The Batttle of the Jarama
Repository: Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica, Salamanca, Spain
Repository: Colección de fotografías del Ejército Popular de la República
Date Created: 1937
Type: War photography
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Jarama, Spain, Salamanca, Spain
The Battle of Málaga was still going on when the Battle of the Jarama (February 6 to 27, 1937) began. This was yet another attempt by Franco to conquer Madrid and, like those in November and December 1936, it failed.
This time, the attack on the capital was based on a much more elaborate plan and mobilized many more resources than had the frontal attack by the Army of Africa three months before. The Francoists would carry out a circling manoeuvre to the east that would cut the Valencia highway, leave the city isolated, and make surrender inevitable. Until now, Francoist troops had easily beaten Republican forces in the open field but defeating the new Popular Army would be a very different matter from rolling over the militias. The attackers’ Reinforced Madrid Division, comprising five well-armed and well-trained divisions, machine guns, tanks, artillery and air support, was far larger than anything the war had seen to that point.
The initial attack took the Republicans, who had been preparing one of their own, by surprise and their initial response was undermined by poor coordination among their commanders, including continual conflicts with the Soviet military advisors. Things improved after General José Miaja, the head of the Madrid Defence Committee, took charge. He was advised by Lt. Col. Vicente Rojo, the best Republican strategist, and perhaps the best on either side.
When the Republicans failed to blow up the bridges, the Francoists succeeded in crossing the Jarama River at Pindoque and San Martín de la Vega, but their advance soon became very costly. The Republicans dominated the high ground along the highway and the line of attack. The rebel attack on the Arganda bridge was repulsed by the Italian antifascists in the Garibaldi Battalion of the International Brigades. On the other hand, Republican attacks around Morata de Tajuña and the Pingarrón hill went almost nowhere. By the end of February, with both sides worn out and dug in, the battle petered out. The Francoists had failed to achieve their objective of taking the Valencia highway, although one part of it remained exposed to enemy fire.
The battle demonstrated the new soundness of the Republican forces, which were better trained, better armed, and better led than ever before. Its air force continued to enjoy the superiority around Madrid it had won in November, and the Soviet T-26 tanks played a crucial role at a number of moments of the battle.
The strength of the Republican defence owed much to the actions of the XI, XII, and XIV International Brigades, which took heavy casualties, especially the British and Americans. This bitter experience would give birth to one of the most famous songs of the war, The Jarama Valley, and the Republican victory was the subject of Joris Ivens’ famous film, The Spanish Earth, some of which was filmed on the battlefield.