Madrid militiamen in the mountains
Repository: Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego, La Jolla, USA
Contributor: Planet News Ltd.
Repository: Spanish Civil War News Photos
Date Created: 1936-08
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Guadarrama, Spain
The fate of Madrid, and perhaps of the entire war, was decided in the mountains north of the capital between July 19 and early August in the confrontation known as the Battle of the Guadarrama. On both sides the fighting involved a mix of soldiers, police and militias. It was a chaotic battle, full of mistakes, tragedies and absurd moments. Both forces were disorganized; emotion trumped professionalism; and both tactics and weaponry were primitive. The Republicans ended up winning, as they prevented the rebels from realizing their objective of taking Madrid. The front there remained essentially static for the rest of the war.
It started with the victory of the coup in Navarra, Galicia, parts of Aragón, and almost all Castilla and León between July 18 and 20. Generals who remained loyal to the government were arrested and, in the following months, many were shot even though they were the friends and former protectors of those who killed them. Amidst scenes of great enthusiasm among parts of the population, the rebels were quickly joined by Carlists, Falangists, and other right-wing volunteers. Following General Mola’s plan, they immediately set off for Madrid. At the same time, tens of thousands of militia fighters, often commanded by loyal army officers, left Madrid to face them. They two forces met in the passes to the mountains. The fighting was fierce, and few prisoners were taken.
The first rebel column reached Somosierra on July 22. There a group of monarchists from Madrid were holding off Republican forces in the train tunnel. The day before, another rebel column had left Valladolid to take the Alto de León. The rebels took both passes but the Republicans were able to hold the line at the approaches. At the same time, the Republican column commanded by Colonel Julio Mangada failed in its attempt to capture Ávila. Both sides were running short on ammunition, intelligence, and discipline. By the time Franco was able to send ammunition by way of a supposedly neutral Portugal, the Republicans had dug in. They also enjoyed air superiority and were able to harass the attackers.
During the first two weeks, these confusing engagements, often lacking clearly defined lines, claimed the lives of a number of infamous people. One was Falange leader Onésimo Redondo. Another was Civil Guard captain Fernando Condés, one of the men responsible for murdering monarchist politician José Calvo Sotelo. They were among the approximately 5,000 casualties. When the fighting in Somosierra ended, it was clear that the war would be decided, not north of Madrid, but to the southeast, and that Franco would be the central figure.