Catalonia Offensive

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Catalonia Offensive
Part of the Spanish Civil War
Noviembre 1938.png
Map of Spain in November 1938, after the end of the Battle of the Ebro and immediately before the start of the Catalonia Offensive. Republican territory is in red, and Nationalist territory is blue.
Date December 23, 1938 – February 10, 1939
Location Northeastern Spain
Result Decisive Nationalist victory
Belligerents
 Spanish Republic  Nationalist Spain
Kingdom of Italy Corpo Truppe Volontarie
Nazi Germany Condor Legion
Commanders and leaders
Second Spanish Republic Juan Hernández Saravia
Second Spanish Republic Juan Modesto
Second Spanish Republic Enrique Líster
Second Spanish Republic Colonel Perea
Spain Fidel Dávila Arrondo
Spain Agustín Muñoz Grandes
Spain Rafael García Valiño
Francoist Spain José Moscardó Ituarte
Francoist Spain Juan Yagüe
Francoist Spain José Solchaga
Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg Gastone Gambara
Strength
Thomas: 300,000[1]
Beevor: 220,000[2]
Jackson: 90,000[3]
Thomas: 360 artillery pieces[4]
Beevor: 250 artillery pieces[2]
Thomas: 200 tanks and armoured cars[4]
Beevor: 40 tanks and armoured cars[2]
Thomas: 80 aircraft[4]
Beevor: 106 aircraft[5]
Jackson: 350,000[6]
Beevor: 340,000[7]
Thomas: 300,000[8]
Beevor: 1,400 artillery pieces[7]
Thomas: 565 artillery pieces[1]
300 tanks[7]
500 aircraft[1][7]
Casualties and losses
? dead
10,000 wounded
60,000 captured[9]
220,000 disarmed in France [10]
? dead
? wounded
? captured

The Catalonia Offensive was part of the Spanish Civil War. The Nationalist Army started the offensive on December 23, 1938, and rapidly conquered Republican-held Catalonia with Barcelona (the Republic's capital city from October 1937).[11] Barcelona was captured on January 26, 1939. The Republican government headed for the French border. Thousands of people fleeing the Nationalists also crossed the frontier in the following month, to be placed in internment camps. Franco closed the border with France by February 10, 1939.

Background[edit]

After its defeat at the Battle of the Ebro the Republican Army was broken and would never recover. The Republicans had lost most of their armament and experienced units.[12] Furthermore, on October 1938 the Republican government agreed to withdraw the volunteers of the International Brigades.[13] On the other hand, the Nationalists received new supplies of ammunition, weapons and aircraft from Germany.[14] Furthermore, after the Munich Agreement, the hope of an intervention of the Western democracies in order to aid the Republic against Germany and Italy vanished.[12] France had closed the frontier again in mid-June 1938 and froze Republican financial assets in French Banks.[15]

Opposing forces[edit]

Nationalists[edit]

At the beginning of December, the Nationalists concentrated an Army Group, the Army of the North, of 300,000[1]–340,000[16] men led by the general Fidel Dávila in order to conquer Catalonia. The Nationalists assembled their best divisions all along the front from the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean. Along the Segre the Nationalists deployed the Muñoz Grandes's Army of Urgel, the Garcia Valiño's Army of Maestrazgo and the Moscardo's Aragon Army; in the confluence of the Segre with the Ebro the Gambara's Italian Cuerpo Legionario Italiano of four divisions (55,000 men) and Solchaga's Army Corps of Navarra; and in the Ebro the Yagüe's Moroccan Corps.[1] The Nationalists also had, according to Beevor, 300 tanks, more than 500 aircraft (among them the Me-109e and Heinkel 112 fighters) and 1,400 cannon.[17]

Republicans[edit]

Opposing the Nationalists the Republicans had Colonel Perea's East Army and Colonel Modesto's Ebro Army under the command of General Hernandez Saravia, commander of the Oriental Region's Army Group, with 220,000[18]–300,000[1] men, many unarmed (Hernandez Saravia said that the Republican army had only 17,000 rifles for all Catalonia),[19] 106 airplanes[5] (most of them Chatos), 250 cannons and 40 tanks (many of them unserviceable due to shortage of spare parts).[2] The Soviet government agreed to send to Catalonia a shipment of 250 aircraft, 250 tanks and 650 cannons,[1] but the shipment did not reach Bordeaux until January 15 and only a small part of it crossed the border.[20] Furthermore, because of the international isolation of the Republic and the lack of food (according to Beevor, in Barcelona the ration per day was down to 100 grams of lentils)[5] the morale of the government troops and civil population in the Republican zone was very low. The people only wished the end of the war: "...just let it be over, it doesn’t matter how it ends, but let it end now."[21]

Battle[edit]

Nationalist Offensive[edit]

The Nationalist offensive was planned for the December 10, but was postponed to December 23.[8] On December 23, the Italians and the Navarreses crossed the Segre at Mequinenza, broke the Republican lines and advanced sixteen kilometres, but they were stopped by the V and XV Republican corps led by Lister on December 25. On the left flank, Muñoz Grandes and Garcia Valiño advanced towards Cervera and Artesa, but they were blocked by the 26th Republican Division. On the south, Yagüe's troops were held back by the Ebro's floodwater. The Republicans had stopped the first Nationalist attack, nevertheless, they had lost 40 aircraft in the first ten days of the battle.[22]

On January 3, Solchaga attacked Borjas Blancas, Muñoz Grandes and Garcia Valiño occupied Artesa, and Yagüe crossed the Ebro. Moscardo attacked from Lerida and the Italians occupied Borjas Blancas on January 5. The same day, the Republican army started a surprise attack in Extremadura towards Peñarroya in order to divert Nationalist forces, but the offensive was halted after a few days and the Nationalist offensive in Catalonia continued.[23] On January 9, the Moscardo's Aragon Army Corps joined Gambara at Mollerusa and broke the northern part of the front. The V and XV Republican Corps collapsed and retreated in disorder. On January 15, the Aragon and Maestrazgo Corps conquered Cervera and the Moroccan Corps after a one day march of 50 km occupied Tarragona. By this day, the Nationalists had conquered a third of the Catalonia, had taken 23,000 prisoners and killed 5,000 Republican soldiers.[24]

Nationalists troops in Barcelona on 26 January 1939

Fall of Barcelona[edit]

The Republican government then tried to organize the defense of Barcelona, ordered the general mobilization of all men to forty-five and militarized all the industry. Nevertheless, the successive defensive lines (L1, L2, L3) fell,[25] the Republican forces were outnumbered six to one and the Nationalist air force bombed Barcelona every day (40 times between January 21 and 25).[26] It became clear that the defense of the city was impossible.[27] On January 22, Solchaga and Yagüe reached the Llobregat only a few miles west of Barcelona, Muñoz Grandes and Garcia Valiño attacked Sabadell and Terrassa, and Gambara advanced to Badalona. The chief of staff of the Republican Army, Rojo told the Republican prime minister Negrín that the front had ceased to exist so the government abandoned Barcelona after releasing most of its prisoners.[28] A large part of the Barcelona population fled from the city as well. On January 24, Garcia Valiño occupied Manresa,[29] and on January 25 the Nationalist vanguard occupied the Tibidabo in the outskirts of Barcelona. The Nationalists finally occupied Barcelona on January 26,[30] and there were five days of looting by the Yagüe's Regulares[31] and extrajudicial killings (paseos).[32]

The last session of the Republican cortes in Figueras, on February 1 1939, Juan Negrin speaking.

Retreat[edit]

After the occupation of Barcelona, the Nationalist troops, tired from the long marches, slowed their advance but soon resumed their offensive, pursuing the retreating columns of Republican soldiers and civilians.[28] On February 1, Negrin proposed, in the last meeting of the Cortes in the Figueres Castle, capitulation with the sole condition of respecting the lives of the vanquished and the holding of a plebiscite so the Spanish people could decide the form of government, but Franco did not accept.[33] On February 2, the Nationalists entered Girona, arrived within 50 kilometers of the frontier on February 3,[9] occupied Figueres on February 8 and Rojo ordered the Republican troops to withdraw to the French frontier.[9] Hundreds of thousands of Republican soldiers, women, children and old men marched to the French frontier on foot and on carts, buses and trucks[34] through bitterly cold sleet and snow. Their retreat was covered by units of the Republican Army, which carried out hit and run attacks and ambushes.[35] The Nationalist air force and the Condor Legion bombed and strafed the roads leading to France.[36] On January 28, the French government announced that civilians could cross the frontier and, on 5 February, the Republican soldiers as well.[37] Between 400,000[38] and 500,000,[9] Republican refugees crossed the frontier, among them the president of the Republic (Manuel Azaña), the prime minister (Juan Negrín) and the chief of staff of the Republican Army (Vicente Rojo). Negrin returned to Spain on February 9, but Azaña and Rojo refused to return.[36] By February 9, the Nationalists reached the frontier, on February 10 the last units of Modesto's Army of the Ebro crossed into France and the Nationalists sealed the frontier.[1]

Aftermath[edit]

Military and political consequences[edit]

Spain after the conclusion of the Catalonia Offensive. Nationalist Spain is in gray and Republican Spain is in white.

With the fall of Catalonia, the Republic lost the second largest city of the country, the Catalan war industry and a large part of its army (more than 200,000 soldiers).[39] On February 27, Azaña resigned and the same day France and the United Kingdom recognized the Francoist government.[40] Further military resistance became impossible and the war was lost for the Republic, despite the fact that 30% of Spain was still under Republican control after the offensive and Prime Minister Juan Negrin insisted that the Republic could continue to resist.[41]

The Catalonia autonomy was abolished. The Catalan language, the Sardana and Catalan Christian names were forbidden. All Catalan newspapers were requisitioned and the forbidden books retired and burned.[42] Even the inscriptions on tombs in the Montjuïc Cemetery commemorating Durruti, Ascaso and Ferrer i Guardia were removed.[43]

Fate of the Republican refugees[edit]

The Republican exiles were interned in fifteen improvised camps (mostly barbed-wire enclosures on the sand, without basic shelter, sanitary or cooking facilities)[44] by the French government in places such as Argelès, Gurs, Rivesaltes and Vernet.[45] The living conditions in the camps were very harsh. In the first six months, 14,672 refugees died from malnutrition or dysentery.[46] The French government encouraged the refugees to return and by the end of 1939 between 70,000[47] and 180,000 refugees returned to Spain, but 300,000 never returned.[48] Many fled to the Soviet Union (between 3,000[49] and 5,000),[50] USA and Canada (about 1,000), and Great Britain, Belgium and other European countries (between 3,000[51] and 5,000).[52] Many others managed to reach Latin America (30,000 to Mexico, 10,000 to Argentina, 5,000 to Venezuela, 5,000 to Dominican Republic, 3,500 to Chile, etc.)[53] seeking asylum.[54] Nevertheless, at least 140,000 refugees remained in France and 19,000 in the French colonies of the North Africa.[55] After the fall of France 10,000[56]–15,000[57] refugees were detained by the Nazis and deported to concentration camps. Another 10,000 joined the French Resistance[58] and more than 2,000 joined to the Free French Forces.[59]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. 2001. London. p. 844
  2. ^ a b c d Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. 2006. p. 373
  3. ^ Jackson, Gabriel. The Spanish Republic and the Civil War, 1931–1939. Princeton University Press. Princenton. 1967. p. 463
  4. ^ a b c Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. 2001. London. p. 845
  5. ^ a b c Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. 2006. p. 368
  6. ^ Jackson, Gabriel. The Spanish Republic and the Civil War, 1931–1939. Princeton University Press. Princeton. 1967. p. 463
  7. ^ a b c d Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. 2006. p. 372
  8. ^ a b Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. 2001. London. p.844
  9. ^ a b c d Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. 2006. p. 382
  10. ^ Thomas, p. 877
  11. ^ Graham, Helen. The Spanish Civil War. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 2005. p. 102
  12. ^ a b Preston, Paul. The Spanish Civil War. Reaction, Revolution & Revenge. Harper Perennial. London. 2006. p. 292
  13. ^ Preston, Paul. The Spanish Civil War. Reaction, Revolution & Revenge. Harper Perennial. London. 2006. pp.292–293
  14. ^ Preston, Paul. The Spanish Civil War. Reaction, Revolution & Revenge. Harper Perennial. London. 2006. p. 294
  15. ^ Graham, Helen. The Spanish Civil War. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 2005. p. 99
  16. ^ Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. 2006. p. 372
  17. ^ Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. 2001. London. pp. 372–373
  18. ^ Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. 2006. p. 373
  19. ^ Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. 2001. London. p. 847
  20. ^ Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. 2006. p. 488
  21. ^ Graham, Helen. The Spanish Civil War. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 2005. p. 111
  22. ^ Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. 2006. p. 374
  23. ^ Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. 2006. pp.375–376
  24. ^ Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. 2006. pp. 374–376
  25. ^ Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. 2001. London. p.848
  26. ^ Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. 2006. pages 376 and 484
  27. ^ Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. 2006. p. 376
  28. ^ a b Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. 2006. p. 377
  29. ^ Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. 2001. London. p.845
  30. ^ Preston, Paul. Doves of War. Four women of Spain. Harper Collins. London. 2002. p.374
  31. ^ Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. 2006. p. 378
  32. ^ Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. London. 2001. p.850
  33. ^ Beevor, Antony. The battle for Spain. The Spanish civil war. Penguin Books. 2006. London. pp.380–381
  34. ^ Preston, Paul. Doves of War. Four women of Spain. Harper Collins. London. 2002. p.374
  35. ^ Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. 2006. p. 379
  36. ^ a b Preston, Paul. The Spanish Civil War. Reaction, Revolution & Revenge. Harper Perennial. London. 2006. p. 295
  37. ^ Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. 2001. London. p. 854
  38. ^ Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. 2001. London. p. 860
  39. ^ Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. 2001. London. p.854
  40. ^ Graham, Helen. The Spanish Civil War. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 2005. p. 165
  41. ^ Preston, Paul. The Spanish Civil War. Reaction, Revolution & Revenge. Harper Perennial. London. 2006. p.296
  42. ^ Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. London 2006. pp.378–379
  43. ^ Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. 2001. London. pp.850–851
  44. ^ Preston, Paul. Doves of War. Four women of Spain. Harper Collins. 2002. London. p.180
  45. ^ Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. London 2006. pp.411–412
  46. ^ Preston, Paul. Doves of War. Four women of Spain. Harper Collins. 2002. London. p.180.
  47. ^ Graham, Helen. The Spanish Civil War. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 2005. p. 117
  48. ^ Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. 2006. p. 412
  49. ^ Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. 2006. p. 412
  50. ^ Graham, Helen. The Spanish Civil War. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 2005. p. 120
  51. ^ http://geocommons.com/maps/11419
  52. ^ Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. Penguin Books. 2006. p. 412
  53. ^ http://geocommons.com/maps/11419
  54. ^ Graham, Helen. The Spanish Civil War. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 2005. p.115
  55. ^ http://geocommons.com/maps/11419
  56. ^ Graham, Helen. The Spanish Civil War. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 2005. p. 126
  57. ^ Preston, Paul. The Spanish Civil War. Reaction, Revolution & Revenge. Harper Perennial. London. 2006. p. 315
  58. ^ Graham, Helen. The Spanish Civil War. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 2005. p. 125
  59. ^ Graham, Helen. The Spanish Civil War. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 2005. p. 120

Sources[edit]