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Spanish Civil War: Battle of El Mazuco

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Conflict:

The Battle of El Mazuco was fought during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1938).

Dates:

Lasting over two weeks, the Battle of El Mazuco began on September 6, 1937, and lasted until September 22, 1937.

Armies & Commanders:

Nationalists

  • General José Solchaga Zala
  • 33,000 men
  • Air support from the Legión Cóndor and Corpo Truppe Volontarie

Republicans

  • Colonel Juan Ibarrola Orueta
  • Colonel Francisco Galán Rodríguez
  • 5,000 men

Battle Summary:

In the late summer of 1937, Nationalist forces scored major victories in northern Spain capturing Bilbao and Santander. Pressing west, General Fidel Dávila Arrondo sought to overcome Republican resistance in the province of Asturias. On September 5, Nationalist troops broke the Republican lines along the Diva River and captured the town of Llanes. Their advance was hindered however by Republican forces which continued to hold the Sierra del Cuera Mountains. The key to breaching the Republican position was the pass of El Mazuco.

To capture this formidable position, Dávila assigned four Navarrese Brigades, under the command of General José Solchaga Zala, as well as fifteen artillery batteries and fire support from the cruiser Almirante Cervera. Air support was to be provided by the German Condor Legion and Italian Corpo Truppe Volontarie. Opposing Zala were the remnants of three Republican brigades led by Colonels Juan Ibarrola Orueta and Francisco Galán Rodríguez. Lacking air and artillery support, the Republicans possessed only machine guns and small arms.

The first Republican attack moved against El Mazuco on September 6, and was repulsed. In response, the Condor Legion was called in to carpet bomb the Republican lines. Over the next two days, the assaults continued with the defenders holding firm. On the 8th, Nationalist forces succeeded in advancing 2 km to the south of the pass and two days later captured the hill of Biforco just below the pass. This hill was dominated by Republican positions, and the defenders sprayed the Nationalist troops with machine gun fire as well as rolled canisters of explosives down on them.

On September 14, Republican troops were forced to yield Sierra Llabres, whose heights commanded the village of El Mazuco and the western approaches to the pass. By the next day, despite their desperate defense against overwhelming numbers, the Republicans were forced back to the top of the pass along the heights of Turbina and Peñas Blancas. Following the loss of Turbina on the 16th, the Republicans made a last stand atop Peñas Blancas. For six days, the defenders held out against constant bombardment and infantry attacks until the position was overrun on September 22.

Aftermath & Impact:

While exact casualties for the Battle of El Mazuco are not known, they were severe for both sides. The battle allowed other Republican forces in Asturias to regroup for the final defense of the region. Nationalist forces continued their march east and quickly linked up with troops advancing from the south. This combined force succeeded in capturing the stronghold of Gijón on October 21, ending the Spanish Civil War in the north.

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