The Battle of the Ebro

The Battle of the Ebro

This time we are going to talk about one of the decisive battles of the Spanish Civil War and undoubtedly the most deadly of the entire war, the Battle of the Ebro. We are in July 1938, the Republic is already touched by the loss of the west and almost all of the Spanish north. After the obligatory withdrawal towards the Mediterranean, the republican forces under the leadership of General Vicente Rojo, chief of the republican central general staff, prepare for a campaign with the aim of preventing the national side from taking the port city of Valencia.

The President of the Republic, Juan Negrín, and General Vicente Rojo decide to carry out this operation by crossing the Ebro between Fayón and Cherta, which, in addition to preventing the taking of Valencia, would unite two of the republican areas. Keep in mind that republican supplies were scarce and the French border was closed those days. Also morale was really low due to constant defeats.

It seemed impossible that the Republic could take the offensive but it did. The strip of land that had to be covered along the Ebro measured about 60 km, crossing this mighty river with any floating object, 100,000 men had to cross to the other side and begin the assault. These 100,000 men formed the so-called autonomous group of the Ebro, commanded by the colonel of militias Juan Modesto Guilloto, divided in turn into three bodies. The national side had a similar number of men under General Fidel Dávila and the Moroccan Army Corps under General Juan Yague.

The operation began in the early morning of July 25, 1938, the Republicans crossed the Ebro through three different sites. The initial idea was to surprise the enemy, who had much more aerial capacity and a powerful artillery. At first, the surprise was total and around 4,000 national soldiers were taken prisoner, the central front advanced the most and Gandesa soon became the key to the battle.

The passage of the North also had a good result for the republican side that was able to establish a bridgehead and advanced ground quickly eliminating the centers of resistance. The republican southern front that went to Amposta was the one that took the worst part, since they were quickly discovered by the nationals and had to cross the river under mortar and machine gun fire. Finally, the Republicans had to withdraw across the river with heavy casualties.

The Republican advance stopped at Gandesa, which could not be taken. At this point, the Republican strategy turned defensive and the Nationals prepared for a counteroffensive. The air superiority thanks to the German condor legion that provided support to Franco, added to the intelligent strategy consisting of opening the floodgates of the Tremp and Canasara reservoirs to increase the flow of the river, made things very difficult for the Republic.

Furthermore, the national side was very well armed and had sufficient supplies, unlike the Republican side. Due to this stalemate, the battle turned into a war of attrition in which the Republic did not have the upper hand. Thus begins a bloody defense of the territory conquered by the Republic against the constant attacks of the national side.

The Republic would resist until November 16 when the order to withdraw was given, crossing the Ebro again and blowing up the bridges that they left behind. In total, a 116-day campaign in which casualties reached between 50,000 and 60,000 on each side, although deaths were higher on the Republican side. The great moral victory of the national side helped the Republic to fall a few months later, after the taking of Madrid.

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