orchestrated initiative took their opponents by surprise, although they soon deployed air and artillery power against the advancing forces, and severely impeded the transport of armour across the river. Within a few days, Republican troops had advanced several miles west, establishing a new front between Mequinenza and Cherta, and capturing Nationalist soldiers who were surrounded. Other Nationalists fell back on Gandesa. It was a great victory, and persuaded many otherwise pessimistic Republicans that all was not lost. It was certainly cause for celebration.
As so often in the Spanish Civil War, however, it soon proved hard to exploit the initial advance. Crucially, the attempt to take the town of Gandesa failed. But controlling Gandesa was the essential element for the success of the rest of the campaign. Fiercely as the Republicans advanced against its defences, they could not prevail. As Franco ordered several divisions and virtually the whole of the air force to the area, the Republicans dug in.
It took the Nationalists three and a half months to recover what the Republicans had taken in a few days. As early as 6 August, the Nationalists retook the northern section between Mequinenza and Fayon with heavy artillery fire followed up by the infantry. Bit by bit the Republicans were forced back, in burning summer heat, suffering constant aerial bombardment. By the end of September they had lost about one-third of the initial gain. From the end of October to 16 November, Franco pounded the Republicans from the air and from artillery batteries, before sending troops to wrest territory from them, mile by mile, settlement by settlement. By mid-
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