengthen the Republican army in the Jarama Valley, stopping the Nationalist advance, but taking horrible losses in doing so. At one point the Nationalists force approximately 30 survivors of a captured British machine gun group to advance in front of their attack; half of these men die under fire of their own comrades. Battle of Jarama – Wikipedia
40 new Russian airplanes arrive at the Jarama front, giving the Republic air supremacy in the area, forcing the enemy to retreat. On the night of February 12, Nationalist General Orgaz commits all his reserves to gain control over the last key positions that still prevent his forces from cutting the Valencia highway. Several companies of the IBs — including British and Polish — as well as Spanish companies, were “cut to pieces” attempting to hold these positions. Battle of Jarama – Wikipedia
The force of the offensive in the Jarama had spent itself. As in the Battle of the Corunna Road, the Nationalists have gained some ground, but any strategic victory has slipped away and they but have failed again to cut Madrid off from the rest of the Republic. Nationalists and Republicans alike had suffered very heavy losses (of between 6,000 to 25,000 each, depending on different estimates in the 10 days of the Jarama Battle). The Foreign Legion is broken.
- British Volunteers, International Brigade, Battle of Jarama
- British and Irish International Brigade positions at Jarama Good photographs of the area today and an explanatory text putting the modern photographs in context
The League of Nations Non-Intervention Committee ban on foreign national and stateless “volunteers” comes into effect.
Republican counter-attacks take place in the Járama Front between February 23 and February 27. The newly formed Abraham Lincoln Battalion, part of the International Brigades, consisting mostly of North Americans had arrived in the Járama area on February 13. Today, 14 days later, they are ordered to carry out a suicidal attack. 127 men die and more than 200 are wounded. The inexperienced troops, advancing without artillery support, marched bravely into the teeth of the Nationalist lines and were cut to pieces. Poet Charles Donnelly (part of an Irish contingent known as the Connolly Column) was famously heard to remark, “even the olives are bleeding”, before being gunned down by a burst of machine gun fire and killed. The Americans lost 120 dead and 175 wounded, or 66% casualties.After the failure of this attack, the Jarama valley settled again into silence. Both sides dug in and the front stabilised again. Responsibility for poorly planned attack lies on Brigade Commander Copic, who refuses to see the wounded leader of the “Lincolns”, Robert Hale Merriman, after the disastrous, failed action.
The Battle of Járama spawned the song Járama Valley:
- There’s a place in Spain called Jarama
- It’s a place that we all know too well.
- For ’tis there that we fought against the fascists
- And saw a peaceful valley turn to hell
This version is sung by Woody Guthrie: