THE EBRO BATTLE
 

La Batalla del Ebro was an unusual combat operation: a river was crossed, and this is something that appears, to the human eye, as a big and dangerous monster, that waits impatient to devour lives. In addition, pro-Franco forces were waiting in the other side, perfectly positioned. The operation was prepared some months ago; there were transferred boats from the coast to the inland; new ones were constructed; and the soldiers learned to row, to swim and to construct bridges and ladders.

The battle began on 0,15h. of the 25 th of July of 1938, on Saint Jaime's day, when the republican army crossed the river by different points, between Mequinensa and Amposta (until then, they were in Mequinenza, Vinebre, Garcia, Móra la Nova , Ginestar, Rasquera, Benifallet, Tivenys, Tortosa and Amposta). Silence was absolute, the glance of those men was put in the sky, and its thought in their family… The land of Matarranya , Ribera d'Ebre, Baix Ebre and Terra Alta saw as a great number of battle forces were accumulating among them. In addition, they were landed on blood of thousands of men.

By the North zone (Mequinenza- Faio), the republican army had an initial success, after crossed the river and encircled the enemy. This was the situation until the first of August. At the beginning, it seems to be gained by de republicans; but at the end, there was one of the most bleeding defeats. 42ª Republican Division was the one in charge to cross the Ebro by the 59 th , 226 th and 227 th Brigades. On the 25 th of July, the Division had about 9,500 men and on the 6 of August, when they came back trough the Ebro , they only were 3.500. The others remained for in that places... ¡6,000 men died in only 12 days in one of the 3 fronts! On 1 st , 2 nd and 3 rd of August, the pro-Franco counter-offensive in: Mequinenza- Faió, Alt dels Auts, Satué, Gilabert, Bassa del Señor, Vèrtex Aubera, vall de Granada, costa de la vall de la Vila , Mas de Peransó, Montnegre, vall de Tamariu, Boqueretes, Paransó, Valdurrera... There were some attacks, counterattacks, offensives, counter-offensives, head-on collisions… lost level, recovered level.

In the south, they had serious difficulties and they stopped in Amposta, where they crossed the river very quickly, returning to the departure point, also with many human losses (never rather, since the life of a person, then, was not worth anything…).

By the central zone, the operation was a success (also initial). The passage of the river between Riba-roja and Benifallet took by surprise the pro-Franco forces and the front was declined in favour of the republicans. Ascó and Flix were occupied, and step by step some other places were dominated by the republican hands: Mora d'Ebre, the hermitage of Sant Geroni, Benissanet, Miravet, the Pinell de Brai, Bot, Prat de Compte, the Canaletes river, the hermitage of the Fontcalda, La Fatarella , Camposines, Corbera d'Ebre, the hermitage of Santa Madrona and the mountain ranges of the Fatarella, Perles, the Picossa, Cavalls and Pàndols. The republican forces arrived until the outskirts of La Pobla de Massaluca. In Villalba dels Arcs, they occupied the cemetery; in Gandesa they arrived, also, near the cemetery, the agricultural cooperative and the first houses of the town (Gandesa was an important communications centre between Aragon and Valencia ). In 48 hours they used the strategy of the “bag”, that consisted on encircle the enemy in 50 kilometres of bottom. The initial operations were a success, but it would not happen in Gandesa. The pro-Franco commando ordered the maximum resistance and sent reinforcements to protect the zone. La Batalla del Ebro, entered, from now on, in the new phase, hardest, with the continuous attack of German aviation for the 4 first days of the offensive, with terrible aerials actions against republican bridges and ladders, that would be destroyed during the day, and reconstructed again at nights; with bombings from mornings to nights (300 airplanes chain and huntings made up to 3 daily services). There were days in which aviation threw nearly 1.000 tons of explosives, which supposes a devastating fire. The amount of pumps of aviation and grenades of artillery that fell to the river arrived until 60.000. The opening of the dams of Tremp, Camarassa and Terradets, that made raise much the level of the water, made more difficult the arrival of reinforcements and republican provision, and, in addition, they received an insufficient air support. The republican army was forced to put itself to the defensive, but with the river to its backs. The combats were very hard and the pressing would not decrease until the first of August.

The pro-Franco army, with the arrival of important reinforcements, began the counter-offensive to recover the lost land. Then, took place the hardest and cruellest battles and frontal confrontations, with an enormous concentration of artillery and intense aerial attacks. Hunger, thirst, much thirst and a suffocating heat that rotted corpses, causing an irrespirable atmosphere. Punta Targa, Puig de l'Àliga, Gaeta, Quatre Camins, Vall de Canyelles, Santa Magdalena, Santa Madrona, mountain range of the Vall de la Torre , Cavalls, Cota 705 or Punta Alta, els Gironesos, Turó de Forques, Pàndols… are names that, nowadays, are retained in the popular memory and which were direct testimonies of facts that were beyond the armed warfare and which they have obtained a mythical resonance.

In Pàndols, Cota 705 in Pinell de Brai, the operations began at 5 a .m. of the 10 th of August of 1938. It was a terrible shock, between the two better units of both sides: the 11ª Division of Lister of the V Body of the republican army and the IV Division de Navarra, of the pro-Franco army. These operations were direct under the command of General Franco, and by the lieutenant colonel Rojo as far as the republicans. The battle finished 5 days due to the generalized fatigue of the two units.

Cota 705 or Punta Alta was a key position to dominate the mountain system of Pàndols. The crude of the combats and the dispute, level by level in an inhospitable zone, made a superhuman value necessary to fight in those zones, hung of cornices and in the worst conditions. Many of the wounded were left; and those that could be evacuated, had to cross ways of goats, to support very high temperatures and a terrible thirst that, at night, was transformed in cold. The noise of 56 German airplanes of the Condor Legion and others, that bombed the republican positions; and 150 canons attacking them; these are things that force us to remember those thousands of men who still rest badly found out under pine groves, in precipices and between trenches.

In Pàndols, a part to the rifles, the protagonists of the frequent assaults were the automatic weapons, of the nocturnal attacks and counterattacks on the part of the republican side. There were a lot of losses in both armies, since the rocky constitution of the ground, made difficult the trench formation and forced the combatants to protect themselves with simple parapets. The official military notices of those days made echo of the movements in Pàndols, in their levels 666, 671, 698, 705… It was in to historical Cota 705, where culminated the combats that began on the 10 th of August. The Franco's troops occupied it later, towards the 14 th , after had lost and cattle it in five occasions, within the hardest and cruel episode of the Batalla del Ebro.

11ª Republican Division, totally tired, retired the night of 13 th and 14 th of August to be released by 35ª Division the International. And, indeed during the relief, they suffered a surprise occupation by 5º Tabor de Regulars of Ceuta.

On 19 th of August, another great pro-Franco offensive took place: in this occasion, the scene was between Villalba dels Arcs, Corbera d'Ebre, and Puig Gaeta, one of the highest points of that zone. There were many losses of soldiers. One of the points where the fight was more ferocious, was in a called place "Quatre Camins", in two kilometres of Villalba dels Arcs, and where the highways come together that take to La Fatarella , La Pobla de Massaluca, Batea and Gandesa. And by this same point it passes the way that takes to Corbera de Ebro by the Vall de Canyelles. And, over this place, they emphasize two hills, of little importance, but to dominate these routes. One, call "Quatre Camins" and, the other "Punta Targa". In any case, between one and another position, the distance was minimum, just of about 300 metres . It was in this place, indeed, where members of the Terç de Requetés de Nostra Senyora de Montserrat lost more human lives, and there happened some of the most dramatic facts of this battle: At 12 a .m., Terç left its positions to go to cota 481 (the Punta Targa that republican troops from the 3 rd Division were defending). They had to help in the breakthrough operation battalions B, Ceuta and Bailén, but these two units followed in trenches, leaving the Terç alone when this one already had commenced the offensive. The republicans, fortified very well, and defended themselves violently; so those of the Terç, immobilized, could not advance nor back down, and had to hold, beaten to earth, the continuous attack of the republican arms. It began at 12 a .m. and would finish at 9 p.m. At night, the defenders of the position Targa, knowing of the great number of casualties that was caused in the Terç, said that they would not be hostile in the retired collection and of his wounded men. Therefore, the attackers could carry out the task. The Punta Targa was occupied on the following day. To conquer the rest of this scene between Villalba dels Arcs and the Puig Gaeta lasted until end of the month of August.

Terrible months, those of September and October of 1938. There was not a day nor one night without combat; The territory was conquered hand span to hand span. The yield that gave the troops to be surpassed, couldn't be passed by the lost of the badly said “human material”. Thousands of tons of pumps fell on Gandesa, Corbera d'Ebre, and Villalba dels Arcs. The mountain ranges of Cavalls i Pàndols lived terrible attacks. Thousands of men hit among them during 8 weeks: only the 29 th and 30 th of October its calculated that 9,000 tons of artillery projectiles were thrown, and 8,000 tons of aviation pumps. The artillery fire that preceded the pro-Franco attack, lasted 4 hours. The fire, intense, was in charge of 76 batteries helped by the action of 30 bombers. The front was broken soon, and on the following day fell Corbera d'Ebre; Camposines continued resisting, until the point that the pro-Franco troops took 36 days in advancing 7 kilometres . Progressively, the pro-Franco army recovered all the municipalities that were lost in July.

The last hours of the 15 th of November, the lieutenant colonel of the XV Army Crops crossed the Ebro by Flix. Few hours later, it was made by the last cash republican. A lot of footbridge was retired and to 4,45 p.m. they flew the metal bridge of Flix. Around the 10 a .m. of the 16 th of November, the first pro-Franco forces and tanks entered Flix. It was Wednesday and a bluish breeze rose over the course of the river…

Back it were left 116 days of fight, many devastated tons of war material, towns… but, above of all, 100,000 human losses, of both sides, that are still today badly buried in a earth that, to most of them, is so strange; Surely, and as a politician of that time would say, if they could, would make us arrive a message from "peace, mercy and pardon".