The Nationalist army of 25,000 men reach the gates of Madrid. Italian planes drop leaflets demanding the citizens to rise up and help them to take the city, “otherwise the National aviation will wipe Madrid off the face of earth”.
The first Russian aircraft over Madrid surprise the Nationalist bombers. The Republican aviation had till now only a handful of obsolete machines, but today the people of Madrid can see the first Russian “Chatos” defending the city. Citizens stand in the streets and watch the sky, ignoring the alarms and the calls for shelter. Several attacking aircraft are shot down; some Russian aircraft are also shot down by Italian Fiats guarding the bombers. One Russian pilot suffers a horrible death: After his machine is destroyed by an Italian Fiat he saves himself with a jump out of his burning plane, his parachute brings him safely to the city, but he is lynched by a mob of furious citizens, who think he is a German Fascist from the Condor Legion.
Largo Caballero manages to bring the CNT, by far Spain’s largest mass movement, into the government. Four Anarchist leaders become ministers: Federica Montseny – minister of education, Juan Garcia Oliver – law, Juan Lopez, and Joan Peiró. Montseny became one of the first ever female ministers in the world.
As minister she aimed to transform public health to meet the needs of the poor and working class. To that end, she supported decentralized, locally responsive and preventative health care programs that mobilized the entire working class for the war effort. She was influenced by the anarchist sex reform movement, which since the 1920s had focused on reproductive rights, and was minister in 1936 when Dr. Félix Martí Ibáñez, the anarchist director general of Health and Social Assistance of the Generalitat de Catalunya, issued the Eugenic Reform of Abortion, a decree effectively making abortion on demand legal in Catalonia.
The Nationalists take the Madrid suburb Getafe. After a heavy attack by Moorish cavalry, tanks, and aircraft, the defenders are completely defeated. The wounded are walking disorientated over the battlefield, the organization of the defense in this area breaks down. Fascist General Varela tells foreign journalists in a press conference: “You can tell the world, Madrid will fall within one week.” General Mola plans the attack route: over the Casa de Campo and the practically unpopulated university quarter, to avoid heavy losses in the fierce street fight he would anticipate if he had to enter through the south suburbs, traditionally strong districts of the working class. Nationalist casualties are mounting but still tolerable: 115 men today.
Russian fighter planes appear for the first time in the skies over Madrid.
For the first time, the Republican air force manage to force attacking bombers and their escort to abandon the attack on Madrid before they reach the city.
Despite heavy losses, General Yagüe’s troops occupy the Madrid suburb of Carabanchel and the strategically important hill of El Cerro de los Ángeles. The Nationalists are now at the gates of the capital.
As a result of the iniment danger, the Republican government including Prime Minister Caballero moves to Valencia. The city’s defence is now organized under the newly created Junta de Defensa under the direction of General Jose Miaja. It appears at this stage to be a desperate attempt.
As reported by Mikhail Koltzov, the Soviet journalist:
I made my way to the War Ministry, to the Commissariat of War. Hardly anyone was there. I went to the offices of the Prime Minister. The building was locked. I went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was deserted. In the Foreign Press Censorship an official told me that the government, two hours earlier, had recognized that the situation of Madrid was hopeless and had already left. Largo Caballero had forbidden the publication of any news about the evacuation “in order to avoid panic”. I went to the Ministry of the Interior. The building was nearly empty. I went to the central committee of the Communist Party. A plenary meeting of the Politburo was being held. They told me that this very day Largo Caballero had suddenly decided to evacuate. His decision had been approved by the majority of the cabinet. The Communist ministers wanted to remain, but it was made clear to them that such a step would discredit the government and that they were obliged to leave like all the others. Not even the most prominent leaders of the various organizations, nor the departments and agencies of the state, had been informed of the government’s departure. Only at the last moment had the Minister told the Chief of the Central General Staff that the government was leaving. The Minister of the Interior, Galarza, and his aide, the Director of Security Munoz, had left the capital before anyone else. The staff of General Pozas, the commander of the central front, had scurried off. Once again I went to the War Ministry. I climbed the stairs to the lobby. Not a soul! On the landing two old employees are seated like wax figures wearing livery and neatly shaven waiting to be called by the Minister at the sound of his bell! It would be just the same if the Minister were the previous one or a new one. Rows of offices! All the doors are wide open. I enter the War Minister’s office. Not a soul! Further down, a row of offices – the Central General Staff, with its sections; the General Staff with its sections; the General Staff of the Central Front, with its sections; the Quartermaster Corps with its sections; the Personnel Department, with its sections. All the doors are wide open. The ceiling lamps shine brightly. On the desks there are abandoned maps, documents communiqués, pencils, pads filled with notes. Not a soul! Spartacus
Attack on Madrid itself begins. The Nationalists take important bridges. General Varela’s troops enter Casa de Campo and the University Quarter. Both sides suffer heavy losses in the fierce man-to-man and house-to-house combat. Franco promises that on following day he will hear the holy measures sound in Madrid cathedral.
The peoples’ militias and the International Brigades manage to fight off the Nationalist assault on Madrid.
All-out assault on Madrid. The International Brigades arrive. The defenders are running out of ammunition; on several points the front is close to breaking; in the university quarter the enemy pushes through the Republican lines. This is the moment when the first “Internationals” arrive in Madrid. The shocked citizens think in the first moment that the Nationalists are in the inner city when they see 3,000 uniformed and disciplined soldiers marching in. The members, mostly German, Polish, and Italian veterans of World War I and of German concentration camps, start to sing revolutionary songs and the “Internationale”. The citizens rush out of their houses and sing and shout for joy. The “Brigadistas” march immediately to the front, and throw themselves unflinchingly into battle. 2,000 of them die or are wounded within 48 hours. In the War Ministry of Madrid, telegramms are arriving congratulating General Franco on his victorious entry, but only Republican officers are there to read them. When the Moroccan mercenaries of Franco break through the Republican lines in direction of the Model Prison, General Miaja himself drives to the threatened sector, takes his pistol in one hand and shouts at the retreating soldiers: “Cowards! Die in your trenches. Die with your General.” This encourages his men, the gap is closed. All over the city, citizens, women as well as the men, are reinforcing the trenches, taking the rifles from dead or wounded soldiers. The Nationalist Ejército de África loses a further 282 veterans in these two days.
With Franco’s army seemingly about to take the city, between November 7 and December 4, a large number of Nationalist prisoners are taken out of the their cells and shot by Republican Militia guards, mainly in Paracuellos del Jarama. The prisoners were to be evacuated from Madrid to prevent their liberation by Nationalist troops. Their guards decide to join the defense of Madrid, kill all of the prisoners and return to Madrid. This was the single worst atrocity committed on the Republican side, and soon became a cause célèbre for the Right, which continues to this day.
It has been alleged that the killings were ordered by communist youth leader Santiago Carrillo but this has never been proved. Anthony Beevor claims that the order for the massacre came from either Jose Cazorla, Carrillo’s deputy, or from the Soviet advisor, Koltsov. The atrocity was condemned by the anarchist director of prisoners, Melchor Rodriguez. (And Le llamaban el ‘ángel rojo’.)
Mola attacked on 8 November with 20,000 troops, mostly Moroccan regulares, supported by Italian light armour and German Panzer I tanks under German officer Wilhelm Von Thoma. The German Condor Legion also provided air support which took a heavy toll on the buildings of the quarter.The Republicans had deployed 12,000 troops in Carabanchel and 30,000 more to meet the main assault at the Casa de Campo. Despite their superiority in numbers, they were very badly equipped, mostly having only small arms, with reputedly only ten rounds for each rifle. In addition, most of them had never been trained in the use of weapons, let alone experienced combat before. Nevertheless, they held off the Nationalist onslaught at Casa de Campo. Some regulares eventually broke through and made an initial crossing over the Manzanares towards the Model Prison, the target of the offensive, but the attack stalled at the western fringe of the city. The Republican General Miaja himself reputedly raced to the ruined buildings where the Republican troops were starting to rout, and, pistol in hand, called upon the retreating troops to rally to him and die in the trenches with him rather than flee as cowards
Throughout the day, the city radio called upon the city’s citizens to mobilise and support the front, with the rally cry, “No Pasarán!” (‘They shall not pass!’). Late on 8 November, the first International Brigade, the XI of 1900 men, arrived at the front, marching through the Gran Via in the city centre in to the front good order. Although numerically small and with their training unfinished, having been hurried to the front as a relief force, their arrival was a major morale boost for the defenders of Madrid. The foreign troops, while actually a mixture of Germans, French and various other nations, but were greeted with cries of vivan los rusos (“long live the Russians”) by madrilenos – being mistaken for Soviet infantry
On 9 November, the Nationalists switched the focus of their offensive to the Carabanchel suburb, but this heavily built up urban area proved a very difficult obstacle. The colonial Moroccan troops were pinned down in house to house fighting (in which they had little previous experience, their greatest strength being in open-country warfare) and took heavy casualties at the hands of militiamen who knew the urban terrain very well.In the evening of 9 November, General Kléber launched an assault of the XI International Brigade on the Nationalist positions in the Casa de Campo, which lasted for the whole night and part of the next morning. At the end of the fight, the Nationalist troops had been forced to retreat, abandoning all hopes of a direct assault on Madrid through the Casa de Campo, while the XIth Brigade had lost a third of its men. Meanwhile, Republican troops counter attacked all along the front in Madrid, on the 9th, 10th and 17 November, driving the Nationalists back at some places, but taking heavy casualties in the process.
Anniversary parade of the Russian Revolution in Barcelona
Photographs taken by David Seymore during the 19th anniversary parade of the Russian Revolution, November 8, 1936 in Barcelona. Before the city was was taken over by Stalinism. The Mexican Suitcase: Chim (David Seymour) Gallery
4,000 Republican reinforcements, mainly CNT militiamen, arrive from the Aragon front under the command of Buenaventura Durruti. Fellow Anarchist Federica Montseny had convinced Durruti to come to the aid of Madrid. The arrival of his almost legendary column in the city was a tremendous boost to the moral of the inhabitants, though his column’s performance in the defense of Casa del Campo has been criticised.
The newly arrived XII International Brigade, under General Mate “Lukacs” Zalka launch an attack on Nationalist positions on the Cerro de los Ángeles hill, south of the city, to prevent the road to Valencia being cut off. Although the attack failed, the road to Valencia remained open.
The Nazi Condor Legion goes into action for the first time, supporting from the air further Nationalist attempts to capture Madrid.
POUM newspaper La Batalla denounces the Moscow Show Trials. It would prove to be its death warrent.
Germany and Italy recognize the Franco government.
Since the Government of General Franco has taken possession of the greater part of the Spanish national territory and since developments of the past weeks have shown . . . that no responsible government authority can be said to exist any longer in the rest of Spain, the German Government has decided to recognise the Government of General Franco and to appoint a chargé d’affair[e]s to it for the purpose of taking up diplomatic relations.
The fall of Madrid is expected in a question of hours, as Franco throws everything he has into the battle. German aircraft are fighting over Madrid.
The Durruti Column has been fighting in the University City, where the Nationalists have forced a wedged, without rest since the 15th, only 400 of the 3,000 survive. The remaining fighters are completely exhausted. Durruti is to launch an attack on the University hospital the next day.
Buenaventura Durruti is gravely wounded during the fighting in Madrid. The Durruti Column launches their attack on the University hospital, held by the Nationalists.
According to Antony Beevor, Durruti was killed when a companion’s or his own machine pistol went off by mistake. At the time, the anarchists claimed he had been hit by an enemy sniper’s bullet “for reasons of morale and propaganda”.
Another account of Durruti’s death given by Abel Paz in Durruti: The People Armed, claims that rather than being shot by a fellow anarchist he was killed by distant gunfire coming from the area around the Clinical Hospital, which was in the hands of Nationalist forces. After a fight to regain control and contact was re-established with troops cut off from communications, Durruti returned temporarily to the Miguel-Angel barracks to issue orders. A message from Liberto Roig arrived informing Durruti that the Clinical Hospital was in the process of being evacuated. Alarmed, he asked his Chauffeur Julio Grave to get his car and leave immediately for the Hospital. His chauffeur gives the following testimonial:
We passed a little group of hotels which are at the bottom of this avenue (Queen Victoria Avenue) and we turned towards the right. Arriving at the big street, we saw a group of militiamen coming towards us. Durruti thought it was some young men who were leaving the front. This area was completely destroyed by the bullets coming from the Clinical Hospital, which had been taken during these days by the Moors and which dominated all the environs. Durruti had me stop the car which I parked in the angle of one of those little hotels as a precaution. Durruti got out of the auto and went towards the militiamen. He asked them where they were going. As they didn’t know what to say, he ordered them to return to the front. The militiamen obeyed and Durruti returned towards the car. The rain of bullets became stronger. From the vast red heap of the clinical Hospital, the Moors and the Guardia Civil were shooting furiously. Reaching the door of the machine, Durruti collapsed, a bullet through his chest.
The Nationalist offensive has stalled and turned into what Mola and Yague most feared, a close-quarters fight in urban environment.
The Manchester Guardian (19th November 1936)
Tremendous damage is being done to Madrid by Franco’s airmen and gunners. Streets are in ruins, palaces damaged, and there are great numbers of killed and wounded. As the results of Tuesday’s bombing and shelling it is semi-officially estimated that 200 people were killed and 500 wounded. Yesterday the rebel airmen set buildings on fire with incendiary bombs.
This bring the civilian casualties in Madrid in the last week up to about 500 killed and 1,200 wounded, the majority being women and children. The attacks on Tuesday night were preceded by the dropping of pamphlets telling the people that the worst air raids they had experienced were to come.
Buenaventura Durruti dies at 6 a.m. in a makeshift operating theatre set up in what was formerly the Ritz Hotel. He was 40. The bullet was lodged in the heart, and the diagnosis was “death caused by pleural hemorrhage”. The doctors wrote a report in which the path of the bullet and the character of the wound was recorded but not the calibre of the bullet, since they hadn’t removed it and there was no autopsy.
José Antonio Primo de Rivera, son of dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera and founder of the Falange, is executed in a jail in Alicante, where he has been a prisoner since before the insurgency. The execution was carried out by the new Communist civil governor of Alicante, without awaiting the confirmation of sentence by the government. This breaking of the law and insubordination angered Largo Caballero, but the Republic is already dependent on Soviet supplies and the Spanish Communist Party. The Republic may have offered the Nationalists a prisoner exchange but Franco turned down the offer.
Account by Cyril Connolly in the New Statesman or 21st November 1936 of the anarchist revolution during the Spanish Civil War
“It is in Barcelona that the full force of the anarchist revolution becomes apparent. Their initials, CNT and FAI, are everywhere. They have taken over all the hotels, restaurants, cafes, trains, taxis, and means of communication, as well as all theatres, cinemas, and places of amusement. Their first act was to abolish the tip as being incompatible with the dignity of those who receive it, and to attempt to give one is the only act, short of making the Fascist salute, that a foreigner can be disliked for.
Battle of Madrid ends; with both sides exhausted, a front stabilizes. After 2 weeks, Franco has to give up his plans of taking the city. He now begins preparing himself and his allies for a long and expensive war.
Francisco Franco, statement (26th November, 1937)
I will impose my will by victory and will not enter into discussion. We open our arms to all Spaniards and offer them the opportunity of helping to form the Spain of tomorrow which will be a land of justice, mercy, and fraternity. The war is already won on the battlefields as in the economic, commercial, industrial, and even social spheres. I will only agree to end it militarily. My troops will advance. The choice for the enemy is fight or unconditional surrender, nothing else.