Advance of The Army Of Africa

The Army of Africa with its crack colonial troops was key to the Nationalists plans. It seemed disaster loomed as the Spanish navy mostly went to the Republicans, and the Army of Africa had to cross the strait to the Iberian peninsula. Adolf Hitler here intervened, providing enough air transport to get them over to the friendly port of Cadiz in the far southwest.

From there it conducted a ruthlessly efficient campaign which was the most striking military development of 1936. Under the brilliant Colonel Yague a force of 5000 Moroccan regulares and Spanish legionnaires advanced to the Portuguese border, driving all before them and maintaining a momentum of advance unsurpassed until 1940.

The Republican militias opposing them were totally outclassed as well as outgunned. In street fighting, caught up in collective bravery, they were a force to be reckoned with, but out in the open, with no idea how to prepare a proper defensive position, and unwilling to dig trenches, the militiamen had a desperate fear of facing the Moors knives alone. Outflanking movements which usually surprised them often led to a panic stricken stampede. Nationalist terror tactics provoked heroism as well, though. Peasants, having seen their families on their way, would take up shotguns and return to their village, to die.

By 10th August Yagues forces had advanced 185 miles to Merida. There his forces met fierce opposition. The defence committee of the town was organised by Anita Lopez, who greatly encouraged the resistance. She was among those killed when Yagues troops finally entered the town that night. The next day the bulk of the Merida militia counterattacked with the aid of asaltos and civil guard. Yague left part of his force to keep them busy, and then bypassed them with his main body, continuing the advance.

Badajoz, defended by 7000 militia, was next, but they were poorly armed and succumbed quickly when the regulares launched a pincer attack with artillery support. After suffering heavy casulaties, the Moroccans got into the town and the slaughter began. House clearing with grenade and knife, the Foreign Legion made no distinction between civilian and combatant. Militiamen were even shot down on the altar steps of the cathedral, and 1500 of them were machinegunned in batches.

The search for Republicans went on in the following days. Shirts were ripped away, and any man with marks on his shoulder from rifle recoil was shot on the spot.

Yague had advanced 310 miles in 4 weeks. But then the Army of Africa was ordered by Franco to divert from Madrid and head for the Alcazar, a fortress of political significance which had been besieged by Republican forces since the start of the war. Their relief took precious weeks, giving the defenders of Madrid a little breathing room.

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