Timeline for the Spanish Civil War Campaign in the North

This is my timeline for the northern campaign of the Spanish Civil War. The Republican north comprised three areas: Asturias, Santander and Vizcaya. They largely fought, and were crushed separately, from each other and from the main Republican area in the south. Vizcaya was called ‘Euzkadi’ by the locals.

Aguirre declared himself Commander-in-Chief of the 30,000 men of the Republican army in ‘Euzkadi’ (Thomas, 1986).

17-18 Jul 1936: Revolt

17 Jul 1936

The Nationalist rising was planned for 0500 hours on 18 Jul 1936 (Thomas, 1986). However the rising began early in Morocco. On 17 Jul 1936 the local military commander in Melilla, a Republican, heard of a pre-rising meeting amongst his officers. The rebels reacted quickly to the resulting confrontation in the afternoon and seized the city. Ceuta was in Nationalist hands by 2300 hours and Tetuan on the following evening.

18 Jul 1936

The uprising spread to the mainland on 18 Jul (Thomas, 1986). Santander declared for the government. Navarre declared for the rising; Mola was backed by 6,000 Carlist requetes. In the evening the Civil Guard in Pamplona killed their own commander, Rodríguez Medel, who supported the Popular Front. Mola subsequently made Colonel Beorlegui the Chief of Public Order in Pamplona (Guipuzkoa 1936).

19 Jul 1936

Santander opted for the government (Thomas, 1986).

The Asturias also declared for the government but two local commanders opted for the uprising (Thomas, 1986). The military governor at Gijon, Colonel Antonio Pinilla, was backed by the sappers regiment of Gijon based in Simancas barracks. Similarly the commander of Oviedo, Colonel Antonio Aranda, held Oviedo for the Nationalists with the assault guards, civil guard and Falange. Both Nationalist strongholds were quickly besieged by miners predominantly armed with dynamite.

The Basque provinces were split (Thomas, 1986). Vizcaya and Guipuzcoa mobilized for the government. However, Alava to their south was captured by rebels under General Angel Carcia Benitez. Colonel Alonso Vega, who will feature later, help in the capture of Alava.

Mola immediately targeted Guipuzcoa (Guipuzkoa 1936). The objective of the campaign was control of the Bidasoa valley thus cutting Republican communications with France. Mola organised three columns for the campaign. These columns were named after their commanders.

The first column assigned to the Gipuzkoa campaign left Pamplona on 19 Jul 1936 under Captain Ramon Vicondoa (Guipuzkoa 1936). This column was the only one that had Falangists from the outset. They moved to Betelu, on the border between Navarre and the Basque country, to protect the area from possible actions of the Republicans.

Operations in the Bidasoa sector

20 Jul 1936

The Carabineer HQ in Vera (under Lt. Ortega) sided with the Republic and as a consequence Mola ordered a column to capture the post (Guipuzkoa 1936). The column left Pamplona on 20 Jul 1936 containing only the 1st Company, Guides of Navarra, but they were joined the same day by a platoon (sección) of Carabineers (Commander Luis Ramajos). The column reached Sumbilla at night. Meanwhile Lt. Col. José Cabello of the Carabineers travelled to Elizondo to win the support of the company stationed there. Lt. Col. Cabello assumed command of the column at Sumbilla.

21 Jul 1936

The line between Republican and Nationalist zones was becoming clear (Thomas, 1986).

Augusto Pérez Garmendia assumed command of the Republican forces in Guipuzkoa (Guipuzkoa 1936).

The siege of the barracks in San Sebastian continued (Guipuzkoa 1936). The Republicans blew up the bridges on roads to Navarre to hinder any Nationalist advance. Small groups of militia took up position in Peñas de Aya and Pikoketa (Guipuzkoa 1936).

Place Names

Oyarzun: Oyarzun seems to be called Oiartzun now days – presumably the Basque name for the same place. It is southeast of San Sebastian.

Endarlaza: I assume Endarlaza is what is now called Endarlatsa. If so it is on the Bidasoa River where the French border diverts east away from the river.

Vera de Bidasoa: I believe it is the place called Bera southeast of Endarlatsa.

Sumbilla:

Rebel forces occupied various heights that dominated the valley and the Carabineer HQ at Endarlaza (Guipuzkoa 1936).

The Nationalist column at Sumbilla advanced on Vera de Bidasoa without opposition (Guipuzkoa 1936). Lieutenant Ortega of the Carabineers destroyed the bridges at Endarlaza and Goizueta as Cabello’s forces entered Vera de Bidasoa. Col. Beorlegui arrived in Vera and took charge of the troops operating in the basin of the Bidasoa.

22 Jul 1936

With the bridges blown, and the harassment of the attacking forces, a direct route along the river Bidasoa was not possible, so Beorlegui headed for the border through the mountains, sleeping rough on the night of 22 Jul (Guipuzkoa 1936).

Mola formed a new column comprising both Carlist militia (requetés) and regular army, headed by Colonel Ortiz de Zárate (Guipuzkoa 1936). This column was largest of the Nationalist groups in the Guipuzcoa campaign. It was to occupy the mountains near Oyarzun and provide support to the rebels of San Sebastian. Initially the force consisted of three companies of requetés (Lt. Col. Gil de Arévalo with the companies under Captains Ormaechea, Férriz and Morlan), a company of the regular regiment of America (Captain Oslé), a platoon of mortars (Lt. Reverte), a platoon of machine guns and a group of two batteries (Commander Echanove). The column left Pamplona at 1600 hours on 22 Jul 1936 in forty impounded trucks. As they left they incorporated another company of requetés (Captain Ureta). The Column was at Santesteban by evening. From their they attemptd to enter the territory of Gipuzkoa via the Goizueta road

Another column formed at Estella under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Cayuela (Guipuzkoa 1936). It consisted of two companies the Arapiles Mountain Battalion (the local garrison), a platoon of machine guns, and machine guidance and transmissions. A unit of Requetes and another of Falange then joined the column. Column Cayuela left Estella on 20 Jul 1936 and occupied Alsasua. Troops commanded by commanders Malcampo and Albizu, that had secured the area before moving through the port of Etxegarate to Beasain, also joined Column Cayuela. Commander Albizu left Estella with 40 men to join Battalion Arapiles. On 24 Jul Commander Albizu occupied Cegama then headed for Segura. The third group, which is integrated into Cayuela forces is the column commanded by another Commander Malcampo; they left Pamplona on a military train via Etxarri-Aranaz then Ataun.

Column Vicondoa entered the mountains of Aralar as part of the overall operation (Guipuzkoa 1936).

At the end of the day four Nationalist columns are poised to enter Guipuzcoa (Guipuzkoa 1936):

  • Column Beorlegui deployed between Vera de Bidasoa and Endarlaza bridge
  • Column Ortiz de Zarate, the strongest contingent, is in Santesteban
  • Column Cayuela dominates the heights separating Gipuzkoa Navarre near Alsasua
  • Column Vicondoa, a small force, at Lecumberri-Betelu area and extending through the Sierra de Aralar.

Guipuzkoa 1936 mentions some of the units in these columns – in the attached order of battle.

Nationalist Order of Battle
Before the invasion of Guipuzcoa (22 Jul 1936)

  • Column Beorlegui (Colonel Beorlegui)
    • 250 men total
    • 1st Company of the Guides of Navarra (Guías de Navarra (Captain Luis Villanova; 140 men) *
    • 1 x platoon (sección) of Carabineers (Commander Luis Ramajos)
  • Column Ortiz de Zarate (Col. Ortiz de Zarate)
    • 1,200 men total
    • Carlist Requetés (Lt. Col. Gíl de Arévalo)
      • Company Ormaechea (Cap. Ormaechea)
      • Company Férriz (4th of Lácar) (Cap. Férriz)
      • Company Morlán (Escopeteros de Lácar) (Cap. Morlán) 119 requetés*
      • Company Ureta (Captain Ureta)
    • Regular Soldiers
      • Company of the Regiment of América (Cap. Oslé)
      • Platoon (Sección) of Mortars (Lt. Reverte)
      • Platoon (Sección) of Machineguns
      • Mountain Artillery Group of two Mountains Batteries (Cmte. Echanove)
  • Column Cayuela (Lt. Col. Cayuela)
    • Two companies the Arapiles Mountain Battalion
    • A platoon of machine guns
    • Machine guidance and transmissions.
    • A unit of Requetes
    • A unit of Falange
    • Troops under Commanders Malcampo (x2) and Albizu
  • Column Vicondoa (Cap. Ramon Vicondoa)
    • Falangists

Source: Guipuzkoa 1936

23 Jul 1936

Before dawn Column Beorlegui headed for the Peñas de Aya (Guipuzkoa 1936). Beorlegui had changed his route of advance away from the border and over the mountains towards Oyarzun. This was probably to offer more direct aid to the besieged rebels in San Sebastian. At noon, and after heavy fighting, the column took the village Goikoetxea Villanova in the neighbourhood of Alcíbar. The column approached Oyarzun about 1500 hours. A large Republican force was defending the town: 250 Civil Guard, 70 Carabineers and several militiamen. Beorlegui’s force of probably only 150 men (might have been up to 250) was surrounded on Zabaldi hill near the town. Finding himself in a rather difficult situation, Beorlegui called for reinforcements. Three Nationalist columns would respond:

  • Column Ortiz de Zarate, that from 22 made attempts to penetrate Gipuzkoa
  • Column Los Arcos: three hundred men under the command of Lt. Col. Los Arcos
  • Column Duñabeitia: 500 men from Pamplona under the command of a cavalry captain Pablo Díaz Duñabeitia

Ortiz de Zarate abandoned his attempts to enter Gipuzkoa on the Goizueta road and moved his troops to the Bidasoa sector (Guipuzkoa 1936).

Nationalist Order of Battle – Oyarzun-Renteria Sector

  • Column Beorlegui (Colonel Beorlegui)
    • 250 men total
    • 1st Company, Guides of Navarra (Guías de Navarra) (Captain Luis Villanova; 140 men) *
    • 1 x platoon (sección) of Carabineers (Commander Luis Ramajos)
  • Column Ortiz de Zarate (Col. Ortiz de Zarate)
    • 1,200 men total
    • Carlist Requetés (Lt. Col. Gíl de Arévalo)
      • Company Ormaechea (Cap. Ormaechea)
      • Company Férriz (4th of Lácar) (Cap. Férriz)
      • Company Morlán (Escopeteros de Lácar) (Cap. Morlán) 119 requetés*
      • Company Ureta (Captain Ureta)
    • Regular Soldiers
      • Company of the Regiment of América (Cap. Oslé)
      • Platoon (Sección) of Morters (Teniente Reverte)
      • Platoon (Sección) of Machineguns
      • Mountain Artillery Group of two Mountains Batteries (Cmte. Echanove)
  • Column Los Arcos
    • 300 men in total
    • Carlist Requetés
      • Cap. Valenzuela
      • Teniente García del Pino 93 requetés*
  • Column Diaz Dunabeitia (cavalry captain Pablo Díaz Duñabeitia)
    • 500 men in total
    • Company of Cap. Jesús Vazquez 80 requetés
    • Volunteers of the Spanish Falange

The units marked with an * attacked Renteria

Source: Guipuzkoa 1936

24 Jul 1936

Column Ortiz de Zarate took the Carabineer headquarters at Endarlaza (Guipuzkoa 1936). Then he was ordered to aid Beorlegui and moved his troops to Lesaca.

25 July 1936

Two companies of Requetes took the height of Aritxulegi (Guipuzkoa 1936).

26 Jul 1936

Column Ortiz de Zárate advanced into Gipuzkoa on the road linking the Lesaca and Oyarzun via Aritxulegi height (Guipuzkoa 1936). Heavy gunfire stopped the Nationalists near Alcibar.

Column Los Arcos advanced via Peñas de Aya, and linked up with Ortiz de Zárate at Ergoyen (Guipuzkoa 1936).

Advance on Renteria

27 Jul 1936

The Republicans bombed the Loyola barracks in San Sebastian and caused the defenders to surrender(Guipuzkoa 1936). Republican troops were freed up and sent elsewhere. It had become obvious that small groups of militia were incapable to stopping the Requetes of the advancing nationalist columns (Guipuzkoa 1936). With the Loyola barracks dealt with Augusto Pérez Garmendia organised three strong columns to bolster the defence. The largest column was assigned to the valley of the Bidasoa; Perez Garmendia himself led the defence of Renteria . The second was sent to Vitoria to stop the advance of Cayuela in the valley of Oria. The third was sent into the mountains next to Toulouse to stop the advance of Latorre. [It isn’t clear to me how the orbat for Irun fits into that scheme; it may be additional and not one of those from San Sebastian.]

The garrisons of the forts of Santiago-Mendi, Santa Barbara, San Marcos and Txoritokieta had all declared for the government. These constantly bombarded the attacking Nationalist troops but with effect.

At Renteria Perez Garmendia established the Republican defensive line in the first houses of the town. This position dominated the road from Oyarzun.

Meanwhile the columns of Ortiz de Zárate and Los Arcos began moved towards Oyarzun (Guipuzkoa 1936). Republicans evacuated Oyarzun and withdrew to Renteria. So, without a fight, he Nationalist flag was raised on the town hall.

At this time the Nationalists formally abandoned the objective of closing the French border at Irun in favour of rescuing the the troops besieged in the Loyala barracks in San Sebastian. The next step was to clear Renteria. From the initial 250 men Beorlegui now had about 1,800 soldiers with two batteries and a section of mountain guns and a mortar. The sub-columns were Ortiz de Zarate (about 1,200 men), Los Arcos (400 men), and Duñabeitia (200 men). After a short rest the Column Los Arcos headed down the Renteria road and Column Ortiz de Zárate towards Hernani.

At noon the Nationalist attack on Renteria began with one company from both Column Los Arcos and two from Column Ortiz de Zarate. The attack met very strong resistance at the entrance to Renteria.

García del Pino’s company came to the same exit where he held a match Renteria harshly punishing the enemy with fire from an artillery piece.

Also fired on an armored train from Irun pulling the rails to avoid withdrawal.

Ortiz de Zarate’s column also arrived to the southeast of Renteria. for SE after this first operation is the first C. Oyarzun looking back upon best location for the battery and bomb F. Renteria and San Marcos. The second retreated C. Ugaldetxo in the neighborhood whose homes were Colonel T. Gil Arevalo R. Lácar all. During the afternoon followed with intermittent sniping ” Failed this initial assault on Renteria a chance event, but will have great importance for the development of the campaign will occur, the Republican capture of the warlord Pérez Garmendia.

First attack on Renteria (Noon 27 Jul 1936)

  • Republican
    • Militia from Oyarzun and Renteria
    • troops from San Sebastian
    • a machine gun in the tower of the church of Renteria
    • Armoured Train from Irun
  • Nationalist
    • From Column Los Arcos
      • Company Teniente García del Pino 93 requetés
      • Some Civil Guards, assault, police and falangists
    • From Column Ortiz de Zarate
      • 1st Company, Guides of Navarra (Guías de Navarra) (Captain Luis Villanova; 140 men)
      • Company Morlán (Escopeteros de Lácar) (Cap. Morlán) 110 requetés

28 Jul 1936

Possible Republican Orbat – Irun (28 Jul 1936)

This is the orbat the Nationalist spies gave the defenders of Irun on 28 Jul 1936 (Guipuzkoa 1936). The number of Militiamen is probably exagerated.

  • 1 x mortar
  • 2 x cannons
  • 2 x machine guns
  • 300 x Carabiniers (Ortega)
  • 3-4,000 militiamen (the figure appears exaggerated)
  • 300 x cars
  • 50 x trucks
  • 3-4 x armoured trucks (“pretty well shielded”)
  • 1 x Armoured train with two machine guns

Order of Battle – Attack on Renteria

  • Nationalist
    • Column Beorlegui (Colonel Beorlegui)
      • 250 men total
      • 1st Company, Guides of Navarra (Guías de Navarra) (Captain Luis Villanova; 140 men) *
      • 1 x platoon (sección) of Carabineers (Commander Luis Ramajos)
    • Column Ortiz de Zarate (Col. Ortiz de Zarate)
      • 1,200 men total
      • Carlist Requetés (Lt. Col. Gíl de Arévalo)
        • Company Ormaechea (Cap. Ormaechea)
        • Company Férriz (4th of Lácar) (Cap. Férriz)
        • Company Morlán (Escopeteros de Lácar) (Cap. Morlán) 119 requetés*
        • Company Ureta (Captain Ureta)
      • Regular Soldiers
        • Company of the Regiment of América (Cap. Oslé)
        • Platoon (Sección) of Morters (Teniente Reverte)
        • Platoon (Sección) of Machineguns
        • Mountain Artillery Group of two Mountains Batteries (Cmte. Echanove)
    • Column Los Arcos
      • 300 men in total
      • Carlist Requetés
        • Cap. Valenzuela
        • Teniente García del Pino 93 requetés*
    • Column Diaz Dunabeitia (cavalry captain Pablo Díaz Duñabeitia)
      • 500 men in total
      • Company of Cap. Jesús Vazquez 80 requetés
      • Volunteers of the Spanish Falange

The units marked with an * attacked Renteria

Source: Guipuzkoa 1936

29 Jul 1936

In the north Mola was plagued by shortage of ammunition (Thomas, 1986)

11 Aug 1936

Nationalists under Major Latorre captured the old Basque capital of Tolosa (Thomas, 1986).

Another Nationalist force under Colonel Beorlegui seized the key Picoqueta ridge, commanding the approach to Irun (Thomas, 1986).

Around this time Colonel Beorlegui captured the mortally wounded commander of the Republicans forces in Guipuzcoa, Perez Garmendia (Thomas, 1936).

The Basque government seized the gold in the banks and shipped it to Paris to buy arms (Thomas, 1986).

13 Aug 1936

Mola and Franco met in Seville and to plan Mola’s new offensive in the north (Thomas, 1986). The objective was to cut off the Basques from the French border by capturing San Sebastian and Irun. The Nationalist troops operating in the north, mostly Navarrese, were placed under the overall command of Colonel Jose Solchaga.

Spanish Civil War

Spain Aug to Sep 1936
Source: Wikipedia

17 Aug 1936

Despite being warned of retaliations Nationalist vessels began to shell San Sebatian (Thomas, 1986). Four inhabitants were killed and 38 wounded. In response, The military governor, Lieutenant Antonio Ortega, executed eight civilian prisoners and five rebel officers. None-the-less the naval bombardment continued for some days. The Nationalists also began air raids, including by Junkers 52, on San Sebastian and Irun.

26 Aug 1936

The Nationalists started their land assault on Irun (Thomas, 1986). The Nationalists field just under 2,000 men, nearly all the artillery Mola had available, ad a small number of German Panzer 1s and armoured cars. Facing them were about 3,000 Basques and Republicans, some technicians from France and Belgium, some anarchists from Barcelona and a regiment of artillery.

The battle was fought near the French border, so close that Colonel Beorlegui asked his men not to fire east (Thomas, 1986). The daily pattern was a Nationalist artillery bombardment, defenders evacuate their position, attackers assault and capture the position, defenders counter-attack and recapture the position, then a pause and the recommencement of the bombardment.

Sep 1936

The Republican fleet visited Basque waters (Thomas, 1986).

2 Sep 1936

The Puntza ridge finally fell to the Nationalists (Thomas, 1986). It had been lost and recaptured four times in the days before.

4 Jan 1937

Junkers 52 of the German Condor Legion bombed Bilbao (Thomas, 1986). Two of the German planes were shot down by Russian fighters. An angry mob in Bilbao, later joined by a battalion of UGT militia, killed 208 political prisoners.

In a separate incident 200 political prisoners were killed at Santander (Thomas, 1986). [Not sure of the date.]

Early 1937

Through early 1937 the Basques built a series of fortifications on hills around Bilbao called the “Ring of Iron” (Military Aspects of the Spanish Civil War: Bilbao). The Ring of Iron had some short comings (Thomas, 1986) as it lacked:

  • depth with only two lines about 200-300 m apart
  • flank protection
  • camouflage

Early Mar 1937

Major Alejandro Goicoechea, a Basque officer who had been involved in building the ‘ring of iron’ deserted to the Nationalists (Thomas, 1986).

22 Mar 1937

Franco articulated his new plan of attack (Thomas, 1986). The Madrid front would go on the defensive and the Nationalist artillery and aviation would be diverted north to support Mola’s campaign against the Basques.

31 Mar 1937

Mola’s campaign kicked off on 31 Mar 1937 (Thomas, 1986). The main unit was the Navarre Division that had fought in Guipuzcoa in 1936. This unit attacked across the border between Vizcaya and Alava.

Nationalist – Order of Battle

  • Mola although General Solchanga directed in the field
  • Navarre Division
    • 1st Navarese Brigade (Colonel Garcia Valiño)
    • 1 x Navarese Brigade (Colonel Alonso Vega)
    • 1 x Navarese Brigade (Colonel Cayuela)
    • 1 x Navarese Brigade (Colonel Latorre)
    • 18,000 men in total
  • Black Arrows (Colonel Sandro Piazzoni)
    • 8,000 Spaniards under Italian officers
  • 200 Guns
  • Air Support
    • 80 German aircraft at Vitoria
    • 70 Italian and Spanish aircraft
  • Naval Support
    • 1 x Battleship (Jaime I)
    • 2 x Cruisers (Canarias and Almirante Cervera)
    • 1 x Destroyer (Velasco)
    • Many smaller craft

The Republicans were divided into the three areas and were only nominally under General Llano de la Encomienda who had commanded in Barcelona in Jul 1936 (Thomas, 1986).

Republican – Order of Battle

  • General Llano de la Encomienda
  • 150,000 men in total
  • A few Russian T-26 tanks
  • A few French Renault tanks
  • In Vizcaya
    • 36,000 men (increasing to 100,000 by Jun 1937)
    • 27 x Infantry Battalions of Basque Nationalists (Gudaris)
    • 8 x Infantry Battalions of (Basque) Socialists
    • 11 x Infantry Battalions of mixed (Basque) communists, socialist-communist youth, left republicans, and anarchists
    • 10 x Infantry Battalions of Asturians
    • 75 Guns
    • 25 – 30 Aircraft
  • In Santander
    • 50 Guns
  • In Asturias
    • 130 Guns
  • Naval Support
    • 2 x Destroyers
    • 3 x Submarines

The Nationalist offensive started with an air and artillery bombardment (Thomas, 1986). As part of this the German Condor Legion bombed the country town of Durango, a transport hub behind the front; 248 civilians were died as a result of this raid.

On the Nationalist right Colonel Alonso Vega took three mountains: Maroto, Albertia, and Jarindo (Thomas, 1986).

Violent fighting occurred in the suburbs of Ochandiano, in the centre north of Villarreal, from 31 Mar to 4 Apr 1936 (Thomas, 1986). 40-50 Nationalist aircraft bombed the town each day. The Basques withdrew when the Navarese had almost surrounded the town. The Basques lost 600 dead and 400 prisoners.

4-19 Apr 1937

Heavy rain put a temporary halt to operations (Thomas, 1986). The Basques reorganised their defence, strengthened the ‘ring of iron’, and mobilised more men. More material also arrived so that by 10 Apr the Basques had 140 guns. The Russian General Goriev arrived as an advisor.

20 Apr 1937

The Nationalists renewed their offensive in Vizcaya (Thomas, 1986). After the initial aerial and artillery bombardment the Basques found themselves in danger of encirclement and many retreated. Basques under the militia Major Pablo Belderrain held the attack from good trenches in the Inchorta hills in front of the village of Elgeta. But even there the defensive line buckled when two CNT battalions withdrew.

24 Apr 1937

Northern Campaign

Northern Front 1937
Source:
Military Aspects of Spanish Civil War: Bilbao

References

Beevor, A. (1982). The Spanish Civil War. Cassell & Co.

Thomas, H. (1986). The Spanish Civil War. Simon & Schuster.

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