Irún in Ruins
Repository: Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego, La Jolla, USA
Contributor: Keystone View Company
Repository: Spanish Civil War News Photos
Date Created: 1936
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Hendaye, France
The Civil War in the Basque Country began on July 19 when, amidst great popular enthusiasm. the garrison of Vitoria and the Carlists rose against the Republic. Two days later, the Civil Guard and part of the garrison in San Sebastian also rebelled, but resistance from forces that remained loyal to the government and worker militias forced them to retreat to the María Cristina hotel and the Loyola barracks, where they held out until they surrendered on July 29. In the province of Vicaya, there was no uprising at all.
During the first few weeks, the Carlist drive was balanced by the emergence of the militias. Most were Socialist but there were also Communist and anarchist units. The members of the most powerful party in the region, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), were divided between those who supported the rebellion and those in the Republican zone who did not, even if they opposed the violence of the worker militias, especially that directed against the Church and private property. It was only at the end of July that the PNV began to create its own militias, the gudaris.
Holding onto the Basque Provinces was crucial for the Republic for two reasons: it was the centre of Spain’s heavy industry and it was a corridor connecting Republican Spain to the border with France. To ensure that the PNV supported it, the government of the Republic rushed a statute of autonomy through the Cortes, which was sitting in Valencia. It was approved on October 1 and a few days later, Basque mayors elected José Antonio Aguirre as the first Basque president, lendakari.
While the Basque Country was achieving political autonomy, the situation at the front was deteriorating. General Mola wanted to isolate the northern part of the Republican zone. To do this he had to cut the border with France, which meant taking Irún. The city was not well defended. The 2,000 troops there, a combination of soldiers, Asturian and Basque militias, and the first gudari units, were poorly armed and most lacked military training. Facing them was a somewhat larger force of professional soldiers and trained Carlist militias. The attackers also had artillery and aviation, the famous German Junker 52s.
The first rebel attack on Irún, on August 9, failed but they tried again on August 27. After nine days of fierce fighting, Mola’s troops took the city on September 5. They conquered San Sebastian a week later. Then the front went quiet for a number of months.
The loss of Irún was another severe blow to the Republic in what were a summer and autumn of defeats. Among other things, it hastened the fall of José Giral’s government and its replacement on September 4 by one led by Socialist Francisco Largo Caballero that included members of all the parties belonging to the Popular Front as well as the PNV. The next month, the government created the Popular Army of the Republic. The war of the militias was coming to an end.