The battle for Madrid November 1936

Battle Madrid 1936Uniforms Pictures From Gen Franco

General Francisco Franco, in 1936. Franco's military strategy was one of territorial reconquest. He was determined that bit by bit the whole of Spain would be under his control, even if this meant a long war of attrition. His terms for the end of the conflict were always unconditional surrender by the Republicans. (Topham Picturepoint)

General Francisco Franco, in 1936. Franco's military strategy was one of territorial reconquest. He was determined that bit by bit the whole of Spain would be under his control, even if this meant a long war of attrition. His terms for the end of the conflict were always unconditional surrender by the Republicans. (Topham Picturepoint)

imminent Nationalist assault, left Madrid for Valencia. General Miaja, commander of the Madrid military division, was placed in political as well as military control of the capital, with a political defence junta and Soviet military advisers to assist him. General Pozas continued in his post as commander of the Republican Army of the Centre, and General Rojo became chief of staff.

On 7 November Republican Mixed Brigades at last blocked the Nationalist forces advancing on west Madrid through the open ground of the Casa de Campo, preventing them from crossing the Manzanares river. The next day, three battalions of the first International

Brigade (the 11th Brigade) marched into Madrid and into history, cheered along the streets by desperate Madrileños. It was followed by another, the 12th Brigade, on 13 November. These international volunteers immediately contributed about 3,500 combatants to the defence of Madrid, but their effect on Republican morale was much greater. They gave new inspiration to the cries of 'They shall not pass' and 'Madrid will be the tomb of fascism', as the battle for Madrid was joined in earnest.

But in the high tension in the city, amid fears of both Nationalist victory and sabotage from a 'fifth column' of clandestine pro-Francoists, terror also continued. 'Political' prisoners held in the Model Prison and other Madrid prisons were evacuated from the capital under guard in double-decker buses on 7 November. They were deliberately massacred at Paracuellos de Jarama and Torrejón de Ardoz at the eastern approaches to the city, and their bodies dumped into mass graves. Between then and 4 December this outrage was repeated several times, and at Paracuellos and other sites at least 2,000 victims died, including 68 Augustinian monks from the community at El Escorial. This terror - the worst atrocity on the Republican side during the war - was ended by the Anarchist Melchor Rodriguez Garcia, appointed as Director-General of Prisons on 4 December. Despite this humanitarian service, Rodriguez was sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment by a Nationalist military tribunal after the war.

If General Varela had taken Madrid, as he was widely expected to do, the blow to the Republic would have been immense, and possibly fatal. But on 9 November his attempt to penetrate Madrid through the working-class district of Carabanchel got bogged down, and the International Brigade launched a counter-attack across the Casa de Campo, at the horrendous cost of one in every three Brigaders being killed.

It was not until 13 November that Nationalist troops took Mount Garabitas in the north of the Casa de Campo, an excellent artillery position for attacking the city. And on 16 November the first Nationalist troops,

Moroccan Regulars and Foreign Legionaries, crossed the River Manzanares and fought their way into Madrid's University City. The opposing forces were strengthened by columns sent from Catalonia. In a grotesque parody of the usual purposes of the university, the School of Architecture and the clinic fell to the Nationalists, while Anarchists and International Brigaders held the Departments of Agriculture and Medicine, and after days of hand-to-hand fighting, Philosophy and Letters. Meanwhile, from 19 to 22 November, the Condor Legion subjected the citizens of Madrid to the most intensive aerial bombardment any city had ever known.

By 23 November both sides were exhausted, but determined not to relinquish what they held. Franco decided that Madrid could not be taken. His Republican opponents realised they could not dislodge the Nationalists from their present positions. The front lines stayed where they were, running through Carabanchel, the Casa de Campo and the University City, with trenches on both sides. Madrid stayed Republican, but under siege, at least to the west, for the rest of the war. The Anarchist leader Durruti was only the most famous of those who died in the battle for Madrid.

Madrid continued to suffer bombardment and artillery attack, and living conditions in the city deteriorated. But the collapse of civilian morale that the Nationalists hoped for did not occur. Franco's forces would have to go round Madrid, not through it. In December 1936 and January 1937 they tried the northern route, crossing the Madrid-Corunna road just north-west of Madrid, and pushing eastwards, but after initial advances they were driven back. The village of Boadilla del Monte was destroyed in the intense fighting, and both sides suffered many casualties.

The second attempt came in February, when the Nationalists under General Orgaz mounted a formidable onslaught to the south of Madrid, in the valley of the River Jarama. The aim this time was to reach and take control of the Madrid-Valencia road.

Once again, after initial success based on artillery superiority and the skill of the Moroccan Regulars, the Nationalist forces were repulsed. They gained some territory, but not their strategic objective. Joint action by the Republican armies of Madrid and of the Centre, Soviet planes and tanks, together with heroic resistance on exposed ground by Spanish and International Brigade soldiers, brought the Republic a costly but crucial defensive victory. Not for nothing did the British Battalion call one of the points they defended 'Suicide Hill'. Their commander, Tom Wintringham, recorded that almost two-thirds of the 600-strong battalion were either killed or wounded, among about 45,000 casualties on both sides. Jarama was also a ferocious first experience of war for the American Abraham Lincoln Battalion: 120 of its 450 men died.

The Malaga campaign

Round Madrid, defence rather than attack was prevailing. But this was not true of the other area of battle in January and February - the isolated coastal strip of Republican territory round Malaga. Here the task of the advancing Spanish and Italian troops proved relatively easy. The Duque de Sevilla approached Malaga from the west, and Colonel Munoz from the north-east. On 5 February nine Italian battalions moved towards the city from the north. There was not much that Colonel Villalba, in charge of defending Malaga, could do. He lacked adequate arms, and Malaga could not be supplied from anywhere else. Refugees streamed east out of the city, along the coast road towards Almería. But the road was exposed to shelling from artillery and from Nationalist ships, and to air attack. Very many were killed. On 7 February Italian and Spanish troops marched into the city, and Mussolini claimed the first Italian victory of the war.

'Red' Malaga had been the scene of merciless vengeance on anyone identified with the right in July and August 1936. It was now the scene of unbounded retribution, as

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