This Week in Spanish Civil War History Extra: the Bombing of Valencia – 28 May 1937

Valencia became the Spanish capital city in November 1936, when the government fled the besieged Madrid for the relative safety of the port city, 360 kilometres to the east. Valencia, safely away from a front lines of the war, the Nationalists nowhere near the city for the duration of the war. However, Valencia was not immune to both infighting between Republican and Nationalist sympathisers, and attacks from the air by Nationalist troops. Both German and Italian planes could regularly take off from Soria, 370 kilometres northwest of Valencia. Valencia was bombed repeatedly through the first half of 1937, including an air raid on May 15 which damaged the English embassy, but 28 May held a whole new level of attack.

Planned for just before dawn, Franco’s Nationalist forces planned another air raid over the city, with a plan to bomb ships in Valencia’s port. The English merchant ship, the Cabin, was struck in the port, killing seven sailors and injuring another eight. The English freighter the Pinzon, anchored in the harbour, was also hit, but the bomb failed to explode on impact. No one was injured but the ship’s bridge was damaged. The British claimed only one ship, the Pinzon, was damaged, and that the Cabin was not their ship, despite flying an English flag. It is thought it was a Spanish ship flying an English flag for safety.

Bombing bodies laid out in a makeshift morgue

Valencia was also home to a large hospital run by the Red Cross, staffed by both Spanish doctors and nurses as well as international volunteers, and supplies were brought in by these volunteers who had done fundraising in their home countries. The Red Cross hospital was clearly marked, including a large cross flag on its roof, so it could be identified and possibly spared from damage. But the Italian planes also bombed the hospital, which was full at the time of the attack. The bombing blew the injured from their hospital beds.

Another fifty buildings were destroyed in the attack, picked seemingly at random as part of the attack, killing innocents still in bed before dawn. The Paraguayan consulate was destroyed, killing seven, although the consul and his family managed to escape. The American embassy was missed, but the US Socialist leader Norman Thomas, his wife and several Americans were bombed in bed, though they managed to escape with few injuries. The American consul Milton Keys also managed to survive when his home was bombed. Valencians wait outside the morgue for news

After the attack, which lasted around 30 minutes, was done, around 200 people were believed killed, though the number is not confirmed and little attention was paid to the attack. Much of the port area of Valencia was destroyed, hampering the Republicans’ ability to receive supplies and bring in international volunteers.

The following day, the air base at Soria, where the Italian planes had returned to after the bombing, was attacked by Republican planes, who bombed and machine-gunned fifty planes on the ground. Many bombings were conducted around Spain at this time as the Germans and Italians practiced their new carpet bombing techniques. While Valencia’s attack had a large loss of life, the city managed to cope through the attack, and so the bombing is not given the same amount of attention as many other happenings at the same time.


This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the bombing. Things get lost in translation – Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. The more the world remembers, the better. All photos and captions are auto-linked to source for credit, and to provide further information.

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