The battle of Málaga took place between February 3 and 8, 1937. It ended in a spectacular victory for the rebel troops and their Italian allies. The photo shows Francoist troops being hailed by the local bourgeoisie as they marched through the centre of the city.
The military uprising of July 18 had triggered an intense revolutionary movement in Málaga that was led by anarcho-syndicalists and Communists. It included a fearsome repression that took the lives of some 2,500 people and destroyed numerous churches, other religious buildings, and property belonging to the local bourgeoisie. This revolutionary zeal did not extend, however, to preparing solid defences. Armaments, trenches and organization were all lacking. There were not enough weapons for the tens of thousands of militia fighters in the province, perhaps 8,000 rifles and a few cannon. In addition, the province was in a difficult strategic position. A salient jutting out into Francoist territory, it was exposed to attack from three sides. Its only means of communication with the rest of Republican Spain was the highway to Almería, which was more than 200 kilometres long and in bad condition.
The Francoists had already launched some attacks in the eastern part of the province in the second half of January. They met with little resistance, but these attacks did provoke the first mass exodus of militia fighters and civilians. In spite of this, neither Largo Caballero’s government nor the local authorities undertook serious measures to strengthen the city’s defences. There was little that the militias, facing 15,000 Moroccan troops and 10,000 Italians with artillery, aviation, and tanks, could do. Another wave of refugees, as many as 150,000 fled the city along the coastal highway to Almería. Many were intercepted by the attackers and turned back, but up to 50,000 continued their flight while rebel planes and vessels strafed and bombarded them mercilessly. Some 5,000 died.
When Francoist troops entered the city on February 8, it marked the beginning of an intense wave of repression that took the lives of at least 4,000 people in a few days.
In the days that followed, the rebels continued their advance along the coast until they got beyond the port of Motril in the province of Granada. For a while it appeared as if they would be able to take the entire Mediterranean coast, but their advance was stopped within a few days by the arrival of Republican reinforcements, especially International Brigade units. Also, Franco ordered General Queipo de Llano, who was commanding the rebel troops, to stop, a decision that has given rise to considerable speculation about Franco’s motives.
As well as the rebels, Mussolini was the great victor of Málaga. He became convinced that his Corpo Truppe Volontarie (CTV) was a formidable fighting force and that his “rapid war” tactic in which tanks and planes broke through the enemy front line and advanced quickly was a winner. He even convinced himself that his troops could take Madrid and end the war all by themselves. He chose Guadalajara as the place to prove it.