Summary of Major Campaigns and Offensives
Advance of the Army of Africa: August 5-October 23, 1936. With clandestine Italian and German help, General Franco was able to circumvent the Republican fleet's blockade and bring his elite Army of Africa from Morocco to Andalucia in southern Spain. There, under General Yagüe, the army began to subdue the region, capturing cities and towns, securing a supply line and ultimately linking the two main Nationalist regions with the bloody capture of Badajoz on the Portuguese border. Driving toward Madrid, the Nationalists turned aside only to relieve the besieged garrison of the Alcázar. At no time were the Republican militias able to halt the drive, though taking thousands of casualties in the attempt.
Siege of the Alcázar: A small Nationalist garrison under Colonel Moscardó had withdrawn into the Fortress of the Alcázar accompanied by their famillies and some Republican hostages. Immeditately the Republican government sought to reduce this Nationalist enclave so close to Madrid but despite shelling, bombings and explosive mines, the defenders were able to hold out until relieved by a Nationalist force diverted from the drive on Madrid. Franco was criticized for his decision to turn aside, but the decision to rescue the brave defenders, who had endured 69 days of siege and starvation, galvanized the Nationalist cause. The ruins of the ancient fortress had become a Nationalist symbol.
Battle of Cape Espartel: September 29, 1936. Attempting to end the Republican blockade of Spanish Morocco, a Nationalist naval squadron sailed from El Ferrol, comprising two cruisers, the Almirante Cervera and the Canarias under Captain Francisco Moreno. The cruisers surprised a number of Republican destroyers and sank one, the Almirante Ferrándiz, and damaged the Gravina. Nationalists took over the Strait of Gibralter and began ferrying men from Morocco to Spain. This Nationalist supply route was maintined until the end of the war, despite the numerical superiority of the Republican navy.
The Battle of Madrid: October 29 - November 23, 1936. Nationalist offensive designed to take the capital and end the war. Led by their best troops, severely outnumbered Nationalist forces entered the Casa de Campo park and from the start faced fanatical resistence from their poorly trained and poorly armed foes. Casualties were heavy on both sides as the Nationalists siezed the park and tried to force their way across the Manzanares river into the city. Captured plans found on a dead Nationalist officer in a destroyed Italian tankette gave the Republican Head of Armed Forces, General Miaja, the knowledge that the main drive would be through the Casa de Campo and into the University City and that other drives would be feints. He repositioned his forces and the Nationalists attackers found themselves facing hastily prepared positions and the best militia units the Republic had to offer. Still, determined Moroccan soldiers were able to break through at times. At one point, the communist orator, Dolores Ibarruri, known as "La Pasionara", arrived at a breakthrough and rallied the fleeing troops. At another time, General Miaja arrived at another breakthrough and exhorted the fleeing militia, "Cowards! Die in your trenches! Die with your General Miaja!" In both instances, the militia rallied and drove back the attackers, saving Madrid. Translated to Spanish, the cry of the French at Verdun, ¡ No Pasarán!(They shall not pass!) became the rallying cry of the city. The arrival of the first and best International Brigades bolstered the Republican line just at the time when the Nationalists had achieved a major breakthrough at the University City. Fighting within the medical clinic and lecture halls and classrooms of the complex, the Internationals and Spanish fought the Army of Africa to a bloody standstill. The battle was a stalemate and though house to house fighting would continue in the slum district of the Carabanchel, Madrid stayed in Republican hands until the end of the war.
The Battle of Villarreal: November 30 - December 5, 1936. The only Basque offensive of the war was designed to recapture Vitoria, capital of their southern province, ´Alava. The Basques attacked at Villarreal de ´Alava and surrounded the town but, spotted by Nationalist planes, the Nationalists were forewarned enough to prepare their own counteroffensive which drove the Basques off, aided by superior artillery and air support. The Basques retreated with heavy losses.
The Battle of the Coruña Road: December 14, 1936 - January 15, 1937. Frustrated in their attempt to directly take Madrid, the Nationalists launched the first of their major flanking offensives that would culminate in the Battle of Guadalahara. The Nationalist attack, designed to cut Madrid off from the Sierra Guadarrama and surround it from the north began with heavy bombardments and fierce infantry advances backed by light tanks. The Nationalist managed to sieze about ten miles of highway, and the towns of Villanueva de la Cañada, Boadilla, Majadahonda, and Pozuelo. International Brigades were rushed to the front as shock troops and helped stem the advance until Spanish units could also be brought up. Republican counterattack was confused and though causing great casualties had no effect. Republicans lost about 15,000 men. Nationalist lost about the same and gained a small amount of territory. This battle was another frustrating stalemate for the Nationalists.
Battle of Málaga: January 17 - February 7, 1937. A combined Spanish and Italian offensive that reduced the Republican bulge into Nationalist lines along the Andalucian coast by taking the city of Málaga. Repulican forces consisted of untrained militia as army reforms had not yet affected this backwater of the war and these proved incapable and unwilling to stand up to the tanks and aggressive troops of the Nationalists and their Italian allies. Nationalist forces were easilly able to capture the city, whereupon executions of suspected Republican sympathizers began that would run into the thousands. Nationalist and Italian casualties were light, while the Republic lost thousands, only a small portion of which were in battle. A clear and humilitating defeat for the Republic which had many political repercussions in their government.
Battle of the Jarama: February 6-28, 1937. In another Nationalist bid to cut off Madrid, Nationalists attacked south of the city in the Jarama river valley, siezed crossing points across the river and attempted to break through to Arganda. Stubborn resistence by the International Brigades and pure luck helped stall the offensive. Republican counteroffensive was largely inoffective and as costly an action as attacking was for the Nationalists. The best units of both sides, the Nationalist Army of Africa and the Repubican International Brigades were attritioned very heavily. The result was a stalemate with the Nationalists capturing more territory at high cost while the Republicans prevented the severing of the Madrid-Valencia road, a vital lifeline to the city. Republicans lost 25,000 while the Nationalists lost 20,000. Two subsequent attacks on the 23rd of Februay and March 1st by the Nationalists to renew the Jarama offensive were inoffective and cost the Nationalists another 6000 casualties.
The Battle of Guadalahara: March 8-18, 1937. Italian offensive designed to cut off Madrid from the Northeast by capturing the provincial capital of Guadalahara. Supported by one Spanish Infantry Division, Italian units launched a moterized offensive that smashed Republican lines. Failure to aggressively exploit the breakthrough and bad weather, which confined attacking force to roads, allowed Republicans to build up and stop the drive. Republican counterattack recaptured some territory and routed the bulk of the Italian forces while Republican aircraft, flying from fields unhampered by bad weather, hammered the fleeing Italians from the air. Republican losses were about 2000 killed, and 4000 wounded. Italians lost 2000 killed, 4000 wounded and 400 captured. They also lost large amounts of equipment, trucks, artillery and tanks, some of which was captured by the Republic. Though technically a draw, based on the poor performance of the Italians and the sucessful Republican counterattack, Guadalahara was seen as a clear Republican victory.
The Basque Campaign: March 31 - June 19, 1937. Nationalist offensive of the Army of the North to conquer and sieze Basque territories and industry. Supported by Italian troops, Italian Expeditionary Force and German Condor Legion aircraft, tanks, and an abundance of artillery, Navarrese Carlists of the Army of the North attacked poorly equipped Basques. Bad weather delayed offensive after initial gains but despite stubborn resistence, Basques were beaten and their capital, Bilbao, was taken. Nationalists captured their first industrial region when Basques refused to follow scorched earth policy that would leave their people destitute. Terror bombings of Guernica and Durango occured during this campain. Basques and allies suffered more than 30,000 casualties of which about a third were fatalities. Nationalists suffered about the same with approximately 4000 being killed.
Segovia Offensive: May 30 - June 3, 1937. Divirsionary attack to relieve pressure on Basque front, Republican forces broke through Nationalist lines at San Ildefonso, reaching as far as La Granja before Nationalist counterthrust retook all of lost territory. Offensive delayed conquest of Basque provinces by only two weeks as Nationalists were forced to divert aircraft for counterattack. Republicans lost 1460 men (inc 360 Franco-Belgians from Commune de Paris Battalion). Nationalists lost 1100 men.
Huesca Offensive: June 13-18, 1937. Second offensive designed to divert Nationalist forces from Basque front, International and anarchist troops lauched attack in Aragon, supported by armour deployed piecemeal. Attack was torn up by artillery and Republicans retired with 10,000 casualties and nothing to show for it. The Basque capital fell the next day.
The Battle of Brunette: July 6-25, 1937. Republican offensive designed to cut off units threatening Madrid through an offensive in the Estremadura region aimed at capturing the town of Brunette. Though well planned, command and supply problems manifested themselves at once and Republican insistence on reducing stubborn pockets of resistence rather than bypassing them allowed Nationalists to bring up reserves and counterattack. After counterattack, Republic retained conquests of Quijorna, Villanueva de la Cañada, Villanueva del Pardillo, and fifty square kilometers of territory. Republican losses amounted to 25,000 casualties, over a hundred tanks (80% of the armoured force), about 100 planes and a tremendous number of artillery and equipment. The Nationalists lost 10,000 men and 23 planes. Other losses are unspecified. Though Republicans claimed Brunette as a victory, the high losses of men and materiel for insignificant gains marked it as a clear setback for the Republic.
Santander Campaign: August 14-27, 1937. Continuing with their northern drive, Nationalists fought their way into the Northern Castillian region of Santander, defeating the Santandaristas and their disillusioned Basque allies, now homeless. Italian groundtroop participation, which had been minimal against the Basques, was more pronounced and helped secure a quick Nationalist victory. 60,000 Republican prisoners were captured along with their materiel. A good number of these went on to join the Nationalist army.
Republican Aragón Offensive: August 24-September 27, 1937. Intended as another Republican showpiece, Republicans launched a full scale attack with some their best units designed to finally capture the main rail junction of Saragossa and secure all of Aragón for the Republic. Again, stubborn heroic Nationalist stands at places like Belchite preoccupied Republican attentions, allowing the Nationalists to build up countermeasures. Disastrous attack by Republican armour at Fuentes del Ebro again cost the Republic many precious tanks, including many new BT-5's. Stubborn and capable in defence, the Republic had still not managed to undertake a succesful offensive.
Asturias Campaign: September 1-October 21, 1937. Final phase of Nationalist campaigns designed at the conquest of the Northern Republican territory that had begun with the reduction of the Basques. Though initially able to resist the Nationalists and Italians in bitter mountain contests, the Asturians, and their Santandarista and Basque allies were ultimatley overwhelmed and the Republican forces were routed. Though the bulk of Nationalist forces were now freed for use elsewhere, large guerilla bands continued to plague Nationalists and necessitate placing troops in this region for some months afterward. Guerilla activity continued even after the war in some places.
Battle of Teruel: December 15, 1937-February 20, 1938. Republican offensive designed to forstall Nationalist offensive against Madrid by reducing the Nationalist Teruel salient which had penetrated Republican lines since the beginning of the war. Largely fought in miserable weather and bitter freezing cold where the climate was as much an enemy to both sides as they were to each other. Overwhelming Republican attack against a spirited and stubborn Nationalist defense goaded Franco into forstalling his planned Madrid offensive and retaking Teruel after it was lost to Republicans. Bitter defense of the Republicans failed to prevent advance of Nationalists and a Nationalist flanking attack at Alfambra with a spectacular cavalry charge helped turn the tide and trap the Republicans themselves in Teruel. Republicans were able to break out only after heavy losses. Initially designed as a showcase of Spanish endeavour, the Republicans had withheld the International Brigades from this battle but as the situation became more critical, the Internationals were deployed, however performing no better than other Republican troops. Insignificant in terms of territory, this battle again resulted in devestating manpower and materiel losses for the Republic, whose Aragón armies were so weakened as to be unable with withstand the following Nationalist counteroffensive into Aragón. Losses Nat - 50,000, a third due to cold, many aircraft to crashes and cold. Republicans - 60,000
Battle of Cape Palos: March 6, 1938. Inconclusive battle when two forces acidentally met in the Mediteranean, near Cape Palos. Nationalist cruisers Balares, Canarias and Almirante Cervera were escorting a convoy when happened upon by Republican cruisers, Libertad and Méndez Núñez and five destroyers. Republican torpedoes sank the Balares with nearly all hands, including Rear Admiral Manuel de Vierna. The two forces then seperated and no further result was derived.
Nationalist Aragón Offensive and March to the Sea: March 9-July 19, 1938. Capitalizing on the weak state of the Republican Aragón armies after Teruel, the Nationalists and Italians launched a motarized offensive backed heavilly by German and Italian air and well supported by Italian artillery. The depleted Republican forces were utterly routed and the Nationalists were able to march to the sea, cutting the Republican territory in two, crushing anything in their path. Widening the breach, Italians and Spanish Navarrese troops attempting to take Valencia ran up into well prepared, albeit untried, divisions unaffected by the Aragón collapse. In this defensive battle, the Nationalists lost 20,000 men and were halted short of Valencia, partly because of the Republican defense and partly because of the new Republican offensive across the Ebro. Other than for the defense of the territory before Valencia, this campaign marked a clear Republican disaster and, unless France intervened, heralded the beginning of the end for the Republic.
Battle of the Ebro: July 24-November 16, 1938. Growing impatience with German and Italian violation of non-intervention agreements convinced France to reopen her border with Republican Spain for a brief time. Until forced by the British, who were afraid of starting a new European war in Spain, to reclose the border, masses of waiting arms shipped by the Soviet Union, France and other nations were allowed to pour across. This enabled the Republicans to resupply the army devestated by the failure at Teruel. Instead of adopting a defensive position, the Republic planned a new offensive designed at relinking the two sundered Republican areas and prolonging the war until a general European conflict should force France and England to come to the Republic's aid. Accordingly, Republican commandos swam across the Ebro river at midnight and secured bridgeheads across to which were built several pontoon bridges during the night. Other than a failed assault by French Internationals in the south, the maneuver was successful and Republican troops crossed to engage the surprised Moroccans of the 50th Division. The 50th disintegrated, 4000 of its men captured and the rest dead or reeling backwards in confusion. Nationalist General Yagüe, who had nearly been captured, ordered the 13th Division to make a desperate forced march to meet the Republican tide at the town of Gandesa. Concentrating most of their armour and artillery, the Republicans failed to shake the hold of the 13th. Rather, forced by the Nationalist reaction, the Republicans determined to hold on by sheer determination, more for propoganda than tactical reasons. Nationalists, having the advantage of air and artillery superiority hammered away at Republican positions, forcing their way back to the Ebro at an incredibly slow pace. The Republicans adopted a stand and die attitude, ordering sergeants to shoot any officers who ordered retreat. By such sacrifices, it took the Nationalists well over three months to reconquer what the Republicans had taken in two days. But the cost to the Republic had been devestating. The Republicans lost 70,000 men, 200 aircraft and most of their materiel. Nationalists casualties amounted to 23,000 men.
Catalonian Campaign: December 23, 1938-February 9,.1939. Final major Nationalist offensive of the war, Nationalists armies overwhelmed tired Republican units who only made a few meaningful stands. Hordes of refugees poured into France. Nationalists captured Barcelona, then all of Catalonia, sealing the French frontier.
Casado Coup: March 4-12, 1939. The last major fighting of the war occured soley between units of the Republican army when General Casado, commanding units in Madrid, attempted to oust the communists, who wanted to prolong the war until the bitter end. Casado, who wrongly believed the Nationalist command would give better terms of surrender to a fellow army officer, arrested or outsted several communist leaders. When Casado made his move to take over Madrid, Communist divisions left their lines and began to fight their way back into the city. The coup appeared failed when the anarchists of General Mera's 4th Army Corps came to the rescue, engaging the communist troops in street battles and forcing them back out of Madrid. The communists, by now highly unpopular in the army, were ousted from the Republican political scene and their influence was ended. Casado failed to secure any terms better than unconditional surrender, but did manage to bring the war to a close by April, stopping any further slaughter on the battlefield, though the pogroms of retribution would still go on.
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