This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 23 and 24: 19 – 31 December 1936

Heart of the heartless world,
Dear heart, the thought of you
Is the pain at my side,
The shadow that chills my view.

The wind rises in the evening,
Reminds that autumn is near.
I am afraid to lose you,
I am afraid of my fear.

On the last mile to Huesca,
The last fence for our pride,
Think so kindly, dear, that I
Sense you at my side.

And if bad luck should lay my strength
Into the shallow grave,
Remember all the good you can;
Don’t forget my love

John Cornford, English volunteer killed one day after his 21st birthday.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – a round-up to the end of the first deadly year. Week 23 and 24: 19 – 31 December 1936


December 20

The Nationalist Aceituna Offensive through Andalusia in Spain’s south continues –

The Nationalist troops are controlling small towns throughout southern Spain. Around 4,000 men, all Moroccan soldiers and Spanish troops, take the town of Bujalance, right in the centre of southern Spain, near Córdoba.

The Nationalists are still trying to occupy the town of Boadilla del Monte, in constant battle with the XII and XIV International Brigades, just outside Madrid. General Orgaz Yoldi leading the Nationalist troops decides to end the stalemate and retreats, leaving the Corunna Road into Madrid again in Republican hands.

December 22

The same troops who occupied Bujalance move on to take control of the nearby towns of Pedro Abad and Villafranca de Córdoba. This leads the Republicans to set up the new Army of the South under General Fernando Martínez-Monje Restoy, with International Brigades dispatched to the Córdoba front.

Thousands of Italian volunteers arrive in Nationalist-held Cádiz, ready to help the Nationalists’ hold on the south of Spain.

International Brigades in December 1936

24 December

Some 600 men of the 9th company of the XIV International Brigade battle Nationalist troops at the town of Villa del Rio in Córdoba, and 400 volunteer men are killed. The remaining men move on to the nearby town of Montoro.

December 25

Thousands of Spanish fighters and international volunteers spend  Christmas  in trenches. The country is awash with refugees fleeing continuous violence all over the nation and hide through the Christmas period in refugee camps or in subway stations, many in bitter conditions.

Nationalist troops take the town of Montoro, after fighting off and killing many left from the 9th company of the XIV International Brigades.

Christmas being ‘celebrated’ on the Basque front

27 December

The two-day Battle of Lopera begins. The tiny town in the Jaén province sees the XIV International Brigades attack to take control of the area. The initial attack fails and 300 of the 3,000 initial force are quickly killed, another 600 seriously wounded. General Walter’s men have not had time to be trained in Albacete and have no communication and no air or ground support. Still, they battle the 4,000 Nationalists who have machine guns and other artillery.  Fighting continues for 36 hours before the International Brigades are forced to retreat, after gaining no ground, though 200 Nationalists are killed.

The English 10th battalion of the XIV International Brigades lose 78 of their 145 men, including Ralph Winston Fox, a British journalist, novelist and historian, famous for writing the biography of Genghis Khan. Also among the dead is poet John Cornford, great-grandson of Charles Darwin and well-known communist, just a day after he turns 21. The bodies of the volunteers still remain buried on the lonely hillside where they died.

John Cornford

The French Marseillaise 12th battalion of the Brigade have their commander, Major Gaston Delasalle, detained by André Marty, the Political Commissar of the International Brigades, and leading man in the French Communist Party. Marty accuses Delasalle of gross incompetence, resulting in the decimation of his men. Without evidence, Delasalle is also accused of being a fascist spy and of cowardice during battle. Marty arranges a quick court-martial and Delasalle is executed by firing squad. While no one speaks in Delasalle’s defence, Marty has many afraid of him and his ‘mentally sick’ behaviour, though he is regarded by most as a hero and revolutionary.

30 December

General Orgaz Yoldi receives reinforcements after the battle of Boadilla del Monte a week earlier, and readies another attack, which will become known as Battle of the Fog in early January. During this period, the Republican and the International Brigades are trying to regroup after heavy losses, and have little in the way of help.

Author George Orwell enlists himself in a Republican POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) militia to fight against fascism.


POUM training in December

31 December

The town of Pocuna, of around 5,000 people, isolated 50km from Córdoba and 40km from Jaén, is taken by the Nationalists. Due to taking this prime location in the olive-growing region, they are able to slow their advance for a quick break as the Republicans are overwhelmingly losing the region.

Famous Spanish writer and professor Miguel de Unamuno dies at home in  Salamanca, where he has been under house arrest for speaking against Franco at Salamanca University months earlier. Both of his sons, Fernando and Ramón de Unamuno, instantly sign up to fight the fascists.

Miguel de Unamuno’s being taken from the university, where he was arrested. It was his final public outing

From January 1, posts will return to weekly.


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.

13 September 1974: The Bombing of Cafetería Rolando

2014 is the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Cafetería Rolando in Madrid. The attack was a significant event in the fight against Francoism and a defining moment in the ETA’s struggle for independence. I first learned about Cafetería Rolando several years ago, and it forms part of my upcoming book, Death in Valencian Dust. In posting this, I do not endorse either side of the ETA struggle, merely recognise the struggle Spain suffered in the 1970’s.

In 1974, to say Spain was at a crossroads would be an understatement. In December 1973, Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, Spain’s Government President was assassinated by ETA (Basque – Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, Spanish – País Vasco y Libertad, English – Basque Homeland and Freedom), the Basque Country separatist group. For years, ETA had been carrying out attacks and killings around Spain, while other groups started to rise up against the government. In 1974, new Government President Carlos Arias Navarro set up new rules during the spirit of 12 February, keeping in line with Franco’s harsh regime of times past, covering everything from stopping freedom of the press, restriction to the judicial systems, harsh penalties for strikers and protesters, and generally restricting the lives of everyone in the country, everyone outside the búnker, the group of extreme right-wing people surrounding Franco.

The state of the nation deteriorated throughout the year – the church increasingly voiced their opposition to Franco and the regime, the execution of anarchist Catalan Salvador Puig Antich brought people to the streets in protest, the economy slumped, the Communist party mobilised in defense of their sympathisers, workers continued to strike, and universities protested the new draconian laws. Franco himself was seriously ill, and Juan Carlos, his protegé, was taking over all tasks on his behalf. The Portuguese dictatorship collapsed, giving Spaniards more ideas of what they could achieve for themselves. On September 11, 1974, Arias Navarro re-endorsed his changes and announced efforts would double to enforce new laws over the rising tide of anger.

Cafetería Rolando, at 4 Calle del Correos (known as E street), was located in the heart of Madrid, directly off Puerta de Sol. Cafetería Rolando was a large and popular cafe, the local spot for police to visit during their lunch breaks, conveniently located beside the headquarters of the Dirección General de Seguridad (General Directorate of Security) in the famous Real Casa de Correos building. The Dirección General de Seguridad was considered an impenetrable target by ETA and other organisations keen to bring down the regime. Because nearby Cafetería Rolando was so popular with police working nearby, the place became destined for disaster.

 Real Casa de Correos (Cafetería Rolando was to the right of this shot) – Source

On September 13, 1974, at 2.35pm, during a busy lunchtime, a bomb exploded at the entrance to the cafe. The bomb, thirty kilos of dynamite filled with nuts for shrapnel, went off as many enjoyed their lunch, and was large enough to cause serious structural damage to the five-storey building. The ceiling of the café collapsed, resulting in several of the hostel guests upstairs falling into the café. The blast was big enough to shatter the windows of the Real Casa de Correos across the tiny street and several cars were obliterated. Another restaurant, a large place with 300 seated guests next door, was also seriously damaged.

Because of the proximity to the security building, police were on the scene immediately, and the process of saving Cafetería Rolando diners began. An attack of this magnitude, on a place frequented by everyday people, hadn’t been undertaken since the Civil War, catching all by surprise. Seventy-one people were pulled alive from the rubble, several children. Most victims made a full recovery, though several were left with scarring and mutilation. In total, twelve people were killed, aged from 20 to 78 years old, including a just-married couple. Several café workers were killed, including one who was pulled alive from the rubble but died before surgery. While the attack was allegedly against the police, and several wounded were police and from Franco’s elite special forces, the rest killed were all civilians. A thirteenth victim, a police officer, died two years later from the attack, unable to survive the injuries he sustained.


The list of the dead only fueled speculation of the bombing. As no police officers were listed among the dead, a theory sprang up that a division of the extreme right themselves planted the bomb. Police earlier that day had been told to avoid the café, but these rumours were never directly admitted. Franco was keen to catch whomever had committed the act, while others, both for and against the government, took the opportunity to criticise the regime, plus Arias Navarro himself, and the búnker, the powerful political families. Everyone had an agenda for establishing blame. The Communist party became a popular target for criticism, initially blamed for the events.

Soon, blame fell on ETA from the Basque Country. They had been killing policemen and guards sporadically since 1968, one just days before the bombing. ETA denied any knowledge of the Cafetería Rolando attack, though throughout Spain, the denial wasn’t taken seriously. Because of the high number of killed and wounded were merely civilians at lunch, both sides of the political fence wanted to see justice done. The assassination of Carrero Blanco less than a year earlier didn’t raise tempers, but the attack on the café brought ETA’s organisation more into the spotlight than ever before.

Famous Basque activist, writer, women rights campaigner and ETA supporter Eva Forest was arrested along with her husband, though her husband was soon released. Forest refused to co-operate and accused the police of ill-treatment during her detainment. It was alleged two Basques, a man and a woman, planted the bomb in Cafetería Rolando, sticking the bomb to the underside of a table, and set off the timer. The identity of those two Basques were never established. It could have been Forest and her husband, playwright Alfonso Sastre, but there was no proof. While many detained in connection to Cafetería Rolando and the Carrero Blanco assassination were released, Forest was kept in prison until 1977, when all political prisoners accused under the Franco regime were given amnesty, to smooth the way for democracy under the new King Juan Carlos. It was rumoured that Forest suffered terribly being in jail, being tortured for all her acts over the years. While Forest admitted to passing on ETA messages and helping with safe houses, she never admitted her part in the Rolando bombing, despite admissions from others in the plot. 

Because of the 1977 amnesty, no one was ever held accountable for the Cafetería Rolando bombing, and no one can never be convicted of any crime relating to the incident.

Calle del Correo today – Source

Victims of Cafetería Rolando 13 September 1974

Antonio Alonso Palacín, mechanic, and his new wife, María Jesús Arcos Tirado, telephone operator aged 28

Francisca Baeza Alarcón, teacher aged 45

Baldomero Barral Fernández, baker aged 24, and his wife María Josefina Pérez Martínez, mother of two aged 21

Antonio Lobo Aguado, railway worker aged 55

Luis Martínez Marín, businessman aged 78

Concepción Pérez Paino, Dirección General de Seguridad admin worker aged 65

María Ángeles Rey Martínez, student aged 20

Gerardo García Pérez, married father of three

Francisco Gómez Vaquero, Cafetería Rolando chef aged 31 

Manuel Llanos Gancedo, waiter at Cafetería Rolando aged 26

Félix Ayuso Pinel, police inspector aged 46. Pinel didn’t die until 1977.



 Here is a link to the news footage of the bombing in 1974 – Atentado etarra en la calle madrileña del Correo (1974)