eLa Guerra Marina 1936-39: the Spanish Civil War at sea.
Many otherwise excellent general accounts of the war never mention naval activity at all. One of the best accounts of the war, certainly one of the most comprehensive and well balanced accounts, Gabriel Jackson's History of the Spanish Civil War, dismisses the naval side of the war in few dozen paragraphs scattered throughout the book. This is inexcusable as the naval war, little known and largely unsung, even at the time, was crucial to the outcome of the conflict in general.
It is probable that most readers will have at least some knowledge of the Spanish Civil War. For instance, it is almost certain that most, if not all, readers have heard of the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica in 1937 with its attendant loss of life. How many readers, however, have heard of the loss of the Nationalist battlecruiser Espana in the same year and the sinking of its sister ship, the Republican battlecruiser Jaime I, several weeks later with a combined loss of over 300 Spanish sailors?
Most people will be aware of the activities of the German Condor Legion in testing German military equipment, tactics and aircraft and providing battle experience for German army and air force personnel. How many, however, are aware of Operation URSULA, the German Navy's top secret submarine campaign in support of the Nationalist Navy?
Finally, any one with a reasonable knowledge of the war will be aware of the Republican Army's last throw of the dice in attempting to force the River Ebro in 1938. Who, however, has heard of the gallant, quixotic and ultimately doomed attempt by the Republican destroyer Jose Luis Diez to rejoin the rest of the Republican fleet in the Mediterranean in 1938 by trying to force the Straits of Gibraltar disguised as a Royal Navy destroyer? Not too many one would suspect.
As can be gathered by the introduction, the Spanish Civil War definitely had a naval aspect and it is this aspect which will be addressed in the following article. The article will in fact demonstrate that the naval aspect of the war was crucial to the final outcome of the conflict. Before proceeding, however, I wish to stress that I have no personal axe to grind and in fact came to the conclusion many years ago that there were no "goodies" or "baddies" in this war. Both sides saw themselves as patriots and the saviours of Spain. This, of course, was the greatest tragedy of the war.
In 1931, at the end of a long series of political crises, a Socialist dominated government took power in Madrid and declared a republic. Generally well meaning and possessed of an undisputed raw idealism, the Republic an government unfortunately was beset with bitter religious, class and ideological divisions. These divisions soon led Spain to the brink of anarchy and social chaos. As the government began to lose control of the political and security situation and the Republic floundered towards disaster, a military led revolt was mounted in July 1936. The aim of the conspirators was to depose the government, reinstate the monarchy and stabilise the security situation. Unfortunately, the rebels' hopes for a quick victory were dashed and rather than saving Spain the revolt triggered an explosion of violence and counter violence in the Spanish people.
After a confused, chaotic and bloody first few days, Spain found itself divided into two fairly evenly matched armed camps. Left leaning and regionalistic "Republicans" versus right leaning and centralist "Nationalists." There were no shades of in-between in the war, you were either a "Red" of a "Fascist" and that was that. When the dust of those first few days had settled, physically speaking Spain was divided roughly in two with the Republicans holding the south, apart from a few embattled Nationalist enclaves, while the Nationalists basically held the north, apart from a strip of territory running from the French border about three quarters of the way across to the Atlantic coast line. More importantly, the Nationalists held all but one of the strategically important Balearic Islands and controlled all of Spanish Morocco with its large professional and battle hardened colonial army.
As well as the nation, the armed forces were roughly divided between the two sides with both the army and the air force being split almost equally between the two protagonists. The air force, however, a more technical organisation with an educated personnel base, tended to side with the Republic. The two paramilitary forces, the Guardia Civil and the Guardia d'Asalto in general sided completely with one side or the other. The Civil Guards tended to support the Nationalist while the Assault Guards favoured the Republic. It should be noted, however, that personal survival probably played a great part in one's choice of side in the conflict. Doubtless there were many Republican sympathisers caught on the wrong side of the line who threw in their lot with the rebels out of sheer self preservation. Just as certainly there were many Nationalist sympathisers who were forced to throw in with the Republicans for the same reason.
As with the Air Force and the Civil and Assault Guards, so the army and navy split along ideological lines. Although the all-important Army of Africa, made up of long service, battle hardened regulars, went over to the Nationalists almost to a man, on the mainland it was not so one sided. The confusion of the first few days was made worse by bloody battles between various factions fighting to gain control of Army units and the all-important arsenals. By the time the situation had "stabilised," for want of a better word, it transpired that, apart from the Army of Africa, about 33,000 men of the Army stood by the government while about 24,000 declared for Franco and the Nationalists. Of the Army officer corps of about 8,500, some 3,500 were killed or imprisoned by the Republicans in the first days and of the remainder, 2,000 sided with the government and 3,000 with the rebels.
What about the Navy? At the outbreak of the war the Spanish Navy was, from the point of view of most of its ships at least, a reasonably modern and up to date force. It was ranked 7th or 8th in the world. Of particular pride for the Spanish Navy was the fact that almost all of its ships were Spanish built (although largely from foreign, mostly British, designs). On the other hand, the navy had not fought a major engagement since the Spanish-American War of 1898 and that conflict had been a humiliating disaster for Spain and its navy. The navy had been actively involved in operations in the conquest of Morocco during the 1920's. While the navy had performed with reasonable credit in the Moroccan and Rift Campaigns, it should be remembered that there was no naval opposition and any glory won had been tarnished by the loss of the flagship of the fleet. The battlecruiser Espana, pride of the fleet, ran aground off the Moroccan coast in 1923 and was totally wrecked in an ensuing storm.
Beside the lack of recent combat experience, of particular importance was the fact that despite a number of wide ranging reforms dating from as far back as 1907, training for both officers and ratings was old
fashioned, rigid and unimaginative.
On that fateful day in 1936 when the generals rebelled, the Spanish Navy had a strength of approximately 20,000 men. Its major bases were at Cadiz and Cartagena in the south and El Ferrol in the north. There was also a large secondary at Mahon in the Balearic Islands. Digressing slightly, El Ferrol on the Atlantic coast was not only the major ship building and repair base for the navy, it was also the birth place and home town of General Francisco Franco. Franco in fact came from a naval family, his ne'er do well father being a senior officer in the Corps of Naval Administrators, his maternal grandfather had been a flag officer in the Corps of Naval Engineers and his brother was a naval line officer who eventually rose to be an admiral. Franco himself had been destined for a naval career and it was only by a stroke of fate that he ended up at the Infantry Academy at Toledo rather than at the Naval Cadet School at El Ferrol. It is fascinating to conjecture what the outcome of the Spanish Civil War would have been had Franco donned navy blue instead of army green!
The navy boasted a fleet of 66 combatant ships representing a fairly balanced mix of cruisers, destroyers, submarines and smaller surface combatants. The order of battle of the Spanish Navy at the outbreak of the war is shown in Table 1.
The two battlecruisers Espana and Jaime I were both old ships, dating back to the First World War. Espana in fact was so decrepit that she was laid up out of commission at El Ferrol. Just to clear up any confusion, the Espana laid up at El Ferrol in 1936 was not the Espana mentioned above as having been wrecked off Morocco in 1923. When the original Espana was lost in 1923, her sister ship Alfonso XIII took over as flag. The newly installed and implacably anti-monarchist Republican government renamed Alfonso XIII to Espana in 1932.
The cruisers were the backbone of the navy. The two heavy cruisers Canarias and Baleares were both brand new and were in fact not even in commission at the outbreak of the war. Construction on the two ships had been delayed by a series of economic crises and at the outbreak of the war, they were still fitting out at El Ferrol. Libertad, Miguel de Cervantes and Almirante Cervera had been commissioned between 1926 and 1930 and mounted eight 6 inch guns each as well as a useful mix of smaller guns and torpedoes. All three ships ere at El Ferrol when the war broke out, Almirante Cervera being in dry dock. Mendez Nunez was somewhat older than the three just mentioned, having been commissioned in 1924. She was in fact a close relative to the contemporary HMAS Adelaide. Mendez Nunez had a somewhat odd mix of combustion machinery, six oil fired boilers and six coal fired boilers, which hampered her performance throughout her career. She was on detached duty at the Spanish West African colony of Guinea at the outbreak of the war. The oldest of the navy's cruisers was Navarra, commissioned in 1922. Originally named Reina Victoria Eugenia in honour of the wife of King Alfonso XIII, her name was changed to Republica in 1932. The Nationalists would change her name yet again to Navarra. Although relatively well armed, Navarra was very slow and this made her unsuitable for any duty other than blockading. She was in fact moored out of service at Cadiz at the outbreak of the war.
To complement the cruisers, the Spanish Navy operated 17 modern destroyers, 14 of the "Churucca" class and three of the "Alsedo" class. The "Churuccas" were all completed between 1928 and 1937. Note the last date--Gravina, Escano, Ulloa, Jorge Juan and Ciscar were all still under construction at the outbreak of the war and were not completed until hostilities were well and truly under way. The "Alsedo" class ships were slightly older, having entered service in 1924 and 1925. Of the destroyers, all but one, Velasco, would become part of the Republican fleet. The other major combatant portion of the Spanish Navy was its submarine arm. This consisted of 12 relatively modern submarines. Six of these were of the older "B" class, called somewhat unimaginatively B1--B6. These boats were commissioned between 1921 and 1924. The other six boats were of the more modern "C" class. These boats, named C1--C6, had been commissioned between 1927 and 1930. The fleet was rounded out by an assortment of gunboats, sloops, minelayers and various auxiliaries.
As with the Army, the rising of the generals in July 1936 was a signal for fratricidal fighting to erupt in the fleet as factions attempted to gain control of the ships and bases. When the fighting of the first few days had subsided, the Nationalists controlled the bases at El Ferrol and Cadiz while the Republic retained control of Cartagena and Mahon. Fighting had been particularly savage at El Ferrol as the highly politicised enlisted ranks of the Navy were largely on the side of the Republic. Caught ashore in the centre of a conservative and staunchly monarchist area, Republican sailors put up a stiff fight to keep control of their ships but were overwhelmed by the local Army garrison backed up by monarchist Galician militia.
When they captured the base at El Ferrol, the Nationalists gained control of the old battlecruiser Espana, the two new heavy cruisers under construction Canarias and Baleares and the older cruiser Almirante Cervera which was in dry dock. They also gained their one and only destroyer Velasco. The old cruiser Republica was captured at Cadiz and towed to El Ferrol. There she was refitted and renamed Navarra and pressed into service. Navarra was so old and decrepit, however, that she did not complete her refit and join the Nationalist fleet until June 1938.
At the very outbreak of the uprising, the cruisers Libertad and Miguel de Cervantes, then at El Ferrol, had been ordered by the (Republican) Ministry of Marine to sail for Cadiz. En route the officers tried to declare the ships for the Nationalist but the crews mutinied, killed some of the officers, imprisoned the rest and sailed the ships to Cartagena where they joined the Republican fleet. The illustration below shows Miguel de Cervantes at anchor in Cartagena a few days after the uprising. She flies the Republican flag and members of her crew are seen on the stem giving the clenched fist Republican salute.
The old cruiser Mendez Nunez was on detached service in Spanish West Africa when the war broke out. After some indecision the bulk of the officers, probably out of sheer self-preservation, decided to remain loyal to the Republic and the old ship made her way back to Cartagena where she also joined the Republican fleet. This voyage was a major epic worthy of an article in its own right. Unfortunately, space precludes recounting the tale here.
Apart from Velasco, the Republic retained all of the destroyers, including the five under construction. This lack was to hamper Nationalist operations throughout the war. As with the destroyers, so with the submarines. All of the "C" class boats plus B-5 and B-6 were in port at Cartagena at the outbreak of the war; B-2, B-3 and B-4 were at Pollensa and B-1 was at Mahon. All of the submarines and their officers and crews declared for the Republic. The relative strengths of the two fleets at the beginning of the war following the first days of the conflict are shown in Table 2 below.
At first glance this table indicates that the Republic had an overwhelming advantage in numbers. This is, however, somewhat misleading. Undeniably the Republic had the ships but the Nationalists had the trained men in the persons of the officers, the majority of whom had declared for the rebels. Even those officers aboard Republican ships who had declared for the Republic were not entirely safe. As an example, when the submarine commanders and their crews declared for the Republic, those boats ready for sea were all ordered to Malaga. From there they were to commence war patrols to interdict ships bringing the Army of Africa to the mainland. On arrival at Malaga, however, the Republican authorities dismissed the Submarine Squadron commander, Capitan de Navio Guimera and all of his captains. This was a taste of things to come. The action was repeated with the officers of Mendez Nunez who, despite declaring for the Republic, were dismissed when the old cruiser eventually managed to make her way back to Cartagena from Spanish Guinea. Thus, the Nationalists were able to flesh out the skeleton crews of their ships with enthusiastic volunteers who could largely be trained on the job by the officers and warrant officers who had declared for the rebels. For the Republicans, however, the lack of trained officers was to hamper naval efficiency and operations for the entire war.
The Nationalists were quick to seize the naval initiative. The ageing battlecruiser Espana was quickly refitted and, manned by a scratch crew, she put to sea in company with the destroyer Velasco on 12 August 1936 to carry out blockade duty on the northern Republican coast. This was not without its risks as the old lady was torpedoed by a Republican submarine on 31 August. Luckily the torpedo was a dud.
Her sister ship Jamie I, meanwhile, had joined with the cruisers Libertad and Miguel de Cervantes and seven destroyers of the Republican Navy and sailed for the international port of Tangier where the squadron dropped anchor on 20 July 1936. They commenced operations two days later with a bombardment at La Linea on the Spanish coast just north of Gibraltar, followed by a similar operation at Ceuta on the North African coast on 25 July. These operations outraged the International Committee which governed Tangier and the squadron was eventually forced out of the city at the end of July and moved its base of operations to Malaga on the southern coast of Spain. At the end of July the Republican submarine C-4 was caught on the surface in the Straits of Gibraltar by Nationalist aircraft and bombed. Limping into Tangier, she was immediately interned by the exasperated International Committee (she was later released).
The Nationalists meanwhile had been active in trying to move troops from Africa to the mainland. Much has been made over the years of the use by Franco of German and Italian transport aircraft to fly his African army to Spain. This is in fact not quite the whole truth and in point of fact, certainly in my opinion, it is something of a myth. A myth because, although the air bridge did occur and it did have an enormous moral impact in the early days of the war, it was really nothing more than a spectacular stunt. The aircraft provided were old and small in the main. The German Junkers transports for instance were only able to carry eight troops at a time. The numbers of troops moved by air were in fact quite small. Had Franco relied on aircraft only, he would probably be still ferrying men across the Straits today. In fact, the bulk of the Army of Africa moved to the mainland by sea.
It was for this reason that the Republican fleet had deployed its main surface and subsurface strength to the south. The first successful Nationalist convoy forced its way through the Republican blockade on 5 August. As most of the Nationalist fleet, such as it was, was in the north, the convoy was escorted by one of the small ships that had been serving in Moroccan waters, the ancient gunboat Dato. Although a large portion of the Republican fleet was deployed to interdict the convoy, the Republican ships were so poorly handled and commanded that only the destroyer Alcala Galiano managed to even get near the convoy. Even then the Republican destroyer, lacking experienced officers and senior ratings, was driven off by the far smaller and vastly inferior Dato and the convoy got safely through to Algeciras to land several thousand well armed and well equipped combat troops to support the Nationalist drive on Madrid.
The saga of the first Nationalist convoy had an interesting postscript. As Dato was about to enter the harbour after seeing her charges safely docked, she sighted a destroyer rounding Gibraltar's Europa Point. Immediately assuming that the enemy had returned Dato turned furiously to the attack again. Even as the newcomer was straddled by Dato's first salvo, however, she hoisted a huge White Ensign a the foremast and was subsequently identified as HMS Basilisk. Profuse apologies followed. This was the fast of a number of mistaken identity incidents that would occur throughout the war. These came about because the Spanish destroyers were built to British designs and thus at fast glance would have been difficult to distinguish. Hazy visual conditions and the close proximity of the pre-war Spanish naval hull colour to the Royal Navy's "Mediterranean Grey" only added to the problem. Sadly, the gallant little Dato was lost two days later when the Republican cruisers Jaime I and Libertad bombarded Algeciras.
Towards the end of August the Republicans mounted an abortive operation designed to capture the Nationalist held Balearic Island of Mallorca. Although the Republican cruiser Libertad conducted a reasonably efficient and effective naval bombardment in support of the army, the operation ultimately failed and Libertad returned to Malaga to rejoin the Gibraltar blockade.
Several of the Republic's submarines had been deployed to the north into the Spanish end of the Bay of Biscay, locally referred to as the Mar Cantabrico. On 18 September the Republican Navy suffered its first combat loss when the submarine B-6 was caught on the surface off Santander by the Nationalist armed tugs Galicia and Ciriza. A surface gun action quickly drew the attention of both Republican shore batteries and the Nationalist destroyer Velasco. Despite support from the shore batteries B-6 was totally outnumbered and outgunned. She was eventually so seriously damaged that her crew scuttled her and abandoned ship to be taken prisoner.
A dramatic little episode, one of many which typified the bitter nature of the war, occurred at the northern town of Gijon on 4 October. This town and the nearby of Oviedo had been captured from the Republicans in surprise attacks on 4 September. Unfortunately for the Nationalists, while Oviedo was fairly easily held against heavy odds, holding Gijon proved not as easy as taking it. Hard pressed to find men in the north the Nationalists had only been able to spare 180 men to garrison Gijon. This tiny force held out for eight weeks against determined attacks by Republican Austrian militia but finally succumbed on 4 October. In a desperate attempt to hold the town the Nationalist cruiser Almirante Cervera had been providing naval gunfire support. At the end, as the Asturian militiamen were overrunning the last Nationalist position in the old fort in the town the Nationalist commander, Coronel Pinilla, broadcast a message to the captain of Almirante Cervera which read: "Fire on us. We have the enemy inside. Fire on us, I repeat." In response to this message the cruiser laid down a barrage which obliterated a large number of Republican troops, along with the last of the Nationalist defenders. Gijon was to remain in Republican hands until 1938.
The blockade of the Straits of Gibraltar meanwhile had continued. While fairly ineffectual, the blockade did at least hinder Nationalist operations in the region. For this reason, it has always been hard for me to understand why on 26 September the Republican naval command ordered Jaime I, Libertad, Miguel de Cervantes and five destroyers to cross the Straits of Gibraltar into the Atlantic and steam north to support Republican operations on the northern coast. While it is undeniably true that the Republican held territories in the north were quite isolated and were being actively harassed by Espana and Velasco, the decision to send the ships north was a grave strategic error, as will be seen.
After securing the naval dockyard at El Ferrol, the Nationalist had worked furiously to bring the two heavy cruisers into commission. By a supreme effort the managed to add Canarias to their fleet in early September. In order to get Canarias to sea and into the fight as soon as possible she had been commissioned with only three 8-inch turrets instead of the planned four. She also was armed with smaller AA guns than originally designed. The fourth 8-inch turret would, however, be added later in the war. Besides decreased armament, Canarias also had a brand new crew made up mostly of untrained volunteers. Despite this, when the Nationalist naval command learned that the bulk of the Republican fleet had cleared the Straits of Gibraltar and headed north, they immediately despatched Canarias and Almirante Cervera to the Straits to sweep them clean of the remaining Republican ships. On 29 September the two cruisers spotted the Republican destroyers Almirante Ferrandiz and Gravina and immediately engaged them. In a short fight Almirante Ferrandiz was sunk with almost all hands and Gravina was badly damaged and forced to flee. Thus, in only a few short minutes the Nationalists were able to wrest control of the all-important Straits of Gibraltar from the Republicans. The Nationalists were now free to carry out unimpeded convoy action across the strait. This ability to move the 24,000 man Army of Africa across from Morocco to Spain unhindered was (in my personal view) one of the ultimate winning factors of the war. This, I believe, proves the premise that the sadly neglected naval aspect of the war was in fact a decisive element of the war.
As noted above, I am at a loss to explain why the Republican Navy made this basic and glaring strategic blunder. Possibly some of the senior Republican officers may not have been as committed to the Republican cause as they seemed and issued the orders as a form of sabotage. That is, of course, pure conjecture on my part. The fact remains, however, that the mistake was made and the Republic was to suffer its consequences.
Meanwhile, when the powerful Republican fleet had appeared in the Atlantic the tiny Nationalist Navy very wisely stayed out of its way. The Republicans spent a few unproductive and frustrating weeks trying to run the Nationalist ships to bay while conducting a number of fairly useless bombardments. Eventually they were ordered to return to the Mediterranean in mid October. The Nationalists were aware of the redeployment of the Republican squadron and deployed Canarias and Almirante Cervera across the Republican's intended path but the two forces failed to find each other. In fact they actually crossed each other's paths during the night of 16 October but neither was aware of the other. As a result the Republican squadron was able to rejoin the remainder of the fleet at Cartagena. But, the Nationalist Navy remained in control of the Straits of Gibraltar and this control was never to be seriously challenged again by the Republic.
Republican naval morale would not have been helped by the loss of the B-5 on 12 October. The submarine was lost under mysterious circumstances. It has long been theorised among Spanish naval historians, however, that B-5 was sunk by her captain, Capitan de Corbeta Carlos Barreda Terry, who was believed to be a Nationalist sympathiser. Certainly Terry's largely Nationalist sympathetic family revered him as a hero who sacrificed his own life in the Nationalist cause.
Despite the loss of two submarines, however, the Republican Navy still held a total advantage in this area and the Nationalists desperately caste around for some submarines of their own. A meeting had been held in September between senior Nationalist, Italian and German officers where the question of the provision of submarines had been discussed in detail. At this meeting Admiral Canaris of the Kriegsmarine had given tacit agreement to the provision of a small German submarine to the Nationalists but had made no promises. The following month, however, Hitler and Ciano had signed the Rome-Berlin Axis Agreement and here it was secretly agreed to provide submarine support to Franco's navy. As a result of this agreement, and over the strenuous objections of Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine led by C-in-C Grossadmiral Raeder, the Kriegsmarine was ordered to launch Operation URSULA. This was a top-secret operation designed to test Germany's submarines under combat conditions, to test and develop U-boat tactics and to give selected U-boat personnel combat experience. URSULA was officially launched on 20 November 1936 when two Type VIIA U-boats, U-33 and U34, slipped out of Kiel, after dark and under the most stringent security, bound for the Mediterranean. The submarines cleared the Straits of Gibraltar on the night of 27-28 November and on 29 November officially relieved the Italian submarines Topazio and Torricelli, which had been supporting Nationalist operations. The Italian boats withdrew to their base at La Maddalena and the U-boats commenced war patrols.
The U-boats had very little luck. U-34 attacked a Republican destroyer on 1 December but her torpedo went wild, struck the shore and exploded. The explosion was not linked to a torpedo and the operation remained secret. A second attack was mounted the following night but was hurriedly abandoned when the target was identified at the last moment as a patrolling British destroyer! Attacks on 5 and 8 December also failed. U-33 had no better luck. Attacks planned or mounted on 2, 3, 5 and 6 December all resulted in no hits. URSULA finally achieved a result in the afternoon of 12 December. U-34, on course for Malaga, spotted the Republican submarine C-3 on the surface and attacked. A torpedo launched by the U-boat struck the Republican submarine forward of the conning tower and she broke up and sank in seconds. The only survivors were two sailors who had been on deck disposing of food scraps from the midday meal and the sub's navigating officer, a merchant navy officer who had been pressed into naval service, who had been chatting with the sub's captain on the conning tower at the time of the explosion. The three men were thrown clear and picked up by a fishing boat that was nearby at the time. Interestingly, Republican authorities at first attributed the loss of C-3 to an enemy submarine. This theory was quickly discarded, however, in the absence of evidence. The Republican Navy of course did not know of the presence of hostile submarines and therefore decided that the loss of their submarine could not have been the result of a submarine attack. In the end it was decided that C-3 had been lost as the result of an explosion in the battery compartment. It was not until the end of the Second World War in fact that the U-34's role in the loss of C-3 was revealed.
The two U-boats departed the Mediterranean on 15 December. At that time, due to coordination problems, it was agreed that only Italian submarines would operate in the Mediterranean. From that time onward German submarines deployed on Operation URSULA would confine their activities to the Atlantic arena. At least eight U-boats, possibly more, served in Spanish waters from 1936-39. Boats known to have taken part in Operation URSULA were U-14, U-25, U-26, U-27, U-31, U-33, U-34 and U-35. These boats represented the three major operational classes in the Kriegsmarine's inventory at the time, the Type IA, Type IIB and Type VIIA. Although the U-boats made very few kills, Operation URSULA was certainly a useful testing and training ground for the U-boat arm.
The Italians were far more active and generous in their provision of submarine support to the Nationalist Navy. At least 58 Italian submarines served in Spain between 1936-39. Two of these submarines, Archimede and Torricelli, would be transferred to the Nationalist Navy in 1937. They would serve as the General Mola and General Sanjurjo respectively. As with the German effort, Italian submarine operations reaped very few kills. On the other hand, like the Germans the Italians learned valuable lessons and developed useful techniques from the experience.
One grey area is the matter of Soviet submarines. Persistent rumours abound to the effect that Soviet submarines operated in support of the Republicans but nothing to date has been proved. It should be noted that these days it is relatively easy to obtain historical information from Russia. As an example, I have obtained from official Russian sources copies of declassified files dealing with Soviet military involvement in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Bearing this in mind, it stands to reason that any records of Soviet submarine operations in Spain would also be available but absolutely nothing has been turned up by interested researchers. That is not to say that records don't exist and they may turn up one day. In the meantime, however, rumours of Soviet submarine involvement in the Spanish Civil War remain just that, rumours.
A partial success by an Italian submarine ended the year on a low note for the Republicans. On 22 November, the Italian submarine Torricelli torpedoed Miguel de Cervantes off Cartagena. The cruiser had just returned from the north and was so badly damaged that it would not rejoin the Republican fleet until 1938. Republican naval woes were added to when the submarine C-5 departed Bilbao on 30 December, never to be seen again. As with the disappearance of the B-5, the loss of C-5 has been credited to her commander, Capitan de Corbeta Jose Lara y Dorda.
Another blow to the Republican cause was the sinking of the Soviet merchant ship Komsomol by the Nationalist cruiser Canarias on 12 December. Although this sinking led to a bitter international incident and resulted in savage Soviet denunciations of the Nationalists, it also resulted in a marked drop in the number of Soviet merchant ships attempting to reach Republican Spain. Thus ended 1936, the fast year of the war. During the six months from July to December of the year the outnumbered Nationalist Navy had established both moral and technical ascendancy over the Republicans. Although outnumbered for the entire war the Nationalists were never to lose the initiative at sea. Nationalist naval strength was boosted when the second heavy cruiser, Baleares, joined the fleet at the end of December. Like her sister ship Canarias, Baleares went into service with only three turrets instead of the designed four. Her fourth turret would be fitted in the summer of 1937.
The fairly frantic naval activity of 1936 began to settle down at the start of 1937. Naval activity at the beginning of the year consisted of convoy escort, shore bombardment and blockade duty. As it turned out, these were to be the bulk of the lot of both navies for the rest of the war.
One of the more significant events of the year was the capture of the Republican port of Malaga by Spanish and Italian troops on 8 February. This was a bitter blow for the Republicans as it deprived them of a safe harbour close to the Straits of Gibraltar and the North African coast. Nationalist warships began operating from Malaga within hours of its capture.
The Nationalist Navy displayed its aggressiveness and initiative in late April 1937. On 25 April the heavy cruisers Canarias and Baleares which were now home ported at Mallorca in the Balearic Islands, sailed into the harbour at Cartagena to harass the Republican fleet. Although little damage was done to the Republican ships, total chaos reigned in the harbour and we can only imagine the chagrin of the Republicans as the two impudent Nationalist cruisers steamed serenely out of the harbour before the shore batteries could be brought into action.
Shortly after this little action, both sides received a shock when the two old battlecruisers Espana and Jaime I were lost within weeks of each other. The first to go was the Nationalist Espana. On 30 April the hard worked Nationalist destroyer Velasco spotted a freighter attempting to force the blockade off Santander. Velasco radioed Espana for assistance and the bigger ship headed for the scene while closing the shore in an attempt to cut off the blockade-runner. Unfortunately, Espana struck a mine that blew a huge hole in her starboard bow and she went down quickly. Velasco immediately abandoned the chase and went to the rescue. She was able to save all but five of Espana's crew.
Earlier that month Espana's Republican sister ship Jaime I had run aground off Malaga and was eventually towed to Almeira for repairs. While in dock she had been further damaged in a Nationalist air raid on 21 May and it was decided to tow her to Cartagena for a complete refit. While under tow on 17 June the old ship suffered an internal explosion of unknown cause and quickly went down, taking 300 of her crew with her.
A little bit earlier international tensions had been increased when two foreign warships had been damaged off Spain. In the first incident HMS Hunter, a Royal Navy destroyer based at Gibraltar, struck a mine. It is presumed that the Nationalists had laid the mine. Badly damaged, Hunter limped back to Gibraltar for repairs. Of more significance was the Republican attack on the German battlecruiser Deutschland on 29 May. The German ship was part of the International Non-Intervention Patrol. She was on patrol off Iviza on 29 May when she was bombed by Republican aircraft. As Deutschland had huge swastikas painted on the foredeck, quarterdeck and main armament turrets, there was no chance of the attack being a case of mistaken identity. The attack resulted in the deaths of 31 German sailors and the wounding of over 80 more. In retaliation, Hitler withdrew his ships from the Non-Intervention Patrol. Hitler being Hitler, however, he had to go one step further and ordered the battlecruiser Admiral Scheer to carry out a bombardment of the Republican port of Almeira. The bombardment severely damaged the docks and port area and resulted in the deaths of 19 Spaniards.
The loss of Espana, old and decrepit as she was, was a critical blow to the ship starved Nationalist Navy. Her loss was somewhat compensated for by the acquisition of two old Italian submarines mentioned above. Later in the year, the Nationalists finally convinced the Italians to sell them some old destroyers. Unfortunately, these ships were to be of little use due to their age and slow speed. On the Republican side, at the end of June the navy lost the use of one of its destroyers when Alcala Galiano was damaged in a collision with a merchant ship. Towed to Cartagena for repairs, she was further damaged in an air raid and was out of action for the rest of the war.
From May to September of 1937 a series of small, inconclusive skirmishes were fought between Nationalist and Republican ships as they stumbled on each other, usually during convoys. On 20 May for instance, Baleares encountered the bulk of the Republican fleet while she was carrying out a lone escort of an oil tanker. The Nationalist cruiser exchanged fire with the Republicans until the two sides lost each in the fog. No hits were scored. On 12 July Baleares again encountered the Republicans in the form of six destroyers escorting two merchant ships. Baleares was able to drive off the destroyers but in the confusion the merchant ships were able to make good their escape. In August, the Republican destroyer Churruca was torpedoed by an Italian submarine but managed to make its way back to Cartagena. Churruca was eventually repaired and recommissioned.
Finally on 7 September, Baleares precipitated one of the only two major naval engagements of the war, the Battle of Cape Cherchell. On the morning of that day Baleares, operating alone, intercepted a Republican convoy of four freighters escorted by the cruisers Libertad and Mendez Nunez and seven destroyers off Cape Cherchell in Algeria. Although she was in an unfavourable position, caught between the Republican ships and the coast, Baleares attacked, engaging the two Republican cruisers while the destroyers remained with the convoy. Baleares managed to score a hit on Libertad but in turn received two hits herself. One of the hits started a dangerous fire in the forward 8-inch magazine. The old and slow Mendez Nunez had quickly fallen behind Libertad and was well out of range of the Nationalist cruiser's guns so Libertad broke off the engagement and the two Republican cruisers turned back towards the convoy.
Despite her damage, Baleares gave chase and eventually caught up with the convoy in the late afternoon. Once again she engaged the Republican cruisers and managed to score a few hits while absorbing some more damage of her own. She was eventually forced to break off the engagement and wait for Canarias, which was steaming to her support from Ceuta in Morocco. During the fight the convoy had turned back and put into the Algerian port of Cherchell where they stayed. When Canarias arrived the two cruisers carded out a sweep to try to locate the convoy (which they were unaware was in Cherchell) and the escorts. The sweep was unfruitful, as the escorts had headed back to Malaga.
Not a grand fight in the tradition of Trafalgar or Jutland, Cape Cherchell was still significant as it once again demonstrated the technical superiority of the outnumbered Nationalist Navy over the Republicans. It had also prevented an important convoy from reaching Republican Spain.
Blockade and counter blockade patrols continued. On the night of 23 September Canarias intercepted two merchant ships escorted by three destroyers off the Balearic Island of Mallorca. The destroyers were driven off by the cruiser alter a short fight and the two merchant ships were seized.
In October 1937, alter months of negotiation, the Nationalists finally obtained agreement from the Italian government for the sale of some destroyers. Unfortunately for Franco's navy, as Mussolini had other fish to fry, he had no Intention of selling modern ships to Spain. The four ships provided by Italy were obsolescent and almost worn out. Two were "Aquila" Class destroyers, the Falco and the Aquila. Falco, renamed by the Nationalists Ceuta, had been commissioned in 1920. Aquila, which became Melilla, was even older, having been commissioned in 1917. Based on a British design, both ships bore a superficial resemblance to the Nationalist's sole, hard worked destroyer, Velasco. As a piece of deception, the two ships were originally called Velasco-Ceuta and Velasco-Melilla and had Velasco's recognition letter "V" painted on their bows. This was done in an attempt to confuse the Republicans as to the location and movements of the Nationalist's only modern destroyer. To add to the deception, each of the former Italian ships had a false fourth funnel fitted. Thus disguised the two ships, which were in fact too old and slow to be of much real use, were employed on blockade and escort duties to release the real Velasco for more aggressive and active tasks.
The other ships acquired, the two "Poerio" Class destroyers Gugliemo Pepe and Alessandro Poerio, were older still. Both had been commissioned in 1915 and, like the two "Aquilas", had been obsolescent as far back as the 1920's. Gugliemo Pepe was commissioned as Huesca and Alessandro Poerio became the Teruel. Far too slow and limited in endurance to keep up with the more modern ships of the Nationalist fleet, Huesca and Teruel still did excellent work on blockade and patrol duty and even managed to Intercept and capture a number of blockade runners.
October 1937 was a bad month for the Republic. A concerted Nationalist campaign was slowly grinding away at the Republican territories in the north. When the Republican fleet had withdrawn from the north in October 1936, the destroyers Ciscar and Jose Luis Diez had been left behind as the major element of the Republican Navy in the north. In concert with the somewhat bizarre "Basque Navy" they had struggled hard to keep the sea-lanes open and to support the Republican land forces attempting to hold the Basque country and the Asturias for the Republic. This was to no avail. On 21 October Ciscar was sunk in harbour in Gijon. The submarine C-6 had been damaged in an air raid the previous day. The port itself fell soon alter. Ciscar was abandoned, C-6 was scuttled and Jose Luis Diez made good her escape ahead of the victorious Nationalists. With her homeport gone and with little hope of breaking through into the Mediterranean to rejoin the rest of the fleet, Jose Luis Diez became a ship on the run. Dodging Nationalist ships hunting for her, she eventually made it to England and put Into port at Falmouth. Despite some sympathy for the orphan ship, intense Nationalist diplomatic pressure forced her to leave England soon alter her arrival. Crossing the channel she found sanctuary in the French port of Le Havre and settled down to await events. Nothing more will be heard of Jose Luis Diez until 1938. Ciscar in the meantime was refloated in March 1938 and repaired by the Nationalists. She joined the Nationalist fleet in the last dying days of the war. C-6 was also raised and refloated but she was never to sail or fight again and was eventually scrapped in the 1940's.
October 1937 was a bad month in the south as well. As Nationalist columns closed in on Teruel, the Republican government began to feel physically threatened and decided to quit Valencia and relocate to Barcelona further up the coast. On 1 November the Republican Navy conveyed the government and treasury of the Republic to the new capital.
After this last flurry of activity, 1937 wound down for both navies with the now routine rounds of convoy escort, shore bombardment and blockade duty. With the north now firmly in their hands and the Republican naval threat in that theatre reduced to the fugitive Jose Luis Diez and the occasional submarine, the Nationalists redeployed all of their feet to the Mediterranean. Operations in the north were left to a motley collection of armed merchant cruisers, trawlers and drifters.
In January and February 1938 the Nationalist cruisers, led by Canarias, carried out a series of bombardments. This included operations against the new Republican capital of Barcelona. Then, on the night of 5-6 March, the second major naval engagement of the war, the Battle of Cape Palos, occurred. On 5 March the three Nationalist cruisers were escorting two freighters en route to the Balearic Islands. Unknown to the Nationalists commander, Admiral Vierna, the Republican Admiral Ubieta had planned a raid by MTB's on the Nationalist anchorage at Palma del Mallorca in the Balearics. The aim of the operation, which appears to have been based on faulty intelligence, was to sink the Nationalist cruisers at anchor. As part of the plan, the cruisers Libertad and Mendez Nunez were to sally from Cartagena supported by the destroyers Sanchez-Barcaiztegui, Almirante Antequera, Lepanto, Gravina and Lazaga. The plan apparently was for the cruisers and destroyers to provide cover for the MTB's on their run in and then to provide back up in the event that one or more of the Nationalist cruisers survived the attack and sortied into the Mediterranean. This somewhat ludicrous plan was doomed from the start. Firstly, bad weather forced the MTB's to turn back almost immediately, although Admiral Ubieta decided to remain at sea with the cruisers and destroyers. Secondly, the Nationalist cruisers weren't even at Palma del Mallorca. They were in fact on a collision course with the Republican squadron at a point off Cape Palos near Cartagena.
The two forces sighted each other at a range of 2,000 meters at about 0030 on 6 March. It is interesting to conjecture which side was more surprised. The Nationalist cruisers turned to cover the convoy and quickly broke contact, although not before one of the Republican destroyers launched torpedoes at them (which missed). The Republicans gave chase and the two forces again made contact at about 0200. Although still covering the convoy, the Nationalist ships were determined to attain the initiative and Baleares immediately opened fire, again at a range of about 2,000 meters. Unfortunately, Admiral Vierna made the mistake of ordering Baleares to fire star shell and this allowed the Republicans to pinpoint his ship.
For once the Republican ships were handled aggressively and reasonably competently and Admiral Ubieta was able to launch a relatively well coordinated attack by his cruisers and destroyers, concentrating on Baleares. The Nationalist cruiser suffered some hits from Libertad while the destroyers drove in under the cover of the cruisers' guns to launch a torpedo attack. Shortly after sustaining at least three hits from Libertad, Baleares was struck by two torpedoes, probably fired by Lepanto. One of the detonations blew up the forward magazine and the bridge. Baleares immediately went dead in the water afire from bow to stem. Canarias and Almirante Cervera were in line behind the stricken cruiser and were forced to take violent evasive action to avoid hitting the blazing hulk.
Outnumbered and with one of his three cruisers destroyed plus with the responsibility of the convoy still on his hands, Admiral Vierna made the agonizing decision to leave Baleares and her crew to their fate in order to extricate the convoy and bring it to safety. For his part, the Republican Admiral Ubieta appears to have been overwhelmed by his success. Although he outnumbered his enemy and his destroyers still had torpedoes in their tubes he broke off the engagement and withdrew to Cartagena. This was an unforgivable error. Had he acted aggressively and pressed home a second attack it is possible he may have sunk one or even both of the other two Nationalist cruisers. This would have been a crippling blow to the Nationalist Navy and could very well have swung the naval balance in the Republic's favour and possibly even effected the eventual outcome of the war.
Meanwhile Canarias and Almirante Cervera had escorted their convoy into harbour and raced back to the scene of the battle to render assistance to Baleares. They were too late, however, as the cruiser had gone down within minutes and all they could do was search for survivors. Assisted by Royal Navy destroyers from Gibraltar, they were only able to rescue about 60 men. Over 700 of Baleares' crew went down with her.
While the loss of Baleares was a blow to the Nationalist Navy, it was not decisive. As just outlined, the Republican Navy threw away a golden opportunity to cripple the Nationalist Navy when Admiral Ubieta failed to follow up his initial success at Cape Palos. In addition Baleares was replaced soon after when the old cruiser Republica, now named Navarra, joined the Nationalist fleet. Although she was still too slow to keep up with Canarias and Almirante Cervera at speed, Navarra's refit had seen her emerge from the yard totally modernised and almost unrecognisable from her former appearance. She was an extremely useful ship and would serve on in the post-war Spanish Navy until the late 1940's.
By the middle of 1938 time had all but run out for the beleaguered Spanish Republic. The north was now firmly in Nationalist hands. The Republic in the south had been split in two by the huge Nationalist offensive that had reached the coast in April. In total the Republic now controlled only about a quarter of Spain's territory. All of Spanish Morocco, the Canary Islands and the two major Balearic Islands were also firmly controlled by Franco. The Republic's one and only hope was to hang on and hope for assistance from France, England or Russia. These hopes were to be in vain but the Republic battled on anyway.
At the end of July the Republican Army caste its last throw of the dice with the offensive at the River Ebro. Originally a success, the offensive soon run out of momentum and the Nationalists rallied and went over to the offensive themselves. It was at this point in the war that the Republican Navy decided to recall Jose Luis Diez from France. This ship had managed to escape from Gijon in the north in October 1937 as the city was falling and had made its way to England and then to France, where she had been ever since. With the Republic battling for its very survival and the Nationalist Navy becoming ever more aggressive and active, Jose Luis Diez was desperately needed back in the Mediterranean.
Of course, she couldn't just steam through the Straits of Gibraltar. Something a bit subtler was required. In the end the Republicans decided on the subterfuge of disguising Jose Luis Diez as a Royal Navy destroyer. The plan was for a Republican squadron to wait on the far side of the Straits and for Jose Luis Diez to bluff her way through the Straits and then make a run for the squadron on the other side. The Republicans hoped that the disguise would cause any Nationalist ships she encountered to either let her pass unhindered or at least to hesitate long enough to enable her to make good her escape.
It was ultimately decided to disguise Jose Luis Diez as the Royal Navy Destroyer Leader HMS Grenville, for the following reasons: firstly, while she had been built in Spain, Jose Luis Diez had been built to a British design and thus closely resembled contemporary Royal Navy destroyers; secondly, in 1937 the Republican Navy had changed the colour schemes of its ships from the pre-war colour to a darker grey which even more closely resembled the Royal Navy's "Mediterranean Grey," and thirdly, the Republicans knew that Grenville, which flew the pennant of Captain (D) of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla of the Mediterranean Fleet, was frequently in and about the Straits of Gibraltar and would be well known to the Nationalists--it was hoped that this would cause the Nationalists to hesitate long enough for Jose Luis Diez to make her way through the Straits. It wasn't a bad plan, as such plans go, but it was doomed to failure from the start. Nationalist agents had kept a close eye on Jose Luis Diez and became aware of the plan before the ship had even sailed. The Republicans made the cardinal error of carrying out alterations to the ship in port under the eyes of Nationalist agents, rather than at sea after leaving port. After she had sailed she was shadowed by Nationalist merchant cruisers and it is believed that Portuguese naval units and shore stations passed details of the ship's passage to the Nationalist authorities. Thus when Jose Luis Diez sailed into the Straits of Gibraltar on 27 August wearing Grenville's pennant number (D19) and funnel markings and flying the White Ensign, the Nationalists were waiting for her.
Waiting off Gibraltar to greet the lone Republican destroyer were the cruisers Canarias, Almirante Cervera and Navarra and the destroyers Velasco, Ceuta, Melilla and Huesca. Or, in other words, just about the entire Nationalist Navy! Despite being outnumbered, Jose Luis Diez first tried to bluff her way through and then, when that didn't work,
to fight her way through. Her deception was not accepted for a moment and Canarias brusquely ordered her to heave to and surrender. When the Republican ship refused the Nationalists opened fire and hits from Canarias quickly crippled the destroyer, killing 20 of her crew and wounding 14. Outnumbered, outgunned, cut off and severely damaged, Jose Luis Diez had no option but to make for Gibraltar which she reached in the afternoon. Limping into the Naval Basin, the Republican ship transferred her wounded to the Royal Navy hospital, buried her dead in the Naval Cemetery above the Rock and commenced repairs. In the mean time intense diplomatic efforts by the Nationalist government to have the destroyer interned were met and countered by just as intense efforts by the Republic to keep her free.
The burial party for the dead Spanish sailors included members of the crew of HMAS Albatross, the RAN's seaplane tender, which was in Gibraltar en route to the UK to be transferred to the RN as part payment for HMAS Hobart.
With Jose Luis Diez cornered in Gibraltar and the remainder of the Republican fleet contained in the Mediterranean, Nationalist naval activity went on apace. The Republican submarine C-1 was sunk by Nationalist aircraft in the harbour at Barcelona on 9 October. The following month, on 3 November, a Nationalist armed auxiliary shelled and sank a Soviet freighter bound for Spain off the English coast, east of The Wash just outside British territorial waters. The next day another Nationalist auxiliary captured a Republican steamer, which had just left Grimsby. In late December the bombing of several British ships in Barcelona and one at sea off the Balearics by Nationalist aircraft drew protests from the British government. By this time, however, the British could read the writing on the wall and their complaints to Franco were weak and muted.
On 30 December Jose Luis Diez made her final bid for freedom. She sailed out from Gibraltar in a last desperate bid to break through the Nationalist fleet and rejoin the Republican fleet at Cartagena. As soon as she cleared Europa Point, however, she was engaged by the same Nationalist squadron that had intercepted her at the end of August. Unable to break through and once again damaged by Nationalist gunfire, the gallant Republican ship made a run for it back to Gibraltar. The Nationalists had cut off access to the harbour, however, and the Republican captain had no alternative but to run his ship aground in Gibraltar's Catalan Bay on the eastern side of The Rock. This time the British authorities interned her. This was the last surface action of any size and the last warship loss of the war. With the end of 1938, with the Republican fleet impotent and Republican armies falling back before Franco's victorious columns, the Republic only had a bare few months to live. Table 3 below lists the major warship losses for the conflict.
As Franco's divisions ground down crumbling Republican military resistance, the Republic itself began to collapse. On 5 March 1939 the Republican government was ousted and replaced by a "Committee of National Defence" headed by General Jose Miaja and Colonel Sigismundo Casado, two of the Republic's most prominent soldiers. Although the new committee had the support of most of the armed forces, it could not realistically hope to avert the death of the Republic.
On the same day as the creation of the new government, Nationalist sympathisers in Cartagena staged a desperate uprising that was violently and bloodily put down by the Republican forces. This was followed two days later by a violent Communist uprising intent on wresting power from the new government. This second uprising was as bloodily suppressed as the first. The dying Republic was tearing at its own entrails. The disintegration of the Republic, however, was by this stage of no more than academic interest to the Republican Navy. On 5 March the Republican fleet had abandoned its base at Cartagena and sailed for North Africa. It was in fact the departure of the fleet that had triggered the abortive Nationalist uprising at Cartagena.
Two days later on 7 March 1939 the Republican fleet carried out the last melancholy act of a defeated navy when it steamed into the French North African port of Bizerta and surrendered to the French Navy to be interned. As the Republican colours were sadly hauled down most of the crews were discharged and dispersed. A small complement of Spanish personnel remained to oversee the takeover of the ships by French caretaker crews. Interned at Bizerta were the cruisers Libertad, Miguel de Cervantes and Mendez Nunez and the destroyers Lepanto, Churruca, Almirante Valdes, Almirante Antequera, Almirante Miranda, Gravina, Ulloa and Jorge Juan. Of the remainder of the fleet, the destroyers Alsedo, Lazaga, Sanchez Barcaiztegui, Alcala Galiano and Escano were all left at Cartagena in various stages of disrepair or dereliction. The submarines, B-1, B-2, B-3 and B-4 were scuttled, while C-2 and C-4 were interned in France where they had been undergoing refit. The Republican Navy had ceased to exist.
With the Republican Navy gone and his own navy now flee to roam the Mediterranean at will, Franco declared a total blockade of the Republican coast on 8 March. In his statement Franco advised that his navy had orders to sink any vessel, regardless of the flag it was flying, which approached the Republican coast within a three mile limit. A muted statement of protest issued by the British Foreign Secretary was contemptuously ignored.
It hardly mattered anyway. On 18 March Franco rejected a Republican request for a negotiated peace and eight days later launched his "Victory Offensive." Foreign recognition of Franco's now de jure leadership of Spain poured in. On 25 March, the day before the final offensive was launched, France handed over to the Nationalists the former Republican ships interned at Bizerta and Le Havre. The British handed the battered Jose Luis Diez over to the Nationalists in Gibraltar the same day. Madrid surrendered to Franco's columns on 28 March and the Nationalist armies had secured all of Spain by 31 March. Fittingly enough in the context of this paper, the very last Republican centre to surrender, on 31 March, was the naval base at Cartagena. Even more fittingly, the surrender was taken by Nationalist Navy landing parties from the cruisers Canarias, Almirante Cervera and Navarra. The Spanish Navy was therefore involved in the war right up to the very last day. Franco issued a communique from Madrid on 1 April 1939, officially declaring the war over.
Some lessons can be drawn from the naval side of the Spanish Civil War.
The first of these is that in the long run competence and professionalism, especially when coupled with aggressiveness, as demonstrated by the outnumbered and outgunned Nationalist Navy, will always win out. Perhaps another way to put it is, "It's not the dog in the fight that counts, it's the fight in the dog!"
The second lesson is that the subordination of military necessity to political or ideological requirements is a recipe for disaster. The Republican Navy demonstrated this when it dismissed a number of officers willing to serve and withheld its trust in others. The early policy of running ships by committee, so-called "ships' soviets," was even more disastrous. By the time the Republican Navy woke up to this fact it was too late.
The third lesson is one of tactics. As the loss of Baleares at Cape Palos demonstrated, to operate capital ships without a destroyer escort is to court disaster. Admittedly the Nationalist Navy only had one modern destroyer and was stretched to the limit both providing convoy escorts and maintaining the blockade of the Straits of Gibraltar. Even so it would have made more sense to send only one cruiser on the fateful convoy, supported by, say, Velasco and one of the older ex-Italian destroyers. The Nationalist Navy had amply demonstrated its superior technical and tactical skill and more aggressive fighting style. The mix just suggested would likely have negated the Republican destroyer attack.
Table 1--Spanish Navy Strength June 1936 TYPE No. REMARKS Battlecuisers 2 Both obsolete; Espana laid up out of service at El Ferrol Heavy Cruisers 2 Both still under construction Light Cruisers 5 Almirante Cervera under construction; Mendez Nunez on detached service in Spanish West Africa; Nava- rra moored out of service at Cadiz Destroyers 15 Gravina, Ulloa and Jorge Juan under construction; Velasco in dry dock Torpedo Boats 12 British Thornycrot type Sloops 6 Rated as gunboats; all obsolete Minelayers 3 Coast Guard Ships 9 Submarines 12 6 x "B" Class commissioned between 1921-1926; 6 x "C" Class commissioned between 1928-1930 Table 2--Relative Strengths of Republican and Nationalist Fleets 1936 TYPE REPUBLICAN Battlecruisers Jaime I Heavy Cruisers NIL Light Cruisers Libertad, Miguel de Cervantes, Mendez Nunez Destroyers Sanchez Barcaiztegui, Jose Luis Diez, Almirante Ferrandiz, Lepanto, Churruca Alcala Galiano, Almirante Valdez, Almirante Antequera, Almirante Miranda Gravina, Escano, Ulloa, Jorge Juan, Ciscar, Alsedo, Lazaga Submarines B-1, B-2, B-3, B-4, B-5, B-6, C-1, C-2, C-3, C-4, C-5, C-6 Sloops Laya Torpedo Boats TB3, TB4, TB13, TB14, TB17, TB18, TB20, TB21, TB22 Seaplane Tender Dedalo TYPE NATIONALIST Battlecruisers Espana Heavy Cruisers Canarias, Baleares Light Cruisers Almirante Cervera, Navarra Destroyers Velasco Submarines NIL Sloops Antonio Canovas del Castillo, Jose Canalejas, Eduardo Dato, Calvo Sotelo Torpedo Boats TB2, TB7, TB9, TB16, TB19 Seaplane Tender NIL Table 3--Major Naval Ship Losses in the War SHIP TYPE FLAG DATE Dato Gunboat Nationalist 7 Aug 36 B-6 Submarine Republican 18 Sep 36 Almirante Ferrandiz Destroyer Republican 29 Sep 36 B-5 Submarine Republican 12 Oct 36 C-3 Submarine Republican 12 Dec 36 C-5 Submarine Republican 30 Dec 36 Espana Battlecruiser Nationalist 30 Apr 37 Jaime I Battlecruiser Republican 17 Jun 37 C-6 Submarine Republican 20 Oct 37 Ciscar Destroyer Republican 21 Oct 37 Baleares Cruiser Nationalist 6 Mar 38 C-1 Submarine Republican 9 Oct 38 Jose Luis Diez Destroyer Republican 30 Dec 38 SHIP CAUSE Dato Gunfire from Jaime I B-6 Surface action with Nationalist armed tugs Almirante Ferrandiz Sunk in action with Canarias B-5 Unknown (possible sabotage by captain) C-3 Torpedo (German submarine U-34) C-5 Unknown (possible sabotage by captain) Espana Mine Jaime I Internal explosion C-6 Scuttled at Gijon Ciscar Aerial attack at Gijon--later refloated by Nationalists Baleares Torpedoes from Republican destroyers (prob Lepanto) C-1 Surface action with Nationalist squadron Jose Luis Diez Forced aground at Gibraltar and interned
My thanks to St. Manuel Gonzalez Lopez of the Circulo Naval Espanol for advice, for provision of a great deal of material and most especially for permission to quote extensively from his work Warships of the Spanish Civil War and to utilise illustrations from this work.
Bibliography and Sources
Bolin, Luis, 1967 Spain The Vital Years, Cassell & Company Ltd., London.
Broue, Pierre and Emile Temime (translated by Tony White), 1970 The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain, Faber & Faber Ltd., London.
Goldston, Robert, 1967 The Civil War in Spain, Phoenix House, London.
Garratt, G.T., 1939 Gibraltar and the Mediterranean, Jonathan Cape Ltd., London.
Lopez, M.P. Gonzalez, 1997-98 Warships of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), Circulo Naval Espanol, Madrid.
Hills, George, 1967 Franco The Man and His Nation, Robert Hales Ltd., London.
Payne, Stanley G., 1967 Politics and the Military in Modern Spain, Oxford University Press, London.
Thomas, Hugh, 1961 The Spanish Civil War, Penguin Books Ltd., Hammondsworth, Middlesex.
Trythall, J.W.D., 1970 Franco, Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd., London.
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