This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 19 and 20: 21 November – 5 December 1936


Weeks 19 and 20: 21 November – 5 December 1936

“I will destroy Madrid rather than leave it to the Marxists” – Francisco Franco, November 1936

November 21

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.

November 22

The ground assault in Madrid has failed and the Nationalists now only have their German pilots to bomb the city constantly, in an effort to weaken the Republican lines.

Carabanchel barricades after the fighting

November 23

Battle of Madrid ends with both sides decimated. Franco pulls back from the outskirts of the city with huge losses and no way into Madrid. The death toll on both sides is unknown after two weeks of killing, though around 2,000 civilians in the city have been killed, and some estimates say a total of 10,000 are dead on both sides. The aerial bombing has been a huge failure; while much of city has suffered serious damage, it hasn’t killed many people and the population are not afraid. The worst aerial bombing of Madrid is now over for the remainder of the war, as Republican supplies increase and pilots gain experience in fighting back. The Nationalists’ plans of storming their way into Madrid and taking the country is over, and now a war will have to rage for another 2.5 years. The Republicans hold the city with  the front line the Manazares River, around the Casa de Campo and Ciudad Universtaria in the north and the Carabanchel suburb in the south.

Madrid is left to clean up

November 27

Operation Ursula, a group a German submarines have been active in the Mediterranean. They had been out in the Atlantic for around a week, but enter the Med on around November 27 to take over patrols done by Italian submarines. They primarily survey Alicante and Cartagena, but have constant trouble identifying any targets coming and going from the ports and have constantly failing torpedos. The submarine operation is a total failure; only one Spanish submarine is sunk, and that was an internal error, though the Germans attempt to claim it as their success. They will sail out of the Mediterranean on December 3.

November 29

The First Battle of the Corunna Road starts, with the Nationalists retreating northwest from Madrid, so try to cut off the city by holding Corunna Road. The Republicans are ready and attack soldiers on the road, and keep the road open for Republican movements.  The fighting lasts for five days as Nationalists try to cut off water and electric supplies from the Sierra de Guadarrama to Madrid. Some 3,000 soldiers under Colonel Varela fight a single Republican brigade and lose, forcing a retreat. They take the small towns of Boadilla del Monte and Villanueva de la Cañada and wait to make another attack on the region.

November 30

The Villarreal Offensive starts, and fighting will last for a month. Basque soldiers, fighting on behalf of the Republicans want to launch an attack Vitoria, in order to pull Nationalist soldiers away from Madrid. The Basques have 4,300 men from the Basque Army and now want to take Villarreal.

The Basques are keen to fight but have little supplies and no aerial back-up. The Nationalists only have 600 men but they have machine guns, plenty of supplies, civilians on their side, and their planes from Burgos have already spotted incoming Basques.

The Basques move into the mountains around Vitoria and surround Villarreal, 3 kilometers from Vitoria. Heavy ground fighting sees 1,000 Basques killed and they do not take Villarreal. The first two weeks of battle sees constant fighting with no outcome, as back-up will not arrive until December 13.

Retreat is a common outcome for both sides at present

*Apologies for the delay, I have been in hospital. Posts will be two-weekly through December.


This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the week’s events. Things get lost in translation – Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. The more the world remembers, the better. All photos are linked to source for credit.

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