The Brigades Arrive

The first Russian aid began to arrive at the end of October. On 3rd November, Chato biplane fighters were seen over Madrid, where they quickly proved superior to the Heinkel 51s. The streets of Madrid were thronged with crowds staring up into the skies, and cheering whenever an aircraft was hit - it was always assumed to be an enemy. The arrival of the Russian weapons made the Nazis decide to increase their own aid.

Colonel Yague had been replaced by General Varela for arguing with Franco about the diversion to relieve the Alcazar. In the first week of November Varela began to make probing attacks on Madrid from the west. That side of Madrid had no suburb buffer because the old royal hunting ground of Caso de Campo stretched right into the middle of the city. Franco wanted the main thrust to come here, as he was aware his troops had the edge in open fighting, and he wanted to keep street fighting to a minimum. He ordered a diversionary feint on the southern suburb of Carabanchel before the main attack.

The Republicans under General Miaja were in a woeful state of disorganisation. Miaja's chief of staff, Colonel Vicente Rojo, was a conscientious and professional officer but neither Rojo or Miaja knew what forces were under their command, or even who was on staff. Many officers had taken advantage of the confusion to defect to the Nationalists. Miaja's own orders were confusing and contradictory, as he had been ordered to hold Madrid to the last, even though the government had seen fit to give him detailed orders for retreat.

The international press was already describing "the last hours of Madrid". Carlist Requetes were rushed forward, so that Spanish Catholic troops would be present at the entry (wouldn't do to have Eternal Spain rescued by the Moors). The whole world awaited the outcome of a decisive battle between been progress and reaction, or between civilization and red barbarism, depending on your point of view. Liberals and the left everywhere believed international fascism had to be defeated in Madrid before Europe fell into a totalitarian ice age, while conservatives felt it to be the last chance to halt the tide of communism.

Into this confusion, came the first International Brigade, the XI. Commanded by General Kleber, its arrival had a powerful effect on the population. As the 1900 foreigners marched up the Gran Via in well drilled step, the militias at first took them to be Nationalists, such was their disciplined appearance. After things were straightened out, the population cheered them with cries of "Viva los rusos!" thinking they were the infantry counterpart to the fighter planes. The XI was generally regarded as the best of the Brigades. Its steadiness, ammunition discipline and trench digging was to have a good influence of the militias. Its determination and almost suicidal bravery, especially the German contingent, cannot be doubted, but the exploitation of the their devotion was unpleasant. Communist troops had tried to stop Major Palacios with two battalions of volunteers and a battery of 105mm field guns from reaching the capital before the XI International arrived. The battle of Madrid was to be the Communist Party's victory, alone.

At this crucial moment the defenders were greatly aided by a fortunate discovery. A militia detachment searched the body of a Nationalist officer in a knocked out Italian tank and found his operational orders. It became clear to the Republicans that the Carabanchel attack was only a feint, and the XI was accordingly drawn up at the Caso de Campo, along with large numbers of militiamen, to block the coming attack. That night the park saw much desperate digging as the defenders sought to make it defensible. Inexperienced sentries took fright at shadows and opened fire into the darkness, which inevitably led to fusillades of fire across the whole sector. Any waste of ammunition was serious - there were less than ten rounds of ammunition per rifle. The departing officials of the war ministry, in their haste, had not left word of where the ammunition reserves were kept.

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