Bechite - Spain 1937 | 2010

Posted on June 30, 2010 by UNITED PHOTO PRESS



Belchite: ruins of the old village. After failed attempts to capture Brunete, the Republican military leadership decided to try a new series of offensives to slow down the Nationalist advance in the north. A new campaign was therefore planned for Aragon. The decision wasn't based on political as well as military considerations, as the government saw it as a way to decrease anarchist and POUM influence in the region by bringing in communist troops and incorporating three anarchist divisions into the newly designated Army of the East under command of general Sebastian Pozas.

Another objective of the planned offensive was to take Zaragoza, the capital of Aragon, which was only a few kilometers behind enemy lines. Capturing the regional capital offered more than symbolic significance because it was also the communication center of whole Aragon front. The first year of the war in this part of Spain had emphasized that the possession of key town was of far greater importance than the control of wide areas of open countryside.

The Nationalists had only three divisions, the 51st, 52nd and 105th, spread across the 300 kilometers of front, with the majority of their troops concentrated in towns. General Pozas and his chief-of-staff Antonio Cordon set up their headquarters in Bujaraloz. Their plan was to break through at seven different points on the central 100-kilometre stretch between Zuera and Belchite. The object of splitting their attacking forces was to divide any Nationalist counter-attack and to offer fewer targets for bombing and strafing than at Brunete.

Republican offensive

Republican Army of East together with XI and XV international brigade started its offensive with 80,000 men, three squadrons of republican aviation with Polikarpov I-16 (moscas), Polikarpov I-15 (chatos) (90 planes in total) and 105 T-26 tanks in three main and 5 secondary directions on 100 kilometre stretch between Zuera and Belchite.

On first two fronts (north and center) republican managed to take only vacant territories. On southern portion of the front republican army took village of Mediana immediately and Quinto was taken on fourth day of offensive. In village of Codo there were three Carlist companies that tied two republican brigades. Most fierce resistance was encountered in Belchite where 7,000 nationalist defenders resisted till September 7 in surrounded town when it was taken by republicans. These delays gave time to nationalist to bring reinforcements and full scale offensive to Zaragoza failed.

Nationalist counteroffensive

With five nationalist divisions of which two were retreated from Madrid front, artillery and 65 Fiat CR.32, Heinkel He 46, Savoia Sm-49 and Messerschmitt Bf-109 nationalist counter offensive started on August 30 and ended on September 6. The only major Nationalist success was the shooting down 5 I-15, but they were not able to break Republican lines.

Aftermath

Although the republicans gained some initial success and managed to push the front line 10km deeper into enemy territory, both of the main objectives of the offensive failed. The Nationalists didn't postpone their big offensive in the north, as they did before the Battle of Brunete, and the attempt to capture Saragossa failed.

Ruins as National Monument

The whole town was (and is) destroyed. Franco ordered that the ruins be left untouched as a "live" monument of war. A new town was constructed near the former. The monument is frequented by film-makers.

Hugh Thomas (2001). The Spanish Civil War. Modern Library. ISBN 0-375-75515-2.
Anthony Beevor, The Spanish Civil War,