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.
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.