Zaragoza Offensive

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The Zaragoza Offensive took place during the Spanish Civil War in 1937. This battle involved the Spanish Republican Army. The main goal of the offensive was to occupy the city of Zaragoza. The main action of the offensive was the battle of Belchite.

Zaragoza Offensive
Part of the Spanish Civil War
Date August 24, 1937 – September 7, 1937
Location near Zaragoza, Spain
Result Tactically inconclusive
Strategic Republican defeat
Belligerents
 Spanish Republic  Nationalist Spain
Commanders and leaders
Second Spanish RepublicSebastian Pozas
Second Spanish RepublicJuan Modesto
Second Spanish RepublicEnrique Líster
Francoist SpainEduardo Sáenz de Buruaga
Francoist SpainAlfonso Trallero
Strength
80,000 infantry
105 tanks
90 aircraft
Beevor: six divisions
200 aircraft
50,000-100,000 infantry
Beevor: three divisions
reinforcements: two divisions
Casualties and losses
Unknown Unknown

Background[edit]

In August 1937, the commander in chief of the Republican Army, Vicente Rojo, decided to launch an offensive in the Aragon front in order to take the regional capital, Saragossa. The main goal of the offensive was to stop the Nationalist offensive against Santander. Furthermore, Saragossa was the communications centre of the whole Aragon front.[1]

Opossing forces[edit]

In the Aragon front the Republican Army had deployed the Army of the East, led by the general Pozas and his chief of staff Antonio Cordon. This army had six divisions (Lister's 11th Division, 26th Division, 27th Division, Walter's 35th Division, 43rd Division; and Kleber's 45th Division). Furthermore the Republicans had 200 aircraft and many T-26 and BT-5 tanks.[2]

Opposing them, the Nationalists had three low-quality divisions (51st, 52nd and 105th divisions), and 15 aircraft (obsolete Heinkel He-46 light bombers and He-51 fighters).[3]

The offensive[edit]

The Republican plan was to break through at seven different poins between Zuera and Belchite in order to divide any Nationalist counter-attack. The 27th Division would occupy Zuera, turn left and attack Zaragoza. The Kleber's 45h Division would attack south-eastwards towards Saragossa and the 43rd Division would cross the Ebro and cut the highway from Quinto to Saragossa. But the main attack was concentrated up the south side of the Ebro Valley, with Modesto's V Corps (11th Division and 35th Division).

The Republican attack began on August 24 with no artillery bombardment in order to maintain the advantage of surprise. The 27th Division occupied Zuera, the 45th Division reached Villamajor de Gállego (six kilometres from Saragossa) and the 25th Division took Codó despite a fierce Nationalist resistance. Nevertheless, the Lister's 11th Division failed to occupy Fuentes de Ebro and almost all its BT-5 tanks were destroyed.

Fuentes del Ebro[edit]

Lister had to take the fortified town of Fuentes del Ebro in order to open the road to Zaragoza. Forty-eight BT-5 tanks carrying Spanish troops would cross the Republican lines and attack the town from the front, supporting by the troops of the XV International Brigage. Nevertheless, the attack was ill-planned. The BT-5 tanks was no suited to carrying troops, very little reconnaissance was carried out, there was virtually no artillery preparation[4] and the tanks became bogged down in the mud. The attack failed and the republican army lost 19 of its 48 tanks and more than 300 men[5] (according to Hugh Thomas 12 tanks destroyed out of 40)[6] An American member of the International Brigades said:[7]

Courage and heroism are plentiful in Spain and the Spanish people have no lack of it. What they need is tactics. And as for tactics, on 13 October, Regiment BT was bankrupt.

Belchite[edit]

On August 26, the 25th Division took Quinto, but the delays in the Republicans advance had given to the Nationalists time to bring up reinforces (the Barron's 13th Division and the Saenz de Buruaga's 150th Division and 80 aircraft from the Madrid's front) and the attack on Zaragoza failed.[8]

Then Modesto, decided to capture the small (3,800 inhabitants) and well fortified town of Belchite. The Republican army cut the water supply of the town and the heat was appaling, but the defence of the besieged forces was vigorous.[9] The attack on Belchite started on 1 September and after five days of heavy bombardment and bloody combats, the Republicans managed to occupied it. The offensive ended on September 6.[10]

Aftermath[edit]

The offensive was a complete failure. The Nationalists did not stop their offensive against the Northern Republican held zone. The Republicans only advanced ten kilometres and taking a handful of small towns. Furthermore, the Republican Army suffered heavy lost of armament and tanks. Indalecio Prieto said: "So many troops to take four or five pueblos does not satisfy the ministry of defence".[11] The offensive failed because the republican forces lacked coordination, supplies and military intelligence.[12] Furthermore, the Republican commanders wasted troops in order to reduce small resistance points.[13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Thomas, Hugh. (2001). The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. p. 704
  2. ^ Thomas, Hugh. (2001). The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. London. p. 704
  3. ^ Thomas, Hugh. (2001). The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. London. p. 704
  4. ^ http://www.lacolumna.org.uk/lacolumna_files/cliveden%202006/fuentes%20del%20Ebro-%20the%20last%20gasp%20of%20the%20aragon%20offensive.pdf
  5. ^ http://www.lacolumna.org.uk/lacolumna_files/cliveden%202006/fuentes%20del%20Ebro-%20the%20last%20gasp%20of%20the%20aragon%20offensive.pdf
  6. ^ Thomas, Hugh. (2001). The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. p. 705.
  7. ^ http://bobrowen.com/nymas/soviet_tank_operations_in_the_sp.htm
  8. ^ Thomas, Hugh. (2001). The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. p. 705.
  9. ^ Thomas, Hugh. (2001). The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. p. 705.
  10. ^ Beevor, Antony. (2006). The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939. Penguin Books. London. pp.296-298
  11. ^ Thomas, Hugh. (2001). The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. p. 705.
  12. ^ Jackson, Gabriel. (1967). The Spanish Republic and the Spanish Civil War, 1931-1939. Princeton University Press. p. 397
  13. ^ Beevor, Antony. (2006). The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939. Penguin Books. London. p. 299