Week 18: 14 – 21 November 1936
Simplified if you don’t read Spanish –
Numbers are labelled by position of where which column (group) is located on November 16-17. Blue squares are Nationalist, Red are Republicans, and orange are French (and associated supporters) supporting the Republicans. Grey lines – front line. Stars – volunteers in position. Blue arrows – Nationalists making their attack. Spotted blue arrows – aircraft flights, with bombs dropped (blue dots).
Nationalist soldiers (Morrocan regaulres and Legionaires) cross the Manzanares River and take over in Ciudad Universitaria (University City). The XIth International Brigade for the Republicans men counter attacks at the ‘Hall of Philosophy and Letters’, however the whole column make it over the river. The Republican factions take the Hall and force the Nationalists to either be killed or run for cover, with over 85% being killed as they flee.
Nationalist soldiers make it as far as Plaza de la Moncloa inside Madrid, some as far as Plaza de España in central Madrid before being attacks by the Durruti Column and forced out again. At this point, most bridges over the Manzanares River are now destroyed. The Nationalists build the ‘pasarela de la puerte’ (passageway of death), a makeshift bridge, which comes under machine gun from the university all day long.
The Nationalists take the Asilo Santa Cristina Hospital. The Republican Durruti Column attack them, and stretch out to fight in University City and the Casa de Campo. But the Durruti Column does not have enough supplies and need to retreat back to University City.
Italy and Germany both recognise Franco as the head of the new Spanish ‘government’. After over a week of battling over Madrid, the leaders all expect Madrid to be taken. Franco is ready to take all the credit but has barely lifted a finger himself in the bloody battle for control.
German aircraft are still bombarding Madrid. This is done to weaken the Republican government into surrendering (though the official government has already gone), and to hurt civilians. The Germans are throwing everything at Madrid in a bid to strengthen their ties to the new Spanish government led by Franco.
The attack north of central Madrid in University City is now three days old and is at breaking point. The Anarchist Durruti Column from Barcelona has been at the front line the whole time, and now their 3,000 strong column is down to only 400 men. The Nationalist side too have lost 1290 men. The University City suburb is largely cut off from central Madrid but neither side have any advantage.
The Durruti Column launches its dramatic big assault in University City. The Nationalists have taken the hospital and the Buenaventura Durruti men launch an attack. The Republicans are under prepared and have little supplies; the Nationalists are not used to combat in urban areas. Fighting results in 262 Nationalist killed with no ground gained at all. The Nationalist leaders, Colonel Yague and Colonel Mola are both close to losing faith as they do not want to fight in close quarters, a fight they cannot win.
The Nationalist and Republican/International Brigades fight for control if the Hospital Clínico in the east of the University City. After heaving fighting, the sides fight with grenades and bayonets, one room and floor at a time. Both sides suffer heavy losses.
Buenaventura Durruti is shot while on the front line in the early afternoon in the Casa de Campo. A bullet pierces his right lung, possibly entering through his back. No one knows (or claims to not know) what actually happened. Which weapon shot him is unknown, and some speculate he was shot by his own side rather than the enemy. The true story will never be definitively uncovered.
NB: There will be a ‘This Week in Spanish Civil War History; Extra’ on Durruti on November 19, including eye-witness accounts of his death and the ‘cover-up’ story.
Buenaventura Durruti dies at 6 a.m, 16 hours after being shot in the chest. He is aged just 40 and it strikes not just a blow to end his life but also to the end of the propaganda surrounding the Durruti Column, a huge blow to the Anarchists. Durruti dies in the Ritz Hotel, which is now a makeshift hospital, and the bullet is not taken out of his heart. No autopsy is performed.
Buenaventura Durruti – anarchist fighter (and character in my next SCW novel)
Another 294 Nationalists die while fighting to take Carabanchel and Vertice Basurero to the south of Madrid. Again no gains are made in the urban assault, weakening the entire plan to take Madrid by force.
José Antonio Primo de Rivera, son of former Spanish dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera is executed in Alicante, two days after being sentenced. Primo de Rivera has been a prisoner there since the start of the war. The Communists holding him decide to try him in a civil court before a Communist governor, as they can no longer wait a decision from the government. He is the leader of the fascist Falange party, and is killed by firing squad at dawn. Spanish PM Largo Caballero is angered at the Communists for taking their own action, but the Republicans rely so heavily on Soviet supplies and men. The Spanish Communist party is continuing to strengthen and is becoming a state within a state.
NB: There will be a ‘This Week in Spanish Civil War History; Extra’ on Primo de Rivera on November 20.
Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera – Fascist leader
The Nationalists attack the Model prison and Don Juan barracks. Using bases by the Asilo Santa Cristina Hospital and Dr Rubio Research Institute, they manage to get as far as Parque del Oeste, but are bombed by their German counterparts.
The Commune de Paris column fighting for the Republicans recapture the Hall of Philosophy and Letters Building. Books are used to protect themselves inside. It takes around 350 pages to stop a bullet.
The siege is now days away from its end.
Books as protection seen by Robert Capa
This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the week’s events. Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. All photos are linked to source for credit