The Spanish Civil War – 1938

What you can see below is still very early in the draft. I’m still throwing stuff randomly at it, and watching it take shape. At the moment, much is taken from Wikipedia and the project is an attempt to build on this.
January 8

Republican troops finally take the town of Teruel. The incredibly harsh winter conditions prevent the arrival of Nationalist troops.
February 20

Republican troops are forced to retreat from Teruel back towards Valencia, under pressure from Moroccan forces commanded by General Yagüe, marking the end of the Battle of Teruel.

Battle of Teruel

The Battle of Teruel exhausted the resources of the Republican Army. The Spanish Republican Air Force could not replace the airplanes and arms that it lost in the Battle of Teruel.On the other hand, the Nationalists concentrated the bulk of their forces in the east as they prepared to drive through Aragon into Catalonia and the Levante. Franco had the edge on resupply as the Nationalists now controlled the efficiently run industrial might in the Basque Country. The Republican Government, however, had to leave the armament industry in Catalonia in the hands of the Anarchists. One Anarchist observer reported that “Notwithstanding lavish expenditures of money on this need, our industrial organization was not able to finish a single kind of rifle or machine gun or cannon….” Franco’s act of retaking Teruel was a bitter blow to the Republic after the high hopes engendered by its capture. The recapture of Teruel also removed the last obstacle to Franco’s breakthrough to the Mediterranean Sea.

Laurie Lee, British poet and writer, who claimed to have served in the International Brigade at Teruel, summed up the Republican strategy of attacking the town,

The gift of Teruel at Christmas had become for the Republicans no more than a poisoned toy. It was meant to be the victory that would change the war; it was indeed the seal of defeat

It is difficult to estimate casualties from the Battle of Teruel:

The Nationalist relief force lost about 14,000 dead, 16,000 wounded and 17,000 sick. In the original Teruel defensive force including the garrison, casualties were about 9,500 and nearly all were dead or captured. That is a total of 56,500 casualties for the Nationalists. It is very likely that the Republican casualties were 50% higher so that would be about 84,750. The Republicans lost a large number of prisoners. Round figures would be Nationalists 57,000 and Republicans 85,000 for a total of 142,000. To round down to an even number would make a total casualty list for both sides over 140,000.

Famous people at Teruel

Mathews, Hemingway, Robeson and  a number of British politicians and celebrities visited the battlefield. One of them was British spy Kim Philby who was a correspondent for The Times covering the war from the Nationalist side. Evidently he was already under Moscow’s orders in Spain but wrote glowing reports about Franco. Near Teruel in December, 1937, a shell hit an automobile in which Philby and three other journalists were riding. Philby was the only survivor.

Kim Philby in the Spanish Civil War

In February 1937, Philby travelled to Seville, Spain. At the time, Spain was embroiled in a bloody civil war, triggered by the rebellion of Nationalist forces under General Francisco Franco against the socialist Republican government of President Manuel Azaña. Philby worked at first as a freelance journalist; from May 1937, he served as an accredited special correspondent for The Times, reporting from the headquarters of pro-Franco forces; however, he was also engaged in activities on behalf of Soviet intelligence. His controller at the time, Theodore Maly, reported in April 1937 to the NKVD that he had personally briefed Philby on the need “to discover the system of guards, primarily of Franco and then of other leaders.”

With the goal of potentially arranging Franco’s assassination, Philby was instructed to report on vulnerable points in Franco’s security and recommend ways to gain access to him and his staff.[9] However, such an act was never a real possibility; upon debriefing Philby in London on 24 May 1937, Maly wrote to the NKVD, “Though devoted and ready to sacrifice himself, [Philby] does not possess the physical courage and other qualities necessary for this [assassination] attempt.”

In December 1937, during the battle of Teruel, a Republican shell hit just in front of the car in which Philby was travelling with the correspondents Edward J. Neil of the Associated Press, Bradish Johnson of Newsweek, and Ernest Sheepshanks of Reuters. Johnson was killed outright, and Neil and Sheepshanks soon died of their injuries, but Philby suffered only a minor head wound.

As a result of this accident, Philby, who was well liked by the Nationalist forces whose victories he trumpeted, was awarded the Red Cross of Military Merit by Franco on 2 March 1938. Philby found that the award proved helpful in obtaining access to fascist circles: “Before then,” he later wrote, “there had been a lot of criticism of British journalists from Franco officers who seemed to think that the British in general must be a lot of Communists because so many were fighting with the International Brigades. After I had been wounded and decorated by Franco himself, I became known as ‘the English-decorated-by-Franco’ and all sorts of doors opened to me

March 6

During the naval Battle of Cape Palos, the Nationalist heavy cruiser Baleares is sunk by Republican destroyers. It was the last Republican victory of the war. Although the action was the largest naval battle of the Spanish Civil War and an important Republican victory, it had little noticeable effect on the war.

March 7

Franco begins the Aragon Offensive on March 7, 1938. The Republic had withdrawn its best troops to rebuild the army after the loss of Teruel on February 22, and the Republicans, still reeling from the heavy losses at Teruel, made little resistance. The Nationalists rolled through Aragon, entered Catalonia and Valencia Province, reached the sea, and by April 19, 1938, controlled forty miles of coast line, thereby cutting the Republic in two.

March 13

France reopens its borders for the transit of arms to the Republican zone.

Statement issued by General Francisco Franco about the bombing of Barcelona (24th March 1938)

The air raids carried out by the ‘Nationalist’ air force on military objectives in Barcelona have been reported with notorious mendacity by the ‘Red’ press and part of the foreign press, too. The ‘Nationalist’ air force has sought only to destroy strictly military objectives.

‘Red’ barbarity has converted the district situated in the centre of towns into huge stores of explosives and war material. ‘Red’ propaganda states that some of the ‘Nationalist’ bombs fell in the Cataluna Square, on the underground station of the Metro, and the main northern railway station.

It omitted to say, however, that these two points had been converted into huge munition dumps, a fact which is proved by the several explosions which took place after the falling of the bombs. These explosions caused the collapse of several buildings such as the Barcelona Theatre and others in the Cataluna Square.

We regret the victims caused amongst the civilian population, but responsibility for these rests with the ‘Red’ authorities who, violating all the laws of humanity and warfare, have placed huge powder dumps in the middle of large cities.

April 5

Socialist minister of defense Indalecio Prieto quits in protest at the level of Soviet influence over the army.

April 15

The Nationalists reach the Mediterranean at Vinaròs, dividing the Republican zone in two.

June

France once again closes its borders.

July 5

The international Non-Intervention Committee reaches an agreement regarding the withdrawal of all foreign volunteers from Spain.

July 24

Start of the Battle of the Ebro. Republican forces attempt to divert the Nationalists from attacking Valencia and to diminish the pressure on Catalonia. At first, the Republican troops, commanded by General Modesto, achieve considerable success, but were then limited by superior Nationalist air power. Heavy combat continued into November

September 21

Doctor Negrín, head of the Republican government, in a speech to the League of Nations, announced that the International Brigades will be pulled from the combat zones. The withdrawal begins October 4.

On 25th September 1938, Juan Negrin, head of the Republican government, announced for diplomatic reasons that the International Brigades would be unilaterally withdrawn from Spain. However, General Francisco Franco failed to reciprocate and German and Italian forces remained to continue the struggle.

Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War (1961)

A secret F.A.I.’ – Federacion Anarquista Iberica – ‘circular of September 1938 pointed out that of 7,000 promotions in the Army since May 5,500 had been Communists. In the Army of the Ebro out of 27 brigades, 25 were commanded by Communists, while all 9 divisional commanders, 3 army corps commanders, and the supreme commander (Modesto) were Communists. This was the most extreme case of Communist control, but the proportions for the Anarchists were nearly as depressing elsewhere. In all six armies of Republican Spain the Anarchists believed the proportions to be 163 Communist brigade commanders to 33 Anarchists, 61 divisional commanders to 9 Anarchists, 15 army corps commanders to 2 Anarchists (with 4 Anarchist sympathizers), and 3 Communist army commanders, 2 sympathizers and one neutral.

John Gates recalled in The Story of an American Communist (1959): “The main farewell took place in Barcelona on Oct. 29. For the last time in full uniform, the International Brigades marched through the streets of Barcelona. Despite the danger of air raids, the entire city turned out… We paraded ankle-deep in flowers. Women rushed into our lines to kiss us. Men shook our hands and embraced us. Children rode on our shoulders. The people of the city poured out their hearts. Our blood had been shed with theirs. Our dead slept with their dead. We had proved again that all men are brothers.”

Before leaving for home Sam Wild, commander of the British Battalion, was quoted as saying: “The British Battalion is prepared to carry on the work begun here to see to it that our 500 comrades who sleep for ever beneath Spanish soil shall serve as an example to the entire British people in the struggle against fascism.”

Dolores Ibárruri, speech in Barcelona on 29th October 1938.

Comrades of the International Brigades! Political reasons, reasons of state, the good of that same cause for which you offered your blood with limitless generosity, send some of you back to your countries and some to forced exile. You can go with pride. You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of the solidarity and the universality of democracy. We will not forget you; and, when the olive tree of peace puts forth its leaves, entwined with the laurels of the Spanish Republic’s victory, come back! Come back to us and here you will find a homeland.

Per Eriksson was born in Kragenäs, Bohuslän (Swedish west coast – north of Gothenburg) 1907. He worked as a seaman when the Spanish Civil War broke out. In January 1937 he left Sweden for Spain. He joined other Scandinavians in the Thaelmann Battalion. The interview originally appeared in Swedes in the Spanish Civil War, P.A. Nordstedt & Söners Förlag, 1972.

Most of Barcelona’s population were gathered around the big street Diagonal. I think there were a million people there. The city had been bombed every single hour for months. But this time the Republican airplanes were up in the air, patrolling. There was a troop-parade. There were “carabineros” in their green uniforms, Guardia Nacional and different fractions from the army, tank-troops… while the Air Force was roaring by above. Then the International troops came, straight from the front, in their shabby army-pants and shirts, not at all as well groomed as the others from the frontline. But then the crowd went wild. People were cheering and shouting. The women brought their children and handed them over to the soldiers in the International Brigade. They wanted to give them the best thing they had. It was a fantastic sight.

October 30

The Nationalists counterattack, forcing Republican troops back across the Ebro.

November 16

End of the Battle of the Ebro.

December 23

The battle for Barcelona begins. A six-pronged Nationalist attack is launched, with separate columns from the Pyrenees to the Ebro. They take Borges Blanques, surround Tarragona and reach the outskirts of Barcelona. The Republican government retreats from Barcelona to Gerona, although troops continue to maintain the defense of the city.

 



January 8

Republican troops finally take the town of Teruel. The incredibly harsh winter conditions prevent the arrival of Nationalist troops.

February 20

Republican troops are forced to retreat from Teruel back towards Valencia, under pressure from Moroccan forces commanded by General Yagüe, marking the end of the Battle of Teruel.

  • The Battle of Teruel exhausted the resources of the Republican Army. The Spanish Republican Air Force could not replace the airplanes and arms that it lost in the Battle of Teruel.On the other hand, the Nationalists concentrated the bulk of their forces in the east as they prepared to drive through Aragon into Catalonia and the Levante. Franco had the edge on resupply as the Nationalists now controlled the efficiently run industrial might in the Basque Country. The Republican Government, however, had to leave the armament industry in Catalonia in the hands of the Anarchists. One Anarchist observer reported that “Notwithstanding lavish expenditures of money on this need, our industrial organization was not able to finish a single kind of rifle or machine gun or cannon….” Franco’s act of retaking Teruel was a bitter blow to the Republic after the high hopes engendered by its capture. The recapture of Teruel also removed the last obstacle to Franco’s breakthrough to the Mediterranean Sea.

Laurie Lee, British poet and writer, who claimed to haveserved in the International Brigade at Teruel, summed up the Republican strategy of attacking the town,

The gift of Teruel at Christmas had become for the Republicans no more than a poisoned toy. It was meant to be the victory that would change the war; it was indeed the seal of defeat

It is difficult to estimate casualties from the Battle of Teruel:

The Nationalist relief force lost about 14,000 dead, 16,000 wounded and 17,000 sick. In the original Teruel defensive force including the garrison, casualties were about 9,500 and nearly all were dead or captured. That is a total of 56,500 casualties for the Nationalists. It is very likely that the Republican casualties were 50% higher so that would be about 84,750. The Republicans lost a large number of prisoners. Round figures would be Nationalists 57,000 and Republicans 85,000 for a total of 142,000. To round down to an even number would make a total casualty list for both sides over 140,000.

Famous people at Teruel

Mathews, Hemingway, Robeson and the British politicians have been mentioned previously, and the battle certainly attracted many other such celebrities. One of them was British spy Kim Philby who was a correspondent for The Times covering the war from the Nationalist side. Evidently he was already under Moscow’s orders in Spain but wrote glowing reports about Franco.[48] Near Teruel in December, 1937, a shell hit an automobile in which Philby and three other journalists (Bradish Johnson, Eddie Neil and Ernest Sheepshanks) were riding. Philby was the only survivor. Franco personally decorated Philby to Philby’s great exhilaratio
March 6

The naval Battle of Cape Palos (the Nationalist heavy cruiser Baleares is sunk by Republican destroyers).

Franco did not waste much time and began the Aragon Offensive on March 7, 1938. The Republic had withdrawn its best troops for rebuilding purposes after the loss of Teruel on February 22,[44] and the Republicans, still reeling from the heavy losses at Teruel, made little resistance. The Nationalists rolled through Aragon, entered Catalonia and Valencia Province, reached the sea, and by April 19, 1938, controlled forty miles of coast line, thereby cutting the Republic in two.

March 13

France reopens its borders for the transit of arms to the Republican zone.

Statement issued by General Francisco Franco about the bombing of Barcelona (24th March 1938)

The air raids carried out by the ‘Nationalist’ air force on military objectives in Barcelona have been reported with notorious mendacity by the ‘Red’ press and part of the foreign press, too. The ‘Nationalist’ air force has sought only to destroy strictly military objectives.

‘Red’ barbarity has converted the district situated in the centre of towns into huge stores of explosives and war material. ‘Red’ propaganda states that some of the ‘Nationalist’ bombs fell in the Cataluna Square, on the underground station of the Metro, and the main northern railway station.

It omitted to say, however, that these two points had been converted into huge munition dumps, a fact which is proved by the several explosions which took place after the falling of the bombs. These explosions caused the collapse of several buildings such as the Barcelona Theatre and others in the Cataluna Square.

We regret the victims caused amongst the civilian population, but responsibility for these rests with the ‘Red’ authorities who, violating all the laws of humanity and warfare, have placed huge powder dumps in the middle of large cities.

April 5

Socialist minister of defense Indalecio Prieto quits in protest at the level of Soviet influence over the army.

April 15

The Nationalists reach the Mediterranean at Vinaròs, dividing the Republican zone in two.

June

France once again closes its borders.

July 5

The international Non-Intervention Committee reaches an agreement regarding the withdrawal of all foreign volunteers from Spain.

July 24

Start of the Battle of the Ebro. Republican forces attempt to divert the Nationalists from attacking Valencia and to diminish the pressure on Catalonia. At first, the Republican troops, commanded by General Modesto, achieve considerable success, but were then limited by superior Nationalist air power. Heavy combat continued into November

September 21

Doctor Negrín, head of the Republican government, in a speech to the League of Nations, announced that the International Brigades will be pulled from the combat zones. The withdrawal begins October 4.

On 25th September 1938, Juan Negrin, head of the Republican government, announced for diplomatic reasons that the International Brigades would be unilaterally withdrawn from Spain. However, General Francisco Franco failed to reciprocate and German and Italian forces remained to continue the struggle.

Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War (1961)

A secret F.A.I.’ – Federacion Anarquista Iberica – ‘circular of September 1938 pointed out that of 7,000 promotions in the Army since May 5,500 had been Communists. In the Army of the Ebro out of 27 brigades, 25 were commanded by Communists, while all 9 divisional commanders, 3 army corps commanders, and the supreme commander (Modesto) were Communists. This was the most extreme case of Communist control, but the proportions for the Anarchists were nearly as depressing elsewhere. In all six armies of Republican Spain the Anarchists believed the proportions to be 163 Communist brigade commanders to 33 Anarchists, 61 divisional commanders to 9 Anarchists, 15 army corps commanders to 2 Anarchists (with 4 Anarchist sympathizers), and 3 Communist army commanders, 2 sympathizers and one neutral.

John Gates recalled in The Story of an American Communist (1959): “The main farewell took place in Barcelona on Oct. 29. For the last time in full uniform, the International Brigades marched through the streets of Barcelona. Despite the danger of air raids, the entire city turned out… We paraded ankle-deep in flowers. Women rushed into our lines to kiss us. Men shook our hands and embraced us. Children rode on our shoulders. The people of the city poured out their hearts. Our blood had been shed with theirs. Our dead slept with their dead. We had proved again that all men are brothers.”

Before leaving for home Sam Wild, commander of the British Battalion, was quoted as saying: “The British Battalion is prepared to carry on the work begun here to see to it that our 500 comrades who sleep for ever beneath Spanish soil shall serve as an example to the entire British people in the struggle against fascism.”

Dolores Ibárruri, speech in Barcelona on 29th October 1938.

Comrades of the International Brigades! Political reasons, reasons of state, the good of that same cause for which you offered your blood with limitless generosity, send some of you back to your countries and some to forced exile. You can go with pride. You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of the solidarity and the universality of democracy. We will not forget you; and, when the olive tree of peace puts forth its leaves, entwined with the laurels of the Spanish Republic’s victory, come back! Come back to us and here you will find a homeland.

Per Eriksson was born in Kragenäs, Bohuslän (Swedish west coast – north of Gothenburg) 1907. He worked as a seaman when the Spanish Civil War broke out. In January 1937 he left Sweden for Spain. He joined other Scandinavians in the Thaelmann Battalion. The interview originally appeared in Swedes in the Spanish Civil War, P.A. Nordstedt & Söners Förlag, 1972.

Most of Barcelona’s population were gathered around the big street Diagonal. I think there were a million people there. The city had been bombed every single hour for months. But this time the Republican airplanes were up in the air, patrolling. There was a troop-parade. There were “carabineros” in their green uniforms, Guardia Nacional and different fractions from the army, tank-troops… while the Air Force was roaring by above. Then the International troops came, straight from the front, in their shabby army-pants and shirts, not at all as well groomed as the others from the frontline. But then the crowd went wild. People were cheering and shouting. The women brought their children and handed them over to the soldiers in the International Brigade. They wanted to give them the best thing they had. It was a fantastic sight.

October 30

The Nationalists counterattack, forcing Republican troops back across the Ebro.

November 16

End of the Battle of the Ebro.

December 23

The battle for Barcelona begins. A six-pronged Nationalist attack is launched, with separate columns from the Pyrenees to the Ebro. They take Borges Blanques, surround Tarragona and reach the outskirts of Barcelona. The Republican government retreats from Barcelona to Gerona, although troops continue to maintain the defense of the city.

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