8th January 1938
Today saw a significant victory for the Republican forces in Spain. The Spanish Civil war rages on, with little hope for a quick victory on either side. The Teruel salient in Southern Aragon is an important strategic objective for both the Republicans and the Nationalists. The Nationalists have held it for some time now, but the Republicans decided to take it as a strategic goal and gained a foothold in the city on 21st December. Today the Republicans finally took the city. Ernest Hemingway and two foreign journalists entered the town with Enrique Lister’s division earlier in the battle and have been reporting back on the situation. The International Brigades have been kept out of the fight as the Republicans wanted this to be seen as a wholly Spanish effort, but international interest is still high.
The battle is being fought in the worst Spanish winter in twenty years. The Republicans clearly have the upper hand with short lines of communication and having had the salient surrounded on 3 sides from the outset. With 100,000 troops available, the Republicans have plenty of reserves against a relatively small garrison in Teruel. At the start of the offensive, the Nationalists only had around 9,500 men in Teruel, of them around 4,000 remain defending the city, led by Colonel Rey d’Harcourt. Around half of the 4,000 defenders are thought to be civilians.
This battle has also caused Franco to abandon his advance on Madrid at Guadalajara, diverting his forces to Teruel on December 23rd. With the poor weather and limited lines of advance, it took nearly a week for the relief troops to get into the battle. It looks like Franco’s attempt at a final decisive blow against the Republicans is on hold for the moment and the war is degenerating once again into one of attrition. Hitler and Mussolini are said to be unimpressed with the decision, but Franco has made it policy not to lose a provincial capital to the Republicans.
The battle has been extremely bloody, with the Republicans adopting the technique of heavily shelling a building, then moving in with the bayonet. Reports of vicious hand to hand fighting even within buildings are commonplace. Combatants were reportedly firing at each other through floors and ceilings as different floors of a single building are occupied by opposing sides.
In a final act of vengeance, the Republicans executed Rey d’Harcourt, along with around 40 prisoners, including the Bishop of Teruel.
The Nationalists have now amassed a considerable force outside of Teruel and it would appear that while the Republicans currently own the city, the Nationalists don’t intend to just walk away. Franco also has 100,000 troops at his disposal for this fight, as long as he can get them in through the atrocious weather to engage the Republicans in Teruel.