Spanish Civil War – March 1937

March 5

First council of the PCE (Communist Party of Spain) since the war began. In line with Stalin’s attempt to placate the democracies, The PCE made a declaration in favor of democracy and against revolution. The delegates fall in line, attacking the government and the CNT. Being a well-knit and highly disciplined organization, the PCE managed, in spite of its initial numerical weakness, to play an important part in the war, thanks to Soviet aid. In the first five months of the war, the PCE had swollen from 30,000 members to 100,000.

March 8

Battle of Guadalajara (Wikipedia)

Italian tankettes advancing at Guadalajara

Nationalist attack on Guadalajara begins at 7 a.m. Italian troops quickly break the front and, by the end of the day, control the heights, from which they can “roll” downhill to Madrid. Their plan is to advance to Madrid via Brihuega and Guadalajara. The attacking force includes 250 tanks, 180 pieces of artillery, 4 motorized machine gun companies, about 70 planes and a large number of trucks.

March 9–March 11

The Italians are moving too rapidly for their units to preserve communications and supply lines. A sudden turn in the weather catches the Italian trucks in a snow and sleet storm, just as the Republicans begin to hold firm south of Brihuega and Trijueque. While the Italian planes are grounded by the weather, the Republican air force is operating at considerable risk from airfields outside of the bad weather zone. Low-flying fighters are machine-gunning the stalled truck columns while vintage 1918 Breguets, which had survived the summer air battles, run bombing missions. Vittorio Vidali and Luigi Longo, the political leaders of the IB Garibaldi battalion (Italian volunteers on the Republican side), mount a propaganda campaign intended to destroy the morale of the CTV, pulling loudspeakers up to the lines and dropping leaflets from the air, exhorting the Italian soldiers not to shoot against their brother workers and to leave the Fascists.

March 12

The Republican forces start a massive counterattack, with the support of 70 Russian tanks and strong air cover. The CTV has no AA artillery, and it suffers heavily from air attack; most casualties belong to XI Gruppo de Banderas, whose commander (Console Liuzzi) is killed.

March 13

Improving weather allows the Italian planes to cover the withdrawal of Division III “Penne Nere” from the Trijueque sector, and the battle is more or less stabilized.

March 18

Republican divisions under Cipriano Mera and Enrique Lister with 60 T-26 tanks of the Pavlov Brigade take back Brihuega, causing the collapse of the Italian front and the rout of Division I “Dio lo Vuole”, which in turn forces Division IV “Littorio” to abandon its positions. The rout is not stemmed till the morning of next day.

March 19

The Guadalajara battle ends, the rout stops short of the bases from which the Nationalist attack started. The Italians admit the loss of 650 killed, 1,994 wounded and some 500 prisoners, plus 90 vehicles and 25 guns. During the retreat of the Nationalists, the Republicans capture large stocks of equipment, and a mass of documentary evidence about the Italian intervention in Spain. The government is hoping to lay this evidence before the Nonintervention committee. The so-called “London Committee” will declare itself incompetent to receive this evidence from any source not represented in the Committee itself. Thereupon the Spanish Foreign Minister, Alvarez del Vayo, will exhibit the documents before the League of Nations Assembly in Geneva.

The Battle of Guadalajara was the last major victory of the Republican Army and did much to lift morale. Herbert Matthews claimed in the New York Times that the Battle of Guadalajara was “to Fascism what the defeat at Bailén had been to Napoleon”. But it was not to be.

Ernest Hemingway also reported for US newspapers on the battle and the war.

Photo: Ernest Hemingway with Hans Kahle, Ludwig Renn and Joris Ivens visiting the International Brigades in Guadalajara. From excellent Spanish site on the battle here with lots of ohotos.

March 31

Nationalist forces under General Mola begin a new offensive in the north with 50,000 troops. After failing in the capture of Madrid, the Germans have advised to concentrate on a campaign against the Basques. This gives them the opportunity to try out a new tactic: massive terror strikes against civilian targets, the annihilation of complete villages.

The first victim was the small market town Durango; some of the first bombs fall into the church during the well attended morning Mass. Fighters flew low and straffed the fleeing population. They also attacked a nearby cloister, killing 15 nuns. In total some 300 people were killed, 2,500 were wounded, practically all of them civilians. A second air attack took place as fire brigades, police and ambulances from Bilbao tried to help the victims. The Bombing of Durango was the first attack in Europe against a civilian population and the first place in the world to be attacked by the Luftwaffe, at the request of Franco., with the aim of undermining the Basques’ morale and causing maximum damage to the town’s population.

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