Chapter LXX: Drawing the Battle Lines
The opening weeks of the Spanish Civil War were more about political positioning than military operations, the people and regions of the country occupied with aligning themselves to the two sides and drawing the battle lines. Though priorities would change as the various factions waxed and waned the two sides established their core values early on; The Republicans espousing a looser, more federal Spain with a strong anti-clerical streak while the Monarchist would reunite Church and State under the King in strong centralised state working against the 'twin enemies of socialism and secessionists'. For many, both in Spain and abroad, there was no right side, only one that was least bad, a problem keenly felt by the conservative Basque and Catalan parties. While the Republicans offered autonomy, perhaps even eventual independence, they were also fiercely anti-church to the point that their programs would constitute one of the most intense persecutions the Catholic Church would ever experience. Conversely the Monarchist would return the Catholic religion to the heart of the state but at the cost of repressing all autonomy for the regions, power being centralised in Madrid as the nation would be remade as 'One Spain'. The choice therefore was between independence or faith, a far from simple decision for many and one that occupied many as the nation descended into Civil War.
A firing squad of Republican militia 'executing' the Monument to the Sacred Heart. One of the most well known images from the beginning of the Civil War it's iconoclastic and slightly surreal nature made it far more memorable than photos of Nationalists boarding up trade union chapters. Sadly for Spain the firing squads of both sides did not limit themselves to statues or symbols; tens of thousands of ordinary Spaniards found themselves on the wrong side of the rapidly evolving front lines as grudges and vendettas were settled in the most permanent manner.
As the people chose sides the leaders of both sides plotted their opening moves and tried to balance the need to wait while forces were built up and militias trained with the need to strike before the other side did. This fear of losing the initiative would lead both sides to strike before they were truly ready, with predictably poor consequences. These opening offensives were perhaps the only truly 'Spanish' campaigns of the war, coming before the flood of foreign 'volunteers' and 'advisers' gave outside party's considerable leverage on both sides' strategic thinking. Certainly it is interesting to note that the two sides, despite all their differences, experienced similar problems and came up with similarly compromised solutions.
We begin with the Republicans who's preparations had faced a fundamental problem; there was a clear need for a unified command structure to organise the disparate troops, yet they were politically and dogmatically committed to less central control. The solution was an unfortunate fudge and typical of the problems that dogged the Republicans military efforts; a command centre was set up in Valencia for the new Ejército Magnífico de la República (Grand Army of the Republic) but none of it's constituent parts were required to pay it much attention. Thus while the well trained paramilitary Guardia de Asalto (Assault Guards) retained their loyalty to the government the hastily formed anarchist militia columns acted as their locally elected delegates felt they should. Military planning therefore consisted of finding out what everyone was going to do then trying to stitch the many local acts together into one grand plan, perhaps one of the worst ways to produce a coherent strategy imaginable.
The Republican 'plan', such as it was, boiled down to an attack north to re-take the French border and link up with the 'Northern Pocket' around Bilbao and, in parallel, an attack towards Madrid in an attempt to retake the capital. While either would have been acceptable military options, the northern offensive better for a 'long war' strategy while Madrid was the 'knock out' blow choice, the pursuit of both was a dangerous dilution of strength that left both attacks short of the manpower they needed. However to concentrate on one would mean cancelling the other, or at best making it a diversion, an act that would take more political capital than the embattled President Azaña possessed. That is not to say Azaña was without influence, he did possess an excellent trump card in the shape of the Assault Guards who he kept out of both offensives to act as central strategic reserve, intending to commit them to the most successful attack to claim as much of the spoils at minimal cost. While the other factions were less than pleased with this plan they did recognise the need for a reserve force and could hardly complain about 'not working for the greater good' when they themselves were hardly paragons of that virtue.
The Monarchist's problems were similar and, despite being less complex due to the lack of factions, no less intractable; General Franco's faction along with the national-syndicalist Falange Española (Spanish Phalanx) wanted an immediate march on Valencia, a mirror of the Republican attack on Madrid, while the Mola faction wanted to attack through Badajoz to connect up Monarchist territory. As with the Republicans the difference was between a knock out blow strategy and a more cautious long war strategy, either being acceptable but not both. Unfortunately for the Monarchists the two factions could not agree and, despite being mostly military men who should have known better, both offensives went ahead with only the barest of co-ordination or co-operation.
The Madrid offensive was mainly manned by the militias of the hard left as they kept their promise to Moscow that Madrid was the top priority. The Border offensives was far less homogeneous consisting of the many separatist militias (Basque, Catalan and so on) along with the massed ranks of the CNT-FAI (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, National Confederation of Labour - Federación Anarquista Ibérica, Iberian Anarchist Federation) Militias. On the Monarchist side the Southern offensive was conducted by the Army of Africa and the Falangist militias while the 'Link-up' troops were drawn from the rebel regular army and the Carlist militias that had rallied to the Ejército del Rey (Army of the King).
The war begins and the world is reminded of the difference between a war in the desert and a war in a populated country. While I initially wondered if taking the ideological heat out of the war might make it less bloody there was, sadly, a great deal more to it than that. The 'Red' and 'White' terrors I fear are inevitable, perhaps a bit more subtle to protect British/French sensibilities but still there.
As to the two sides, the Republicans are fairly divided and will take a while to actually pull together. Expect fun and games as they try and co-operate while pursuing different goals. Equally the Monarchists are not exactly united, as Franco's 'Military Council' knocks heads with Mola's faction, if anything it's less excusable as they all (should) know how bad such infighting is. That said conceding control of the military effort probably means giving up post-war political control so it's not quite that simple.
On the lack of foreign involvement, I would imagine that all sides would be trying to avoid their 'backers' (from whatever nation) having much influence, after all any wartime favours will be asked back with interest. So while I see a great deal of observers and other shady characters knocking around the place I think all sides would designate grand strategy as 'off limits' in all but the vaguest terms. At this stage at least.
Next update will cover the actual fighting in Spain, then onto the Conference of Imperial Defence (where we shall see the disposition of the Royal Navy and many other Royal prefixed forces ) before finally onto the Amsterdam Conference.