Nationalist advances

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By the end of June 1937 it was evident that the Nationalists were steadily conquering Republican territory, in a bitter war of attrition. It was also ever clearer that Nationalist Spain was Franco Spain. In April 1937 Franco quelled the claims of Falangists and Carlists to separate political identities by decreeing the unification of all political forces, under his leadership. Monarchist traditionalists and revolutionary fascists suddenly found themselves unwillingly incorporated, with everyone else, into one movement, called FET y de las JONS (that is, the Spanish Falange with Carlists and National Syndicalists), which Spaniards soon learned to call simply 'the Movement'. Symbols too were commandeered from all sides - the red beret of the Carlists, the blue shirts and fascist salute of the Falange, the religious images venerated by Catholics -and made into the public face of Francoism.

In Republican Spain, such enforced unity was much more difficult. In May 1937 simmering opposition between the pro-revolutionary Anarchists, POUM, and left-Socialists on the one hand, and on the other the Communists and right-Socialists who put organisation for war above all else, erupted

A Nationalist soldier holds a cross. Many of those fighting on Franco's side saw the war as a religious crusade against atheistic Communism. This was especially true of the Navarrese Carlists who joined the crusade with enthusiasm. (Topham Picturepoint)

A Nationalist soldier holds a cross. Many of those fighting on Franco's side saw the war as a religious crusade against atheistic Communism. This was especially true of the Navarrese Carlists who joined the crusade with enthusiasm. (Topham Picturepoint)

Navarrese Soldiers Spanish Civil War

Junkers 87 (Stukas) on the Brunete front. The town of Brunete was virtually destroyed in the war, as Republican and Nationalist armies fought to control the approach to Madrid from the south-west. As in other battles around Madrid, there were heavy casualties for small, but crucial, territorial gains. (Topham Picturepoint)

into a civil war within the civil war on the streets of Barcelona. The Anarchists were defeated and the POUM was destroyed. The POUM leader Andres Nin was tortured and executed while in Communist custody. Prime Minister Largo Caballero, who had stood out against Communist and more particularly Soviet pressure for months, was forced to resign.

His successor, Dr Juan Negrin, a brilliant research physiologist and reformist Socialist, acknowledged the now overwhelming reliance of the Republic on Soviet military aid. His premiership endured until the last days of the war, and he achieved unity of a kind, but only by alienating all those who believed that the defence of the Republic counted for little once the revolution had been disowned.

Communist military leadership was much in evidence when the Republicans at last launched an offensive, in July 1937, to the west of Madrid, at Brunete. The forces under General Miaja numbered about 85,000 men, and included as many as 300 planes and 130 tanks. The plan was to take some pressure off the northern front, and to seize control of territory held by the Nationalists, thereby preventing reinforcements and supplies from reaching Nationalist troops besieging the capital. On 6 July Enrique Lister's 11th Division led the attack, and took the village of Brunete from the north. In the following days, neighbouring villages including Quijorna also fell to the Republicans, in heavy fighting in hot and arid conditions.

Junkers 87 (Stukas) on the Brunete front. The town of Brunete was virtually destroyed in the war, as Republican and Nationalist armies fought to control the approach to Madrid from the south-west. As in other battles around Madrid, there were heavy casualties for small, but crucial, territorial gains. (Topham Picturepoint)

April 1937. A university building in Madrid, shattered by shells. After hand-to-hand fighting in Madrid's University City in November 1936, the front stabilized there for the rest of the war (Topham Picturepoint)

April 1937. A university building in Madrid, shattered by shells. After hand-to-hand fighting in Madrid's University City in November 1936, the front stabilized there for the rest of the war (Topham Picturepoint)

BELOW Brunete, May 2001. The Franco regime re-built the church and town square in Brunete as they had been before the war. in a characteristic determination to return Spain to its earlier traditions. (Author's collection)

LEFT Dr Juan Negrin, Prime Minister of the Republic from May 1937 until the end of the war He agreed with Stalin and the Spanish Communists that the top priority was winning the war. and that the social revolution begun by Anarchists, the POUM, and some Socialists, had to be dismantled. (Topham Picturepoint)

Nationalist forces were rushed to the spot, and the Republican advance was halted about 8 miles (13 km) south of where it had begun. On 18 July the first anniversary of the start of the war, Nationalist troops counter-attacked, helped by the new Messerschmitt fighters and Heinkel 111s of the Condor Legion, which from now on proved more than a match for the Republican air force. A week later, what was left of Brunete was back in Nationalist hands, while the Republicans retained control of other villages nearby, and the front was re-established, only about 4 miles (6.4 km) south of where it had been at the beginning of the month.

Like the Nationalists at Jarama and Guadalajara, the Republicans found at Brunete that a decisive attacking campaign round Madrid was beyond their capabilities. About 3,000 men died in heavy fighting in punishing heat, while thousands more were injured, and

BELOW Brunete, May 2001. The Franco regime re-built the church and town square in Brunete as they had been before the war. in a characteristic determination to return Spain to its earlier traditions. (Author's collection)

enormous quantities of arms were lost. Both sides killed prisoners of war taken in battle. Brunete itself was virtually destroyed. Franco later rebuilt its church and arcaded square exactly as they had originally been, in a symbolic restoration of traditional Spain. But these villages west of Madrid, where so many men, including the young poet Julian Bell, died, are now full of new housing developments for the Madrid middle classes, and the horrors of the civil war seem expunged from memory.

After this costly diversion at Brunete, the Nationalists returned in mid-August to the interrupted task of conquering the remaining Republican territories along the north coast. Moving east from Vizcaya and north over the Cantabrian hills into the province of Santander, the well-equipped army of about 90,000 men, more than a quarter of them Italians, overwhelmed their dispirited and disunited Republican opponents. Basque units laid down their arms as the Italians took Laredo on

25 August and Santona on the 26th, but Basque faith in a negotiated separate deal was cruelly shattered when Franco repudiated the agreement that Italian commanders had made with Basque leaders. There was to be no special exemption for Basque soldiers' and politicians from the fate suffered by Republicans from Cantabria and so many other areas that fell to the Nationalists during the war.

The desperate wait on the quay for a rescue that never happened, imprisonment, and in some cases summary trial and execution, ended both the Basque soldiers defence of the Republic and the brief dream of an autonomous Euzkadi. Meanwhile, on

26 August, General Davila entered the city of Santander, virtually without resistance. Trapped between the advancing Nationalists and the Bay of Biscay, tens of thousands of men were taken prisoner in the Santander campaign. Among those who escaped by boat from Santander was José Antonio Aguirre, President of Euzkadi.

A few days later, on 1 September, General Davila began the final stage of the northern campaign, the conquest of Asturias. At first the Asturian forces, perhaps buoyed by defiant

Young victims of Nationalist bombing. The Republicans attempted to shock foreign governments into protest at the Nationalist bombing of civilians, including children. (Topham Picturepoint)

declarations of Asturian independence, and certainly helped by mountainous terrain, put up some weeks of stout resistance. But in mid-October German carpet-bombing and steady Nationalist advance on the ground broke the defence. Asturias repeated the experience of Santander, with military collapse, escape by sea for the lucky few, capture and summary justice for the rest.

Apart from some Republican soldiers hiding out in the Cantabrian hills, the whole of northern Spain was now controlled by the Nationalists. The war there was over. The great coal mines of Asturias, site and symbol of the 1934 revolution, now joined the iron and steel mills and shipyards of Vizcaya, as Nationalist resources. Inexorably, the balance of land, population and industrial and military production tipped in Franco's favour. He held two-thirds of the country. By the late autumn of 1937, it already looked as though his victory was only a matter of time. But both sides were now thoroughly organised for war, and well over one million men were under arms. The way to victory and defeat was going to be slow and deadly.

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