Destruction at Brunete
Repository: Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid, Spain
Creator: Informaciones Gráficas Mayoral
Contributor: Delegación del Estado para Prensa y Propaganda
Fond or Collection
Brunete (Madrid).. Vistas del pueblo destruido.. Escenas de guerra [Material gráfico] / Informaciones Gráficas Mayoral, Foto Delespro… [et al.]
Repository and Location
Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid, Spain
Date Created: 1937
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Brunete, Spain
To prevent the Francoist offensive against Santander and to improve the strategic position of the Popular Army around Madrid, on July 6, 1937 the Republic launched an important offensive of its own that would be known as the Battle of Brunete. When it ended nineteen days later, it had not realized its objectives, and the battle is generally considered to have been a strategic defeat for the Republic. It was also the last battle of the war fought near Madrid.
Francoist positions were relatively isolated from each other along a discontinuous front. The bulk of the rebel army, including its air force, was in the north. The Republican plan was simple and novel: a great circling movement in the form of an arc that, starting from the north, would enclose the rebel troops who were immobile before the capital. If successful, a large part of the Francoist army there would be swept up and a large whole opened in the front. To carry it out, the Republicans assembled 130 T-26 tanks. The attack began well, and during the first two days, they overran some enemy positions, even taking Brunete and advancing ten kilometres further south. Problems began soon after, however.
Many Francoist garrisons were able to hold off Republican attacks. The fighting was hard, and both sides fought bravely, but the Republicans made the mistake of insisting on taking those heavily armed positions instead of bypassing them and moving quickly onto their final objectives. In addition, they threw away their superiority in tanks by following the French tactic of dispersing them in support of infantry units. This limited their capacity to break through and allowed Francoist anti-tank artillery to knock many of them out of the battle.
On the other hand, the Francoists followed the advice of their German advisors and used their inferior Panzer tanks in a compact and much more effective way. The balance of air power changed in the Francoists’ favour with the arrival of the Condor Legion with its famous Bf 109 fighters and He 111 bombers. These were the most modern planes to fight in the war, and their presence confirmed the Republic’s technological and numerical inferiority in the air. The rebels also interrupted their Santander offensive for more than a month to bring in reinforcements from the north. The two sides now had similar numbers of ground troops, but the Francoists enjoyed the advantage in materiel.
In the end, the rebels retook all the ground they had lost. The Popular Army had shown that it could go on the offensive, but it remained incapable of capitalizing on gaps in the line and advancing. It was still not an effective manoeuvring force.
Brunete was a bloody battle, producing a total of 40,000 casualties. Two of them merit special attention. Oliver Law, the commander of the Lincoln Battalion and the first African American ever to command white troops, was killed during the battle. Gerda Taro, the famous photographer and partner of Robert Capa, died after being accidentally run over by a tank.