7 Franco was eventually invested with the supreme civil and military power.
The outlook changed dramatically when, contrary to all studied opinion, the African Army was ferried across the Straits of Gibraltar, and in Spain itself the Republicans failed utterly to exploit their initial successes.
By a combination of audacity, sound planning and luck, 80 per cent of the 23,000 men making up C,the African Army were regrouped in the Sevilla area by the first week in September. A major airlift—the first in military history—of 800 men had reached the mainland by 2 August. Then, on 5 August, doubting the operational efficacy of the practically officerless Republican fleet, Franco took
the biggest risk of his career. Three thousand men, a number of horses, fifty tons of ammunition and twelve field guns, were packed onto two small steamers and two cargo boats which were then in Ceuta harbour and, protected only by an ancient gunboat, the Dato, were ordered to make a dash for the Spanish coast. Halfway across, the convoy was intercepted by the Republican destroyer Alcala Galiano. A running battle, lasting the best part of an hour, followed. The D'ato did not hesitate to engage the larger, faster and more heavily armed Galiano to such good effect that the latter failed to score a single hit on what should have proved a sitting target; she finally turned tail when 14 planes of the tiny Nationalist Air Force joined in, dropping bombs which, though wide of the mark, produced the desired effect.
Legionnaires of the Tercio move up a communications trench during the attacks on Madrid. They wear regulation early service and combat dress—long tunic, flared gaiter-trousers, light canvas shoes and gorillo cap. Note that one has single rear Y-strap, another double shoulder-braces crossed at the rear. (Keystone)
Even before these reinforcements arrived the Nationalists were making determined attempts to seize the initiative. On 3 August a column consisting of the 4th Bandera of the Tercio and a tabor of Regulares, with half a field battery under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Asensio, headed north from Sevilla to link up with General Mola in command of insurgent forces in Navarre and to bring him urgently needed ammunition. After a rapid advance the column ran into Organized opposition on the 6th. The ensuing battle, the first of the war properly speaking, lasted seven hours. There were heavy casualties on both sides before the Republicans withdrew, only to make a stand the following day at Almadralejo, a hundred miles north of Sevilla. Here, though they fought well, they were pushed out of the town by evening, but unshaken by these initial reverses, they prepared to defend Merida.
Asensio's column was weakened by these two engagements, and he was ordered to wait for reinforcements; these arrived in the form of a second column commanded by Lieutenant Colonel ('.astejón. Mérida fell to this combined force on 11 August, and Yagué arrived that same evening to assume overall command.
Due west of Mérida, and astride the road from Portugal (along which the Nationalists were hoping promised supplies would soon be arriving), was the walled town of Badajoz of Peninsular War fame. It was strongly held by a force of 5,000 Republican militia, and constituted a major threat not only to the much needed supplies but also to the tenuous Nationalist line of communications; Yagué therefore ordered a general assault for the 14th.
The Republicans outnumbered their attackers by two to one and had the advantage of fighting from prepared and well-constructed positions. But though they did not lack courage, the raw militiamen were no match for Yagué's legionaries. Led by the 16th Company, commanded by Captain Perez Caballero, the Tercio stormed through a breach in the Puerta de la Trinidad. By eveing the citadel had been stormed, and all Republicans either killed or taken prisoner.
Yagué's ultimate objective was now Madrid, and, by the end of August, he had reached Talavera de la Reina. There his columns were heavily counter attacked. Fighting continued throughout the daylight hours before the Republicans withdrew, leaving behind 500 dead, 1,000 prisoners and 42 guns. Nationalist casualties totalled over 1,000 and, despite Franco's exhortations to press on, Yagué called a halt for twelve days after clearing the town. Yagué's hesitation at this critical stage is difficult to understand. When eventually he did resume his advance, he took seventeen days to progress sixteen miles against negligible opposition and then 'collapsed with exhaustion'.
In the meantime Spanish attention, and indeed that of the world, had been diverted to the Nationalist defence of the Alcázar of Toledo held by 600 Guardia Civil, 242 officers, NCOs, and cadets of the military academy, and 60 Falangists, commanded by Colonel Moscardo. Besieged since 20 July, the defenders were in a desperate state as September drew to a close, their plight made worse by the fact that some 500 women and children were also within the walls and being given priority where the rapidly diminishing food supply was concerned. The very considerable besieging force, anxious to r n
At the time of the outbreak of war a left-wing 'Olympiad', organized in Barcelona in competition with the official Berlin Olympic Games, had brought many foreigners sympathetic to the Republic to Spain. Some of these at once formed volunteer units, the first to aid the Republic. Prominent was the mainly German 'Thaelmaim Centuria', which saw action on the Aragon front. This illustration, by Embleton after Bueno and Norman, shows a Thael-mann volunteer in light khaki mono with regulation infantry equipment, and the limp khaki sun-hat used by Spanish troops in Morocco. Both sides used this headgear during summer campaigns. When the Internationals were re-organized into a brigade structure the survivors of this Centuria joined the XIth Brigade, also mainly German, and also using the title 'Thaelmann'.
Was this article helpful?