The division of Spain between Republicans and Nationalists prior to the Ebro offensive of July 1938

Ebro Spain Map

November the Republicans had retreated back across the Ebro, in good order, but defeated.

The last major Republican offensive, and the greatest battle of the civil war, was over. There were almost 100,000 casualties. It was also the last engagement of the International Brigades, which were disbanded in November 1938, partly because by this stage they were largely composed of Spaniards anyway, and partly in a vain attempt by Negrin to achieve the withdrawal of all foreign participants on both sides. Meanwhile the Nationalist armies engaged in the Ebro campaign, plus those of the centre and the south, now numbered over one million men.

The two great Nationalist targets remained what they had always been - Madrid and Barcelona. These now looked very vulnerable, as all the indicators - men, material, food, economic production, territory - pointed to ever-greater dominance by the Francoists. Living conditions in both cities were appalling. In Barcelona they were to deteriorate further once the Nationalist campaign to take Catalonia began on 23 December. Three different advances from the Ebro towards the coast, to Gerona, Barcelona and Tarragona respectively, met with very little resistance from demoralised troops. By 14 January Yague was at Tarragona, and on 26 January Barcelona fell, as soldiers and civilian streamed north to try to escape over the French frontier.

Between 27 January and 10 February over 400,000 refugees sought shelter in France, but found themselves without protection against wind and cold, herded into makeshift open camps on the beaches, surrounded by barbed wire, with no sanitation and at first no food. Members of the Catalan and central governments, including President Manuel Azana, crossed the frontier, now refugees themselves. It was a tragic end for several different dreams: of a democratic Spain, of an autonomous Catalonia, and of a revolutionary, egalitarian, atheistic Utopia.

The Republicans still held almost a third of the Spanish land mass, including Madrid, and there were half a million soldiers in the Republican army of the centre, under Miaja. Prime Minister Negrin, other cabinet members and many army officers returned to Spain to continue the war. But victory was impossible. On 27 February Britain and France recognised Franco's government. On the 28th Azana resigned as President of the Republic. The fighting was not yet over, but the outcome of the war was clear.

Crossing the Ebro, 24-25 July 1938. The greatest Republican campaign of the war, the Ebro offensive was a triumph of logistical planning, co-ordination, and engineering. Thousands of soldiers crossed the River Ebro on cork floats and pontoons, and swept through Nationalist territory before being stopped and then gradually driven back. (Aisa)

Ebro Battle

Portrait of a soldier

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