The Siege of Madrid

The Nationalist advance on the capital resumed at the end of the first week of October. The Army of Africa began a three pronged attack, northwards from Toledo, north eastwards along the Navalcarnero road, and eastwards from San Martin de Valdeiglesias. In the second half of October Largo Caballero began to issue decrees extending mobilisation to Madrid, but for many in the city the war still seemed a long way away. And the Republican militias were finding it hard to keep up with the Nationalist army. COncentrated artillery bombardment, or air attacks from Heinkel 51 and Fiat fighters, totally demoralised them. HQ staff repeatedly retreated without even bothering to tell their subordinates. Matters were made worse by petty rivalries and jealousies between Republican commanders.

At the beginning of November, Largo Caballero asked the anarchists to join the Republican government, since they constituted the largest group in the fight against the Nationalists. The other Popular Front parties supported this move to end the anti-state within the state, but the anarchists were torn. After much handwringing the anarchists finally agreed on the 6th, but by then the Army of Africa was at the gates of Madrid, and the Cabinet moved to Valencia. The new anarchist ministers protested this move strenously, saying the government should not abandon the defenders, but the anarchists were alone in their objections and so Valencia ended up the new Republican capital for the remainder of the war.

The retreat of the government prompted a change in the feeling of those in Madrid. The anarchist attitude immediately changed to "Long live Madrid without government!". The sense of urgency which had marked the early days of the rising returned. As at Barcelona, the mass decision to fight inspired mass bravery. The terror and loathing that the Army of Africa inspired helped turn panic into a spirit of fierce resistance. In the Plaza de Atocha a placard read "In Badajoz the fascists shot 2000. If Madrid falls they will shoot half the city.". Chains of women and children passed rocks and stones for the construction of barricades. Houses in the southwest suburb of Carabanchel were prepared for a street by street defence. In the moment of crisis, there was a mass mobilisation. Metal workers created the slogan, "Every union syndicate a militia, every union member a militiaman." The fight was on.

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