68th Division (People's Army of the Republic) - 68.ª División (Ejército Popular de la República)

68th Division
Active January of 1938 - March of 1939
country Spain
Fidelity Spanish flag Spanish Republic
Rama/s Red star.svg Regular People's Army
Type Infantry
Size Division
Quartering Head of the Ox , Soneja , Belalcázar and Chapel
Wars and battles
Spanish Civil War :
Teruel , Levant Offensive , Closing of the La Serena Stock Exchange , Battle of Valsequillo

The 68th Division was a division of the Republican People's Army that fought during the Spanish Civil War in defense of the legality of the Second Spanish Republic . This unit, created in the summer of 1938 in Daimiel , fought on the fronts of Teruel , Levante and Extremadura before it was dissolved in March 1939 after the surrender of the Republic by the Governing Board of Colonel Segismundo Casado .

The existence of this Division experienced two independent and well differentiated phases. In the first, he developed his actions in the Battle of Teruel and was dissolved shortly after. In May of 1938 a new division Extremadura, who inherited the number 68, to be aimed at the front of Levante was organized.

Operational history. First phase

Preparations and organization

The Division was formed in August 1937 in Daimiel and Ciudad Real , consisting of four new brigades, the 218th , under the command of Infantry Commander Manuel Muzas Ibars , and the 219th , under the command of Infantry Commander Manuel Perez Garrido , the 220th , under the command of the Militia Major Ramón González Pardo and the 221st , under the command of the Infantry Commander José Torralba Ordóñez , being assigned to the XX Army Corps , framed in the Maneuver Army. However, the 221st Brigade broke away from this Division at the beginning of the Battle of Teruel, becoming part of the 71st Division

Battle of Teruel

The 68th Division, in its first phase, participated in the Battle of Teruel since its inception, in December 1937 , with the 218th , 219th and 220th Brigades . The actions began on December 14, when units of this Division (of Brigades 218 and 220) launched their attack against the Port of Villastar, managing to conquer it two days later, forming a pocket, whose cleaning was assigned. On the 19th, they occupied Castralbo and El Castellar and, on the 21st, they threw themselves in the first step to assault Teruel, occupying the left flank. The 220 Brigade was one of the first units to enter the city, but it was so broken that it had to be withdrawn to Cueva de Valverde and Sarrión.to replenish cash. For its part, the 219th Brigade began its actions on December 15, but only achieved a weak penetration by Villaespesa which, days later, would be surrounded.

In the final assault on Teruel, the 219th Brigade acted in the second echelon on the left flank, storming the square on December 22. Its performance was very brilliant, preventing the national troops from lifting the siege of Teruel on January 1, 1938. Very broken by the fighting in the city and the harsh winter, it had to be withdrawn for its reorganization in Extremadura, but it returned to the Teruel front in February.

The 220th Brigade relieved the forces of the 11th Division in Concud on 30 December , which they lost the following day, retreating to Teruel. She was sent to Extremadura for an in-depth reorganization, but on February 17, she was again at the Teruel front.

In March 1938 , after the Battle of Teruel, the Division was dissolved, leaving its units assigned as follows: the 218th became part of the 34th Division , the 219th in the 66th , and the 220th on the 22nd .

Operational history. Second stage

Preparations and organization

It was created again on April 30 , 1938 , in Cabeza del Buey . Its objective was to act as a shock force to reinforce the Levante front, before the unstoppable advance of Franco's forces on Castellón . His command was entrusted to the recently promoted Infantry Commander Justo López Mejías , who at that time commanded the 38th Division . As Chief of Staff, Elisardo Penas García was appointed Field Infantry Captain , also recently promoted and also from the 38th Division. Roque Nieto Peña , of the Republican Left , was appointed as Political Commissioner .

It was organized with three new Brigades, the 189th , under the command of Artillery Commander Juan García Pina , the 190th , under the command of Cavalry Captain Fernando Garcés Soler , former Lieutenant of the Complement Scale, and the 191st , under the command of the Major of Militias Germán Bataller Prats. The three would have a very outstanding performance. The Brigades were created with twelve Battalions drawn from the 46th, 47th, 109th and 88th Brigades (the 189th), from the 103rd, 115th, 120th and 114th Brigades. (the 190th), and the 86th, 103rd, 113th and 115th (the 191st). His organization and instruction progressed quickly and efficiently. However, due to the impossibility of finding the appropriate commands in the more technical sections of the General Staff, after a month it was decided to appoint Commander Luis Espinosa Briones , a career military man, as Chief of MS , leaving Penas as Chief of Operations , although in practice it continued to carry the main burden of EM work

At the end of the training period, the three brigades traveled to Levante by rail, in nine long trains that left from the stations of Cabeza del Buey and Almorchón , in the first days of June.

Once in Levante, the 68th Division established its Headquarters in a farmhouse on the outskirts of the town of Soneja , in the province of Castellón .

Castellón front

He entered combat occupying positions in the Sierra de Borriol, around June 9. For several days it endured an intense and continuous artillery bombardment, with greater or lesser success, depending on the units.

The 189th and 191st Brigades suffered severe attrition, although the 189th carried out a harsh counterattack on the 13th. The different battalions that formed them were progressively retreating to the rear, as they were decimated, but one of them , made up mainly of anarchist elements, it became strong in a small wedge about 4 km long and 1 km wide. However, the command decided to withdraw it, given the precarious situation. This retreat also cost him a good number of casualties.

Meanwhile, the less broken 190th Brigade was left in line and assigned to the 6th Division.

The two retired brigades, the 189th and the 191st, did not have time to reinforce or almost rest, because immediately, on the 17th, they received the order to go to the Onda sector . The 189th Brigade , especially the anarchist battalion (the one numbering 756, originally from the 88th BM), carried out an intense attack on the hill known as the Watchtower, north of Onda, managing to crown it and conquer it, capturing a good number of weapons and ten prisoners. But this conquest was short-lived. The soldiers, exhausted by the intense walk of the previous day (from Borriol to Onda passing through the rear: 35km with almost no rest), largely fell asleep and could not prevent the enemy from reconquering the hill. During the following hours there were several attacks and counterattacks, less and less intense, until the troops of the so-called Liaison Detachment, of General García-Valiño, took definitive control of that enclave.

The aforementioned battalion was notably decimated and its commander, Antonio Elías [ 1 ] , died during the attacks and was later posthumously decorated with the Medal of Valor .

Once Onda, heroically defended by the so-called Extremadura Division, fell to the Francoist army on the 24th, the units of the 68th Division occupied positions in the Sierra de Espadán, in the vicinity of Onda, to the South and Southwest of this locality. The 191st WB was solidly established in their positions. The chronicles speak that he made a fierce resistance, despite the ferocious attacks of Franco's artillery and aviation, leading to various attacks and counterattacks, which made it impossible for the enemy to advance through his sector.

The 189th, on the other hand, relieved the Extremadura Division, going on to defend the front line, to the right of the 191st; The 189th sector was one of the most critical defense, since it included the area of ​​the Thales to Segorbe highway, a dangerous route of penetration by the enemy. On July 3, a strong Franco attack on the highway, coupled with an error in coordination with a battalion of the 205th BM , undid the Republican defense, leaving the aforementioned highway clear for enemy tanks. But the Operations command of the 68th Division, thanks to the good knowledge of the terrain, managed to regain control of the situation, locating at night the dispersed troops and reestablishing lines and contact with the commands, broken by the enemy attack.

During those days, the 190th WB temporarily returned to the control of the 68th Division, but immediately afterwards became permanently dependent on the 15th Division . Next, the 189th and 191st Brigades were relieved to move to the Villamalur sector, on the left, where they no longer moved from their positions until they were relieved by the 10th Division and retired on the 9th to the rear. to rebuild its strength.

The performance of the 68th Division on this front had been truly remarkable, and some researchers even affirm that it was at the time when the troops of the 68th Division found themselves in line that the Francoist forces of the Liaison Detachment met. they saw braking more clearly, being stopped or advancing only slowly and suffering numerous casualties.

The task of this division during those weeks had been to contain the enemy as much as possible while the XYZ line was being built at forced marches, trying to gain as much time as possible. But the cost in casualties was enormous.

On July 9, this Division was withdrawn from the front, to rebuild its battered forces, but the rest period only lasted three days, as the 68th Division had to rush to the Manzanera-Alcetas sector, near Barracas . With the only operational elements of the two brigades, they organized a single Brigade that traveled to the area by rail, where they occupied their positions. But since it was flat terrain, they barely managed to contain the enemy, having to then withdraw the XYZ line as it passed through the towns of Viver and Jérica.. In this area they held out well in their positions, in the middle of a fierce battle lasting several days in which both armies used numerous resources. Franco's advance was here completely stopped, the Division being decorated for its outstanding performance, while both towns were completely destroyed after the battle. The 68th Division, already notably reduced in its strength due to the losses and desertions of the previous days, and achieved the objective of stopping the enemy, finally withdrew to the rear as of July 21, establishing its headquarters in Macastre . The Levante front was broadly stabilized from that moment on.

Front of Extremadura

With the Levante front stabilized, the Division received the order to return to Extremadura, in the face of the sudden Franco advance through the La Serena area, which brought down the towns of Don Benito, Villanueva de la Serena and Castuera, among others, in the hands of the troops of Queipo de Llano, which continued to advance without being barely stopped by the republican troops, caught by surprise and with a very poor organization.

The two brigades of the 68th Division traveled to Extremadura on July 31, in a long convoy of more than a hundred trucks, under the command of their Chief of Operations, while the other chiefs did so the following day, by car. . Once in the vicinity of Cabeza del Buey , they began to reinforce the defense of the sector, then in an absolutely chaotic situation. The fights took place for fifteen long days, in the flat areas to the north of that population, and when those areas could not be defended, they became fortified in the chain of mountains located between Castuera and Cabeza del Buey and the Sierra de Torozo, where they resisted better, but the capture of Cabeza del Buey, on August 12, could not be avoided. The towns of Peñalsordo and Zarza-Capilla they were left in ruins after those combats as a result of the hard action of Franco's artillery.

These advances suffered a temporary setback thanks to the action of the republican artillery of Comandante Pérez-Salas, but this was ephemeral, leaving the Francoist army in the power of the entire mountain range, as a final consequence of a battalion of the 191st BM, being relieved by another, from a different unit, made up of newly recruited sapper soldiers with little or no preparation for combat, fled in disarray before the first enemy attack and when he ran out of ammunition as a result of a logistical error or sabotage. .

Towards the end of August, however, there was a brilliant joint republican attack by the 68th Division along with two others, which allowed the recovery of almost the entire Sierra de Torozo and most of the plain north of Cabeza del Buey, to the vicinity of Castuera and Campanario, including the towns of Peñalsordo and Zarza-Capilla. The front was stabilized since then in that sector, practically until the end of the war, leaving an enemy wedge introduced into republican territory known as the "Saliente de Cabeza del Buey", as this population was at the end of that wedge. With the front stabilized, the 68th Division established its headquarters in a farmhouse located on the outskirts of Belalcázar, and defending his troops the front located on the right bank of the Zújar river.

Meanwhile, the 189th Brigade changed its Commander, being commanded by Major Ignacio Nuevo. Likewise, the Chief of the 191st, Major Bataller Prats, had been badly wounded during the fighting in early August, and was relieved by Major Leandro Rodríguez Mota. Finally the Cte. Espinosa was removed from the front line, being described as "politically indifferent", and was assigned to a position in the rear. The Division Chief of Staff was once again accidentally entrusted to Captain Elisardo Penas.

At that time, a new Brigade, the 194th , was incorporated into the 68th division , under the command of Militia Commander Manuel Campos Cotero, who had previously commanded the 2nd battalion of the 189th BM during the Levante campaign. . With these three brigades (189th, 191st and 194th) the 68th Division would be formed, with hardly any variations until the end of the war. The sector was stable then, only affected by small skirmishes.

In November 1938, the 68th Division moved to another sector, establishing what would be its last headquarters in the Capilla town hall., close to Peñalsordo, and deploying his troops across the Siberia Extremeña plain, from the vicinity of Campanario and Castuera, to past the head of Cabeza del Buey. The terrain was very uncomfortable. The 191st BM, the most fortunate, was deployed in the Sierra de Torozo, while the 194th occupied the westernmost area, and the 189th was deployed to the North and Northwest of Cabeza del Buey, covering the area of flatter front and difficult to defend. Access from the rear to the positions of these last two brigades was extremely delicate, since there was only one road available for their supply and eventual evacuation (corresponding to the current BAV-4009 and its continuation), and this route passed very close at some points from the front, which made it often beaten by enemy artillery and posed a serious risk of being overwhelmed. For this reason, the Division's General Staff planned and had another runway built further north, in order to ensure better evacuation in case of enemy attack and to facilitate supplies. This new road also facilitated access to the rear to Siruela and La Puebla de Alcocer. This new route appears in the IGN plan number 780 as "Abandoned War Track" and in the most recent ones as "Military Track".

The sector remained calm until January, and at Christmas numerous permits were granted to soldiers, given the almost total inactivity of the war in the sector.

For Christmas, a new Chief of Staff of the Division was assigned, because Elisardo Penas did not have the title of Graduate of the General Staff, since the command always considered him essential and the right moment was not found to be able to graduate. From then until the end of the war he remained as Chief of Operations.

Battle of Valsequillo

In this battle, which began on January 5, he was assigned the mission of supporting the main attack by threatening Castuera., carried out with its two reserve battalions plus an artillery battery. Before the action of this, the enemy fled in disarray from their positions, but the torrential rain that morning turned the ravines of the Guadalefra River (which marked the front line in that area) into impetuous torrents impossible for the soldiers to cross, several of which drowned in the attempt. This fact made the action fail, because while the attacking forces waited several days in vain for the weather to improve, the surprise effect of the attack had already passed and the Francoist troops had returned to their positions, also helped by the response of their artillery. . Five days later, the attack was concluded in this area and the battalions returned, in a sorry state, due to the several days that they had endured the intense rain in the open. This event caused a strong demoralization in the troops.

After this failed operation, Justo López Mejías was removed from the Headquarters of the Division, being sent home with a two-month permit [ 2 ] . The new chief was another professional commander, José Frías González-Mouvelles , also a communist, until then in command of the 63rd Division , and who was forced to leave his post immediately after Colonel Segismundo Casado's coup , after the general purge of communist commanders. He was succeeded at the headquarters of the Division by the Major Leandro Rodríguez Mota , who then commanded the 191st Mixed Brigade.

End of the war and dissolution

On March 25, the Division received the order at its Capilla headquarters to abandon the front and meet in the town of Siruela (located about 30 km away) where it would receive new instructions. They came to this town after a long night march. The new instructions consisted of continuing to retreat to Piedrabuena , where they were to deliver their weapons. In the midst of great tension and numerous scenes of panic (the officers had known for weeks that the surrender was being negotiated, but not the soldiers), the officers managed to get to Piedrabuena in the only three trucks they had, and from there to Ciudad Real, where their weapons and trucks were seized. The city was already in the hands of the Francoists, so the officials began to disperse to try to continue fleeing or hiding. Of the Division's commanders, only its Chief and the Chief of Operations managed, with great difficulty, to reach Valencia on the 30th, and only the latter would manage "in extremis" to board a French ship in Gandía , on the way to exile. , moments before the Francoist army took possession of the port, since then preventing the shipment of more fugitives.

Controls

First phase

Commanders
Curators
Chiefs of Staff

Second level

Commanders
Curators
Chiefs of Staff

Order of battle

Date
Attached Army Corps
Battle front
Integrated mixed brigades
December 1937 XX Army Corps Teruel 218.ª , 219.ª y 220.ª
May 1938 Extremadura Army Rear 189.ª , 190.ª y 191.ª
June 1938 XXII Army Corps Levante 189.ª , 190.ª y 191.ª
July 1938 XXI Army Corps Levante 189.ª y 191.ª
August 1938 VIII Army Corps Estremadura 189.ª y 191.ª
October 1938 VII Army Corps Estremadura 189.ª , 191.ª y 194.ª

See also

Bibliography

  • Carlos Engel, History of the Mixed Brigades of the People's Army of the Republic . Almena editions. ISBN Z9788496170193
  • Clemente González García, Between Peñagolosa and Espadán . Editorial de Tinta, SL ISBN 978-8461-73287-6
  • Elisardo Penas García, Memoirs . Author's edition
  • Roque Nieto Peña, Seven lives . TO Nerecan SA ISBN 9788430094233
  • Ramón Salas Larrazábal, History of the People's Army of the Republic . The Sphere of Books SL ISBN 84-9734-465-0
  • CEDER La Serena
  • www.sbhac.net
  • General Military Archive of Ávila. Ministry of Defence.
  • Documentary Center of Historical Memory. Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports.
  1. Elisardo Penas, Memories; Roque Peña Nieto, Seven Lives .
  2. a b According to data provided by Elisardo Penas in his memoir .
  3. Report of the VII Army Corps of March 1939, after the coup of Colonel Segismundo Casado. The history of this military man fully agrees with the data provided by Elisardo Penas in his memoirs, despite the fact that his name is not mentioned there .
  4. Engel, 1999, p. 230.