Sunday, 20 September 2015

The Spanish Civil War:
Seville 18th to 25th July 1936

A Falangista shows damage to the Hotel Inglaterra from a howitzer shell during the assault on the Telefónica

Despite his subjugation of Sevilla's centre of government and the seizure of the city's barracks, the telephone exchange (Telefónica) and the radio station (Unión Radio), General Queipo de Llano had only tightened his grip on the city centre itself by the morning of the 19th July. The working class suburbs of Gran Plaza, Triana and La Macarena were surrounded by barricades manned by CNT and UGT militia, although they were very poorly armed, having failed to secure any of the police or army arsenals. Shotguns, hunting rifles and a few pistols from the 'troubles' of recent years, formed the bulk of their weaponry.

At his disposal General Queipo had the men of the two very understrength battalions of the Granada Regiment (No. 6), the vehicles and men of the Zapadores-MinadoresJefatura de Transportes Militares and the Intendencia (field engineers, service and quartermasters corps), the artillery pieces and vehicles from the artillery park, the bulk of the Guardia Civil and those Guardias de Asalto who had prudently joined the rebellion. Two batteries of the 3rd Light Artillery Regiment and the cavalrymen of the 7th Cazadores de Taxdir further increased the force. Three 'Bilbao' armoured cars had also been captured from the Assault Guards and were quickly pressed into service. Numbers of Falangistas, Requetés and other right-wing supporters had also flocked to the city centre once news of the coup circulated and were armed by their respective confederates within the military. 

Requetés of the 'Tercio de Nuestra de Señora de los Reyes' in Sevilla 19th July 1936. Their appearance here is a far cry from that of the '650' Requetés Andaluces who had paraded in full uniform in 1934 (below). By the next month however, the Requetés were fully uniformed from army stocks.

In total General Queipo had some 2,250 soldiers, 300 Guardia Civil, 600 Assault Guards, a few hundred militiamen of the Falange and the Requetés, along with 187 unaffiliated civilian volunteers. The arrival of 450 Legionarios of the V Bandera, who arrived at Tablada airfield from Morocco on the 19th July, along with the arrival of a 140 strong Assault Guard and Guardia Civil detachment from Huelva, which promptly changed sides when it arrived at Sevilla, further increased "Queipo's Army". The additional step of cancelling 'Summer Leave' and calling to the colours all men who had served between 1931 and 1935 on pain of death, saw the army expand even further over the coming days.

In La Macarena the Captain of the Assault Guard barracks there had succumbed to pressure and issued 80 or so rifles and some ammunition to workers and deployed his men to resist any attack by rebel forces from the city centre. On the afternoon of the 18th, some 2,000 mostly unarmed workers from Triana had attempted to storm the artillery park for weapons, but the company defending it cut them down in droves with its machine guns. Tension between the communists of the PCE and the anarchists of the CNT did not help matters and prevented effective communication across the loyalist-held suburbs. As a whole there was perhaps one firearm for every twenty milicianos that mustered to defend their barrios. Quite literally it would be a case of picking up the weapons of the fallen to continue the fight.

The first attack by the rebels came in the Grand Plaza area of the city on the 19th, when Columna Carranza, formed largely of right-wing militia lifted the siege of a Guardia Civil post at Nervión. Captured militiamen were immediately executed and a brutal house to house search for left-wingers conducted once defence of the area collapsed. The arrival of the Legionarios the same day and the 1st Tabor de Regulares de Ceuta nº3, fresh from the 'cleansing' of Cadiz, the following day, put all the advantages in Queipo's favour. He now set to planning the subjugation of the remaining loyalist strongholds and to expanding his hold on Andalucia. 

Legionarios and their Lufthansa Junkers JU-52 transport, Tablada 1936. 

The Assault on Triana 20th - 21st July

The district of Triana sat astride the Sevilla-Huelva Road, the route by which the rebels wished to expand the area they controlled across Southern Spain to the Portuguese Border. It was however on the opposite side of the Guadalquivir River and accessible by only three bridges from the city centre. The barrio was a rabbit warren of densely packed streets, the opposite in fact of the wide avenues of Gran Plaza and was described as "an impregnable red stronghold". With little fear of injuring supporters, barring seven Guardia Civil holed-up in their post, the army began an indiscriminate bombardment of the barrio on the evening of 19th July.

Guns and men of 3rd Light Artillery cross San Telmo Bridge into Triana, 21st July 1936.

The first attack began on 20th July, as a company of Legionarios of the V Bandera and Regulares of 'Harca Berenguer' attempted to cross San Telmo Bridge. They attained the element of surprise by shouting Republican slogans, but soon came under withering fire from snipers. The assault stalled and only the arrival of one of the Bilbaos allowed the men to withdraw from the bridge relatively unscathed. A second attack headed by another company of the V Bandera, led by the battalion's leader Major Castejón himself, along with by Berenguer's men once more, Columna Carranza and a centuria of Falangistas, had better luck and penetrated deep into the barrio. The attack was aborted as night fell however and the force withdrew back over the river.

The barrio was finally carried by a final assault on the following day. A blanket bombardment was carried out prior to the attack, followed by an order by loud hailers for residents to open the doors of their homes and to stand in the streets with their arms raised, anyone not complying would be treated as a combatant. The rebel force was divided into three columns and would attack over each of the three bridges. San Telmo would be assaulted by a column led by Major Castejón and would consist of his full bandera, whihc had now arrived in Seville, Columna Carranza, an artillery battery and a Bilbao. Teniente Gassols of the Legion was to lead the assault over the Triana Bridge itself, accompanied by an assortment of Legionarios (probably newly arrived men of IV Bandera), the Assault Guards, Falangists and other volunteers. The final column which would attack over the Cachorro Bridge, was led by Major Haro Lumbreras of the Guardia Civil and contained both his men from Huelva, an infantry company, the Requetés and two centurias of the Falange.

Triana 21st July 1936. 

Apparently the third column got into difficulty and resulted in the Regulares being committed to the attack too. The tactic was to cross the river and then encircle the district, before reducing the circle of troops, house by house and street by street, all the time under cover of artillery bombardment of the next area to be entered. Much of the 'punishment' was conducted at knife-point and no attempt was made to control the men as they rampaged through the district. Once the barrio was secured, mixed patrols of Guardia Civil, Falangists and soldiers conducted a house to house search for trade union members. The new mayor issued a ten minute deadline for all pro-Left graffiti to be removed from walls in the district and it was noted with some amusement that the occupants beat the deadline. Triana was 'washed clean of the taint of socialism' in this fashion.       

"White flags are to be shown and all men are to be on the street. When soldiers approach they are to raise their hands".

La Macarena 21st - 23nd July

The Cazadores de Taxdir before their ill-fated attack on the 21st July

The remaining area of Sevilla not under rebel control was the north-west of the city, centred on the working-class barrio La Macarena. While La Macarena had no river protecting it, it did have part of the old city walls between it and the attacking rebels. Like Triana the streets were extremely narrow and based on the original Moorish streets and alleys. An attack by the Cazadores de Taxdir on the 21st failed, leaving dead and dying men and horses, as well as some weapons, behind them when they retired. No further attacks were made that day and as the Legion and Regulares were busy subduing outlying pueblos and suburbs, General Queipo waited until they returned and attacked again the following day.

Three columns entered the barrio, one through the 'Macarena Arch', one through the 'Puerta de Córdoba' and the last crossed several streets to flank the district from the Calle Sol. It is not certain, but the composition of the columns was probably similar to those which had reduced Triana. Castejón's V Bandera led the first column through the Macarena Arch and Berenguer's Regulares that which entered from the Calle Sol. The attack was launched at 1400 hours and was concluded when the columns converged at the Plaza de San Marcos in the centre of La Macarena at 2000 hours.

Regulares and Falangistas board buses and trucks in Seville, July 1936. 

Once more the attack had been presaged by an intense and indiscriminate bombardment, which even damaged the Macarena Arch, one of Seville's symbols. Air attack was also conducted by the somewhat few aircraft which had fell into rebel hands. Several blocks of houses were totally destroyed and an observer noted that few houses did not bear marks from bullets and shrapnel. Troops apparently routinely dropped hand grenades through house windows and it is claimed used women and children as human shields. Whatever the truth of this, the fighting was certainly ferocious and casualties on the defending side were high. Amongst the Legionarios and Regulares however, they were remarkably light. The V Bandera only lost 4 dead and 7 injured during the whole of the Sevilla episode, two of them in the taking of La Macarena. Other casualties in other units were similar, giving evidence of the one-sidedness of the fight.

'La limpieza de la Macarena' (cleaning of La Macarena) entered its worst phase with the storming of the orphanage which was being used as a makeshift refugee camp, as well as being the home of the orphans themselves. It was assaulted with bayonet and grenade after softening up with heavy machine gun fire. Captured militiamen were shot on the spot and once again a house to house search by soldiers, Guardias and local Falangists resulted in the walls of La Macarena being used for the firing squads that were heard throughout the night. Nevertheless the conquest was not complete and the area known as San Julián held out until the following morning when a column was dispatched to take it.

The Aftermath

While Republican propaganda made much of what was effectively a massacre, there were those on the rebel side who thought it was a step too far. A reporter for the now-Nationalist Seville edition of ABC reported the stench of the corpses lying in the streets. More than one ranking Nationalist was to defect over a crisis of confidence in the coup following the taking of La Macarena. Queipo in his own inimical style pulled no punches in his nightly radio broadcasts and promised the same to all 'reds' wherever they might try to hide. Queipo's press officer reported to journalists;
"In San Julian the killing was tremendous. They forced all the men who were in the houses to go outside without finding out if they had taken part in the fight and killed them on the spot".
In Castejón's own words "I marked the sign of the cross on every body of murdered murderers" (presumably he meant with his sword). Rebel propaganda justified the slaughter unapologetically, taking the stance that communists were a 'foreign enemy', whose allegiance was to Moscow and not Spain. ABC in Seville justified the methods used in taking the city in a headline which read;
"For the salvation of the nation, a war to the death between Red Russia and Holy Spain". 
Abandoned barricade in San Marco, Seville July 1936.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the cleansing of Sevilla, the rebels had taken the capital of Andalucia. The road between it and the ports of Cadiz and Algeciras, also in rebel hands, was secure. Queipo planned to extend the rebel zone of control all the way to the Portuguese Border, which meant that Huelva would have to be taken. To the East Córdoba, Malaga and Ronda were all in loyalist hands, as were Badajoz and Mérida to the North. Isolated pockets of rebels hold out in various towns and pueblos across the region. Increasing numbers of men from the African Army were landing in Spain and the next step would be to form an army from them.