Final offensive of the Spanish Civil War

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Final offensive
Part of the Spanish Civil War
GCE frente en feb 1939.svg
Map of Spain in March 1939.
     Republican territory     Nationalist territory
Date Casado's coup: March 5–March 13, 1939
Final Offensive: March 26–April 1, 1939
Location South-east Spain (provinces of Madrid, Ciudad Real, Cuenca, Albacete, Valencia, Alicante, Murcia, Jaen, Almeria, and parts of Toledo, Guadalajara, Granada and Castellon).
  • Decisive Nationalist victory. End of the war.
  • Dissolution of the Second Spanish Republic and beginning of the Francoist regime.
Spain Second Spanish Republic  Nationalist Spain
Nazi Germany Condor Legion[1]
Kingdom of Italy (CTV)
Commanders and leaders
Negrín's government:
Spain Luis Barceló Executed
Spain Francisco GalánSurrendered
Spain Antonio Ortega Executed
Council of National Defense:
Spain Segismundo Casado
Spain Manuel MatallanaSurrendered
Spain José Miaja
Spain Cipriano Mera
Francoist Spain Francisco Franco
Francoist Spain Juan Yagüe
Kingdom of Italy Gastone Gambara
Francoist Spain José Solchaga
Francoist Spain Rafael García Valiño
250,000[2] –500,000 men[3]
40 aircraft
1,000,000 men[4]
600 aircraft
Casualties and losses
Casado's coup: 230[5] – 2,000 dead[6]
Final offensive: 150,000 captured[7]
1,223 dead (sinking of the Castillo de Olite)[8]

The final offensive of the Spanish Civil War took place between 26 March and 1 April 1939, towards the end of the Spanish Civil War. On 5 March 1939, the Republican Army led by Colonel Segismundo Casado and the politician Julián Besteiro rose against the Socialist prime minister Juan Negrín and formed a military junta, the National Defence Council (Consejo Nacional de Defensa or CND) in order to negotiate a peace deal. Negrín fled to France but the Communist troops around Madrid rose against the junta, starting a civil war within the civil war. Casado defeated them and started peace negotiations with the Nationalists. Francisco Franco, however, was prepared to accept only an unconditional surrender. On 26 March the Nationalists started a general offensive and by 31 March they controlled all Spanish territory. Hundreds of thousands of Republicans were arrested and interned in concentration camps.


Fall of Catalonia

After the fall of Catalonia in February 1939, the military situation of the Republic was hopeless. The Republic still had the capital city and 30 per cent of Spanish territory, but it had lost 220,000 soldiers, the second city of the country, and the industrial resources of Catalonia.[9] Furthermore, on 27 February Manuel Azaña, the president of the Republic, resigned and the United Kingdom and France recognized the Nationalist government.[10]

Military situation

The Republican army still had between 250,000[11] and 500,000 men,[12] but had only 40 aircraft (three Natasha and two Katiuska bomber squadrons, and 25 Chatos and Moscas fighters),[13] little artillery and few automatic weapons.[14] Many soldiers were unarmed (in December 1938 the Republican army had only 225,000 rifles),[15] and lacked shoes and overcoats.[16] In Madrid, there was food for only two months, and no water, heating, medicine or surgical dressings.[17] On the other hand, the Nationalist army had more than a million men at the end of 1938; among them 35,000 Moroccans, 32,000 Italians and 5,000 Germans,[18] plus 600 aircraft.[19]

Opposition to continued resistance

On 16 February, the high command of the Republican army told the prime minister, Juan Negrín, that further military resistance was impossible.[20] Most of the members of the Republican Army, the PSOE, the UGT and the CNT, believed that it was necessary to initiate peace negotiations.[21] Nevertheless, Negrín, backed by the Communist PCE, wanted to continue fighting, because Franco rejected giving any guarantee against reprisals and he believed that a continental war against fascism was imminent.[22] Furthermore, he wanted to organize the evacuation of those most at risk.[23]

Casado’s coup

The plot

From the end of February 1939, Colonel Segismundo Casado had been preparing a coup against the Negrín government in order to start peace negotiations with the Nationalists, believing that the government was too subordinate to the Communists. Colonel José Cendaño, a Fifth column agent inside the Republican army, promised to him that Franco would guarantee the lives of the Republican officers who had committed no crimes.[24] Most of the non-communist elements of the Popular Front in Madrid supported the plot, among them one of the leaders of the PSOE, Julián Besteiro, because they believed that continuing the war was useless.[25] Furthermore, after the surrender of Minorca, many Republican officers in the central zone believed that they could negotiate a deal with the Nationalists.[26]

On 2 March, Negrín announced a number of new appointments in the Central Zone.[27] Colonel Casado and the Communists Juan Modesto and Antonio Cordón García became Generals, General Manuel Matallana was appointed as head of the central general staff[28] and communist officers were appointed to command the ports of Murcia (Manuel Tagüeña), Alicante (Etelvino Vega) and Cartagena (Francisco Galán).[29] (According to Beevor, Francisco Galan was appointed military governor of Cartagena; Etelvino Vega governor of Alicante; Leocadio Mendiola commander of Murcia; and Inocencio Curto commander of Albacete).[30] The non-communist elements believed that the communists wanted to control the evacuation harbors[31] and joined the plot against Negrín.[32]

The coup

On 5 March 1939, Colonel Segismundo Casado, supported by General Matallana, the CNT[33] (Cipriano Mera), the secret service of the Republic (the Military Investigation Service, Servicio de Investigación Militar or SIM),[34] a section of the PSOE (Julian Besteiro) and a section of the UGT (Wenceslao Carrillo), deposed Negrín and formed a military junta, the National Council of Defense (Consejo Nacional de Defensa) in order to negotiate a peace deal with Franco.[35] On 6 March, Miaja joined the rebellion and was appointed president of the junta.[36] The other members of the junta were Casado, Julian Besteiro, Wenceslao Carrillo, Gonzalez Marín and Eduardo Val (CNT), Antonio Perez (UGT), and the republicans Miguel San Andrés and Jose del Río.[37]

Julian Besteiro, one of the leaders of the PSOE, supported Casado's coup.

Colonel Adolfo Prada was appointed commander of the Army of the Centre, the communist commanders of the I, II and III Army Corps of the Army of the Centre were relieved, the PCE's newspaper Mundo Obrero was closed and Casado ordered massive arrests of communist commissars and militants.[38] Ironically, Casado's justification for the coup was that Negrín and the PCE wanted to carry out a Communist takeover – an identical justification to the Nationalist uprising that began the Civil War – but in fact, he rose against the government because he wanted to negotiate peace and believed that removing Negrín and the Communists was a precondition to negotiations with Franco. In addition to other assurances, the British government said to him that Franco would guarantee the lives of the Republicans.[39] Casado had said to the commander of the Republican Air Force, Hidalgo de Cisneros: “I give you my word...that I can obtain better terms from Franco than Negrín ever can. I can even assure you that they will respect our ranks.”.[40]

After a failed attempt to negotiate with Casado, on 6 March Negrín fled to France from the Monovar's airfield, near Elda, with Hidalgo de Cisneros, the leaders of the PCE (La Pasionaria and Vicente Uribe), and the foreign minister Julio Álvarez del Vayo, in order to avoid capture by the supporters of Casado[41] (Casado wanted to arrest the government and the PCE's leaders in order to hand them over to the Nationalists).[42]

The fight in Madrid

Casado's coup was supported by the commanders of the other three Armies of the Republican Army (Leopoldo Menéndez López, commander of the Levante Army; Antonio Escobar, commander of the Estremadura Army; and Domingo Moriones, commander of the Andalusia Army).[43] Nevertheless, the army units settled around Madrid and controlled by the PCE (the I corps of the Army of the Centre led by Luis Barceló and the Emilio Bueno’s II and Antonio Ortega’s III Corps), rose against the junta on 7 March, starting a brief civil war inside the Republic. Barceló appointed himself as commander of the Army of the Centre and his troops closed all the entrances to Madrid, occupied most of the city center and detained and shot three of Casado's colonels. The supporters of Casado only held some government buildings and the south-east part of the city.[44] Nevertheless, Mera's IV corps counterattacked and occupied Torrejón and Alcalá de Henares as the Nationalists started an offensive towards the Manzanares.[45] By 10 March, Barceló's troops had been surrounded and ceasefire was arranged. On 11 March, after days of bloody combat, Casado, backed by the IV corps of Cipriano Mera, defeated Barceló’s troops. Barceló and his commissar José Conesa were arrested and executed.[46] There were hundreds of dead (Thomas: 230,[47] Jackson: 1,000,[48] and Beevor: 2,000 dead[49]).


There was also combat in Ciudad Real and Cartagena. In Ciudad Real Escobar's Extremadura Army crushed the communist resistance led by the deputy Martínez Cárton.[50] Nevertheless, in Cartagena (the main base of the Spanish Republican Navy), where the supporters of Casado, backed by elements of the a fifth column, had started the uprising against Negrín's government on 4 March, they were defeated by the PCE's 206th Brigade, of the IV Division, led by colonel Joaquín Rodríguez, after a brief battle, on 7 March. Nevertheless, on 5 March, the Republican Navy (three cruisers and eight destroyers), led by Admiral Buiza, had fled to Bizerte after a Nationalist aerial bombardment.[51] One Nationalist transport ship, the Castillo de Olite, sent by the Nationalists in order to support the uprising, was sunk by the coastal batteries of Cartagena, killing 1,200 Nationalist soldiers.[52]

Peace negotiations with Franco

After the defeat of Barceló's troops, the Council tried to start peace negotiations with Franco, hoping to achieve a guarantee against political reprisals. On 12 March the Council proposed a peace deal, asking for a guarantee against reprisals and a period of 25 days to allow anyone who wanted to leave Spain to do so. On 16 March, Franco answered that he would only accept an unconditional surrender.[53] On 23 March, the Council sent two negotiators to Burgos (Colonel Antonio Garijo and Major Leopoldo Ortega), and the Nationalists told them that on 25 March the Republican Air Force had to be surrendered and by the 27th the Republican troops had to raise the white flag.[54] Nevertheless, on 25 March, the Republicans did not surrender their Air Force due to bad weather and Franco broke off negotiations with the junta.[55][56]

The final offensive

On 26 March, Yagüe’s troops advanced in Sierra Morena. There was no resistance and in one day they captured two thousand square kilometers of land and 30,000 prisoners.[57] The Junta ordered its soldiers not to resist the Nationalist advance and the Republican soldiers threw away their weapons and abandoned the front.[58] By 27 March, the Nationalists were advancing on all fronts without resistance. Solchaga's Navarra Corps, Gambara's CTV and Garcia Valiño's Army of Maestrazgo advanced from Toledo. On 28 March, Colonel Prada, commander of the Army of the Centre, surrendered to the Nationalists and Nationalist troops occupied Madrid.[59][60] Casado and the other members of the junta, except Besteiro, fled to Valencia.[61] On 29 March, the Nationalists occupied Jaén, Ciudad Real, Cuenca, Albacete and Sagunto.[62] 50,000 Republican refugees gathered at the harbours of Valencia, Alicante, Cartagena and Gandia,[63] but without the Republican navy, an evacuation was impossible and the French and British governments refused to organise an evacuation.[64] Only a minority, those who had money to pay for passage,[65] were evacuated by British ships (between 650[66] and more than 3,500[67]), among them Casado.[68] On 30 March, the Nationalists occupied Valencia and Gambara’s troops entered Alicante, rounding up 15,000 Republican refugees.[69] The Italian General Gambara was prepared to permit the evacuation of political refugees, but on 31 March, the Nationalist troops arrived and took over jurisdiction from Gambara.[70] As a result, many refugees committed suicide in order to avoid capture by the Nationalists.[71][72][73] On 31 March, the Nationalists occupied Almeria, Murcia and Cartagena, controlling all Spanish territory. By 1 April 1939 the war was effectively over.[74]


On April 1, the United States recognised the Nationalist government, leaving the Soviet Union as the only major power that did not recognise it.[75] The new regime had signed a Non-Aggression Pact with Portugal and a treaty of friendship with Nazi Germany on March 31,[76] and on April 6, Franco made public Spain's adherence to the Anti-Comintern Pact.[77] On April 20, the Non-Intervention Committee was dissolved and by June Italian and German troops had left Spain.[78] The Francoist dictatorship remained until Franco's death in 1975.[79]

Casado remained in exile in Venezuela until returning to Spain in 1961.[80] Cipriano Mera fled to Oran and Casablanca, but he was extradited to Spain in February 1942.[81] In 1943, he was condemned to death, a sentence that was exchanged for 30 years in prison, but he was set free in 1946 and fled to France.[82] Miaja fled to France and then Mexico, where he died in 1958. Matallana was detained and imprisoned by the Nationalists and died in Madrid in 1956.[83] Besteiro was arrested by the Nationalists, where he faced a court martial and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.[84] He died in prison in 1940.[85]

The Nationalists arrested hundreds of thousands of Republican soldiers and civilians, with 150,000 soldiers captured in the final offensive, and herded them into improvised concentration camps. There were between 367,000 and 500,000 prisoners in 1939.[86] In the first years after the war, 50,000 Republican prisoners were executed.[87]

In literature

Casado's coup and the last days of the war are the background of the Max Aub's novels, Campo del Moro[88] and Campo de los Almendros.[89]


  1. Beevor, Antony 2006. p.395
  2. Jackson, Gabriel 1967. p. 475
  3. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.861
  4. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.838
  5. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.884
  6. Beevor, Antony 2006. p.394
  7. Beevor, Antony 2006. p.404
  8. Beevor, Antony 2006. p.391
  9. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.854
  10. Graham, Helen 2005. p. 165
  11. Jackson, Gabriel 1967. p. 475
  12. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.861
  13. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.868
  14. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.861
  15. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.488
  16. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.866
  17. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.869
  18. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.838
  19. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.866
  20. Thomas, Hugh 2001. pp.867–868
  21. Preston, Paul 2006. p.296
  22. Preston, Paul 2006. p.296
  23. Graham, Helen 2005. p.111
  24. Thomas, Hugh 2001. pp.870–871
  25. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.861
  26. Thomas, Hugh 2006. p. 861.
  27. Jackson, Gabriel 1967. p.468
  28. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.874
  29. Thomas, Hugh 2001. pp.875–876
  30. Beevor, Antony 2006. p.390
  31. Jackson, Gabriel 1967. p.468
  32. Jackson, Gabriel 1967. pp.468–469
  33. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.873
  34. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.875
  35. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.876-878
  36. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.878
  37. Beevor, Antony 2006. pp.392
  38. Beevor, Antony 2006. pp.393–394
  39. Preston, Paul 2006. p.296
  40. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.875
  41. Beevor, Antony 2006. pp.392–393
  42. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.881
  43. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.883
  44. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.882
  45. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.884
  46. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.884
  47. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.884
  48. Jackson, Gabriel 1967. p.433
  49. Beevor, Antony 2006. p.394
  50. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.884
  51. Thomas, Hugh 2001. pp.876–877
  52. Beevor, Antony 2006. p.391
  53. Beevor, Antony 2006. pp.394–395
  54. Beevor, Antony 2006. p.395
  55. Thomas, Hugh 2001. pp.885–888
  56. Beevor, Antony 2006. p.395
  57. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.867
  58. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.887
  59. Jackson, Gabriel 1967. p.509
  60. Thomas, Hugh 2001. pp.888–889
  61. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.888
  62. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.890
  63. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.889
  64. Beevor, Antony 2006. p.396
  65. Graham, Helen 2005. p.113
  66. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.890
  67. Beevor, Antony 2006. p.396
  68. Aftermath, TIME, 10 April 1939<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  69. Beevor, Antony 2006. p.396
  70. Jackson, Gabriel 1967. p.477
  71. Graham, Helen 2005. p.113
  72. Beevor, Antony 2006. p.396
  73. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.890
  74. Thomas, Hugh 2001. pp.886–890
  75. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.894
  76. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.893
  77. Graham Helen 2005. p.166
  78. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.894
  79. Preston, Paul. 1995. pp. 786–787
  80. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.923
  81. Beevor, Antony 2006. p. 410
  82. Beevor, Antony 2006. p. 410
  83. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.923
  84. Thomas, Hugh 2001. p.888
  85. Preston, Paul 2006. p.319
  86. Beevor, Antony 2006. p.404
  87. Beevor, Antony 2006. p.405
  88. Aub, Max. 1979.
  89. Aub, Max. 1981.


Further reading

  • Viñas, Ángel; and Hernández Sánchez, Fernando. (2009). El Desplome de la República. Editorial Crítica. Barcelona. ISBN 978-84-9892-031-4.

External links