The General Staff Archives

Europa Games and Military History

Month: August 1998

NOV II 1936

NOV II INSURGENT

While rain continued in the north, a lucky break in the foul weather over central and southern Spain dried up roads and fields. This was put to good use by the Nationalists. Lightly held Loyalist positions near Toledo and Tomelloso were overrun. Outflanked, the Loyalist front in between was shredded and collapsed, leaving a gap 50 miles wide. Prisoners were taken in large numbers. Fortified Tomelloso itself was surrounded and stormed. German motorized patrols fanned out into the Loyalist rear, destroying rail lines, creating havoc in Alcazar de San Juan, and penetrating as far as Cuenza before returning to safety at Tomelloso. Farther south a Falangist coup-de-main with air support against an Anarchist mountain position overlooking Albacete failed. Having completed rail repairs in the Henares valley, the Nationalists also brought reinforcements forward to the front at Guadalajara and attacked, advancing to within artillery range of the Valencia-Aranjuez rail line, on which supply for Madrid now relies. Although too late for a relief of the defenders at Teruel, the Nationalists attacked up the Jiloka valley, smashing among others the POUM Lenin Batallion and penetrating to within 15 miles of that mountain city. The front in northern Aragon remained quiet. At the Lorca front both sides are digging in. The only combat action was a successful local attack that captured the last Loyalist mountain positions short of Cieza. The remnants of the Nationalist fleet had their hands full shepherding convoys with sorely needed supplies to Cadiz at night in a cat-and-mouse game with Loyalist submarines. The threat posed by Italian submarines kept the Loyalist surface forces at anchor in Cartagena. A raid by German Heinkel-51 fighters put the Albacete airfield out of commission, but failed to catch any planes on the ground.

NOV II LOYALIST

Although receiving few reinforcements, the Loyalists also made good use of the dry weather in central and southern Spain. A concerted attack by armor with ample artillery and air support succeeded in squashing the Nationalist salient southwest of Aranjuez and reestablishing rail traffic to Madrid. A large number of prisoners were taken. Farther south the gap in the front was patched up with reinforcements hurriedly thrown in and Cuenza and Alcazar de San Juan, still out of reach of the bulk of the Nationalist forces, were reoccupied. In southwestern Aragon the rail link to Teruel was repaired and Nationalist vanguards approaching that city were thrown back. A daring attack out of Lorca with support by the Republican fleet made headway along the Granada highway, severing supply to the Nationalist forces east of Aguilas and in the mountains to the north. All other sectors remained quiet.

STRATEGIC COMMENTARY

The return of dry weather in central Spain has let fighting flare up and provided excitement. The Nationalist attacks between Toledo and Alcazar de San Juan and at Guadalajara have reduce the Madrid front to a salient whose neck is only about 60 miles wide. Only the lack of sufficient mobile, motorized formations to exploit the collapse of the front has prevented a disaster. In turn, the Loyalists made excellent use of their superiority in armor to restore the situation by regaining control of the Aranjuez-Madrid rail line and so to reestablish a link between Madrid and mainland Spain. None the less, the fortified “no pasaran” line at Tomelloso has been lost and the main rail line Albacete-Alcazar de San Juan -Aranjuez is in danger. Moreover, having concentrated their effort at Aranjuez the Loyalists have had to leave the Guadalajara front weak, where the other Natinalist pincer is advancing. Despite adverse weather, the fighting in mountain triangle Guadalajara-Teruel-Calatayud has continued unabated. While the roadblock denying the Loyalists access to the area has been removed, the defenders have bought Franco’s troops time to seize most of the mountains, from where they pose a danger to the flanks of the Aragon and Guadalajara fronts. Moreover, the Loyalist troops that finally cleared the road into Teruel were sorely missed elsewhere. The situation at Lorca is interesting. Gambling on a risky surprise attack the Loyalists gained ground, but are now sitting somewhat precariously in a long salient along the Granada road. However, if they can hold onto that position, they may force the Nationalists in the mountains to the north to retreat for lack of supply. Overall, the balance of forces has now tipped well in favor of the Nationalists. The Loyalists are outnumbered and short of supply. Their main remaining strengths are their superiority in armor (of questionable value in winter weather), their interior lines, and their control of the sea. For the Nationalists, on the other hand, the ability to move attack supply forward has now become the limiting factor.

 

NOV I 1936

NOV I INSURGENT

Unseasonably early rain has engulfed all of Spain, hindering movement and attacks. In Aragon the Nationalists continued their attack south of Zaragoza, strengthened by the arrival of additional troops which victory in the Biscay provinces had freed.. The bothersome Loyalist salient near Calatayud was eliminated and the mountains to the south cleared of some of the scattered Loyalist contingents. The isolated defenders in the mountains above Teruel were again sustained by supply drops at night. At the Madrid front a Nationalist attack at Guadalajara gained some ground. The main thrust, from Toledo toward Aranjuez, continued with overwhelming strength. Troops of the Galicia Corps now sit firmly astride the Madrid-Aranjuez rail line, the capital’s last rail link with the Loyalist mainland. In southern Castilla the Nationalists stopped their advance against the Cartagena-Aranjuez rail line. Instead, they turned against the Republican armor in their flank and managed to inflict losses and widen their perilously narrow salient. The Lorca front remained quiet. Disaster befell the Nationalist Fleet. An internal explosion ripped apart the battelship *Espana* in the harbor of Aguilas and damaged beyond repair severeal other vessels tied up nearby. Only the heavy cruiser *Canarias* and some smaller craft escaped unharmed to the relative safety of the Atlantic.

NOV I LOYALIST

The Loyalists were able to raise a large number of new formations and equip most of them with artillery. The bulk was used to strengthen the existing front, especially at Madrid and in Murcia province. A major, local attack with support by an armored train from Barcelona and all available aircraft finally managed to squash the enemy mountain position above Teruel, which had held out in isolation for almost three months and was on the verge of being relieved by the Nationalist advance from Calatyud. This success finally gains an entry into the mountain country of western Aragon. No attacks were staged at other fronts. The Loyalist fleet finally ventured out of Cartagena to demonstrate off Aguilas. A Nationalist air raid remained without success. Submarines began operating off Gibraltar. Loyalist delight over the arrival of modern “Rata” fighters from the Soviet Union proved short-lived when these suffered a bloody nose over Madrid, courtesy Italian Fiats. However, Stalin promised to replace the losses to regain air superiority.

STRATEGIC COMMENTARY

The days of mobile warfare are practically over. With the arrival of poor weather and massive Loyalist reinforcements the front is congealing. It now runs from Lorca to Albacete, Tomelloso, Aranjuez, Madrid, Guadalajara, Teruel. Zaragoza and Huesca, all except Guadalajara in Loyalist hands. Only in the mountainous triangle Guadalajara-Teruel-Calatayud is the situation still somewhat fluid. Otherwise, the only weak spot in the Loyalist lines is between Tomelloso and Aranjuez, a sector to which the Nationalists have no easy access. Of greatest importance are the events in the mountains of southwestern Aragon. The Nationalist Aragon offensive is clearly aimed into this area rather than against Zaragoza. One of its objectives appears to be close to realization: to drive a wedge between the Loyalist Madrid and Aragon fronts and threaten their flanks. The other, the relief of Teruel to secure a starting position for a breakthrough to the coast, has run out of time. With the fall of the Teruel position the Loyalists have now finally gained as easy an access to the mountains as the Nationalists have enjoyed all along. However, the defenders at Teruel have bought enough time for the Nationalists to gain a firm foothold in most of the mountain area. Their other main Nationalist effort, at Toledo, has succeeded in cutting Madrid’s last rail line, and only about 50 miles separate its spearhead from the other prong of the pincer movement against the capital, at Guadalajara. The interruption of the rail line has not only placed Madrid in a precarious position, but also has reduced the rail capacity of the Loyalist mainland by one third. The Nationalists now enjoy a slight numerical advantage in capacity, but that is more then compensated by the fact that the Loyalists operate on interior lines. To this point Loyalist losses have been disproportionately heavy. Despite a steady stream of reinforcements, Loyalist troop strength did not significantly increase until November, while Nationalist strength on the mainland almost doubled in that time. At sea, however, the Nationalists are now hopelessly outmatched and will be reduced to running protected convoys at night. In the air the Loyalists still enjoy marginal superiority, despite their losses suffered over Madrid.

 

OCT II 1936

INSUGENT OCT II 36

The rain, in Spain, falls mainly in the … north. Storms have hit Navarra, Aragon, Cataluna and Castilla la Vieja and put the cramps into the transfer of Nationalist troops from the Biscay provinces to their new destinations. The south still enjoys favorable campaign weather.

In Aragon, the first troops newly arriving from Navarra attacked between Zaragoza and Calatayud, gaining ground and threatening to envelop Loyalist positions near the latter city. The isolated defenders in the mountains near Teruel were again resupplied by air, although this had to be done at night because of Republican fighter cover.

The heaviest fighting was at the Madrid front. The Nationalist continued their offensive from the west, recapturing Toledo and throwing Republican troops back to the outskirts of the capital. To the east, the Nationalists in the Henares valley went over to the offensive and recaptured Guadalajara. Strongly defended Madrid itself was not attacked, but the pincers from west and east now threaten the city’s communications.

In southern Castilla the Nationalists continued to press their advance, heedless of the Republican armor on their left flank. Spearheads are now astride the Cartagena-Madrid railway, the capital’s main life line.

At the Lorca front the Nationalists closed up to the fortified and strongly defended line running from just short of the city to the coast east of Aguilas. In the mountains to the north they continued their attacks. The last mountain position overlooking Lorca fell when the Anarchist Durruti Brigade skedaddled, leaving a Republican mountain battalion in the lurch. In the ensuing confusion, Italian tankettes managed to slip through, rumbling down into the coastal plain and pressing on into the town of Cieza, where they refuled from local service stations, then taking to the hills in anticipation of an irate response by Republican rear-area security forces.

The sea lift from Morocco continued without interference by the Republican fleet, which remained holed up in Cartagena.

Loyalist OCT II 36

On the Aragon front a limited Loyalist counterattack near Zaragoza succeeded in squashing the mechanized Nationlist spearhead and reestablishing a supply line to hemmed-in forces southeast of Calatayud. Patrols were pushed forward toward the Henares valley to interfere with with the Nationalist build-up at Guadalajara. Otherwise the front remained calm.

Around Madrid the Loyalists took their lines back from the Guadarrama foothills to shorter and stronger positions in the suburbs of the city and strengthened the front threatened front at Toledo.

In southern Castilla the Loyalists made a successful concentric counterattack against the Nationalist spearhead and regained control of the Madrid-Cartagena rail line. The gradual retreat of the covering forces from the mountains west of Albacete continued unhindered.

At the Lorca front the gap left by the loss of the mountain position overlooking the city was closed. The Italian tankettes near Cieza were overwhelmed by four regiments with air support. The fleet remained again inactive.

STRATEGIC COMMENTARY

The advent of bad weather has given the Loyalists in the north a badly needed respite. Nevertheless, their Aragon front is hard pressed and will require reinforcements although casualties have so far remained minor. The Loyalists have not retreated from their salient close to Calatayud and so continue to pose a threat to the supply artery of the Nationalist forces in the Henares valley and at Guadalajara. This salient, however, is now dangerously exposed.

The continued resistance of the Nationalists in the mountains near Teruel is a thorn in the Loyalists’ side, making it difficult for them to reinforce and resupply their covering forces in the mountains between the Aragon and Madrid fronts.

At the Madrid front the capture of Toledo and Guadalajara has been an important Nationalist victory. At Toledo they can raise replacements and reinforcements close to the front and stand close to the Aranjuez-Madrid rail line, the capital’s last rail connection with the rest of Loyalist Spain. With Guadalajara the Nationalists now holda rail head to which a good-weather supply line can be traced through much of the time that weather is poor in the north.

In southern Castilla and Murcia the Loyalist have succeeded in stabilizing their front. The Nationalists will find further advance here difficult, especially once the weather turns foul.

Everywhere else the Loyalists are desperately weak, but likely to survive with some further losses of ground. They are then assured of ample reinforcements in both infantry and artillery. The arrival of these and of poor weather is apt to let the fronts solidify and turn the war into a World War One-style slugging match.

The Loyalists have scored a success with the destruction of all Nationalist combat-motorized forces: a mechanized regiment near Zaragoza and the Italian tankettes at Cieza. Owing to the dismal state of factory production these losses cannot be replaced until early next year. However, ground conditions in winter would have limited the usefulness of these units anyway.

The Italian submarines have yet to score a single hit. However, their presence has been a useful deterrent: it has kept the Loyalist fleet in port and allowed the Nationalist troop transfer from Morocco and the Canarias to proceed unhindered.

 

OCT I 1936

INSURGENT OCT I 36

In beautiful fall weather affairs in the Biscay provinces are winding down. The separatist Santandero “government” has capitulated as expected and mop-up of the three residual pockets was completed. The only serious resistance was encountered near Pamplona and was broken by the Carlist Navarrese Corps supported by Italian artillery and newly arrived float planes. Also, the Nationalists wiped out the light Republican forces in the Pyrenees that had attempted to push through to the Pamplona pocket. Only one mountain battalion escaped into France, where it was promptly disarmed and interned. The French border is now sealed off all the way from San Sebastian to the Somport Pass on the Huesca-Pau highway.

The Nationalists kept strengthening their Aragon front, which now runs just short of Zaragoza and Huesca and forward of Calatayud and appears secure. Patrols advanced in the mountains of southern Aragon toward Cuenca. The isolated mountain position near Teruel was again resupplied by air after the Republicans had diverted their fighter cover to Cuenca.

At the Madrid front the Nationalists initiated a new offensive with elite troops rushed in from Santander. The last Republican ridge position in the Guadarramas was stormed and the Legionnaires descended from the passes, broke into Madrids fortification ring, and reached the outer western suburbs of the capital. Another column advancing along the highway from Talavera de la Reina made contactt with the Legionnaires, though not without suffering heavy casualties. Northeast of Madrid the Nationalists consolidated their hold on the Henares valley, which they now firmly control to just short of Guadalajara.

In southern Castilla the Nationalists renewed their offensive after having been reinforced and resupplied. Facing strong prepared defenses on the direct approach to Alcazar de San Juan they shifted their Schwerpunkt southward, overpowering the thin Republican lines west of Albacete and advancing to within artillery range of the vital Madrid-Cartagena rail line.

In the mountains of western Murcia Nationalist patrtols followed retreating Loyalist stragglers close-up but did not manage to cut them off. In front of Lorca the Nationalists decided to forego a head-on assault on the fortified positions blocking the direct approach to that city. Instead, they split their forces into one column that advanced with naval gunfire support along the coast from Aguilas, and another that made headway in the Sierra de Segura toward Cieza.

The sealift oif troops from Morocco and the Canarias continued without interference by the Republican Navy.

LOYALIST OCT I 36

Facing strengthened defenses the Loyalists halted their Aragon offensive. This also enabled them to pull some troops out of the line for use elsewhere. In the mountains north of Cuenca the Loyalists conducted a sweep with air support to wipe out the Nationalist patrols that had posed a threat to traffic on the Madrid-Valencia rail line.

At Madrid the Loyalists reinforced their defenses with artillery and reserves. The International Center made its first contribution fielding the Thaelmann Brigade, which immediately moved into position in the outer suburbas.

In southern Castilla the Loyalists concentrated all available forces for a counteroffensive with armor, artillery, and air support on a narrow front near Tomelloso. They drove into the right flank of the Nationalist spearhead that had almost reached the Madrid-Cartagena rail line and achieved success, taking a large number of prisoners.

At Lorca the Loyalists retreated into prepared, strong positions just foward of that city and brought in reinforcements.

The Italian intervention forces did not cover themselves with glory. Italian submarines missed every opportunity to intercept Loyalist troop convoys sailing from Barcelona to Alicante, and Italian C-32b fighters failed to get past obsolete Republican N-52 escorts to interfere with air support at Tomelloso. A cry has been heard for more competent German assistance, but none is in the offing in the immediate future.

STRATEGIC COMMENTARY

Diffult times lay ahead for the Loyalists. Having victoriously completed the campaign in the Biscay provinces the Nationalists now have a massive force at hand to throw in where they wish to seek a decision. Only the advent of poor weather can delay its deployment. The first elements have already been transferred, to the Madrid fronr which appears to be the new focal point. It seems unlikely that the capital can be taken on the run, but its position has become precarious nevertheless. In particular, and advance toward Aranjuez either from Talavera de la Reina or via Guadalajara would cut all remaining lines of communication between the capital and the Loyalist mainland of Murcia and Valencia.

In Aragon the Nationalists have now established parity of forces. The Loyalist offensive has ground to a halt, and the question now is not if, but when the Nationalists will take the initiative. They have considerable incentive to retake Zaragoza and Huesca because without control of these cities and the highway to the Somport Pass their flank in the Pyrenees will be hard to maintain come winter weather.

The Loyalists’ dilemma at this time has been whether to use the few available reserves to stem the tide at and around Madrid and face a possible cave-in of the long flanks at Albacete and Cuenca, or shore up these flanks at the risk of worsening the crisis at the capital. They seem to have opted for the latter alternative. Only the future can tell whether that was the right choice.

The next two weeks will be critical for the Loyalists, especially if weather in the north still holds. If they can survive with fronts intact until November, they can look forward to ample reinforcements in both infantry and artillery that should enable them to shore up their defenses for the winter.

 

SEP II 1936

SEP II INSURGENT

In the Biscay provinces things are fast coming to an end. The Basque “government” has capitulated. Santander has fallen to a concentric attack, and its separatist leaders are negotiating surrender. Only three pockets of resistance still hold out, a major one in Pyrenees foothills near Pamplona and two small ones in the Cantabrian mountains and he hills south of Bilbao. Mop-up is progressing. To retain a cohesive front in Aragon the Insurgents withdrew from Huesca, but are attempting to retain control of the Calatayud-Guadalajara rail line. The isolated defenders in the mountains near Teruel were resupplied by air. The Madrid front was quiet. In the Jarama valley the Nationalists solidified their position and established a supply line to their outposts in Guadalajara without meeting resistance. In southern Castilla the Nationalist offensive ground to a halt after reaching Cuidad Real and Valdepenas, having outrun their supplies and facing a superior enemy with plentiful artillery. At the Mediterranean coast the Nationalist onslaught continued unabated. Republican stragglers in Almeria were overpowered and the port was secured. The main forces cleared the mountains on the approaches to Lorca and seized the port of Aguilas, the last loyalist-held city in Andalucia. The best terrain for defense in this sector has been captured by the Nationalists or rendered untenable. Lorca itself is threatened, and with Almeria and Aguilas the Nationalists now hold two ports through which they can be reinforced and resupplied. Having done its work in the Bay of Biscay, the Nationalist fleet took over escort duty for troop convoys from the Canarias and then sailed into the Mediterranean to discourage any attempts at naval support of ground operations by the Republicans. However, they suffered a serious reverse when an intrepid Republican submarine managed to sink the new heavy cruiser *Baleares* out of a large battle group off the coast near Aguilas and, to add insult to injury, escaped unscathed to its Cartagena base. This single loss goes far toward tilting the delicate balance at sea back in the Republicans’ favor. Italian fighters unsuccessfully strafed the Toledo airfield.

SEP II LOYALIST

In the Sierra Cantabrica and near Bilbao two small pockets held out without much hope of relief. The last Santanderos laid down their arms. The forces in the major pocket near Pamplona attempted to break out and establish contact with a mountain battalion that had advanced from Huesca, but the effort failed despite massive air support. On the Aragon front the Loyalists closed up to the Nationalist defense positions, but did not attack for lack of sufficient resources. Advancing through difficult terrain but unopposed, light forces established contact with troops from the Madrid front southeast of the Jarama. The Madrid front remained quiet except for a local attack with support by armored cars that regained Guadalajara. Construction of the inner fortification ring to shield Madrid is proceeding. A center for International Brigades has been set up in Madrid. In southern Castilla the “no pasaran” line forward of Alcazar de San Juan was further fortified. Farther southeast, Loyalists stragglers continued their retreat from the Sierra Nevada to avoid being cut off. A strong position was established forward of Lorca to stop the Nationalist advance along the Mediterranean coast. The Loyalist cause was dealt a severe blow by the French government’s closure of the border. A serious immediate consequence is that the scheduled delivery of aircraft and field-gun components has been held up. Madrid is attempting to negotiate a release.

STRATEGIC COMMENTARY

The Loyalists have lost the race to link up with the Separatists in the Biscay provinces. The chance that any intact formations from that area can still fight their way through to the main Loyalist lines in Aragon is remote. Victory in the north has freed substantial Nationalist forces, and it is now only a matter of time that they will make their appearance at the main front, be it in Aragon or at Madrid. The danger of collapse of the Nationalist Aragon front has been averted. In the other theaters the Loyalists are barely holding on. The only bright spot is the successful link-up, even if still tenuous, of the Aragon and Madrid fronts. This operation has isolated the weak Nationalist groups in the mountains of southern Aragon. Here, the last obstacle to complete control of this strategically important area is the mountain position near Teruel that blocks the main supply line from Valencia. In the face of Loyalist air superiority and for lack of airfields within fighter range, the Nationalists may be unable to maintain their airlift to keep the defenders in supply.