The Battle of Brunete (6–25 July 1937), fought 24 kilometres (15 mi) west of Madrid, was a Republican attempt to alleviate the pressure exerted by the Nationalists on the capital and on the north during the Spanish Civil War. Although initially successful, the Republicans were forced to retreat from Brunete and suffered devastating casualties from the battle.
|Battle of Brunete|
|Part of the Spanish Civil War|
Map of the Battle of the Brunete
|Second Spanish Republic||Nationalist Spain|
|Commanders and leaders|
|José Miaja||José Varela|
|Casualties and losses|
20,000–25,000 dead or wounded|
17,000 dead or wounded|
After the capture of Bilbao on June 19, the Republicans devised the attack on Brunete to divert Nationalist forces from the north and allow the fleeing Republicans time to reorganize. In addition, Brunete was also chosen because it was situated on the Extremadura road and its capture would make it harder for the Nationalists to resupply their forces besieging Madrid, perhaps even forcing them to withdraw. Once Brunete had been taken, and after some reorganization, the plan was that the offensive would then in a second phase continue in the direction of Talavera de la Reina, a move that would eventually cut off the Nationalist forces outside Madrid. At the same times as the offensive on Brunete started an enveloping attack would be launched from the Carabanchel area just south of Madrid.
From a political standpoint, the offensive was chosen for Brunete to satisfy communist demands and to prove to the Russians that the Spanish possessed military initiative. In fact, Russian advisors had been pressing for an attack on Brunete since the spring of 1937. Furthermore, assistance from the Soviet Union had decreased due to the successful blockade of Republican ports by the Nationalists. Prime Minister Juan Negrín needed to convince the French Premier Camille Chautemps that the Spanish Republic was still capable of military action after the disastrous losses of Málaga and Bilbao. It was expected by the Republicans that a show of force at Brunete would persuade France to open its border for arms shipments.
The offensive was well prepared, and had been preceded both by major reorganizations of the government forces and a big influx of modern war material, mainly from the Soviet Union. Nine new brigades had been set up, and the number of heavy machine guns in the units had been increased. The commanders on the battalion level and up were often well qualified for their tasks, while the company and platoon commanders often lacked experience. The offensive was meant as a surprise attack, and the Nationalists were indeed caught unaware - despite the fact that "it had been discussed in the cafés of the Republic for three months".
The terrain where the battle was to be fought is pretty hilly, with many ridges and small creeks, but for the most part open, and thus accessible to the Republicans new Soviet tanks, which they now intended to put to their first full use.
The site of the offensive was well chosen. Initially facing the Republican attack was not a continuous Nationalist line of defense but (as in many parts of Spain in the initial phase of the war) a series of outposts in the villages, all defended by small detachments able to take the terrain between the outposts under flanking fire. This part of the front was part of the Nationalist Army of the Center under the command of General Andrés Saliquet Zumeta. However, pretty soon after the battle had started the overall command was shifted to General José Enrique Varela Iglesias. The units that fought during the battle were:
Transferred to the front were the 150th Division led by General Sáenz de Buruaga, the 4th Brigade of Navarre led by Colonel Juan Bautista Sánchez and the 5th Brigade of Navarre led by Colonel Alonso Vega.
The first attacks started already during the night of July 5/6, with Republican forces in the cover of darkness penetrating deep into the thinly held Nationalist lines. At daybreak on July 6, the Republicans bombarded by artillery and air the Nationalist positions, plus targets in the rear, including the local Nationalist HQ at Navalcarnero. Immediately after the bombardment, the Republican 11th Division commanded by Líster advanced 8 kilometres (5 mi) and encircled Brunete. The Nationalist forces there were completely taken by surprise, and it wasn't until the morning attacks started that they realised the full extent of the Republican operation. Brunete fell to the Republicans by noon.
The Nationalists placed overall command of the battle in General Varela. During the morning all available manpower was rushed into the faltering front line, these included personnel from local staffs, field hospitals and supply units, and by noon the 12th, 13th and 150th Divisions along with parts of the Condor Legion were on their way to help bolster the defense.
Later that day the Republican attacks by the 34th and the 46th Divisions on the flanks of Líster's 11th Division stalled upon meeting fierce resistance by the Nationalists and forced Líster to halt his advance south of Brunete. Attempts by the Republican forces to widen the gap by attacking towards the west was also stopped, in front of Quijorna. The assault on Quijorna was then reinforced by tanks and given the support of both artillery and air assets, but the attackers were again repulsed.
Thus far the offensive had almost exclusively been carried out by the V Army Corps. The Republican command seems to have been surprised by their initial success, and there was obviously some confusion which meant that the deployment of XVIII Army Corps was delayed. (This confusion was probably compounded by the fact that many non-communists and regular army officers were reported to be sceptical towards the whole enterprise, which probably made them over-cautious.)
The planned east-wing of the enveloping attack, from Carabanchel south of Madrid, never broke the enemy line, despite heavy artillery bombardment.
The Republican Colonel Jurado diverted the 15th Division to end the stalemate at Villanueva de la Cañada and the British Battalion of the XVth Brigade managed to clear the village of Nationalists by 7 am on July 7. The Nationalists in the nearby villages of Villanueva del Pardillo and Villafranca del Castillo continued to hold out.
To allow Gal's 15th Division to continue towards Boadilla on the Republican left flank, the 10th Division under Enciso attacked Asensio's 12th Division defending the Mocha Ridge. The Nationalist troops there were driven back and they fell back to the hills near Boadilla.
Outside Brunete the day was spent in inconclusive and incoherent fights. The bombardments in the dry landscape, that was parched by the heat, resulted in many wildfires.
The Republican insistence on reducing pockets of resistance, rather than bypassing them, gave the Nationalists time to bring up fresh reserves. On the afternoon Nationalist aircraft shifted from the Northern Front started to arrive, and they immediately went into action. Varela was also told that all attacks up north had been suspended, to allow ground units to be rushed to the Brunete sector.
During the night of the 7/8 July general Miaja committed his reserve, the XVIII Army Corps, in an attack towards the east, in the direction of the Guadarrama River. It was performed in the morning hours. After crossing the river the 15th Division assaulted the newly fortified positions held by the 12th Division for two days. All of the attacks were repulsed and when an attack did succeed in evicting the Nationalist defenders, a counterattack quickly eliminated the gains made by the Republicans. Meanwhile, the nationalist position at the village of Quijorna on the Republican right flank continued to hold out. The attack south of Madrid was renewed, but failed once again. Nothing more came of this part of the plan.
With the Republican attack on the right flank of Líster remaining held up at Quijorna, Modesto ordered the 35th Division to assist El Campesino's 46th Division. The original intent of the 35th Division was for it to be used in support of Líster's attack through the center. Without the 35th Division, Líster's 11th Division would be unable to advance any further. On the morning of July 9, two Republican brigades attacked at Quijorna, and, after taking heavy casualties, they were able to finally clear the village of Nationalist defenders. On the Republican left flank attacks towards Boadilla del Monte initially made progress, but even though the assaulting units were well supported by tanks, armoured cars and aircraft their losses were so high that the attacks stranded. The fighting continued though, especially on and around the so-called Mosquito ridge in front of the village.
In the first attack the Spanish Republican Air Force was very active, attacking both ground targets and rebel-held airfields. But the Republican planes were slow and obsolete, which would assure the German Legion Condor almost total control of the air as the battle would unfold.
On July 10 Villanueva del Pardillo was taken by the XIIth International Brigade of Durán's 69th Division, supported by tanks. Some 500 defenders with weapons, ammunition and materiel were captured. Villafranca del Castillo was slowly being surrounded by Enciso's 10th Division and Kléber's 45th Division. Colonel Jurado made plans for an assault on the village on July 11, but he became ill and was replaced with Colonel Casado. Citing poor morale and fatigue, Casado requested to cancel the attack, but General Miaja ordered for the attack to proceed as planned. (On this day the African American communist Oliver Law, acting commander of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, was killed whilst leading an attack on the Mosquito Ridge on the Boadilla del Monte sector.)
The Republicans were able to trap the Nationalist garrison in Villafranca del Castillo, forcing General Varela to send the 5th Brigade of Navarre to relieve the pressure. The arrival of the Navarrese tipped the balance in favor of the Nationalists as the Republicans were forced from their positions and fled back across the Guadarrama River. A Nationalist attempt to recapture Villanueva del Pardillo on July 11 failed.
The activity in the air was very high, as more and more Nationalist air units were committed to the fight. It was not uncommon to see aircraft in groups of thirty or more machines appear over the battlefield, and clash with equally big squadrons of opponents.
As large Nationalist ground and air reinforcements had arrived to the threatened front, and as the planned pincer movement from the Carabanchel area south of Madrid had failed to make any impression, the Republican offensive was clearly grinding to a halt. Some minor diversionary attacks were still performed, but on July 15 general Miaja finally ordered an end to the offensive. (Major George Nathan, a battalion commander in the XV International Brigade, was killed by bomb fragments the day after.) At this moment, the Republicans held Brunete and had cut the Extremadura road. And the offensive had indeed relieved the Nationalist pressure on the Basque country, and it had proved to friend and foe that the Republican forces were rapidly increasing in both strength and capacity. At the same time the Nationalists had prevented their forces besieging Madrid from being cut off and with reinforcements having arrived were able to prepare to counterattack.
The Republican forces had suffered big losses, not only from the actual fighting, but also due to the extreme heat, which, combined with lack of water, had incapacitated many soldiers. Many brigades had lost between 40-60% of their numbers - killed, wounded, sick and missing - and one brigade (the XIVth) is said to have lost 80% of their manpower during this week.
The exhausted Republicans dug in and waited for the Nationalist counterattack that they knew probably would come.
The nationalist commander general Varela planned to retake the terrain lost to the Republicans with a three-pronged attack. The main force consisted of some 20.000 men, that would attack from the west of the salient towards Quijorna. At the same time another force of some 10.000 men would strike from the east from Boadilla del Monte towards and over the Guadarrama river. Finally some 8.000 men would also attack from the south, towards Brunete itself.
The counteroffensive started early that morning with a lengthy artillery barrage over the Republican front lines, together with heavy aerial attacks by Nationalist air units. However the Nationalists made only small gains this day: the western group managed to capture some hills northwest of Quijorna, while the eastern force took some ground east of the Guadarrama. The Republican troops defended their position stubbornly. The fighting west of Quijorna was particularly fierce. There Republican units made several countercharges, trying to recapture the hills which they had lost. The fighting in the air was also unusually heavy, as both sides threw large number of aircraft into the struggle: at one time around 80 Nationalist aircraft were involved in a massive dogfight with some 60 opponents. (On this day the British poet Julian Bell was killed by bomb fragments, whilst driving an ambulance for a volunteer British Medical Unit.)
The three pronged attack by the Nationalists failed to achieve any substantial gains on July 19, but the next day the eastern forces, heavily supported by aerial units, managed to make some gains on the east side of the salient, close to the Guadarrama.
In order to stabilize the situation on the eastern side of the pocket Miaja ordered a counterattack along the Guadarrama, which led to several days of bitter fighting in the stifling heat. The terrain initially taken by the Nationalists on July 20 switched hands several times. At the same time three Republican Brigades supported by 20 tanks made a small push from Las Rozas towards the south-east. While the see-saw battle raged on the eastern flank of the salient, the Republican forces on the west side held their ground, despite heavy attacks concentrated mainly on the terrain around Quijorna. However, on July 23 the eastern forces finally made a major breakthrough, and managed to fight their way across the Guadarrama, close to the place where the small Aulencia flows into the larger river.
On July 24 the nationalist started attacking from the south towards Brunete in earnest. They had managed to concentrate some 65 artillery batteries at this part of the front, against mere 22 Republican. With this support plus bombing from the air the Nationalist breached the Republican lines south of the city. A counterattack supported by tanks had no success. On the afternoon the attackers entered Brunete, while the remnants of Líster's 11th Division retreated to positions just north of the city, clustering around the cemetery. At the same time the Nationalist east group managed to widen their breach on the Guadarrama. Miaja rushed reinforcements from Madrid, and the Republican 14th Division commanded by Cipriano Mera made yet another counterattack, but it failed, and on July 25 the defenders from the 11th Division around and on the cemetery - which included the division commander Líster himself - withdrew from their positions. After this there were no more large-scale attacks in the battle - save for some ineffectual Republican attempts to counterattacks - and the fighting petered out. Varela wanted to continue his attacks but Franco ordered them to halt so that troops could be moved north for the start of the offensive against the strategically important port of Santander. (On July 25 the German war photographer Gerda Taro was fatally wounded when the car she was riding in was hit by a Republican tank more or less out of control due to a nationalist air attack.)
During the final days of the battle there were clear signs of the morale cracking on the Republican side, due to both exhaustion and the often terrible losses. Even among the volunteer International Brigades there were grumbling, insubordination and outright desertion.
At the close of the battle, the Republicans failed to cut the Extremadura road, but they still held Villanueva de la Cañada, Quijorna and Villanueva del Pardillo from the Nationalists. From this point of view, both sides were able to claim victory.
The losses of men and equipment in the battle were much heavier for the Republicans than the Nationalists. Indeed, the Republican army lost much of its indispensable equipment and so many of their best soldiers in the International Brigades that the battle can be seen as a strategic Nationalist victory.
Politically, the communists suffered a loss of prestige because the offensive failed to stop the Nationalist troops from completing the conquest of the north.
The frenetic conditions at Brunete for the Nationalists enabled the Germans to acquire favorable trade concessions because of the effectiveness of the Condor Legion. The Nationalists granted most favored nation status to Germany and acquiesced in sending raw materials to Germany as repayment for the debt incurred.
Events from the year 1937 in Spain.2nd Mixed Brigade
The Second Mixed Brigade (Spanish: 2ª Brigada Mixta), was a mixed brigade of the Spanish Republican Army in the Spanish Civil War. It was formed in October 1936 as a result of the reorganization of the Spanish Republican Armed forces.
The mouthpiece of the 2nd Mixed Brigade were the "Nuevo Horizonte" and "Victoria" newspapers.49th Mixed Brigade
The 49th Mixed Brigade (Spanish: 49.ª Brigada Mixta), was a mixed brigade of the Spanish Republican Army in the Spanish Civil War. It was formed in February 1937 at the Guadalajara Front.
This ill-fated military unit suffered heavy casualties over and over again during its involvement in different conflicts of the Civil War. It was finally terminated after the bombing of Xàtiva in February 1939.Alex McDade
Alex McDade (1905–1937) was a Glasgow labourer who went to Spain to fight with XV International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War He was a Political commissar with the British Battalion and wounded at the Battle of Jarama in February 1937. He was killed on the first day of the Battle of Brunete at Villanueva de la Cañada on 6 July 1937. He wrote the poem "Valley of Jarama".Battle of Albarracín
The Battle of Albarracín took place in Albarracín and surrounding areas (Teruel) between July 5 and August 11, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War.British Battalion
The British Battalion (1936–1938) was the 16th battalion of the XV International Brigade, one of the mixed brigades of the International Brigades, during the Spanish Civil War.Brunete
Brunete (Spanish pronunciation: [bɾuˈnete]) is a town located on the outskirts of Madrid, Spain with a population of 10,730 people.CL International Brigade
The CL International Brigade or 150th International Brigade, also known as "Dabrowski Brigade" (Spanish: Brigada Dombrowski or Brigada Dabrowski), was a military unit of the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. Its members were mostly Polish, but there was also a Spanish battalion, as well as a Hungarian section.Camilo Alonso Vega
Camilo Alonso Vega (29 May 1889 – 1 July 1971) was a Spanish military officer and minister.Fernando Barron
Fernando Barrón y Ortiz (1892–1952). Spanish military officer. One of the five commanders of the natives troops in Africa, he supported the military coup of July 1936 which started the Spanish Civil War. Later, he was one of the commanders of the Spanish Army of Africa in its advance towards Madrid. In November 1936 led the nationalist attack against the Madrid’s suburb of Carabanchel. In December 1936 he led one of General Varela’s mobile columns in the Second battle of the Corunna Road. In January 1937 he led a brigade in the Battle of Jarama. In May 1937, he took part in the nationalist counteroffensive during the Segovia Offensive. In June 1937, he led the 13th division in the Battle of Brunete in August in the Battle of Belchite and in March 1938 in the Battle of Caspe. During the Battle of the Ebro he led the Nationalist defense of the town of Gandesa. After the war, he was a minister of the Francoist dictatorship.George Brown (communist)
George Brown was an Irish born communist activist and trade unionist who was based in Manchester, England for most of his life. He was a brigadista in the International Brigades fighting on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War and was killed in the Battle of Brunete in 1937.
George Brown was born on 5 November 1906 at Ballyneale on the outskirts of the village of Inistioge, County Kilkenny, Ireland. His parents were Francis Brown and Mary (née Lackey) who came home to Inistioge specifically for George to be born there. They later returned to their adopted home of Manchester where George grew up. He began working at the age of 14 or younger as a weaver and later worked as a labourer in a number of employments. He was heavily influenced by the harsh conditions for workers in Britain at the time and soon joined the trade union movement. The 1926 British General Strike was a turning point in his life and his experience there led to him joining the Communist Party. He would later represent that party in the 1934 local elections in the Openshaw ward. His director of elections Evelyn Mary Taylor would later become his wife.
Brown became more and more active in the Communist Party and was elected to its national executive committee in 1935.
In 1936 with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War Brown was one of hundreds of communists in Britain and around the world to volunteer to fight fascism and joined the International Brigades to join the fight for the Spanish republic.
An annual memorial weekend has been held in Brown's honour in his native Inistioge since 2008.George Nathan
Samuel George Montague Nathan (20 January 1895 – 16 July 1937) was a British volunteer in the International Brigades in Spain. He initially commanded the British Company of the otherwise French Marseillaise Battalion but was appointed battalion commander in early 1937 following the execution of his predecessor (Major Gaston Delasalle) for espionage.He later became Chief of Staff of the XV International Brigade and was killed on 16 July 1937 at the Battle of Brunete. Even though he had been turned down for Communist Party membership — either because of his "sexual orientation" or because of his unwillingness to "pretend great political enthusiasm" - Comintern observers admired him for his "cool arrogance under fire".Manuel Matallana
Manuel Matallana Gomez (25 December 1894 – 1952) was a Spanish officer and lawyer. A son of a military officer, he joined the Spanish army and participated in the Rif War. He supported the Republican government during the Spanish Civil War. In November 1936 he was a member of the general Miaja’s staff during the battle of Madrid. After that, he was promoted to colonel and on July 1937 he was the chief of staff of Miaja during the battle of Brunete, and then later promoted again to general. On February 1939 he said to the prime minister Negrin that it was impossible to continue the war and on March 1939 he joined Casado's coup against the Negrin government. After the end of the war, he was detained and imprisoned by the Nationalists. He died in Madrid in 1952.Segismundo Casado
Segismundo Casado López (1893 – 18 December 1968) was a Spanish Army officer in the Second Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War, commanding the Republican Spanish Army in 1939.
Together with Julíán Besteiro, a member of the Cortes Generales and a socialist, in 1939 Casado conducted a coup d'état against the government of Prime Minister Juan Negrín, claiming Negrín wanted a Communist takeover. Republican forces regained control of Madrid, and Casado's efforts to negotiate a peace with General Franco failed. He insisted on unconditional surrender, which occurred in 1939. Casado went into exile in Venezuela, not returning to Spain until 1961.Valentín González
Valentín González González (November 4, 1904 – October 20, 1983) was a Republican military commander during the Spanish Civil War. Known as El Campesino (The Peasant) he served in the Ejército Popular (People's Army) of the Second Spanish Republic.
Born in Malcocinado, Badajoz, Spain, Gonzalez worked as a miner and was a member of a communist party, establishing one of the first militia units to counter Francisco Franco's Nationalist Army upon the outbreak of the Civil War. As a brigade commander, González personally took part in all of the major actions that occurred during the Nationalists' assault on Madrid in 1936. He also commanded formations during the battles of the Corunna Road (December 1936), the Jarama, and Guadalajara (March 1937). In the summer of 1937, he led the 46th Division in the Battle of Brunete. Heavily promoted as a heroic figure by Soviet propaganda, Gonzalez was accused by other officers in the Ejercito Popular of being brutal in his treatment of his men, unsuited for modern battle, and a coward.He led his men in the Battle of Belchite, Teruel, and Catalonia throughout the war, before being forced to emigrate to the Soviet Union upon the Nationalist victory in 1939. Along with other exiled Spanish Republican commanders, he was enrolled in the Frunze Military Academy but was expelled for incompetence. He was later imprisoned in Gulag labor camps in Vorkuta where he worked as a brigadier of miners. Following this, he escaped the Vorkuta gulag and the Soviet Union.He eventually moved to France, where he published a book entitled La vie et la mort en U.R.S.S. (1939-1949). The English translation is entitled LISTEN COMRADES: Life and Death in the Soviet Union, and was published in the UK by Heinemann in 1952.
After the fall of Francoist Spain in 1978, he returned to live in Spain. He died in Madrid.Wally Tapsell
Walter Thomas Leo Tapsell (19 August 1904 – 31 March 1938) was a British communist activist, known as a leading figure in the British Battalion during the Spanish Civil War.XIII International Brigade
The 13th International Brigade – often known as the XIII Dabrowski Brigade – fought for the Spanish Second Republic during the Spanish Civil War, in the International Brigades. The brigade was dissolved and then reformed on four occasions.XIV International Brigade
The XIV International Brigade was one of several international brigades that fought for the Spanish Second Republic during the Spanish Civil War.XV International Brigade
The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, officially the XV International Brigade, was a mixed brigade (Brigada mixta) that fought for the Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War as a part of the International Brigades.
Nicknamed Brigada Abraham Lincoln, it mustered at Albacete in Spain, in January 1937, comprising many English-speaking volunteers – arranged into a mostly British Battalion and a mostly North American Lincoln Battalion. It also included two non-English-speaking battalions, the Balkan Dimitrov Battalion and the Franco-Belgian Sixth February Battalion. It fought at Jarama, Brunete, Boadilla, Belchite, Fuentes de Ebro, Teruel and the Ebro River.
The brigade's songs were "Jarama Valley" and "Viva la Quince Brigada".