By International Federation of Resistance Fighters (FIR) – Association of Antifascists. From the 2023-01 edition of their newsletter.
The FIR commemorates today a significant military action during the Spanish Civil War, both in terms of the number of casualties, but also in terms of its strategic consequence: the Battle of Teruel from December 15, 1937 to February 27, 1938.
The city of Teruel not only had a symbolic function for the fascists, but also was strategically important because it reached far into the Republican terrain and controlled transportation routes over it. Republican Prime Minister Juan Negrín saw in the conquest of Teruel the possibility of stabilizing his influence over Catalan industrial plants and their production. In addition, an attack on Teruel was expected to prevent an anticipated attack on Madrid by Franco’s forces.
In fact, Republican forces succeeded in encircling the city with a surprise attack on December 15, 1937, whereupon the bulk of Franco’s forces entrenched themselves in the city’s fortified garrison. On December 21, the first Republican troops, accompanied by then-war reporter Ernest Hemingway, marched into the city.
However, the Nationalist troops resisted fiercely, which turned into a house-to-house battle in the following days. Massive forces of Franco’s troops tried to break through the ring from the outside. They received support from the German air force. The “Condor Legion” flew numerous air raids on the city even over the holidays. Nevertheless, the Republican forces managed to advance gradually. On January 8, the Nationalist troops surrendered. Teruel was in the hands of the Spanish Republic.
How important this city was to Franco’s forces, is shown by the fact that on January 17, 1938, the Nationalist Northern Army, with 100,000 men, opened a counteroffensive to retake the city. To support Franco’s troops, even the headquarters of the “Condor Legion” was moved to Bronchales closer to Teruel. The German planes took off from five airports. Two squadrons of aircraft were deployed specifically for these attacks.
From January 19, the International Brigades also participated in the defense of Teruel. We would like to remember two of these fighters by name. Kurt Julius Goldstein, for several years political secretary of the FIR in Vienna, fought in the battle of Teruel and was wounded shortly afterwards. The French anti-fascist Josep Almudéver Mateu, who died at the age of 102 in May 2021, was also wounded in the Battle of Teruel as a volunteer in the Republican Army. Nevertheless, after his recovery, he continued to fight in the ranks of the International Brigades.
It was also thanks to the operations of the German and Italian Air Forces, with their massive carpet-bombing of Republican positions that Franco’s forces were able to advance. From February 17, 1938, they succeeded in encircling the city. However, most of the Republican army managed to escape. Only 14,500 soldiers were left in the city when Teruel fell into the hands of Franco’s forces on February 22.
The outcome of this battle, which involved more than 200,000 people, was devastating.
Franco’s troops lost about 40,000 men, a quarter of them to frostbite. The Republican side’s losses were even greater, at about 60,000 men. In the air battles, the “Condor Legion” and the Italian Air Force destroyed far more Republican planes than they themselves lost. In addition, the Nationalists captured many tons of valuable material, ammunition and war equipment. The Battle of Teruel, with its street fighting and freezing cold, was one of the most terrible battles in the war, according to one review.
We do not forget the fighters and victims who gave their lives, health and freedom 85 years ago on this front line to defense the Spanish Republic. Despite the military defeat, this battle for Teruel remains of great symbolic importance.