Republican Prisoners, Santander
Repository: Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid, Spain
Creator: Delegación del Estado para Prensa y Propaganda
Fond or Collection
Repository and Location
Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid, Spain
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Santander, Spain
On August 14, 1937, the Francoists began their attack on Santander, one of the two provinces in the north of Spain still held by the Republic. The belated attempt to create a diversion at Belchite was futile and rebel troops took Cantabria in a month.
The defenders had the benefit of the terrain but the attackers enjoyed more firepower, better discipline, and a stronger command structure. The defenders were divided between regular soldiers and Asturian, Basque, and local militia units. The Republic had tried to coordinate these forces with the creation, on August 6, of the Santander based Representative Committee of the Government in the North under the command of General Mariano Gamir Ulibarri, but this was little more than a mirage. The Republic was never able to overcome the biggest problem: the reluctance of the bulk of the Basque nationalist forces to fight outside their region once it had been conquered by the Francoists. As a solution, the president of the Basque government, José Antonio Aguirre, suggested that these troops be evacuated by sea and taken to France, from where they would invade Navarra. His plan was totally impractical. More practical, although no less unrealistic, were the efforts of the Basque Nationalist Party, underway since June, to reach a separate peace with the Italians which culminated in the Pact of Santoña on August 24.
Once the Italians had taken the Puerto de Escudo on August 17, the fall of Santander was inevitable. Rebel control of this pass left an important pocket of Republican forces isolated south of the Cantabrian Mountains. It would quickly be annihilated. When General Gamir’s repeated attempts to establish defence lines all failed, demoralization spread through the army. Officers abandoned their men and most of the Basque units headed to Santoña to surrender. The Francoists failed to respect the agreement the Basques had signed with the Italians and interned the defeated army. On August 25, Aguirre took a plane to France while other political leaders and the Republican high command went by submarine to Gijón to continue the struggle in Asturias.
The army that left Santander for Asturias on August 31 was battered, completely demoralized, and lacking officers. At the same time as the Francoists cleaned up the remaining pockets of Republican resistance, they undertook a violent repression of both the defeated military and the civilian population. They also screened the defeated troops looking for soldiers they could incorporate into their own armies. Most ended up in Francoist uniforms. Overall, the local population received the victors well. For most of them the war was over, and the side that was most congenial to their political, social, and religious values had won.