Italian War Materiel Captured at Guadalajara
Repository: Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid, Spain
Creator: Aguayo, José F., 1911-1999
Creator: Torrents, P. Luis, 1891-1966
Creator: Badosa, J. M., 1920-2001
Contributor: Foto Mayo
Contributor: Albero y Segovia
Fond or Collection
Material de guerra cogido a los italianos en el Frente de Guadalajara [Material gráfico] / Aguayo, P. Luis Torrents, Albero y Segovia ... [et al.]
Date Created: 1937
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Guadalajara, Spain, Madrid, Spain
What was supposed to be the apotheosis of Italy’s intervention in Spain instead turned out to be a great humiliation for Mussolini. After its victory over Republican militias in Málaga, the Italian Corpo Truppe Volontarie (CTV) decided to launch an all-out attack on Madrid and thus end the war. Theirs was yet another attempt to encircle the capital, and like its predecessor it was a failure. Madrid was not Málaga: it was not defended by militias but by the more disciplined and better armed Popular Army. The Republicans also had their air force, which was then enjoying its strongest moment of their entire war.
Backed by several Spanish units, and especially the Soria Division, the Italians launched their attack on March 8. They also had a compact mass of tanks as well as large numbers of trucks and artillery. The first Republicans they encountered were the International Brigades (IB), who halted their advance, but not before they captured a number of towns, including Brihuega. In spite of the chaos of the first three days of the battle, the Republicans managed a reasonably orderly retreat. On March 12, they were able to launch a counterattack using heavy T-26 tanks and fresh troops that included more IB units.
The Republicans also had the weather on their side. The battle took place amidst fog, snow, and rain and the Italian armoured cars were unable to move in the open field, eliminating the possibility of carrying out an encircling movement. With the rest of the Italians’ motorized vehicles, they were confined to the national highway where they were sitting ducks for the Republican pilots who sowed chaos among them. This Republican air superiority was another product of the weather. Their planes used airfields with paved runways while the makeshift runways of the rebel bases were unusable. Between March 19 and 23, the Republicans won back the ground they had lost at the start of the battle.
The two sides suffered a similar number of casualties, but most of the rebel casualties were Italians and Italy’s military prestige took a big hit. Mussolini was furious and fired a number of the CTV commanders, although not its commander in chief, Mario Roatta. Franco took advantage of the situation to take away the CTV’s operational autonomy and bring it under the control of his General Staff. For its part, Italian planes were put under the command of the German Condor Legion.
Madrid had been saved again, but this time by a regular army that had fought in the open field against a more numerous and better armed opponent. The victory at Guadalajara was a big boost to Republican morale. The Republic, many now thought, could actually win the war. In the end however, this defeat wound up helping the rebels. Franco abandoned his vain attempts to take Madrid and focussed on finishing off the northern front. And Mussolini decided that the only way to salvage his prestige was to send yet more men and materiel to Spain.