Ruins of Oviedo
Repository: Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica, Salamanca, Spain
Creator: Horacio, Germán, 1902-1975
Contributor: Propaganda Frente Popular Asturias
Fond or Collection
Date Created: 1937
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Gijón, Spain, Salamanca, Spain
On September 1, 1937, Francoist troops set their sights on the one remaining Republican redoubt in the north: Asturias. Their victory was a sure thing. They had twice as many men and twice as much artillery as the Republicans and a virtual monopoly in the air. In spite of being isolated and running short of munitions and anti-aircraft guns, the Republicans fought bravely and held out for more than fifty days. In contrast to what had happened in Santander, there were no desertions or mass surrenders until the very end of the battle.
The key battle in the Asturias campaign was fought over the Mazuco Pass between September 5 and 22. The attackers, mostly Carlists, enjoyed a five to one numerical advantage. They also had the support of the Condor Legion. The defenders’ only advantage was controlling the high ground in this mountainous region, but the combination of the bravery of the attackers, intensive aerial bombardments, and shortages of ammunition forced them to retreat. From that point on, Asturias was open to the Francoist army and its Italian allies, but it would be another month until they took the last Republican outpost, the city of Gijón.
During the last weeks of the war in the north, Asturias was effectively autonomous from the government of the Republic. On August 25, the political parties and unions, which were dominated by the Socialists, created the Sovereign Council of Asturias and León, based in Gijón, presided over by veteran Socialist Belarmino Tomás. (The Republicans had held onto a small area of the province of Leon since the start of the war.) The Council dismissed General Mariano Gamir Ulibarri, who the government had sent to centralize command for the defence of the north, and replaced him with the energetic and highly competent Colonel Adolfo Pardo Vaquero.
Rebel aviation bombed Asturian ports at will, damaging or destroying the few Republican naval vessels docked there. This meant that when Gijón finally fell on September 21, many Republican officers and officials were unable to escape. Most of those who were captured were immediately executed as part of a mass repression. In total, the Francoists executed some 6,000 people. The Republicans had killed around 2,000. Given this climate of terror, thousands of Asturians chose to flee to the mountains rather than surrender.
With the fall of Asturias, the rebels added tens of thousands of selected Republican soldiers for their armies. Rebel naval vessels which had operated effectively in the Cantabrian Sea, could now be sent to reinforce the Mediterranean fleet. The Francoists also gained control of the region’s important coal mines and gun factories, giving them more than two thirds of Spain’s industrial production, 60 percent of its coal, and almost all of its iron. The economic strength of the two sides had become much more evenly balanced. Given the dominance of their armed forces and the wholehearted support of the fascist powers, the rebels could begin to see the victory that lay ahead.