Winter Fighting At Teruel

As 1937 drew to a close a marked shift of strength to the Nationalists became apparent. The reduction of the northern zone proved to be the essential intermediate step if they were to be assured of victory. For the first time they equalled the Republicans in terms of manpower under arms (around 700,000) and the scales were continuing to move further in their favour. Vital industrial prizes had been captured in the north, as well as 100,000 Basque POWs, who were put to work for the Nationalist cause in forced labour battalions.

The Nationalist army was reorganised in the wake of the conquest of the Basque Country, some units being sent to garrison fronts, and the best picked out to make up an offensive Army of Maneuver, which included Yague's Army Corps of Morocco, most of the Legion, Varela's Army Corps of Castile and the best of the Carlist requetes. The motorised Italian CTV, now under General Berti, was used as the Army of Maneuver's reserve.

With fresh troops available to him, Franco felt he was justified in another attempt on Madrid. Accordingly, an assault on Guadalaraja, at the same site as the Battle of Corunna Road last year, was selected. He was, however, surprised by a pre emptive attack on the Nationalist lines there by Republican forces. Anarchists working behind enemy lines had warned the Republic of what was planned, and General Rojo ordered a quick offensive on the town of Teruel in the Aragon front to disrupt Franco's plans.

Teruel was a town known for its cold winters, and it was snowing on the 15th when the Republican offensive was began. The Republicans achieved complete surprise, and XXII and XVIII Corps thrust through the weak lines, bypassing Teruel and cutting the town off in a pincer. Then they set up a defensive front to await the inevitable counter.

The Nationalist high command was disconcerted by this preemptive attack and Franco was unsure what to do and whether to continue with his planned assault on Guadalaraja. The Condor Legion proved useless, grounded during most of the battle by bad visibility, snow covered airfields and frozen machinery, so on the 23rd Franco decided to abandon the Guadalaraja attack and use his Army of Maneuver to save a minor provincial capital.

The Nationalist counterattack was slowed by the terrible weather until the 29th of December 1937, when Nationalist artillery opened up with their greatest bombardment of the war. That day the snowstorms also abated and the Nationalist airforce dropped over 100 tons of bombs on Republican positions. 10 divisions of crack Nationalist troops advanced on the Republican positions to rescue Teruel, but despite the overwhelming bombardment, the Republican line did not break - only a stubborn retreat began. Franco ordered the Teruel garrison to hold out at all costs, but the Republicans were already in the town, clearing the buildings with grenade and bayonet.

On New Years Eve there was a blizzard and the lowest temperatures for a century were recorded. Aircraft could not be made operational even by using blowtorches on their cylinders, tanks and all mechanical transport froze solid. The Nationalists battled on through these conditions, in battles bloody for both sides - silhouetted against the whiteness, dark figures lumbered through waist high snow, making easy targets.

On the 6th the Nationalist garrison in Teruel surrendered but the battle wasn't over yet - another Nationalist assault on the 17th January 1938 reversed the situation, and the Republicans now found themselves trapped in the town and surrounded. Fruitless counterattacks were made, heroic orders to stand fast no matter the cost issued, but the Republic was asking too much of its troops. Snow had prevented food supplies from getting through, water could only be obtained from melting down snow, and there was no fuel, except in Teruel itself, where soldiers burned doors and furniture to stay alive. As usual for the Republic, ammunition was scarcest of all, with 46 men of 84 Brigade being executed for refusing to attack with unloaded rifles.

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