Repository: Tamiment Library, New York, USA
Creator: Randall, Harry
Repository: The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, Harry Randall: Fifteenth International Brigade Films and Photographs
Item 11 - 1243
Date Created: 1938
Type: War photography
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Fuentes Calientes, Spain
The battle of Teruel, fought between December 15, 1937 and February 22, 1938, was one of the most dramatic, and perhaps the toughest, battle of the war. It was a paradoxical confrontation. On the one hand, the Popular Army demonstrated how far it had progressed as a fighting force. On the other, it was yet another Republican defeat that brought the destruction of some of its best units that it would find hard to replace.
Teruel had fallen to the rebels at the start of the war. By the end of 1937 it was a salient surrounded by the Republicans on all but the northeast side. The Republicans knew that once Franco had finished on the northern front, he would launch a major assault on Madrid through Guadalajara, more or less repeating what the Italians had failed to achieve in March. Their attack on Teruel in the middle of winter was an attempt to prevent this. They began with more men and materiel, but the worsening weather: heavy snow and freezing temperature that immobilized the tanks, were on the side of the small Francoist garrison.
The few thousand soldiers and volunteers commanded by Colonel Domingo Rey D’Harcourt put up a stiff resistance that included hand to hand fighting in the town centre, where Rey D’Harcourt had concentrated his forces. The fighting plus the bombardments claimed many civilian victims. The Francoist command promised reinforcements that did not arrive on time. As the situation became increasingly desperate, with his troops isolated in a few buildings and running out of food, on January 8 Rey D’Harcourt surrendered. The Francoists denounced him as a traitor, and his reputation never recovered. A year after surrender, he was shot alongside the bishop of Teruel during the Republican retreat in Cataluña .
Teruel was the first provincial capital taken by the Republicans and the victory was widely celebrated. Franco decided to cancel his attack on Madrid and concentrate his forces to retake the city he had lost. The counter-offensive began in mid-January, and the fighting, which took place in horrible weather, was again fierce. The turning point came in early February, when the Republicans suffered a spectacular defeat on the Alfambra River, in the northeast of the city. Thousands of Republicans died or were taken prisoner. The loss of Teruel to the rebels was now almost certain and on February 22 the Republicans evacuated the city. Both sides had suffered terribly. 40,000 men had died and thousands more were wounded or suffered frostbite.
Teruel cost the Republicans much materiel, especially aircraft and artillery, and they would be short of both for the rest of the war. Its best troops were lost or exhausted. These would combine to have serious consequences in the following weeks when the well-rested, more numerous, and better equipped Francoists launched an all-out attack on Aragón that would carry them to the Mediterranean.