Trenches in the Casa de Campo Park, Madrid
Repository: Archivo General de la Administración, Alcalá de Henares, Spain
Creator: Aguayo, José F., 1911-1999
Repository: Archivo Rojo
Date Created: 1936
Type: War photography
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Casa de Campo, Spain
Captain Elío González González of the 75th Mixed Brigade wrote the words "Party in the trenches" at the bottom of this photo of some Republican soldiers in Madrid's Casa de Campo park.
On November 6, 1936, Republican military commanders in Madrid were summoned to a meeting with the Prime Minister, Francisco Largo Caballero. Believing that the capital could not resist the imminent attack by the Army of Africa, the government had decided to abandon Madrid for Valencia. The outcome of the meeting was the creation of the Madrid Defense Committee chaired by General José Miaja. The committee’s mission was to defend Madrid and, if it could not, withdraw its military forces to a defensive line near Cuenca, 160 kilometres to the southeast. Such pessimism was fully justified. The attacking colonial troops numbered only 4,000, but since starting their offensive on August 2 they had won an uninterrupted series of victories. Facing experienced and mobile rebel columns, the Republican militias had been surrounded or escaped as best they could. There was no reason to believe that Madrid would be different.
General José Enrique Varela’s troops appeared in the Casa de Campo, the immense park in western Madrid, on November 8. Formed up in five columns, they advanced on the still unfinished University City, one of the reform projects embodying the dynamism of Spanish society that the Civil War cut short. Over the next four weeks, the attackers managed to capture around three quarters of the University City. They also pushed forward to the edge of the city, and even briefly into some of its streets, but their assault on the capital failed.
There were a number of causes for this failure. The first was the small number and exhausted condition of the rebel troops. A second was the large number of Republican forces that reached the capital, among them the most battle hardened militias from Aragón, including the famous anarcho-syndicalist column led by Buenaventura Durruti, who died in the battle, and the first units of the International Brigades. In addition, there were the first tanks, planes, and other weapons sent by the Soviet Union, as well as the Soviet military instructors who were able to raise the tactical level of the defenders. Finally, the battle of Madrid was one in which there was little room for manoeuvre, which robbed the Army of Africa of one of its greatest advantages. On the other side, the militias were now more confident and able to dig in better than ever, especially by taking advantage of the natural defences provided by the Manzanares River. The writing at the bottom of this photograph says “Party in the trenches”.
Franco would later say that he had chosen not to capture the capital because he did not want to destroy it, but this was a lie. His aviation and his artillery bombarded the city continually, venting their anger on its working class districts. His troops did not stop trying to attack Madrid or break through Republican lines until December 2. Their last failed attempt came on the Coruña highway to the north of the city.
Its victory at Madrid gave the Republic hope that it could win the war. The next task was to build a new Popular Army and arm it so it could go on the offensive. This was a goal it never fully realized.