AUG II 36 – Insurgent
The Italian navy made a dramatic appearance intervening in favor of the insurgents. Two cruiser squadrons steamed into the Bay of Biscay and made short shrift of the Red Atlantic Fleet that was still lingering at Gijon. In a very brief encounter the loyalist forces were obliterated, at the loss of only one Italian destroyer to mines. Meanwhile a battle group shelled Malaga and helped a small nationalist detachment overwhelm the terrified garrison. The Italians then proceeded to blockade Valencia and Cartagena. In Asturias the insurgents easily restored control over Gijon but, in the face of complete loyalist control of the air space, failed to dislodge remaining raiders from the nearby mountains. The thin line containing forces of the other Biscay gobernitos was taken slightly back to better defensive positions. In Aragon two divisions were formed in haste in Zaragoza to serve as anchors of a defense line just short of that city. Raiders slipped through the loyalist defenses to cut the coast road near Tortosa and the Valencia-Madrid rail line northwest of Valencia. Also, troops raised in Albacete and Toledo sortied from these cities to wreak havoc in the loyalist heartland. Combined with the blockade of Valencia and Cartagena these actions effectively cut communications between Cataluna, the Valencia-Murcia-Cartagena area, and Madrid. The Madrid front remained quiet, with both sides not strong enough to attempt more than setting up screens to shield their vital centers and lines of communications. The mop-up of the weak loyalist froces in Estremadura was completed. Badajoz and the important rail link to friendly Portugal was secured. This also has removed the danger to the crucial rail link between Sevilla and the north. The sea lift of Moroccan troops to Algeciraz, Cadiz, and Sevilla was continued and has given the insurgents a sizeable superiority in that theater. In addition to the capture of Malaga a strong thrust through Jaen and across the Quadalquivir was developed. The mountains between Malaga and Granada were cleared and yielded a large parcel of prisoners. Maneuvering for positions in the mountains north of Almeria continued. Although a lot of small towns still remain to be “pacified,” all of Andalucia and Estremadura except Anarchist-held Huelva and the area around Almeria are now in firm nationalist control.
AUG II 36 – Loyalist
In Asturia the People’s Army hold-out in the mountains overlooking Gijon passed up the chance to make another stab at that city and retreated toward Santander. Newly raised Santandero reinforcements dug in on the coast road and strengthened the defenses forward of Santander city. Reinforced Basque troops went on the offensive and advanced in various places across the lateral Burgos-Pamplona rail line. However, an attack on Pamplona was repulsed. In Aragon the loylist offensive continued full-tilt. Major forces closed to the Zaragoza-Huesca line. In a daring maneuver a cavalry regiment exploited the success of a massive attack south of Zaragoza, outflanked the nationalist line, and seized that key city, throwing the nationalist defense out of kilter. This has been a major loyalist victory and at least some compensation for the early loss of Gijon and Malaga. The nationalist mountain position at Teruel was surrounded but not attacked. The Madrid front remained quiet, except for a raid by a bicycle battalion that managed to cut the Burgos-Zaragoza rail line at Soria, causing further headaches to the insurgent command. In Andalucia the situation is becoming critical for the loyalists. With scant reinforcements little could be done other than improvising blocking positions on the two key axes Jaen-Madrid and Granada-Almeria. A major effort was devoted to restoring order in the rear area. Toledo was taken and all nationalist raiding porties cornered and disposed of, except one mountain battalion that still blocks the Barcelona-Valencia coast road, and Anarchist-surrounded Albacete still holds out.
The positions of the combatants are developing a very strong imbalance. The loyalists are far superior in Aragon and will be even more so when the forces still tied down in the purification effort in Barcelona become available at the front in September. Unless winter starts early, the nationalist Aragon front is likely to collapse. On the other hand, the nationalist have decidedly the upper hand in Andalucia and threaten emerge into open terrain and take Madrid from the rear. Only at the Biscay front is there some balance of forces. This has not entirely come about by design. Certainly, the loyalist command is following a strategy of hitting early and hard wherever possible, and the best possibilities are offered by the very strong forces and massive reinforcements in Cataluna. In all likelihood the prospect of linking up with the Biscay gobernitos through Zaragoza and Pamplona has been on their mind. Early on they made little effort to reinforce the other fronts from Cataluna, as they could have done. Now the pressure in Andalucia and around Madrid is on, but the only rail link has been blocked for two turns. On the other hand, the nationalists had little choice because their much lower rail capacity and longer lines do not provide them with much opportunity to shift major contingents around (Malaga-Zaragoza via Salamanca and Burgos is about twice as far as Barcelona-Madrid via Valencia). It will be interesting to see whether the loyalist gamble will pay off: Can the war be won in Aragon, or is victory in Aragon bought with the loss of the war?